A couple of weeks ago I started a class entitled 'Listen to My Life' that has been run several times in the past by one of my dearest friends. Penny is a pastor at one of those monster churches - we fondly refer to it as 'Six Flags Over Jesus' - that is attracting people by the thousands. She has more work to do than any 3 people normally can manage AND she worked with this group of women who were gathering to tell the story of their lives and listen to the tellings.
Penny, knowing me as well as she does, knew that this class would be something I would be drawn to and fall in love with. What's not to love, really? Women? Gathering together to talk about the things that matter most to them? Talking about their life stories? Talking about how God has worked through and played in their lives? Learning to listen exquisitely and ask questions - not for clarification, but to help others better understand their story?
Eating brownies, for God sakes?!
Yeah, that sounds like me, alright. Penny knows me well.
So, last night was the beginning of the reflection of lives, not just the 'meet and greet' that has been happening the last two weeks (in which this WOO thrives, by the way...) I knew it could be awkward. I knew it would be hard. I knew there would be tears. And laughter. I knew some people would be uncomfortable. I knew my heart would open and break at some of what was going to be shared. I knew that we risk much telling these stories. (We have all sworn to confidentiality, so there won't be any sharing here, unless it is my story.)
What I didn't realize and am now processing is how much the stories of others would unlock places inside my heart and my mind and my memory. I had a journal there with me and was quickly writing as others spoke, remembering things that needed to also go into my story. I didn't want to miss a word of what was being said and didn't want to work on me as others were sharing to the depths of their souls. But, I was surprised that I could forget some really important events that made such a difference in my life.
So I scribbled furiously, listening as attentively as possible and wondered at the forgetting. Why would I forget the jobs? College? Talking about my father? My mother and brothers? Odd things, really, to leave out of a life's story. And then the pit of my stomach started churning.... really hurting in a fear-like kind of way.
I took a picture once that reminds me of this familiar feeling. We had been hiking in New Zealand with a tour and were told that early one morning our guides would be going to the river and feeding the eels.
So early the next morning I hiked down to the river and watched as the chicken scraps were thrown onto the river bank. Within moments, the water was churning and writhing with these eels, all black and sinewy and slithering over each other.
It looked like my definition of Hell. And it reminded me of the way I feel, sometimes.
I recognized the feeling I was having during this Tuesday night class as a stage fright kind of feeling, but didn't know why I should be suffering from anything like that. I didn't have to say anything that night, I wasn't going to be 'on' with a less than complete life story... I had another week or two to be able to fill it out more completely. And, besides, no one in that class would know whether I had really done my homework or not. I had nothing to be afraid of.
If that was what it was.
What was I feeling?
Ah, yes. The sadly too-familiar feeling of not being authentic - not really being 'true' to myself. This prayer for authenticity I have said for years continues to be answered in opportunities to 'be' my prayer and here it was. Again.
I have spent so many years being 'the strong one' - in my family, in my church, with my friends. Goodness, even as a little girl I felt like I needed to be 'strong' for my mom. She had gone through so much heartache in her life that I decided at a very young age never to do anything intentionally that might hurt her.
And here I was, again, presenting the 'strong side' of Ruth. Although the story I had mapped out was one that had ups and downs, I recognized that I had left out anything that might show me as fragile or flawed or weak. I was mapping out vulnerabilities... but I was leaving out the stories that might really show some of the inner rooms of my heart that had never been truly explored.
There is a reoccurring dream I have that puts me in a house - a familiar house in my waking - that, in the dream, I live in. The house changes occasionally, but thematically it is the same. I am walking through a house I know intimately, but keep opening doors to new rooms or finding stairways to new levels that I had never explored or discovered before. Mostly, the dream house rooms are crowded with the trappings of life - furniture and clothing, dishes and pictures. And cobwebs! But occasionally, those rooms are painted white and pristine and echo-y empty.
Always I wonder, in my dream, how I could live somewhere and not know all that is there to know about the house and the rooms and the things in them?! How could I occupy something as important as a home and not know everything in it like the back of my hand, not explore it and open all the doors and the closets and the drawers?
And clean it up, for pity sake?
And how is it possible for me to occupy my own life and not be opening all the doors and climbing all the stairs? And yes, even cleaning out the cobwebs if need be.
So, life.... I am listening. Truly, lovingly listening.
And I know what you have to teach me will be profound.