I’mpossible

I make a vision board every year, and I’ve done so for about five years.

I’ve written about my vision boards before. I’m part of a small circle of women who gather some time in November or December to create vision boards for the coming year. We enter the process prayerfully, asking God ahead of time what the year’s word or theme should be. Then we come together, blank canvases in hand. We also bring the current year’s board, and we each share how God worked through the items on the poster. Next we invite the Holy Spirit to lead us in the words and images we’ll pull from leftover magazines, and we begin. We give ourselves several hours to complete the task.

I mean … it’s kinda funny. We each sit on the floor with a 99¢ poster board before us. We’re surrounded by the hurricane-like chaos of ripped magazines, discarded bits of paper and cheap shiny embellishments, using–then discarding–scissors, vying for glue sticks, pasting cut-out words and images to the poster while the pink tips of our tongues poke from the corners of our mouths. It’s like elementary school or something! Yet God uses all of it. Our prayers, our first-grade tools, our silly seriousness. It’s so like him to meet us in this child-like moment, when what we’re doing feels huge and important to us, but probably not so much to a Father with greater responsibilities on his radar. Yet he looks at his daughters’ hand-made work with loving eyes, discerning his own face and our very hearts in each sticky cut-out, and judging them valuable, important. It’s very kind, very loving of him. But I digress.

Earlier this week I was lying in bed looking at my 2014 board (it’s on the wall beside my bed so I’ll see it when I wake) thinking about the post I needed to finish, and my eyes landed on the bottom left corner. It’s a picture of a woman striking a punching bag. Across the bottom I’d pasted the word “I’mpossible.”

photo 2 photo

And that’s what I love about making a vision board: The vision part.

When I was sitting on my friend’s living room floor making this board, I didn’t really think about why I was attracted to that picture. I just cut it out–and then that picture made it to the board when other images I’d chosen were eventually thrown in the discard pile.

And I didn’t put any deep thought into why I cut out “I’mpossible.” I remember thinking it was catchy. But why did I paste that word/phrase on top of that image?

As always, at different times through the year my eyes would be drawn to different areas on the board. Almost every day I’d stare at the board, my eyes skipping and skimming over the words and images. Occasionally they’d land on some segment, and I’d suddenly find context in those unpremeditated scraps.

That woman punching that bag with that word beneath her has been there all year. My eyes always skipped past her, until earlier this week, when suddenly that corner of the board had context. For so long I didn’t think it was possible to be comfortable in my own skin: To be wholly myself and still wholly acceptable. To be strong and be a woman. To be powerful and determined woman and be a Christ-follower who is feminine and pleasing to God. But it is, and I am. I’m possible.

What ands are you struggling to reconcile?

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Secure Tracie

As far back as I can remember, people have called me bossy, resilient, a leader, overbearing, commanding, attractive, tough, compelling, mean, powerful, sassy, opinionated…

When I was a 19-year-old legal secretary, my bosses thought I was closer to 30. They suggested we celebrate my birthday at the local bar. When I told them I wouldn’t be old enough to drink for another year, their jaws hit the floor. “But you’re so …”

And when I was 28 (same field, different workplace), a co-worker thought I was in my 40s. “Now that I look at you,” she said, peering at my face,” I can see you’re nowhere near 40. But you seem so … “

Don’t say it, I thought, cringing inside.

“Strong.”

Of all the labels, I heard that one most. And I hated it. “Strong” was at odds with everything I believed I was supposed to be. I was on a quest to be the perfect Christian woman. We aren’t supposed to be strong. We’re supposed to be delicate, quiet, submissive. This strength thing kept tripping me up.

Plus, strength inherently requires responsibility. (Like Spider-Man!) It kept happening: People would perceive strength as authority for some crazy reason, and they’d feel compelled to, like, listen to me or something. I already had enough to do without being responsible for whatever dumb thing came out of my mouth!

But worst of all, some people (many people) would react to me in painful ways. I have a mental flipbook of my life, featuring team mates giving me the side eye; friends shunning me; acquaintances assuming the worst of me; people I loved standing apart from me. These things happened as a result of me just … being me.*

By the end of my 30s, I was a wreck. I hated myself. I’d been working so hard to be un-me that I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. It was physically and emotionally draining. (I spent a couple hours last night reading blog entries going back several years. I can see it all playing out so clearly.) I prayed earnestly, tearfully and regularly for God to change me.

I wrote a very mean letter to myself in 2011 that started, “Dear Too-much Tracie: Honestly? I don’t like you very much.” It went on to say, “Whenever you open your mouth you stir up trouble. You constantly ruin things for me.” And, “If it weren’t for you, people wouldn’t reject me. I wouldn’t be socially awkward, too loud, a big misfit, afraid to stand out.” I ended the letter with these words: “If there was a Secure Tracie somewhere, I don’t know what she’d say to you. She doesn’t exist. Maybe she will one day, and when she does, she can write to you.”

Welp. As always, God answered my prayers. As always, it wasn’t the way I anticipated. He didn’t do a major personality overhaul. He just … changed my mind about me. It didn’t happen all at once, but it’s been happening gradually. I’ll write about it another time. All I know is, I put on on Secure Tracie’s coat the other day. It’s a bit big, but I’m growing into it. So.

Dear Too-much Tracie:

You and I are one and the same… and I love you, you socially awkward, too loud, big misfit! Go ahead, stand out!

XXOO,
Secure Tracie

*I’m not saying I never did anything wrong or that I never owed anyone an apology. That happened too, of course.

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The Open Gate (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

As the dream became more and more hungry, the girl became more and more desperate. Why would the servants not open the gate? Why were they ignoring her cries? Had she done something wrong? Was there something wrong with her?

Soon her desperation turned to anger. She kept beating at the gate, but the servants would not respond. Enraged, the girl decided to leave the hospital. She wanted the servants to regret their cruelty and wish in vain that they had opened the gate for her.

But despite her anger, the girl knew that her thoughts weren’t pleasing to the King. She believed the King had brought her to the hospital, that in His kindness he had provided a place for her to serve. She had served loyally out of love for the King and his servants. She didn’t want to throw away his generous gift because she was blinded by anger and pain.

So before she carried out her revenge, she went away to a secret place and sought Him. She waited quietly there for Him. And one day He came to her.

“Lord,” she cried,”You know what pain I am feeling! This hunger gnaws away at me, but your servants have refused to feed me! Why won’t they give me the small meal I’ve enjoyed all these years?”

The King sat beside her and touched her cheek. “My girl,” He said gently. “You have been blind! Look.”

Then the girl saw herself as the King saw her. She was facing the closed gate, beating at it with all her strength yet powerless to open it.

“Why do you think the food I have for you can only be found through that closed gate?” He asked.

And then the girl saw that behind her was another gate. One that stood wide open. One she’d never noticed, because all her attention had been focused on the closed gate.

“But Lord,” the girl asked with astonishment. “Are you saying it is okay to serve somewhere other than this garden, at this hospital? I was certain you would say that my desire was a wrong one!”

“Your heart was misled by revenge, this is true,” He said. “And I did lead you to this place. You have served here and you have grown here, and you have also found the food I left here for you. These are good things. But it was never my intention that you should serve me here–and here only–forever. Do you not know that all seasons must end so that new seasons can begin? Do you not know that you can serve me anywhere? Do you not know that I am able to provide abundant nourishment for you, wherever I lead you?”

Suddenly the girl saw how silly and afraid she had been. She realized the other gate had been open to her for a long time–she’d known this somewhere inside herself. But she’d been too afraid to turn around, too terrified to give the King the dream she’d hidden. She’d told herself she needed what was behind the closed gate, when in truth her King had awakened a hunger that could no longer be satisfied there. Through the open gate was the path to the land of her childhood, filled with flowers that bloomed colorful and bright, in beautiful defiance of the weeds and thorns. There in that beautiful land (called Faith) was a place for her to plant the seed of her dream, where it would surely die beneath the ground. Yet this was a chance for the girl to trust the King. He would be able to grow the dead seed into the new, living thing He’d always meant it to be. She knew He could: she’d seen Him do it countless times before.

The King wrapped His arms around the girl. “Will you trust me and walk through the open gate?” She nodded. And then the girl stood up with Him, encircled in His kind embrace, and walked through the open gate.

The End Middle.

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The Open Gate (Part 1)

Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived in a beautiful land where nothing was impossible. The King of that beautiful place had given her a seed for big, lovely dream, and with all the trust in her heart she awaited its blossoming. Because she was a child, the heavy seed and the big dream it contained didn’t terrify her. She didn’t ask silly questions like, “How will my dream ever blossom and grow?”

Then hard things happened, and to the little girl’s eyes, these hard things overtook the beautiful land. Her childhood home seemed overgrown with weeds and thorns. So to protect herself from the pain of a dead dream, she placed the dream in a tiny box and hid it deep inside her heart. No longer little, she hacked away at the weeds and thorns with tools fashioned from duty, responsibility and fear. But the buried dream somehow added depth and intricacy to her tools, so that sometimes she could use them to produce tiny, pretty flowers. She decided to use her tools to survive, forsaking the big dream. But the tiny, pretty flowers were incomparable to the dream she’d put away.

The King was very kind. He often tried to show her that the beautiful land was still near if she would simply look beyond the weeds. He sustained the hidden dream with tiny rays of sunshine and little drops of rain. But the silly girl thought she had found a way to sustain the dream.

In her journey she’d come upon servants who were building a hospital on behalf of the King. She offered to help them build the hospital by sharing her tools with them. One day while she was serving at the hospital, the girl walked down a path and passed through an open gate. There she found a lovely garden. She thought, “My tiny flowers would thrive in this little garden!” The servants agreed, and from then on she would often pass through the gate and into the garden.

Each time she passed through the gate, she’d find a small, tasty meal that the King’s servants had left for her. The meal was just enough to sustain her hidden dream, and this made her happy. So she would regularly walk through the gate and eat the meal. She trusted that these servants would always feed her this way. She didn’t realize the meal was the result of the King’s tiny rays of sunshine and little drops of rain.

But then one day the gate, through which she’d always so freely walked, was shut and locked.

The girl despaired, but she decided to wait for the gate to be opened again.

Meanwhile, the dream began to starve. But rather than wither and die, it burst out of the tiny box and hungrily sought the King’s wonderful nourishment. At first she tried to ignore the hunger, but soon she realized this was useless. Desperate, the girl ran to the closed gate, begging, pleading, banging and crying for the King’s servants to open it again. But the servants ignored her. As the dream became more and more hungry, the girl became more and more desperate. Why would the servants not open the gate? Why were they ignoring her cries? Had she done something wrong? Was there something wrong with her?

Soon her desperation turned to anger.

To be continued.

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Let Me Be Your One and Only

I was at work listening to Pandora, and Adele’s “One and Only” came on.

I started singing along. I sang it for real, like I was in my car or in the shower, and nobody was around.

Then my voice got wobbly and realized I was crying.

I felt like I was singing to myself (because sometimes I’m afraid I’m losing my gift), and to God (because I just want Him to trust me with this again), and to anyone who will listen (because I just want someone to listen).

“I promise I’m worthy! Come on and give me a chance!”

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I Get Out!

I think when you dream about driving/riding/operating a vehicle, that vehicle represents your life.

That said, for several years when I’ve dreamt of driving, I couldn’t see. Sometimes the windshield was blocked; other times it was foggy outside. But most of the time, I was falling asleep at the wheel and couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was terrified I would crash. Yet I was so tired that I couldn’t apply the brakes.

I think it’s fair to say I’ve been navigating my life feeling out-of-control, powerless, blind and terrified.

That’s why the dream I had this morning feels significant:

I was sitting in a minivan in a parking lot. Some people were trying to get at me. I wasn’t scared of them, but they made me nervous. I hit the lock button to keep them out, but they kept trying the doors. Finally I started up the minivan and drove away. The weird people followed on foot.

Suddenly I was driving a huge bus–like a Greyhound. I was in a big closed-in building, and there was no door big enough for the bus. So I put my foot on the gas, maneuvered this huge steering wheel, and busted through the door. Brick and mortar flew everywhere. And I laughed out loud because I was free!

Yeah. I get out of your boxes.

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My Angry Friend

(How do I say this without sounding crazy. I don’t think that’s possible. I’m okay with that.)

I have this friend named Angry Tracie. She first showed up when I was 16 and pregnant; until recently, I didn’t realize how much a part of my life she’d become.

Angry Tracie has been my trusted companion when I’m hurting, and I’ve especially enjoyed rehashing old hurts with her. She seemed to be the only person who listened to me and cared about my feelings. Her presence comforted me. Angry Tracie became my closest friend.

I got saved 13 years ago. But I’ve still trusted her more than anyone. Through lots of personal struggles, when I felt like God wasn’t listening, didn’t like me and wasn’t concerned about my broken heart, Angry Tracie was there to console me. (That’s a hard thing to confess for a Christ-follower.)

I didn’t recognize Angry Tracie’s influence, more than 20 years of it. But I do now. Knowing about her is changing the way I think and behave and live. Jesus is gently working us through it. Man. I love Him for that.

Do you have a “friend” who might be keeping you from really living, and really loving?

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Hopes and Dreams

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

–Langston Hughes

 

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.

–Proverbs 13:12

You know how, when you’re a kid, you dream of being something or doing something particular? And maybe you believe it’s possible just because that’s what kids do.

Then you grow up, and you forget the dream because it was just a childish whim. Or you remember the dream, and you laugh because it really was silly. Or you chase the dream with all you have, because the vivid, bright beauty of it never faded with age (this being the ideal, of course).

Or.

Or you make the dream smaller and squeeze it into your ordinary life. Now it’s dull and dust-covered. Or you bury it alive, and it’s dying away.

I have this dream that’s been part of me as long as I can remember. I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve never laughed at it, never. But it feels too big for me. I’ve been afraid to hope for it, afraid to desire it.

I heard someone say once that the phrase “hope deferred” from the Proverbs doesn’t mean your hopes have been dashed by people or circumstances. Instead, it’s when you and I defer (delay, postpone) our own hope that our hearts become sick. The difference seems subtle at first, but it’s rather profound. When we choose to put off hope … well, nothing good comes from it.

I wonder if that’s how Hughes meant it, too, when he spoke of a deferred dream. This beautiful fragrant thing, like fresh ripe fruit, that when we leave aside for too long, it rots.

And have you ever noticed how dreams and hopes go hand-in-hand? They’re like sisters, or fraternal twins. Hopes (desires) and dreams.

What is your hope, your dream? What have you done with it?

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Christian Womanist?

Womanist: believing in and respecting the abilities and talents of women; acknowledging women’s contributions to society. –Dictionary.com

I’m a womanist. This is almost my first time publicly acknowledging it.

I debated a bit about whether to call myself a feminist (according to Dictionary.com, one who believes women should have rights equal to men). But it seems to me that feminism views a man’s lifestyle as the ideal–like the goal of feminism is to live like men.

Meh.

If I wanted to have a positive affect in the world on behalf of women… if I wanted to change how women are viewed and valued in this world… I just wouldn’t start by putting men on a pedestal (for worshiping, for epitomizing, or for bashing). Let men be men. And let women be women.

I’m also a Christ-follower. I thought for a long time that I couldn’t be both. But I’m learning that God is clever enough to handle all my complexity. Still, I’m sure you can imagine the raging internal debate I’ve been having with myself.

What do you think? Do the paths of Christianity and womanism (and even feminism) diverge?

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The Icing on the Cake

Special Note: Much as I dislike Christian-ese, I’m going to use a word straight out of the Church and Religious People’s Vocabulary Handbook: “Anointing.” Just so no one gets lost, I’ll define it: To be anointed means to have been chosen by God to do a specific thing especially for him.

I was thinking today about the difference between talent and anointing. I was thinking about this because I would consider myself a talented singer. But I have this wonderful, beautiful, amazingly talented friend who is very obviously anointed to lead worship through music. So I wondered today (and not for the first time) if I’m an anointed singer. After I mentally compared myself to my friend, I decided that I’m not.

But today for some reason, it didn’t end there. I felt like God stopped me and asked, “Who said you can’t be anointed?” He impressed on me that he wouldn’t give someone talent in an area if he wasn’t also prepared to anoint in that area. It was simply a matter of wanting it, and that would come by wanting him.

So, what kind of music do I listen to? What are my thoughts toward God? What am I doing to demonstrate to him that I want the honor and responsibility of being anointed? I felt like God said to me, “If you want it, come get it.” And then he reminded me that he’d said the same thing to me years ago. Instead of working toward it then, I spent years gradually letting fear lead to apathy. “I’m not confident enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not talented enough. I’m not compentent enough. God doesn’t even like me. Who wants it anyway? Who cares.” I eventually buried what he said beneath fear and presumed rejection.

Over the years I’ve often compared myself to my friend, and I always fell quite short. That’s stupid of me, of course. I’m not her. Despite my worst thoughts of myself, me being me doesn’t equal automatic disqualification. I think probably the number one requirement of anointing is that you’re you, not wishing you were someone else…

What is the difference between talent and anointing? That’s like asking what’s the difference between cake and icing: They’re not meant to be the same, they’re meant to go together (and quite deliciously). If God baked it, and you offer it back to him, he’ll totally frost it. And then it will be delicious for everyone, and God will get all the glory for making such an awesome cake.

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