A dream to remember

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Do you believe in dreams? By that I mean, do you ever wake and know that your dream meant something real? I’m a big believer in the power of dreams, and I had one last night that was so encouraging to me that I just wanted to share.

First, a little backstory. This last year has been one of questions for me. I’ve done a lot of self-examination, a lot of mental wandering…wondering about vocation vs. hobby, who I am vs. who I want to be, etc. I can visualize the kind of life and work and meaning I want to have and bring to the world, but I have such a hard time finding the way there, and so much impatience about how long it’s taking, that I often wonder if these visions of the future hold any weight, if they could ever come to pass.

Back to the dream. I dreamt that I was wearing my wedding dress, and my hair was down, and loose. I was in a large open field, under a tree. There were lots of people surrounding me, including some I admire and know only by their work. Everyone was smiling and connecting with each other. In front of me was hanging a rope, the kind you would use to swing into a lake. I knew that if I got on this rope and swung on it while wearing my wedding dress in front of all of these people, it would look really silly, but I also knew that it would mean I had come to my fullest potential and finally become the truest expression of myself. I was kind of nervous, but I was laughing and everyone around me was encouraging me, “Get on the rope! Do it! You have to!” Finally I just decided to give in to it, and I climbed on the rope and started swinging, in front of everyone. I was going higher and higher, my wedding dress and my hair were flying out behind me and I felt completely free, with the purest sense of joy. Everyone was clapping and just so happy. Joy was the only emotion anyone had. My field of vision kind of panned out and I saw myself, swinging, surrounded by all of these people, and I was totally free of any fears or insecurities, basking in complete fullness of self, joy, and purpose.

When I woke up, I just knew that this dream was meant as an encouragement. Despite all the fears and gnawing, daily insecurities I may have about my talents, my work, my passions, my life and relationships…if I just move forward and swing on that rope despite it, I will accomplish those dreams. And I have so much support. It was like the whole world was saying, “You have to lay down your fears and just start swinging…we’ve got you.”

 

(photo of my sister-friend, Jen, in La Casa del Árbol Baños, Ecuador)

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An Excerpt and Reflection: On Dragon Skin

Please bear with me as I share a longer excerpt from my favorite book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. It has always moved me, but this past week, I have felt extra drawn to it. Before I say more on that, here is the excerpt:

“I won’t tell you how I became a—a dragon till I can tell the others and get it all over,” said Eustace. “By the way, I didn’t even know it was a dragon till I heard you all using the word when I turned up here the other morning. I want to tell you how I stopped being one.”

“Fire ahead,” said Edmund.

“Well, last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring was hurting like anything—”

“Is that all right now?”

Eustace laughed—a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before—and slipped the bracelet easily off his arm. “There it is,” he said, “and anyone who likes can have it as far as I’m concerned. Well, as I say, I was lying awake and wondering what on earth would become of me. And then—but, mind you, it may have all been a dream. I don’t know.”

“Go on,” said Edmund, with considerable patience.

“Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it— if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”

“You mean it spoke?”

“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden—trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.

“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells—like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

“But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to et out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

“The the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—‘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 of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“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 from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.

“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me—”

“Dressed you. With his paws?”

“Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes—the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”

“No. It wasn’t a dream,” said Edmund.

“Why not?”

“Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been—well, un-dragoned, for another.”

“What do you think it was, then?” asked Eustace.

“I think you’ve seen Aslan,” said Edmund.

***

I have been a dragon for many years. I’ve been angry, cynical, skeptical, hurt, and apathetic about faith, God, Christians, and the church. I was content to be so. Many of my friends were in the same boat, so it seemed natural, and at times, even laudable. I grew up in a very conservative Evangelical family and church, and went to a college in the same vein. It was towards the end of college that I began to come that way, and it has continued through my entire seminary experience. I had a lot of doubts and questions, and carried them as my proverbial cross, but with a source of pride and an unrelenting grip. I would become defensive and almost hostile towards anyone who suggested I was perhaps a little too cynical, or—God forbid!—I should try going to church again.

In the last year, I realized just how unhappy I really was, and above all, angry. I didn’t want to live in anger anymore. I wanted this “pain in my arm” that Eustace had, gone. I sought out a professor I admired, and he provided some useful and helpful advice, and I felt myself heading down what I saw as a very long path towards healing and recovery.

I met a few astounding people, and I grew into relationships where I was being challenged to change and grow, and pursue this healing I desired. But while I appreciated—and wanted—their help, I felt it was all going too fast. I insisted on doing it at my pace, in my way. I was a little more open to hearing about God and understanding what it meant to be a Christian, and while I had started to attend a church service here and there, the pain in my arm was still deep.

Just two weeks ago, I read this excerpt out loud to someone, and I began crying within a minute of beginning. I knew that my attempts at growth, my small steps and slight willingness to be more open, was only me trying to peel of the skin by myself. I could step back and see all my skins that I had shed, and I was really proud of them. But I was still a dragon. I knew I needed it to be ripped off of me, but I wanted it. 

Oh, careless wishful thinking! It has been ripped; I have been ripped open. Circumstances outside of my control and my desires have forced this upon me. I am still very fresh and raw from it; I may be for some time. Unlike Eustace, I did not lie down on my back and allow it to happen willingly; I tried everything I could to stop it, in fact. But that does not mean that I cannot now willingly allow the lion to dress me in new clothes. 

I went on a retreat this weekend—a spiritual retreat. Talk about outside my comfort zone! But I chose to be open to it, and to try to hear words of comfort. If I’m being completely honest, I was hoping to hear from God. I don’t know what that sounds/looks/feels like; I can’t say I’ve ever experienced it. But I was desperate for new clothes. 

I don’t know quite what happened, but something did, that much I know for sure. I felt comfort. I felt peace. I felt strong, even. Or, stronger. I felt like I was able to read things that I’ve read dozens, almost a hundred times, and see and understand them with new eyes and ears. There was something inside of me that awoke, and was anxious to completely shed the dragon skin. 

I shall end with just a few more lines from that chapter that describe exactly how I’m feeling after all of this. 

“It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresom. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

I don’t know if I can say after only a week that I am a different person. But I am beginning to be. My cure is beginning, and my prayer and intent is for it to continue on, until I can say that I am a different person. 

Tumbling Thoughts on Growth

How do we measure growth? What does it look like? I’ve been told it comes with time, and we hardly recognize it while it is happening, but one day you look back, and you can see how far you’ve come. It’s an interesting thing.

I have been living in a place for quite a while now, where I was constantly seeking growth. I mean, I still am. But how do I measure that? Is it measured in faults disappearing? Is it measured by a blossoming vulnerability? Is it measured by small, daily acts? Does the word ‘growth’ necessitate the meaning ‘changing who you are’? And how much of oneself is able to be changed, and how much is just personality? How much should we change for a person, and how much should we stand up for ourselves and say, “This is who I am, love me or leave me”? 

I think the number one thing I’ve been thinking about, of all those questions, is the line between parts of myself that can, and should, change, and parts of myself that are inherent to who I am and my personality. Is my ‘rate of growth’ inherent to who I am? If I am a slow, cautious, guarded person by nature, should I stay that way, protecting who I am, or should I see if I can change that, and try more things at once and see where that gets me? I’ve always struggled with this. What parts of me are changeable, and which are not? Are there any parts of me that are unchangeable? 

I have been on a search for betterness: having a stronger, better faith; being better at my faults (stubbornness, pride, procrastination); being better at opening myself up to people. But how much time should we allot for bettering ourselves? I’ve always been of the persuasion that we should be patient with ourselves, and have grace, but I also know I’m prone to having too much grace, too much patience, and consequently, not much gets done. Sometimes, do we need to just jump all in to the new change? If we are waiting for people to change, when they say they want to, how much time do we give them before we say, “Well, are you ever going to do something about this or are you only going to keep talking about it?” When does grace run out? Can patience and hope continue on indefinitely? Should we expect them to? When does support for someone’s journey turn into enabling them to stay where they’re at? Is enabling always up to one person, or can unconditional support simply be taken advantage of? Do we still offer it, even if it is? 

For me, it really all comes down to the question of what parts of ourselves are able to be changed (and should) and what parts of ourselves are simply inherent to our personality and should be protected? Thoughts?

P.S. I want to be clear, I don’t ever think we should change simply for another person. But, when someone shows you something about yourself that could be bettered, I resolutely think we should consider what they are bringing to us. And, if change does need to occur, we should do it because we want to, not because the other person wants us to; to do otherwise would be disingenuous. 

My conversations with friends have lately been along quite similar lines. Talking about the future, looking at our pasts, seeing where we’ve come from, wondering where we’re headed. All of this makes me so much more aware that despite my best efforts, I really have no idea where I will be in a year. Plans for further education (yes, even further), musings about relationships, worries about finances…all of this is ultimately beyond what I am capable of controlling. Of course, we do have a say about how our life turns out, to a certain degree. But in the end, more is out of our hands than in it. Two years ago I was freshly graduated from college with no future plans. Now I am halfway through my grad school program, living on the west coast, far away from (most of) the people I love. Of course, much is still the same—the same financial worries (will those ever leave? My heart and reason tell me “no”), the same wondering about relationships (I am a girl, after all), the same planning for my dream job. But through all of this, I am always reminded that it is best to take it one day at a time. Even on the most dull of days, where all I do is wake up, make coffee, do homework, go to class, and go back to sleep (which sounds like most days to me, as of late), I try to remember to just take each day on its own. Of course, my hopes and imagination get carried away and I get restless. But the fact of the matter is, it’s in the dullness of daily tasks where life happens. So many times I have looked back on my life and noticed how much has changed…and I didn’t even notice. Life goes on by itself, regardless of our impatience with it. So, rather than spending my free time imagining how I wish my life was, I need to be thankful for where my life is. Epicurus is the sage whispering in my ear the gentle reminder, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” Life, change, movement—this is all happening while we go about our business. It is only when we look back that we can see how we’ve changed. 

“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers…live the questions.” —Ranier Maria Rilke

You Tell Me How to Be a Girl in 2010

Questions, doubt, ambiguity, and dissent have somehow become very unmasculine. Authoritarian maniacs are premiers, czars, and presidents. Each one is more righteous than the next. Each town they bomb each human they kill is done for “humanitarian” purposes.

People don’t own the water in their own village and they certainly don’t own the diamonds and gold. Millions are forced to make dinner out of garbage and dust while Russian businessmen and movie stars are buying 500-million-euro villas on Cote Sud.

Bees have stopped making honey. People are drilling in all the wrong places. The U.S., Russia, Canada, Denmark, and Norway all claim the Arctic but none of them seem to care that the polar bears are drowning.

They are fingerprinting, photographing our licenses and teeth. Big Brother is now in our phones, our pods, our PCs. Not one of us feels even a little safer. New Age mental health providers turn out to be former war torturers with beards. And the pope in a dress showing off his ermine trim and cuffs is telling everyone that people kissing people they love is the greatest evil. A woman running for U.S. vice president believes in creationism but not global warming.

Why is everyone so much more afraid of sex than SCUD missiles? And who decided God wasn’t into pleasure? And if the hetero nuclear family is so great how come everyone is fleeing it or paying their life savings just to sit in a room with a stranger and cry about it?

The Iraq war cost nearly $3 trillion. I can’t even count that high but I know that money could have would have ended poverty in general which would have cancelled terrorism. How come we have money to kill but no money to feed or heal? How come we have money to destroy but no money for art and schools?

The fundamentalists now have billion-dollar armies. The Taliban is back but never went away. Women are burned, raped, bludgeoned, sold, starved, and buried alive and still don’t know they are the majority.

Water is clearly running out but even in the desert where there’s serious drought the golf courses are green and lush and the swimming pools are full of water for the twelve rich people who might decide to come.

Special people adopt hand-picked babies in faraway lands. Their flights there cost more than the babies’ parents made this year. Why don’t just give it to them? Slavery is back but never went away. Jus ask anyone who’s been whipped how deep the legacy. Six million dead in the Congo and they never made the news, and don’t tell me it doesn’t have to do with color and minerals.

Poor folks are dying first from hurricanes shame tsunamis radiation pollution floods and neglect. Rich folks just put up fancier super-electrified gates on their private perfect cities.

Everyone’s having “benefits” and throwing fancy parties with lots of swag so the rich people feel good about giving away the tiny little bit of the whole lot they have. But no one really wants to change anything. If you really want it you have to give something up like everything and then those that have, wouldn’t, and then who would they be? And that’s too complicated so they write checks and keep doing the same old things. Selling change. Making revolution profitable. Corporations own everything anyway even our hippie jeans, memory cells, and rain. Why do so many women leaders look like Margaret Thatcher and act even meaner? Why doesn’t anyone remember anything? And how come rich bad people get paid lots of money to give speeches and poor bad people are tortured in prisons? Is there anyone in charge? Or is this whole thing spinning out until it explodes or dissolves? And if there is something we can do why aren’t we doing it? What happened to fury? What happened to accuracy or accountability? What happened to not showing off your wealth? What happened to kindness? What happened to teenagers rebelling instead of buying and selling? What happened to teenagers kissing instead of blogging and dissing? What happened to teenagers marching and refusing instead of exploiting and using?

I want to touch you in real time not find you on YouTube, I want to walk next to you in the mountains not friend you on Facebook. Give me one thing I can believe in that isn’t a brand name.

I’m lonely. I’m scared. Girls younger than me are giving blowjobs in homeroom and they don’t even know it’s sex. They just want to be popular and get some respect. Most girls my age are taking pills or eating or starving or getting nose jobs or implants or getting cut or covering themselves or desperate for a way to be awake without faking to be alive without freaking to be serious to be true to even think of loving someone when we’re already doomed.

You tell me how to be a girl in 2010. 

I say let’s go for it if it’s all coming down. I say let’s speak it let’s fight it let’s right it there’s nothing to hold on to if it’s already gone. They left it to us. It sucks but it’s true. It’s you and me baby. 

—Eve Ensler, from I Am an Emotional Creature