Sunday, October 3, 2010

Inner Voice of Love

Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love is a book that was recommended to me multiple times by a few people. When my current counselor suggested this book, as well as bought two copies for us both to read, I surrendered.

It was roughly in February of this year that I began this book. It's 118 pages, and I have not yet completed it. The book is broken down into spiritual imperatives. I have been reading this book slowly, alongside many other books suggested to me, and journaling (via this blog) the thoughts each of the imperatives invoke.

It is time now to put my full being into finishing this book. I am working on reading (and journaling about) one imperative per day until I have read (and journaled about) each and every imperative. I would like to share with you my progress so far, all of my deepest, rawest thoughts. You can also find these insights here.

Keep Moving Toward Full Incarnation

Nouwen provides a wonderful way to describe my journey. "You can look at your life as a large cone that becomes narrower the deeper you go. There are many doors in that cone that give you chances to leave the journey. But you have been closing these doors one after the other, making yourself go deeper and deeper into your center."

I closed the door to getting wasted night after night. I do still drink but am aware of when I start feeling upset or angry or confrontational; this means I have had enough. I closed the door to my mother - at least in the literal sense - no phone calls, no visits. It bothered me that I didn't have some sort of idea of how long I should keep this door closed. Just hearing about her, hearing how she is still doing the same things but now to my sisters, is...disgusting, disheartening, and validating. The door to my mother will remain closed right now, and that is all the explanation I can provide myself.

I closed the door to isolation. I am in contact with my counselor through phone and email regularly. I am expressing my thoughts and emotions while on my journey through this blog, being honest and speaking my mind and soul. I have closed the door to inaction - I am reading, writing, and taking my medication (and as prescribed, for that matter). I went out for a jog today and felt the intimacy of being outdoors with ground under my feet. I have a full-time job and a temporary part-time job - I am getting my finances in order so that I can provide for myself, independently and confidently.

There is this one door, however, that keeps opening no matter how many times I close it. That is the door of self-loathing, guilt, and inadequacy. This week I have kept shutting that door by repeating this Bible verse, "My grace for you is sufficient; for power is perfected in weakness." When I start feeling down on myself, thinking I won't be able to get to where I want to be financially, emotionally, or relationally, I repeat those words and slowly the door closes for the time being.

The more I move toward the center of this large cone that is my journey, the closer into God's heart I become. At the center of this cone is love, God's love, and all of the incredible, unimaginable things that come along with His love. It's hard not to realize how far from the center I am; but, when I look up into cone, I see how far I have come! And, without God's love and forgiveness, I would not be where I am today. I must keep traveling into the center, closing doors and taking delight in walking hand-in-hand with God through my journey. (10/3/10)

Let Your Lion Lie Down with Your Lamb
Nouwen says, "Your lion is your adult, aggressive self. It is your initiative-taking and decision-making self. But there is also your fearful, vulnerable lamb, the part of you that needs affection, support, affirmation, and nurturing." I thought, isn't the most general need of all human beings to feel accepted and affirmed as individuals, through all of our uniqueness, strengths, and faults? The lamb in me, something I viewed as a weakness, is not just something I experience - the human race experiences this.
My lion and lamb have been at war; I can feel the war inside me. I didn't think I could be gentle and strong, much like everything in my life. It was all or nothing with my mother, as a child, teenager, and up until the point I discontinued letting her into any part of my life. To me, gentle meant weak; strong meant mean. Or maybe strong even meant fearless and I could never be considered strong, because fearless and bulletproof are two things I definitely am not.

Nouwen continues, "Developing your identity as a child of God in no way means giving up your responsibilities." I immediately thought of the old phrase, "To much is given, much is expected." Then a train of random thoughts started firing off in my brain. I have a cycle and it goes like this: I am doing and doing and I have this momentum going. More and more opportunities are coming my way, be it in the form of friends or work or good grades. Then, I feel overwhelmed and this feeling continues until I give up. Then, I'm in a bad place of depression and loneliness. It is in this bad place where I beg God and everyone around me to get me back to where I was, the place of opportunity that bred my feeling overwhelmed. What does all of this mean? All I could come up with was: Take it slow. Life is about distance, not speed.

Nouwen states, "The more you can feel safe as a child of God, the freer you will be to claim your mission in the world as a responsible human being. And the more you claim that you have a unique task to fulfill for God, the more open you will be to letting your deepest need be met." First was my interpretation of Nouwen's words "And the more you claim." My heart told me this really means ownership.

What is it to be a child of God? To feel safe not in the driver's seat, to be in control by relinquishing control. To be confident in doing what needs to be done, because you can take on anything with the Lord as your father. A child of God wants to be responsible. So, does the reverse say anything? I don't feel responsible and I have difficulty with responsibility. Does this mean I am not feeling safe as a child of God? I don't feel as if I can be responsible, and I make poor decisions. Is it because I don't respect myself, because I don't know whose I am? Then these words formed in my mind: Serving God opens me up to allowing myself to be served. (9/28/10)

Protect Your Innocence
What makes me love God? --hope, someone who love has endless, unconditional love and guidance. Nouwen says, "As a child of God, you need to be prudent. You cannot simply walk around in this world as if nothing and no one can harm you." I am stunned when I am pulled out of the light. Not in an egotistical way, but more ignorant, thinking "in God" means no trouble or pain or temptations. It is in Christ that I am most vulnerable. The closer I get with God and my true self, the stronger the pull from the opposite side. Expect this; be prepared.

Nouwen says, "When you are temporarily pulled out of your true self, you can have the sudden feeling that God is just a word, prayer is fantasy, sanctity is a dream, and the eternal life is an escape from true living." The word temporarily grabs me - I will have moments, but know they are just this: moments. Moments pass. I'm reminded of Liz in EPL when she says, "Eventually, everything goes away." It is in these moments that I share Jesus's walk.

The truth is simple: My father is God. God loves me. And from this, I created a few words to meditate on: My father is God, and God my father loves me. (9/19/10)

Stand Erect in Your Sorrow
Nouwen says, "The question is "Can you stand erect in your pain, your loneliness, your fears, and your experience of being rejected?" The danger is that you will be swept off your feet by these feelings. They will be here for a long time, and they will go on tempting you to be drowned in them. But you are called to acknowledge them and feel them while remaining on your feet." After reading this opening paragraph, I thought of a passage I read last night in EPL, in which Liz says her Guru tells her not to become overwhelmed and collapse in her pain, because this becomes a habit.

Nouwen goes on to say that the temptation you face "is to complain, to beg, to be overwhelmed and find your satisfaction in the pity you evoke." Find your satisfaction in the pity you evoke. What bothers me the most during my difficult times is my self-loathing. Surely I wouldn't self-loathe if the thoughts that ran through my mind while self-loathing weren't true. But this is simply not the case. I self loathe because I am not experienced to handle my pain in any other way. Because I self loathe does not make me a bad person, and the things I think while self loathing are not true about myself. This is just the way that I, an imperfect and inexperienced person in deep pain copes and tries to find peace.

Nouwen also says, "As long as you remain standing, you can speak freely to others, reach out to them, and receive from them. Thus you speak and act from your center and invite others to speak and act from theirs. In this way, real friendships and real community can be formed." When I am in pain and needing help, all I express are pity and sadness, and I don't feel like I get any real help. I don't feel like I have true friends to turn to and who will help me, and I have no community that will take me into its arms to love me and to show me the truth. I see that showing pity and sadness and all of the defeated emotions I am feeling at the time will not grant me the acceptance and assistance I need. Standing tall in my pain is the only way to truly reach out for help, and is the only way I will receive it. (9/16/10)

See Yourself Truthfully
I'm lost. Another friend come and gone. Another bad ending. It's me - obviously, it's me. Even so, I am so frustrated. God will bring me who I need in my life...but am I missing them? Now, I feel like there is not an answer. The only answer is to live in this moment, no matter how shitty, how sad, how empty, live this moment. And trust that this moment will pass and better moments will come. (8/27/10)

Stay with Your Pain
Owning my pain is strength. It's taking my struggles, my regrets, my guilt, my shame, my envy, my rage, my deep sadness and saying, "This is mine. You cannot cause it and you cannot take it away." As the Lord works through me, He will heal my wounds. Know this. Trust this. He will use this pain, my pain, to mold me into His creation. This adds beauty to my pain, adds hope and light and is the beginning of His healing. (8/19/10)

Enter the New Country
When I think "old country" I think alcohol.

Trust that both the treasures of my soul as well as the tools that enable me to experience them exist in the new country. I will take many trips going back and forth between the old country and the new country. Is there such a thing as taking a giant leap forward and never looking back?

Why do I keep going back? I miss it. I feel happy in the new country and want to go back and experience the old country in this way, with my new-found happiness. But my happiness does not last there. So I go defeated, back to the new country, depressed and knowing I shouldn't have left in the first place. (6/10/10)

Befriend Your Emotions
Keep remembering God. Keep an inner dialogue that repeats, "God loves me. I am loved."

I feel pangs of jealousy, insecurity, and inferiority when I've been drinking. And when I feel this way, I go off the deep end. I go into rage or deep sorrow - I want to hurt other people, but I only hurt myself, and embarrass myself, and isolate myself even more from normalcy and healthy living.

I must rescue myself before it even gets to this point--by spiritual affirmations, or prayer, or removing myself from the situation. In these times, I must nurture myself like a third person--"you are feeling insecure, and that is okay. Take a deep breath, now remember how beautiful and one-of-a-kind you are."

Don't be blindsided and taken aback by negative emotions. I am only human. A moment of feeling negative emotions does not negate how far I have come, how great my progress is, and how the peace within myself still remains. (6/9/10)

Live Patiently with the "Not Yet"
My mother’s emotions were bat crazy; she was in and out of unhealthy relationships, and she was running from a painful past that she could not escape. She was up, she was down, she was angry, she was caring, she screamed horrible words at her children for minor infractions; and so, nothing I ever did was good enough to make her act loving toward me, to keep her from yelling and cursing and playing favorites with the others.

My father and mother divorced when I was two, he joined the military, and after not seeing him for several years, he returned with a new wife. Naturally, I did not feel accepted by him either. The step mom was not my mother, so naturally I didn’t care for her and I believed the feeling was mutual. Whether it was or not, I’ll never know, but after a recent run-in with the stepmom’s own craziness, I wouldn’t doubt that she wished my father had no children when they met.

My mother remarried shortly after her and my father divorced, and I really didn’t like this new guy. While my mother did not discipline me and then scolded me when I did something “wrong”, the step dad wanted me disciplined from the very start. He grew up in a healthy home and wanted the same for his new family; he wanted structure, and rules, and a sense of normalcy. This went against everything my mother knew, so they fought and fought, viciously sometimes, and with every argument I hated him more and more. Fast forward 25 years and this man has become one of the few most important people in my entire life, and my mother, for me and for him, is no longer in the picture.

As I grew older I carried this sense of chaos and not being accepted into every situation and relationship. In school I had problems with teachers and classmates, and when the age came when I could date—watch out. I carried the same craziness I viewed from my mother into every relationship. Once I started drinking, which was at the age of 16, it was a whole new ballgame with more chaos, more broken friendships, more fights with the mother, and more problems in the classroom. This continued for 10 years and ended with a broken engagement, a broken arm, and a whole lot of pieces to pick up on my own.

Picking up the pieces began with counseling, then church, then medication. In between the “thens” were bouts of depression, serious depression, when I wanted to end my life. A few nights of heavy drinking ended with a bottle of pills, a razor in my hand and a choice to make. Such a dark, lonely place I was in. Looking back, I often wonder how I got out alive. Never had I felt pain run so deep, and I felt as if I was in the bottom of a well, screaming for help, pleading for someone to save me, but no one heard me. Except for Jesus.

Almost a year has gone by and with the help of a few spiritual counselors, my doctor, drug and alcohol therapy, and listening to and reading spiritual subject matter, I am doing okay. When I read that last paragraph I think of how far I have come, and how perhaps I should feel like I am doing great compared to back then. But I don’t want to reference “back then” to gage how well I am doing in life. I want a higher, more healthy standard for my life and that’s what I’m working on now--building a solid, never before seen, solid foundation for myself on which I will grow and thrive and love. (6/4/10)

Let Jesus Transform You
I used my actions to express who I thought I was - crazy, out of control, disgusting, unlovable, deceitful. I felt I had to mold myself to fit the emotions and circumstance of my mother; eventually, I became a person dependent upon emotions and circumstance to tell me who was and what I would do. I was emotion and circumstance. I would find friends and boyfriends and mold myself into what I thought they wanted.

Nouwen states, "Jesus came to free you from these bonds and to create in you a space where you can be with him." To me, this is the meaning of home. Nouwen continues, "He wants you to live the freedom of the children of God." This reminds me of something Joyce Meyer says in one of her podcasts..."With God, you can live a life that you have never before experienced." (5/16/10)

Trust the Inner Voice
Nouwen states, “Do you really want to be converted? Are you willing to be transformed? Or do you keep clutching your old ways of life with one hand while with the other you beg people to help you change?”

Sometimes I wonder. I have this lengthy, in-depth blog with numerous posts and pages of this “journey” I speak of. I read daily, I’ve written more in the last couple of months than I have in my entire life combined, I’m praying, I’m having revelations, I’m listening to spiritual podcasts, I am consistent with my counseling and my medicine…but I still wonder, do I really want to be converted? Am I really ready to be transformed, and transformed completely?

I am holding on to my old life, not by actions but by thought. By guilt and shame and regret, I’m still hanging on the old, miserable Kristin. I so much want to let her go, but I’m kind of fond of that girl, that weak, sad girl. I feel like she needs me, like she will be truly lost if let her go. Part of me wants to believe the old Kristin could survive and be successful in her old ways. I spent 27 years as that girl, and the thought of grieving her loss is unimaginable. So much of me wants to resurrect her, to tell her it will all be okay and the last 27 years weren’t a complete waste, but another part of me wants to lay her to rest, give her one last kiss on the cheek, maybe have a glass of wine for good measure, and be done with her. This would be freedom. (5/12/10)

Stop Being a Pleaser
Nouwen begins, “You have to let your father and father figures go. You must stop seeing yourself through their eyes and trying to make them proud of you.” I scratched out the word father and wrote mother.

How did I please my mother? I kept my mouth shut to avoid verbal warfare and drank my feelings instead. I agreed with every crazy demand she made but rebelled in secret. I wore a mask, a never-ending facade of “yes, mother” to get through her particular crisis at the time. Obedience led to comfort only to be led to more crisis.

Others have taken the place of my mother. How do I please others? I say yes when I mean no. I skirt around a topic, viewpoint, question, want, or need. I don’t say what I want, therefore I don’t get what I want, and then I resent the person for not giving me what I want.

Nouwen says, “You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.” How do I identify as a free self? I first thought to be a free self I would need to know what I want and why I want it, and tell others exactly what I want. But at this point in my journey, I believe that to be a free self I should just stop wanting and start trusting. Start trusting that God will give me everything I need, and what I don’t have that he wants to give me, he will place in me the desire to seek out those things, creating an even greater dependence on him which will only strengthen my walk of faith and bring God the greatest glory. (5/11/10)

Keep Returning to the Road to Freedom
I experience one set back as I’m reminded of another. Then something painful happens, and it all becomes too overbearing and I quit. I surrender, not to God, but to pain. I find myself again in that same lost place, where all I have around me is the smallness of myself. This is depression.

Sometimes stepping off onto the shoulder is necessary; it’s a matter of survival. I may just have to step to the side for a bit to let bigger obstacles pass, all for the simple fact that I am not yet strong enough to take them head on. (5/9/10)

Find the Source of Your Loneliness
Why am I lonely? What is my pain and how can it pave a new way to Christ’s love?

Growing up it was hard to keep friends. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t fit in because of my looks, my family, my life – as a child and now as an adult. Here I am living alone in a small apartment with no connection to childhood friends, to high school friends, to college friends. I look around and I haven’t gone far. I’ve only been taken advantage of; I’ve only been judged, and I don’t measure up – to my standards or others.

My situation is unique. The situation of my mother. The situation of my father. The situation of the fighting. The situation of being too sexually familiar too young. The situation of how much I hate myself, how much I hate how I look, how I smell, how I feel, how I talk, how I cry. This separates me from others. I want to fit in. I want to be liked. I want to be thought highly of, but my situation prevents this and adds to my loneliness. And at the heart of the matter, this all is not possible anyways.

I’m more comfortable alone because nothing matters. There are no judgments. No criticisms as to how my apartment looks, how I look, how my belongings look, what I do or how I do it. No one understands me, so I seclude myself because I’m more comfortable alone than around people who don’t understand me.

Open Yourself to the First Love
I have felt the need to move on from so many failed relationships. It becomes exhausting, this “moving on”. Instead, I should work to accept these relationships as what they were, and as Nouwen says, “realize that the love you received in them is part of a greater love.”

In relationships, if I sense something doesn’t “click”, or if a person rubs me the wrong way, then I immediately place the person in the “outsiders” category. I will be friendly to them, but not overly, sometimes I will say hello, and sometimes I just completely ignore them. I don’t care about consistency with these “outsiders”.

But, even a person’s presence, his or her acknowledgment of me, whether we are strangers, acquaintances or best friends, is all a part of a greater love – God’s love. I must be thankful, kind, and open to all love in the same way, no matter how big or small.

Tell Your Story in Freedom
I will not let my past make me bitter and weak. I will allow my past to strengthen me, to soften me. I will become strong yet soft, calm yet energized. My past does not define me; it simply tells a story of the woman I've become. (5/3/10)

Keep Living Where God Is
I feel like, at this point, it's so easy for me to drift from where God is and not even know it. Or, is it possible I just think I am not with God? Could it be that I am being hard on myself spiritually as I am in every other part of my life?

Cling to the Promise
God will put people in my life with whom I can confide in, trust, and feel secure. I must remain hopeful in this. I must also remain hopeful in knowing God will answer all of my questions, clear all of my confusion, and provide my soul with the love and acceptance I long for. All of my emotional holes, my dark, hollow abyss - He will fill with love, delivered to me through the spirit and human hands. But I must hold on. I must never give up. And while never giving up, I must take contentment in what is and what will be. (3/30/10)

Go into the Place of your Pain
I feel so stuck in my pain, like I can't move past it. It's always there, weighing me down, dictating my words and my actions. It's a feeling in my gut that says, "You are not well."

My pain controls me, what I do and don't do, say and don't say,

Anxiety, despair, regret - all rooted deep in my soul. Years of struggles, problems, bad memories, mistakes, missed opportunity - bits of pain pieced together into this person I've become, a person I've been running from and clinging on to for years, too many years. (3/16/10)

Trust in the Place of Unity
What does my heart believe?

I am loved. I am lovable. I love others.

God is love; therefore, God rests patiently in all relationships now and yet to come. God rests in me. (3/4/10)

Bring Your Body Home
My body is God's body, His temple. Therefore, I must respect it, own it, care for it, and use it for His good. I am His possession. I loathe myself, I regret myself -- this disappoints my creator. No matter what I've done or where I've been, God LOVES me. (3/4/10)

Understand the Limitations of Others
Limitations of others are okay, because no one person can give me what I need. I find what I need to make me content within myself.

Come Home
I am unsure what Nouwen means by home. My childhood and adolescent home was unstable, chaotic, quickly changing from one extreme to the other, depressing, draining, bitter, angry, and frustrating.

I am getting acquainted with my home, another new apartment--keeping it clean and organized, taking care of it. I have never done this before, I have never valued where I lived by taking care of my home. I have wondered why I always remained fearful anywhere I lived. Now, I understand why. I don't feel safe here or in any home. In my subconscious, home is unsafe and I am vulnerable.

In this sense, home is not meant in the familiar definition, but is meant to be a place inside of me where I find all that is offered by a true, healthy home.

I am coming home. Home where I feel loved. Home where I feel appreciated and accepted in all circumstances, everyday no matter what. Home is where I want to be, where I want to return to, and where I don't want to leave.

Give Gratuitously
I will always love Jared. I will always love Jared's family. They welcomed me and loved me, despite my darkness. Inevitably, my darkness blocked me from accepting that I was loved. So I sabotaged and ran like always.

What's done is done. Love is love. I pray they forgive me and love me still, even if it's in some tiny, forgotten place in their hearts. And I am okay if they don't.

Cry Inward
Lord, I need you. I am a jug pouring out with no event, relationship, memory, drink, day, experience, paycheck, or person able to fill me up. I am craving what you offer--love, peace, joy, patience, respect, humility, charity, thankfulness. I am empty. I fill my emptiness with items fit only for the flesh. Feed my soul, Lord, with fruits found only in you.

Always Come Back to the Solid Place
This week was difficult. I feel drained, tired, sad, empty, questioning life. I must choose solid ground. (2/26/10)

Work Around Your Abyss
How can I find balance? How do I know I'm working around my abyss? How do I know what to do?
Good: what I did on Sunday--typed out my feelings and thoughts, medicated, listened to spiritual podcast, nurtured my soul
Bad: drinking, self-loathing, suicide (02/10)

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