If you're at all familiar with the Ransomed Heart corpus of literature (of Epic, Sacred Romance, Journey of Desire, Wild at Heart, and Captivating fame), you know they hold close a few core beliefs:
1) That our lives are caught up in story at both a micro (our own) and macro (God's ultimate) level.
2) That knowing both stories helps make a lot more sense of our lives.
3) That one powerful way we are meant to unveil God's glory on earth is through the unique imprint of His glory in us.
4) And that we have an enemy that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy that glory in us, with an aim toward rendering God's power impotent on earth.
These are pretty powerful truths, if you think about them. I've spent the last big handful of years making sense of the first two points in my own life -- what story have I been living in? how much of that has been given by God and how much is of my own making? where do I go from here? -- but it's really with the latter two that it all begins. It's with the question of His unique imprint in us and the enemy's attempts to mar and destroy that image that we're able to begin making sense of the part of the story God meant for us to share.
And it's with these latter two ideas that I'll begin to establish some backstory with you about this new adventure He's invited me into.
His Unique Imprint
Were you to see me as a little kid, you would more often than not find me one way: curled up in some random corner reading a book. Some people who read this voraciously as a kid did so to escape their reality. Others did it as a precursor to their own eventual storytelling. But neither of these were my bent. (Indeed, the teacher's invitation to make up stories or draw something of my own choosing felt more like a ticket to horror than any exciting ride.) No, I finally realized recently that the reason I gobbled up novels like candy as a kid was because it was the closest I could get to inhabiting another human being's skin. (I find it interesting that my appetite for real, human stories has grown considerably in my adult years, completely overshadowing my previous interest in novels.)
Let me elaborate on this further. When I read Ramona Quimby, Age 8, I felt that I truly knew Ramona's insides. I got all her jokes, even if nobody else did, and I felt each and every one of her scowls. I keenly sensed Beezus for the awkward, gangly, miserable teenager that she was. I could feel Susan with the Boing-Boing Curls's impudence as a mask to some other deep-seated loneliness. (Whoa. Did I just psychoanalyze the Ramona Quimby books?!) Similarly, when I read Dear Mr. Henshaw, I felt the deep layers of that young boy's pain as he wrote those heartfelt letters, and I wished I could have responded to him myself. And when I read Island of the Blue Dolphins, I felt the young girl's acute loneliness on the island and applauded the bravery, ingenuity, and strength she demonstrated in her forays. I even felt the joy and friendliness of the visiting dolphins when they came around!
And when it came to knowing people in real life, it was more of the same. Obviously, I was bent toward one-to-one friendships rather than the raucous, popularity-driven crowds, preferring to know one other person deeply rather than lots of people superficially. (This was a conscious choice in elementary school.) But at a deeper level, you wouldn't believe the kind of conversations I held with adults in my life when I was very young age (say, seven?). There was something in my makeup that caused other people -- even, and especially, adults -- to trust and confide in me. For some reason, I could go there with them and even champion their journey.
I guess, simply put, you could say that God embedded in me a deep ability and desire to see people as they truly are, to hear their actual stories, to care for their unique journeys, and to be sensitive to their needs. Summed up, He gave me acute perception, discernment, and sensitivity . . . which, to be honest, was also, and often, a crying curse.
The Enemy's Affliction
I suppose in a way you could say all that reading was still a form of escape. It was fueled by the desire to really and truly know another, to find kinship and understanding and beauty in their personhood, but that's probably because it was so difficult to find that in any safe and authentic way in the real world. What I mean is, when God gives you a gift for seeing others and being a strength for them on their journey, it really is a gift -- it's not something every single person in the world has an ability to do. Which means, if you're the one giving it, you often feel lonely and unseen by the people you love in that way.
I've endured the pain of loneliness in my fair share of relationships in my life, and I wish it wasn't so. Sometimes I've wanted to throw in the towel and not be so giving (clearly one of the enemy's attempts to thwart God's glory in my life), since it makes me so perceptibly aware of what I, too, desire to receive but maybe won't. But then I can't do it. This is partly because God formed me this way, and I can't not be it. But it's also because I know the desire to be known is implanted by God -- it's really a desire for Him that people have, as He is the One who knows and sees us more deeply than any other human being ever could -- and so loving people this way, I know, is one way I bear the Imago Dei. It's also what keeps me running, arms splayed wide open, straight into His chest when I need to be known in that way, too. It's also what makes me unfailingly grateful for the people in my life who care in this reciprocal way. It's rare, and I don't take it for granted.
When I think about other ways the enemy tried to advance his forces against my soul, even in my youthful years, a few sharp memories spring into focus.
The first happened when I was 5. I was in first grade, and I had a crush on Stevie Moore. The teacher had taken the class to the upper playground, where there was lots of grass, for the daily dose of physical education (which I hated), and we were playing a chase game called "Trees." At the first whistle, everyone in class runs around like wild hyenas. At the second whistle, groups of two pair up and interlace their hands overhead, forming a "tree," while the remaining kids run underneath the paired arms to get "caught" in the trees. Or something like that.
On the day of this particular memory, I got caught in Stevie Moore's tree, only facing the other way, toward his partner. Then I felt a small kiss on my back. Stevie Moore had kissed my back! Wow. Can a five-year-old experience heart palpitations?
Back in the classroom, winded and exhilarated, I confided this with a girl at my table -- the prettiest girl in class who always wore frilly dresses and had silky, long brown hair and deep blue eyes. "He kissed me on the back!" I cheered.
"Well, he kissed me on the lips," the girl said, and flounced her hair over her shoulder. And just like that, I was dismissed in a moment when I had chosen to put myself out there.
Another time a group of boys, led by the class bully, circled around me at recess as I wandered through a line of trees on the edge of the playground field. They circled closer and closer, and finally grabbed my arms while the bully ordered another one to lift my dress so they could stare at my underpants. I remember the small boy's face who took the order, pleading wordlessly with me for forgiveness as he put me through this shame, as though he knew it was wrong and that it would hurt me badly. And it did. Again, another moment of dismissal in a moment of vulnerability as I wandered, carefree and joyfully, through the line of trees.
It's these kinds of experiences (and there are more that I could tell) that caused me to close up and guard my words and actions, and definitely my deepest thoughts and feelings, from the rest of the world. It's probably what made reading feel so safe and established, since I got kinship and deep knowledge of another without the pain. But really, the pain was still there. I had just learned to lock it up deep inside, hidden from others, and even sometimes, though not so successfully most of the time, even myself.
In my next installment on the subject, I'll share more about the path toward freedom God began to carve out in my life . . . and how this all, eventually, relates to what He and I are beginning to build, together.