March 29, 2012

I'm not strong enough to be a dragon

In grad school I had to write a paper about my personal theology of change. Basically, if I believed change was possible and how I thought it happened in a person's life. I don't really remember what I wrote, something about Jesus and cognitive behavioral therapy I'm sure, but I'd like to change my answer. If I could write it again I'd just quote CS Lewis and be done with it.

If you haven't seen or read The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I recommend it, even if only for this one part because it's so perfectly perfect. In it, there's a character named Eustace who is awful. He's obnoxious and rude and a hater and no one likes him. In the course of the story, due to an act of pure selfishness, Eustace is turned into a dragon. When he is finally a boy again, he explains the experience of turning back. First he says Aslan [a lion symbolizing Christ in the Narnia stories] leads him to a well and asks him to undress. Eustace recounts how he scratched and peeled the dragon skin off, three different times, each time only to find more scales had grown right back. So then? I'll let you read it. Then go read the whole thing because CS Lewis is truly geniusly brilliant.

Then the lion said  – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away. Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again.

I have some thoughts.

1. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now.
Eustace tried so many times to fix himself on his own and couldn't do it. He was desperate and powerless, but afraid to ask for help. There's always going to be fear, I think. You just have to get to a point where the fear of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of changing.

2. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right to my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt.
The weird thing about doing the right thing is it almost never feels right. You would think, I don't know, if you're making big, mature steps toward a better life it would feel good right away. But it doesn't. Right things are often hard things and don't feel right at all. But it doesn't mean they're wrong - it just means we've gotten attached to the not-right things, we get used to them, and the first few tears are going to feel truly, unbearably awful.

3. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Eventually, when you can start to see some of the progress, it starts to feel worth it. Results aren't immediate, and they aren't necessarily pleasant. But as days pass and the pain of it becomes less sharp, it really is sort of fun to see the dark, thick, knobbly stuff coming away.

4. Then he caught hold of me [that part just makes my little heart sing] - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water.
After all the tearing and the ripping and the heart-wrenching, we're made clean and new. We feel the pain leave us and even though it smarts for a moment it is - and I love this - perfectly delicious.

Change isn't fun, but it's possible. And I think CS Lewis has captured here in the most perfectly simple terms a working theology of change. We can't do it on our own because we lack the power (maybe even the willingness) to cut deep enough. And when we give ourselves over to our Aslan, the searing pain that is necessary to get to the good part is so unbearable that we often walk out right in the middle, maybe even more than once. We think we can't do it, can't take it, won't be able to survive it. But if we're desperate enough - if, as I said, our fear of staying a dragon outweighs our fear of changing out of one - relief comes. The pain will leave us and we will be made back into who we are. The fun thing is, Eustace didn't just become a boy again. He was different. Oddly, mysteriously, he was better for the experience.

The trick, I think, is that we tend to believe we're not strong enough to endure it. When it hurts so much I can't see straight, I think I can't endure the loss of relationships, changes in my lifestyle, the disappearance of the coping skills I've clung to for so long. But I think that's wrong. Change will be hard, but it won't break me. What will break me is to remain much longer in a skin that's not meant for me. We think we're not strong enough to do what it takes to turn back, that we'll be safer as a dragon. But we've got it backwards.

I'm not strong enough to change all by myself. I'm also not strong enough to spend my life under the thick, isolated skin of a dragon. But because a power greater than myself is willing to fight for me, I'm strong enough to endure changing back out of one. So long as I trust Jesus enough to get me there.

March 21, 2012

kids at a party

Is there anything more fun than watching kids at a party?
It's always the same - some sort of cross-cultural phenomenon I bet. I don't know what it is about the brain chemistry of children under the age of 9, but they all act the same way at parties where there are grown ups. For the entirety of the gathering, from the moment coats are dropped on the floor til the moment mom yells that it's time to go, it's a constant loop of running, chasing, through the house, outside, inside again, between legs, spilling drinks, red-faced, sweating, and giggling with a notable degree of panic because AHH SHE'S ALMOST CAUGHT UP TO ME LEGS RUN FASTER! For those few rambunctious hours, age doesn't matter and rules go out the window and somebody might get kicked in the face, but they'll bounce back quick, just watch. Always and everywhere, I have found, it is the same. Kids en masse just instinctively know how to party.

I get sad sometimes because I watch kids grow up with video games and portable electronic everything. I get it, though, because I've nannied my fair share of wretches and I clearly remember the feeling of relief that would flood over me when Dora came on and I got to sit down for 22 minutes or so. But at times like this, at parties watching kids I'm not in charge of running every which way, playing with each other and falling down and skinning knees and laughing so hard they can't breathe, that I sigh a little sigh of relief.

Because kids still know how to be kids. All is not lost.

March 15, 2012


I may have mentioned that I love music. It's also worth noting that I doublelove a good cover - when someone sings a version of someone else's song. You may find this shocking, I realize, what with my love of karaoke [by definition, covers as far as the eye can see] and my not-so-secret desire to someday be a part of a cover band that sings primarily Heart songs, but I digress. I just think it's sort of fun, a little refreshing, to hear a different interpretation of a song you already know well. This maybe isn't really the same thing, but for some reason I recently [re]discovered a little project called Page CXVI, which is what a local Denver band, The Autumn Film, is called when they do covers of old hymns. [Can you call a hymn a cover? I'm asking.] Regardless of what it's correct to call it, I can't get enough. It is like rest for weary ears.

I think I've needed to feel a little worshippier than usual. As such, I've been listening to the hymns nonstop, and it has been so, so good. I've always loved hymns - I think they are timelessly beautiful, and lyrically speaking they are completely poetic, which given my moderate obsession with the written word shouldn't be all that surprising to anyone. And above all, I think I take great comfort in them because there's something powerful in this, for me: whether they were written 10 years ago or 100, they are as true now as they were then. Amen & Amen.

The overhaul, as it were, has been hard so far. I'm making healthier choices and putting up better boundaries and not doing things that yes, aren't great, but I've gotten really used to doing them so not doing them is hard. As a result of these difficult tasks, I have found myself getting a liiiiittle more anxious than I am used to or comfortable with. I don't like anxiety, and when I get crazybrain I tend to run with it, a little; so before I know it I'm ten miles down a rabbithole that I shouldn't have even looked down in the first place, let alone sprinted into like my life depended on it. And the other day, that happened. Out of nowhere, in the middle of my motivational interviewing class, I was panicking like the Pima building was on fire or something and I didn't really know why. And since I didn't really know why, I really didn't know what to do about it, or how to make myself feel better. The panic continued. Until.

I pulled out a sheet of paper and I started writing. I didn't care what my handwriting looked like or whether my punctuation was correct or whether the girl next to me thought I was having a psychotic break. I didn't write my own words, I didn't journal or write out my feelings or write a letter or even write out a prayer. I wrote a hymn. I let my pen sing the lyrics right there onto the paper and I let the rhythm of the familiar tune - floating through my mind, taking the sting out of worry and doubt and fear - soothe my very soul.

I wrote it until I ran out of lyrics, and then I wrote it again. I wrote until I ran out of paper, and then?


Amen & Amen.

March 9, 2012

nothing like a little midweek mystery

I've told you all before about the drama that exists around my new-to-me Colorado phone number and the lady who possessed it previously, Shelley. Poor Shelley. She continues to receive collect calls from prisoners on the reg, so honestly I'm never super surprised when weird phone things occur. Like yesterday.

Another crucial layer of this story is that I am weird when I'm asleep. I'm a really deep sleeper to begin with, so when awoken I am almost always extremely confused/distraught in the minutes that follow. I'm not a sleep walker (praise the good Lord because sleep walking terrifies me) and I'm not much of a sleep talker, that I've been told. But every morning when my alarm goes off, my brain develops elaborate dream schemes to keep from registering that awful beep as a wake-up-signal. If it's the beep, I think it's some kind of siren. I changed it to bells for a while and I just kept dreaming that I was getting married in a Disney movie. It's the primary reason I oversleep and am late to most things on most days, and it's genuinely not a lie. What can I say? I sleep deep.

Yesterday I woke up at 6:42AM, turned off my alarm, and started putzing around on my phone only to notice something strange. Right there in my call log, at 4:43AM, was a red highlighted missed call from a number I didn't recognize. That's funny, I thought, I don't remember my phone ringing in the middle of the night. Even better? Right above it in black, clear as day: apparently, at 4:46AM, from a dead sleep, I called the unknown number back. And I engaged in some sort of 50 second long call with said number. Upon further inspection, it became evident that I woke up again at 5:34AM, and called it back again. This time the call was only 4 seconds long, but still. Do you have any idea how disconcerting it is to wake up in the morning to find that not only have strange numbers been calling in the night, but without my conscious awareness, I have been calling them back?! It's not a great feeling. Not great I tell you.

My coworkers, furthering the proof that we are meant for each other, were all into solving the mystery at the lunch table later in the day. Barbara called the number back on her phone, and we're thinking we're pretty smart, that this is a trick we can use to find out who the mystery caller is. Was there any sort of plan beyond "call from another phone"? No. No there was not. An old woman answers:

B: Hi, who is this?
Who is this?
B: Um, I... received a call from this number earlier
Well who is it?
B: Like I said... someone called me from this number...
It wasn't me. It may have been my husband. What is your name?
B: Barbara?
Barbara? Are you sure?
B: [confused] yes, I'm sure, I'm Barbara
Are you sure you're not Megan Greaves?

You may now cue the serial killer music.

I finally bit the bullet and called the mystery number myself. I mean, this person knew my whole name and the way she said it was like we were on an episode of Law & Order or something, and you don't just let that go, right? The old woman answered again. I told her I was sorry to bother her, that I had gotten a phone call in the middle of the night from this number and that according to my call log, I had called the number back (Possibly in my sleep, can you believe it! Allow me to put you at ease with my jokes and light-hearted tone!) and I wanted to be sure that I hadn't spoken to someone (in my sleep, remember that part?) and forgotten about it. She had clearly learned my name from the caller ID of my early morning calls. Which, by the way, she let me know she did not appreciate; she was actually mad at me for waking her up so early. I reiterated once again that I had gotten the call from her number first, and that I was just soverysorry for interrupting her morning, you know, in my sleep. After that she said something vague like, well I didn't call you and neither did my son. It could have been my husband but then YOU WOKE US UP and I'm crabby and irrational! That's what I heard, anyway. At some point she hung up on me, and I went back to the lunch table to report my sad, inconclusive findings. They weren't upset though, because while I was gone they'd picked up a new mystery to solve: the case of Trevor's roommate's potentially fake significant other. We've got some good leads, but nothing definitive just yet. I'll keep you posted.

I suppose the mystery lives on. I mean, probably it was a wrong number initially and then my dream-scheming caused a whole slew of problems by repeatedly stalker calling that poor old woman. I so feel it is also possible that her husband was trying to booty call Shelley, but I guess there's really no way of knowing for sure. What's even better is that later in the day while I was at work and my phone was in my pocket I BUTT DIALED THE NUMBER AGAIN. I'm positive that lady thinks I am a crazy stalker. I went ahead and deleted the number from my call log after that last little incident in order to prevent any future issues. I really can't afford any harassment suits at this point in my life. I'm far too poor.

March 3, 2012


Remember how I was excited about Lent?
That was before I went to the Ash Wednesday service at my church.

I still wasn't sure what I was going to do, for Lent, and I went in prepared to keep myself from shame-spiraling due to the immensity of the "list of things I could/should Lent because I should probably be doing them anyway." But instead of feeling shame like I'd so hoped and expected, I felt conviction instead. And that's no fun, because while I can be a good little therapist and talk myself out of a shame-spiral, I have to pay attention to conviction because it/s usually pretty accurate. And it almost always means a fair amount of work on my part. Don't love it.

The scripture read in service was Psalm 103, and so it goes: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - and then they're listed, which is great: who forgives all your sins, heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things, and so on. My pastor focused on the beginning part - the forget not piece. He asked us, as we prepared for the season of repentance, if there was anything we had forgotten. Any of God's benefits. Almost immediately I felt the conviction. The list, I think, is my pit. And I'd tried to get out - to white knuckle it, hunker down, pray for superhuman willpower to just do better. But when I failed, I think I just sort of settled in. The pit is terrible, but it's safe. I was so busy trying to work all of it out on my own, though, I'd forgotten that God is rescuer. A redeemer of the pit. I looked all over the place for rescue, but forgot to look where I say I believe it is.

I am aware that it would be highly unrealistic to try and tackle every item on my pit list over the next 40 days. Instead, I asked God to make clear to me where I should start, where I was looking for rescue that I could let go of until Easter Sunday comes. It was pretty easy choice, really, one that maybe I'll tell you about sometime when I understand it better myself. So I'll start with that. And as for the rest, it is my hope, my prayer, and also my fear that God would begin what I think really needs to be an overhaul of my life. And I don't mean to sound dramatic; it's mostly things you maybe wouldn't even notice if I stopped or started doing them. All I know is that I need to make space in my currently cluttered life for a relationship with Jesus. And it may be really ugly, I bet it will hurt a lot more than I'd like, and I feel sure it will take longer than I think it should. But I know the overhaul is necessary. I need rescue, and I absolutely know I can't do it on my own.

The amazing thing - the reason I believe this is the real deal - is that even though I'm looking at giant life alterations, I don't feel any shame. I don't feel like I'm the worst person in the world. And I'll be really honest, I'm terrified to ask for the overhaul, because what if it doesn't work, what then? What if nothing changes at all and this stupid pit is just my lifelong reality? What if I lose interest and go back to pit-living? I guess it's a possibility, maybe. But then I read through Psalm 103 and I think probably it's safe to ask for an out. I forget that God is faithful, even when I'm not so much. And it says right up there that the Lord is a forgiver of sins, a healer of diseases, a redeemer of pits, a crowner of love and compassion, a satisfier of desires. God wants to do that for us, for me. I think he delights even in our asking.

Lent is a season of penitence, but at the end of it all, Lent is about grace. At the end of the service that would instigate the great life overhaul of 2012, we sang a song that has a line in it that stands out to me: sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow. We were forecasted to have a light dusting of snow the following day. Instead, while I slept, snow covered every surface of my world. I woke up Thursday morning to about 4 inches of pristine, white, snow-covered ground. And even though I wasn't dressed appropriately and I hate scraping car windows more than anything, what a lovely picture of the possibilities.

Grace is so much more powerful than sin.

Forget not all his benefits: I believe God wants to forgive us, heal us, redeem us, crown and satisfy us. Even a pit lover like me.