I was never much of a reader growing up, unlike my sister, Beth, who was a verocious reader. She had a huge collection of paperbacks downstairs and I barely cracked my textbooks! Somehow I managed good grades! When I read, even today, it’s real life stuff….motivational, Christian based, biographical, etc., or the book I’m writing. One thing I’m not reading is a mystery book.
I’ve never liked mysteries. I always felt stupid when I couldn’t get it right….I couldn’t guess the right answer or figure out in advance how something would end. I had enough issue feeling stupid so I didn’t need any help with that issue.
I was thinking this morning about the last year…or 14 months…and I put a FB post saying I was at a better spot today than I have been in the last decade. And I mean that. And as I reflected on today’s blog post challenge topic – Mystery – I realized I had been living a mystery…and I am in a better place because the mystery has been solved. And in this post I want to reveal the mystery and the solution.
The word RAGAMUFFIN has come to mean life to me. If you’ve read any blog post in the past 2 years or seen a FB post you know this. But I think I’m just really learning what that term means and I am finding myself more focused on helping others understand simply by sharing my story.
My story. That used to be something that scared the daylights out of me. Because to share my story meant I had to come out of hiding….that I couldn’t be a mystery anymore. So without going into a lot of detail, let me see if I can explain the mystery behind not being a mystery anymore.
I was insecure growing up. What child or teen isn’t?! Peers can be cruel. At such critical stages of development anything said that is harsh in nature remains. And while it’s a mystery how the brain processes such events that lead to some warped self-conclusions, it happens nonetheless.
I was a messed up troubled teen and college kid and I was simply trying to survive emotionally. I was depressed. I was afraid. Petrified. Of others’ opinions of me. Of my own shadow. Of my weaknesses. And of my strengths. And of being ‘found out’ – that I was a fake. I was so confused and starving for attention, recognition, and validation that I hid behind masks of ‘having it all together’ and ‘nothing bothers me’ and ‘super overinvolved college kid coordinating 3 major events in one year while working 20 hours a week and taking an overload of classes and being involved in WAY too many activities at the same time’ just to give myself a chance of feeling important and having others say I mattered. None of it was a conscious choice. I didn’t sit down one night and decide I wanted to drive myself in the ground because I was so insecure it was the only way I knew to get attention. No….it was the subconscious doing its thing and I was blind to it. To me it was ‘how I was wired.’
And while on the outside it all looked like I was in control, I was a mystery to myself. Others may have wondered if something was up…and the trained eye could see it 3 miles away…but to the ‘ordinary joe’ I was just a student leader. Yet if someone had asked me how I felt about something I could not have given a clear – real – answer, because I didn’t know. I was lost to myself. I was a walking mystery.
Unfortunately, even after I came to Christ in 1985, the insecurity didn’t just disappear. It was cloaked by ‘spiritual things’ so it looked even better, but all the same roots were still there. In short I was trying to earn the approval of God and man. And I was blind to it. I doubted God loved me. I was secretly angry with God for allowing so much crap in my life, yet there was a ‘nagging optimism’ that wouldn’t let me go. It drove me crazy at times but it kept me ‘weary but pursuing’ all the way up to this year. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s back up to 2014.
This crazy little rag-tag team of directors and actors put out an indie movie called Ragamuffin, based on the life of Rich Mullins. I knew little about it other than I saw it on FB and was hooked. Little did I know God was getting ready to throw me a life preserver of EPIC proportion!
When I first saw the movie I was numb. The first 20 minutes were a hard watch and I wanted my feelings to remain a mystery to others so I creatively wiped tears hoping not to be found out. The LAST thing I needed was someone asking questions about what I was feeling! As the message of the movie ruminated and sprouted roots in the hard soil of my heart I started to ’embrace grace’ for the first time in my life. LITERALLY! I was starting to think that maybe….just maybe….it WAS possible that God loved me.
I saw the movie 2 other times in 2013 and each time I got something new from it. The last time it was simply the line of a song…”yes, Jesus loves ME!” An epiphany of sorts was being birthed.
I had been raised Catholic and attended Catholic school through high school. While there is much of the Catholic religion I have issue with I never regret the solid education I received or the strong moral foundation that was laid for my life. But I couldn’t get past the having to ‘earn’ my way to Heaven and hope I was good enough to qualify for Purgatory (which doesn’t exist – sorry to bust your bubble. I’d love for anyone to show me in Scripture where it is so I can change my mind). It became focused on works, and how was I to know when I had ‘done enough’ to ‘make it’?
All of these thoughts – these incredible paradigm shifts – were stirring in the caverns of my soul when I read about the Ragamuffin Retreats the movie team was going to host. I ‘knew’ I had to be there. It was like a magnetic draw. By the end of that weekend in October I left the hills of Pennsylvania KNOWING beyond a shadow of a doubt that ‘Jesus Christ is ABSOLUTELY crazy about me!’ There are no words to capture how huge this was for me. All of my insecurities were wrapped around the hope – the wish – the fear – that I could be ‘good enough’ that God would think nice thoughts about me, but to know in the very bowels of my being that He LOVES me….that was HUGE!
That weekend – what tipped the coin for me – was letting go. I FINALLY came to grips with what others knew so well about me….that I was messed up, hurting, broken, and in need of rescue. Quickly. I finally gave up the last façade of ‘having it all together’ and telling everyone who asked the Sunday morning answer of “I’m fine.” I was dieing inside and trying to convince everyone that the outside was picture perfect. I was lieing….to myself, to God, and to everyone else. I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted if I really let on to how messed up I REALLY was, that I had been deeply hurt by things and that I was a survivor of a few traumatic events that at one point I had kept secret for almost 20 years. To realize that God LOVES me – as screwed up and confused and broken as I am…well…that was life-giving to me. I let go of the façade of being okay when I was really broken. And when I let that go….and cried all the tears that had not been cried for decades….a love swept through my heart. Little did I know the mystery of how not to be a mystery was just beginning in my life!
Fast forward to 2015. To two months ago…..the last weekend of October. The retreat team became more organized and became a legal non profit organization and offered another retreat called The Disappointing Messiah. I knew I had to go. I had maintained a large number of friendships from the prior year but God was again drawing me. I knew He loved me but I was really struggling with dealing with some of the stuff I let get exposed from last year’s retreat. Just because things are brought to the light doesn’t mean they are made right, and most of 2015 was spent on dealing with and coming to peace with various events and their effects on me. I had again become lost in the pain and hurt. I knew Jesus was crazy about me but I was in the midst of dealing with all the pain I had tried to bury for so many decades, so I was not in good shape. In fact the first morning of retreat I shared with the group that “I am lost. I came here half dead and in need of spiritual CPR.”
For the entire weekend God just loved me. It didn’t take long for Him to show me what He wanted to do…the healing He wanted to bring to my life. It took a full day plus a few hours of me fighting Him before I finally got on His page. But when that moment came….when I again let go….His peace came rushing in and took up permanent residence in my life. This time instead of letting go of the façade that I was okay and nothing bothered me, I had to let go of control – specifically control of my emotions. I had to let myself cry the tears for all the pain and harm others had brought into my life. I had to let myself feel what I had lived my entire life denying. It was a ‘sacred moment of release’ that literally changed my life. The way I explained it was last year God took off the bandage that covered the wounds….what I wanted to say was just a scrape but what in reality was a bone deep gaping wound that was still bleeding. This year God dealt with all the infection that had been oozing out of that wound.
And that leads me to tonight…to this moment…left trying to explain the mystery to not being a mystery.
I am no longer a mystery to myself…or to others. I have come to grips with not being okay – that ‘it’s okay to not be okay’ as Plumb sings. And I am comfortable with that because I have a true community of other Ragamuffins who understand the masks that I have thrown off, because they, too, have thrown them off. You see, a Ragamuffin is simply someone who has finally quit hiding behind facades to make it look like we have it all together….and we realize that we don’t have to impress God…that He loves us as we are, not as we think we should be…because none of us are as we should be (Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel). In short, we have come to peace with ourselves, our stories, and rest in the truth that Jesus Christ is ABSOLUTELY crazy about us. That’s what it means to be a ragamuffin.
And the mystery to not being a mystery is simple – not easy, but simple: be real. Throw off the masks. Let down the guard. And just rest in the truth that Jesus Christ is ABSOLUTELY crazy about you. He DOES love you. He DOES care. You are NOT ‘too far gone’ and you have NOT screwed up beyond reach. And when those truths start to sink in – to permeate your heart and mind – the mystery becomes less mysterious and more inviting. Ultimately it has to be a work of the Spirit to bring it alive in your heart. And that is always a mystery how He carries that out. But I do know this….He desires truth in the innermost part. That’s a great place to start. And that’s no mystery.
You can read more about ‘Mystery’ from my blog post challenge friends at www.jennfreeatlast.com and life4inga.blogspot.com.