November 1, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 30} :: Then ...

I am at work for four years and nearly invisible beyond my immediate crowd. People in the hall still stop and introduce themselves. I am all-in while there, though not there everyday like others, who work harder and longer. But this still feels like my life. These kids feel like my kids. I am finding myself, growing into my own skin. I am learning to love and see, by serving them.

For the first time in years I am believing on my own, without much feedback, that I belong somewhere. No one here is praising me on a regular basis and I am ok. I can see for myself these days.

I have weak moments, like anyone. I fill out "superstar" cards for coworkers and they are posted in the hallway. "Acknowledge a staff member doing something great." I throw out the praise and the cork board fills, crowded with cards of affirmation. For years, I walk by this board and I don't get one. Not one, from anyone. Occasionally I wonder as I pass by on the way to my car... Just a little praise, Lord? And I confess my envy and comparison. "She isn't even that nice," I mutter in my heart. "I just heard her complaining yesterday." And then I laugh at my regression.

I settle it the same way each time because I know what is true. Am I now trying to please God or men? This is between you and me, Lord, and I really am okay. I really am. I have learned to lift my head within these walls. I have found my voice ... walking in the margins. It is I who should offer the praise, here among the forgotten ones. I don't really need words anymore. Praise isn't why I stay.

So when I decide to quit and be home with my own crowd-- be the mama I always wanted to be-- it isn't easy, not cut and dry. It is complicated and sad and I am all torn up. I am walking away from a backwards place- a place people don't ask about, don't speak of. And these kids ... working so hard to work it all out. I don't want to go. I just know it is time.

I give my four weeks notice and time drains away too fast. I try to get time with each kid, look them in the eyes. I play ping-pong, make chinese rope ladders, read poems. The last day catches me off guard and I cry on the way to work. I cry again in the hallway. I am late to clock-in ... can't pull it together in the bathroom.

When I do come out, they are waiting for me. All of them: kids, staff, therapists. They give me a graduation, the same kind the kids receive when they complete the program. I sit front and center with the director's hands on my shoulders. She is steady as always while I quietly disintegrate. My friend, he leaves the room and I wish he wouldn't.  

And for thirty minutes they shower me with praise: the sweetest, most genuine praise possible. I am certain it is other-worldly. I don't know the girl they are speaking of.

They pass tissues and use words like exuberant and beautiful. You were born to do this. I love you with all my heart. You are my hero, my role model, the mother I wish I had. I am so proud to know you ... You exude everything good...

Words bowl me over and how could they possibly know? Do they know what they have given to a recovering praise junkie? And I don't know I am possibly recovered until maybe this very moment. Because the words are lovely but no one is this lovely and I get a glimpse of the Father's real feeling for his kids. For me. For all of us. He knew I needed to know, before I walked away to my own children, that this time had been redemptive, valuable somehow. But they could've just said we'll miss you.

Two days earlier I read these word in my kitchen: "A man is tested by the praise he receives." The verse strikes me, stops me. You can know a  man's value by the praise he gets? High praise equals worth? This is confusing and it feeds right into my mindset of old ... If I could just hear it, then I would know ... my real worth...

I get stuck here. It isn't right and I am mixed up. Until they throw me a graduation.

And as I drive home that last night, with sweet affirmation fresh in my mind, ringing in my ears, I think I should feel satisfied. Peaceful to move forward.

But the praise doesn't leave me. It lingers and grows and wells up and I am overwhelmed with Father love. I have seen you all along, He seems to say. You are worthy- in your unworthy, approval addicted-ness because. you. are. mine. Everything good comes from me, child.   

And I realize they didn't really see me at all. They saw Him. And I am laid low for two full days. Because what do you do when all you ever wanted to hear is finally spoken over you?

I am wrecked by grace and by gratitude. Humbled to the core. I feel foolish for pining away so many years after scribbled words on a corkboard, and beyond, when He held all the affirmtaion I needed ... all along. I find myself holding a giant gift in meager hands and I have to know... how do I give this value? How do I honor what just happened?

I hear it. Keep living loved.

I receive it fully, with humility. And I decide to live out the thank-you. And the proverb makes sense to me now. We are not defined and determined by the praise we receive. We are refined, literally tested by how we respond. Do we know how great we are? Or do we step aside, certain of how great He is? 

Because the God of this backwards heart used a bunch of misfit kids to tell me who I am ... teach me how to receive praise that is only fitting for One. Could I receive it from bent knees? And then give it away. Again and again and again. Could we?
And what if we spent our whole selves living out this yes on behalf of those who haven't yet seen? The poor and meek in spirit. Could that be our prescription for recovery as well as our prescription for living well? Giving well?

Could we find Him in our brokeness, then turn and give Him away to the broken? Could it really go 'round and 'round, this spending and receiving? Doesn't it though? Isn't this where the lasting transactions are taking place ... heavenly currency on a heavenly scale?

I am filled up, grateful beyond words. And I am not walking with eyes down any longer.

" ... then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." 
from Isaiah 58

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