Saturday, November 12, 2016

hurt, beauty, life and manifestos

People say that beauty can be a byproduct of adversity, although for the first 28 years of my life, this was not a philosophy I believed in. I didn't want to, really, because believing in such an outrageous theory would also mean that a person would have hope, that she would rise above, and that ultimately, her situation would be one that she would embrace and lean into and work through, and I tend toward the opposite of those things. Running away from pain, from vulnerability--I feel like it's what I learned to do as a child, and as a young adult, to feel safe, because let's be honest: the world is not safe. Human beings are not necessarily safe. They make mistakes, they disappoint, they fire darts of pain and hurt instead of reaching out in love, and sometimes they offer grace and compassion when we know we deserve worse. Because we are humans, and sometimes that's what it is to be human: to feel and ache and also to love.  Hearts that are open risk getting shredded, and hearts that are kept safe, hidden inside, away from the world and its hurt and pain and suffering, in my mind, are safe. Should be safe, anyway. But a hidden heart isn't completely bulletproof, and even the most stoic, detached people have hearts that can heave with hurt and disappointment and pain and sorrow.

Sometimes all it takes is a small spark to light a fire. Sparks can burn. Sometimes they hurt profoundly. Sometimes they leave a person so wounded, so hurt, that the feelings get all tangled up and messy, as feelings tend to be, and instead of untangling them, we shove them aside. Because sometimes that is just easy. But as the hurt and pain settle in, emotions like joy and love and compassion start to evaporate, so as we build up walls to keep out more hurt and more pain, we are also building up walls to keep out more joy and more fullness of life and more love. Self-protection is a valid thing, because living life fully human hurts. It hurts so much. It hurts so much that sometimes being numb is better than being hurt. Or being addicted is better than being hurt. Or being something, anything else is better than being hurt.

I know.

My spark this summer burned me. I wasn't expecting it, it was totally out of the blue, and it left me feeling wounded and sad. I wanted to retreat, to close up and shut down, to not deal, to blame everyone else. And for a long while, I did. I stayed hurt, which came across as angry. I stayed disappointed, which came across as defensive. I stayed sad, which came across as aloof and detached. I was in full self-protective mode, trying to make the ache in my heart go away, trying to pretend, trying to deflect. Trying to run away from what I was feeling, because I didn't want to feel it.

I had already been seeking therapy so I could learn how to be a good/better/more effective/maybe perfect mom and wife, so I went to Jen for advice on how to handle the most current hurt. My spark had lit a fuse, and I was afraid. I was stamping at the spark, trying desperately to get it to go out. I didn't want an explosion, I only wanted the spark to go away. And instead of encouraging me to run away, Jen encouraged me to run toward what I have been avoiding my whole life. Pain.

The very thing I was afraid of--an explosion--is happening right in front of my very eyes. But instead of destroying me, it's helping me grow. Which is not what I expected at all. But a spark that lights a fuse that explodes into personal growth and maturity has a byproduct of beauty, and I've gotten a glimpse of this beauty on days where I can see and experience love. Compassion. Where I can live life fully with no expectations for more or less, I can just appreciate life in the moment. Where I can switch off my autopilot mode and really enjoy the ordinary, where I can practice mindfulness and enjoy the present without looking to the past or worrying over the future.

Today, as I was getting ready to go out with my daughter, I looked in the mirror and was disappointed with my reflection. My 39th year of life has brought on some new wrinkles, lines and even a few gray hairs that I wasn't prepared for. I suppose I thought I'd look young forever, and sometimes I feel like my body and mind are betraying me. I looked hard at the mirror, and embraced my disappointment. Yes, I am disappointed. Then I looked hard into the mirror and decided that I, Heather, get to write my own story. I get to define my own beauty. I get to. It's my privilege, just like waking up to the gift of another day is. Today, I get to decide that I am not going to wear makeup, and that is beautiful. Today, I get to decide that the laugh lines around my eyes are well-earned and they make me gorgeous because it's living proof that I have spent at least some of my life laughing--enjoying, and today I get to decide that it isn't worth my time to blow dry and straighten my hair, because I want to spend my time with my daughter, and my waves are pretty. Today, I get to decide that even if no other person on the entire planet agrees with me, I am beautiful.

Not long ago, I wrote what I will call a manifesto of sorts, and if you've followed this post all the way to the end, go ahead and read it. It was written out of a battered soul and a sore and bruised heart, but a heart that I have decided is worth opening up, even at the risk of getting hurt...again, and again, and again. Because being hurt is just part of the human experience, and so is joy, and in order to live fully human, I get to experience both. We get to. Gifts don't always come wrapped in pretty paper and bows, and yet...we can still call them gifts.

What do I want?

I would like to unlearn 39 years worth of definitions: definitions of beauty, of worth, of love, and form new, beautiful, fluid renderings.

I would like to love big--to give and receive love in big, crazy, awesome, unrestrained ways.

I would like to live life fully and live it large and live it joyfully.

I would like to live without fear or regret.

I would like to forgive totally and completely and forever.

I would like to stop dwelling on the past and stop fearing the future.

I would like to be full of life and creativity, to have a free spirit and a wild heart.

And here is how I think I might do it:

1. Assume good/positive intentions and remember that I do not know the intentions of another human being.

2. Give grace to all, including me, or give grace to none, including me.

3. Put a voice to my insides (said another way, from the book Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton: tell the story of your insides with your voice).

4. Be curious--about others, about self, about feelings.

5. Lean into pain--because maybe, just maybe, this is what creates or leads to the things I want

6. Fear is not truth.

7. Spend out--use my stuff, and don't save it for another time (especially clothes).

8. Remember that I am loved no matter what.

9. It is okay to feel All The Things.

10. Perfect is not the goal.

11. Let my representative retire. (Read Love Warrior for more on this.)

12. Forgive others for not being who I want them to be; accept them for who they are.

13. Food will not fill me, nor is it the answer. (Listen to my body.)

14. How others choose to respond to me is not within my control.

15. Be vulnerable. With others. With myself.

16. Love is an endless act of forgiveness.

17. Expectations are not valid unless they are agreed upon.

18. I am a deeply feeling person in a very messy world.

19. Just do the next right thing. (Baby steps.)

20. I am allowed to break all the rules and define my own brand of beauty.

21. When I need validation, go see Jen.

22. Ask myself: Who do I want to be in this situation?

Some of these I've gotten from different books, authors and of course my therapist, who is continuing to help me grow and learn more about myself and the things I want.

Some references worth your time and money:

Brene Brown TED talks/videos on vulnerability (find them on youtube, search Brene Brown)
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
All The Pretty Things by Edie Wadsworth
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Shelia Heen
The Good Life Project podcast with Jonathan Fields (he has a book that I'd like to read!)
Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin


Friday, September 16, 2016

vulnerable

Funnily enough, I came over to this computer today in a distracted kind of way, even though it's the exact reason I even opened the computer, because blogging always takes me forever and a day, and actually, I don't have forever to compose my thoughts. And I am quite stingy with my time in general, which means when I do sit down at the computer, several things happen at once. My mind whirrs with thoughts, usually encompassing what I could be doing, and I stare off into space, trying to make myself think logically for two seconds, if I'm going to try and pull this thing off. Neither method works particularly well, and even though I am a semi-faithful follower of a guided meditation practice, I still have more moments where I'm swept away by past thoughts and future anxieties than I have moments of truly living in the present, and being content and happy about it.

I painted my mailbox this morning. A project that I have had on my to-do list for ages, finally complete. I painted a monogram on my mailbox, actually, which is a lot more fun than just painting a mailbox, which would probably never make a to-do list of mine. It looks quite nice, if you're into that sort of thing, and I walked away feeling happy with the outcome. But lately I've begun to lose my faith in the things that make me happy, and I've started to wonder if happiness can ever be a lasting emotion, or is it just a fleeting, feel-good emotion that I grasp for with the hopes that this, whatever this might be, would be The Answer. I meditate (almost) every day, I listen to TED Talks and to The Good Life Project (occasionally over my head...what is "ethos", anyway?) podcasts. I go to bed early, exercise every single day, have a good relationship with my kids and talk to my sister pretty much every day. I see a counselor once a month and believe all the gossip about sugar really is true. (Sugar is like the devil. Apparently.) So, on days like today, when I seem to have all the ingredients for a Happy Recipe, why do I still feel sad? It doesn't make sense. I have all the tools. How am I not using them right?

This is when I take my fingers off the keyboard, flip the lid, flip the computer off (Like literally. Middle fingers high. Boy bye.), and shut the whole thing down. What do I have to offer the world when I can't even answer a simple question about myself?

It might be easier to discover what I'm lacking than to say what I'm doing wrong. Because maybe I'm doing nothing wrong, I've just gone about things a little differently than I could have, and the outcome hasn't been exactly what I've expected.

Vulnerability.

A lot of people say how open and honest I am. Let me say this. I am open and honest. About the things I am comfortable being open and honest about. But being truly vulnerable is really, really hard. I don't want to be. Being vulnerable has brought on a pain and grief I didn't expect, didn't ask for, didn't want, and who wants any of that? So in response, which is what I know and am most familiar with, I close myself off. It's simply a self-protective gesture, so it doesn't seem like anyone should or would even notice. I'm still me. Just...not. Because putting up walls to keep other people out makes me a little less friendly and a little more edgy. Not edgy like "look at my edgy ripped jeans and tattoo" but edgy like the aforementioned single finger salute. Not that I salute any person, but I think it. Which in and of itself isn't so bad, but it sets me up for negative thoughts and negative attitudes instead of feelings of compassion, altruism and love for all others. There are some "others" that are really hard to love, but I don't get the privilege of picking and choosing who I authentically love and who doesn't make the list.

My counselor told me about a study done (book? study? I don't remember, doesn't matter) on people and what they value in others. Which was vulnerability. Which is defined as "the quality of being easily hurt or attacked". Which is something none of us want, and most of us guard against. So what we want in others is what we are the most afraid to give. Leaving us wrapped up in walls of our own making, guarded and on the lookout for hurt.

I have been hurt. I have been disappointed. I have felt unimportant, rejected and dismissed. Not by one. By a few, by many, I guess it just depends on how picky you want to be. I would suppose the person reading these words all the way to the end has also been hurt, disappointed and felt unimportant, rejected and dismissed. I'm certainly not the exception. And I have, in the process of battening down the hatches, so to speak, for fear of more storms, also lost true vulnerability, and in a way, lost a way to heal the hurts. Nothing in. Nothing out.

It's going to take time to really sort out the tangle inside. There is no easy fix when it comes to emotions and hurts and people and old habits and new habits and being open to healing rather than band-aiding. This life requires active participation, an awareness of the present moment, and the decision to enjoy it, and anyways, I'm tired of being on auto-pilot, knowing I'm anxious but not knowing how to breathe. When all I have to do is...just breathe. Allowing air in. Allowing a tiny hole of openness, starting with a pinprick, to get some light. Some vulnerability. Some life.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

hurt

Wow. So. Here I am. Letting words spill honestly from my soul, pen to paper (so to speak), and it's hard to even really know where to begin. It's been months--MONTHS--since I've so much as written a sentence on this blog, yet I see it's still up and running. I don't know what I expected. I haven't even checked in on it til now. I feel the push and pull of time, mainly, but also of insecurity. Doubt and uncertainty fill my head until I throw my hands up in the air, giving in to the moment and what I perceive as it's harsh reality. But reality is more about perspective than what is actually real, I've discovered, and as I stood at the sink today, plunging dishes into the hot water, feeling the warmth through my plastic gloves, the words just came tumbling out. In my mind, of course, since I am alone today and have no one to actually talk to but myself. I embrace alone, relish it really, since I am somewhat of an introvert and could probably survive a few days with just texting and no actual human contact. But of course I have an extroverted side that likes people and activity and music and commotion and at the age of 20 would have done just about anything to go to a club and dance the night away, then go home and stay in for a week. I'm complicated like that, I suppose, with opposing sides of a complicated personality that occasionally get in the way of each other. But. That's me.

The reason the words just came tumbling out today, of all the days to no longer stay contained, is because I've thought them before, I've just never formed them into actual ideas or sentences. Never even tried to form a complete thought, just allowed those thoughts to rumble around in my brain until, well, here we are, as they refuse to stay contained, and while I could just write them down on any old scrap of paper, this blog has long been a source of, shall I say...release (?) for me. An outlet, if you will. And as many times over the past months as my fingers have itched to say something, my brain has just as quickly shut it down, giving every kind of excuse as to why I should be D-O-N-E with this writing business. Beginning with 1) blogging isn't even a thing anymore, have you heard of YouTube? and b) does anyone actually read anyway? Which, to be sure, number two has always been my number one insecurity. But at this point in my journey, I have to say that I guess it doesn't really matter who reads or who doesn't read, since the world doesn't revolve around me anyway. The beautiful people on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube...oh, and SnapChat, too, well, they would probably beg to differ, but for me, I have to get outside of myself or I think I make myself sick. Like emotionally sick. Did you know that's actually a thing? That intense self-focus (good or bad, I guess) can actually make a person soul-sick?

So here I am, on a Saturday when I could be doing a zillion other important things, writing down my dish-scrubbing, chaotic thoughts. Trying hard not to be soul-sick, but maybe failing just a little bit at it.

The thing is, I don't think I'm a bad person. I guess everyone has their own definition of what a "bad person" might be, but my own definition withstanding, a bad person would not be defined as me. That said, I'm also not such a good person that I could never, ever be defined as not bad. I just feel like that maybe I am misunderstood, which may be the worst of them all. At least "good" and "bad" have definitions attached, but misunderstood? I get the feeling that people make assumptions about me based on what I say and do (okay, so who doesn't do that?), but fail to actually try and get to know me. Like just get to know me for me. I think I'm a pretty decent friend, although I have found in my friendships that no one will ever say if you aren't being a decent friend. They might, however, say a word when you aren't around, which can be hurtful. I mean, we all do it, and we don't think anything about it until it affects us directly. I don't know what people say about me, actually, I'm just figuring I know enough about basic human nature to know they do. But I have been criticized for the choices I've made, generally centering around the way I choose to eat and things of that nature, and here is where I feel misunderstood. I would like to meet someone who says "hey, that Heather, she cooks vegan meals four times a week, and I think she's a pretty cool girl" or "you know, she's trying really, really hard to keep her family healthy" or "I respect you and your choices" instead of the opposite, which is what I've mainly encountered. Does it really matter, in the grand scheme of things, what other people think? I mean honestly, we all know the answer to that. Or at least what we are supposed to say, which is "of course not!". Isn't that what we teach our kids, just be yourself, you do you, all those great sayings? But inside I do care what people think, and sometimes it's hard to hear the negative.

I'm not a difficult person. I don't think so, anyway. I don't mean to be. (False. Sometimes I mean to be, but that's not very often.) I certainly don't like to be thought of as such. I think I feel hurt, and while I recognize the hurt and know that holding onto the hurt is really only hurting me, I still hold on because I keep thinking about it. Why? I say to myself. It's silly! Just let go! Except I can't seem to do that, at least not very effectively, and I stand at the sink on a Saturday and instead of enjoying the view out the back window, I let thoughts tumble around until they become bulls in a china shop, completely tearing everything down.

I suppose I'd like to just be appreciated for being me, all my silly quirks and crazy thoughts, all the ideas that I blurt out and the songs I think are funny or gross or inappropriate but I dance like a crazy person to them anyway, the healthy recipes I am intrigued by that I try out on the daily. (I have found, through vegan cooking, a love for cooking that I previously underestimated! I'm not vegan, by the way, I just find myself cooking that way often.). I can't please the people who have different expectations of me, or who want me to be someone I'm not, or who want me to change to fit who they think I should be for them, or who think I'm wrong and they're right, or who have just totally given up on me because I am not ___________. (That's several people, and dang, it's hard when people just, you know, give up and move on, especially when you aren't ready, especially, especially when you don't really know why.) You can't please everybody. Someone used to tell me that. But, conversely, do I please anybody? That's what my mind says, when no one is looking and I have an alone day and I'm washing dishes at the sink. You only need to please God! I've heard that, too. But human relationships are good and frankly, I want them, and want more of them, and I want a lot of them.

My hurt causes me to close up, put up walls, be polite but not necessarily friendly. Because I DON'T WANT TO. Honestly, it doesn't seem that hard to understand. Does that make me difficult? Maybe. It's certainly not being the Pied Piper of people.

I feel the pull of time again. Timers for spaghetti sauce (supper club is tomorrow, and this sauce is best the next day!) are going off, my phone is alerting me to incoming texts, and I have to take a shower so I can celebrate my niece's birthday and not stink. (I might stink at celebrating a birthday but I refuse to have B.O. while I'm at it.). Her gift, set by the door and promptly forgotten, also needs to be wrapped. So even though I could probably sit and write all day, I can't. And anyways. No one wants to read past 8.4 minutes into a post.

My mom always said anger is toxic. She also said she believes anger contributed to her cancer. I won't ever forget that, not for my whole entire life, because I believe it to be so true. The thing is, what do you do with it when you feel it? And the hurt? And the frustration?

Now, if I am by myself on some island with these thoughts, you will need to let me know. That's no way to make friends, as islands have a way of isolating those who inhabit them. Buuuut...if I've hit a nerve and you can somehow, some way relate, let me know that, too.

Bye for now.

H

An addendum: because that's how things like this go. I write, I think, I ponder, I say oh, sh*t, what have I written that now everyone can see?????????, and I amend. So. Here's what I want. I want the people in my life to help me be a positive force. To cheer me on, to encourage me, to say You run that race, and you run it well! Go! and to provide support, not negativity. And since that's what I want, that's what I should be (key word: should) giving. I know I don't all the time. It's easy to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. But if we were to take a second, swallow the criticism, and cheer someone else on...maybe it would make a bigger difference than we could ever really know.

Peace, y'all.

H

Monday, March 7, 2016

Easy Street

Easy street
Where you sleep til noon.
{annie soundtrack}

I drove up into my church parking lot yesterday. It's the same church lot I've been driving into every (okay most every) Sunday for the past ten years. This church is a wealthy church. Wealth is not what first attracted me to it; in fact, this church has grown since it's youthful days of meeting in a school auditorium. But as I waited for the driver of a Range Rover to let me pass, and I sat down on my cushy church pew, and listened to the contemporary Christian music (compliments of our very own band) blast from a really nice sound system, I started to wonder...what am I going to church for? What is the church here for? What is it's purpose? The youth group has a full breakfast awaiting them downstairs. The younger youth have cookies and cinnamon rolls, and the adults get to enjoy cakes, cookies and pastries between services in the fellowship hall. And this might be typical for many of the churches in the area, as they, along with area merchants and businesses, have had to figure out a way to attract some paying customers. And since there are approximately seven churches within a two mile radius of the one I attend, it would make sense to give the people what they want, since they can easily withdraw at any time and go to a different church that serves different music and different pastries and has different people. Different. Better. More exciting.

She like them bar with the big ol' chains
Ride around town in a big ol' Range.
{work out, j.cole}

It's not the fault of anyone, really, since pastors and churches have had to change with the times. And 2016 in 'Merica brings with it such stark contrast between the luxurious life of those on top and the desperate lives of those just getting by. I do believe that people innately want things to be easy, because who would choose for life to be hard? Yet I believe that we are so caught up in achieving a life settled in on Easy Street that life becomes narrow and defined by money and success and things. And money, and success, and things all have a shelf life. Is it 5 months or 5 years? No one can know that for certain, but those things will fade, and as Job said "I came here naked and I'll leave here naked". Meaning all of us came into the world with nothing, and will leave with nothing. No one, not even the most powerful human being in the world, can change that fact.

I do enjoy the benefits of belonging to a church that is willing to provide like my church is willing to provide. There is a country club aspect to it, with our flat screen TVs and our beautiful windows and 5,000 different ministries and our well-dressed community. A community that is willing to be open but only so much. I'm not downing the church as much as I am questioning why I go. Is it for learning and community or the coffee? Because I do like myself some Rwandan coffee. 

Yesterdays sermon, by the way, was about honoring the Lord. And specifically honoring the Lord with our wealth. 

And isn't that a hard thing to do.

I've read that we hold on tightest to the things that are the most important to us, and are only willing to sacrifice those things that are easy to let go. And since we as a culture hold money in such high esteem, it's really hard to let go of. 

Or maybe it's the other way around, and the love of money won't let go of me.

Because it's not money that is the root of all evil. It's the absolute adoration and love of it.

As I cast this critical eye on no one in particular except for myself, I wonder if the love of money and the subsequent chasing after it is drowning out the heartbeat of the church and it's message. Because the message of the Gospel is love, and it's love for people, not the things we gather and that eventually collect dust. And it's love for all people, from all walks of life. Which means that all people should feel welcome and not only so but loved by our community of church members. It should be plain to all that the Range Rover out in the parking lot isn't what we are holding closest to our heart, and the reason we are coming to church is not for the free coffee and pastries, or to only commune with our nearest and dearest friends. The church stands for so much more, yet I feel like it some ways it has, along with its members, dumbed itself down in order to attract more people. Are we smothered by the love of money and it's power to numb our senses and dull our minds? Maybe. 

Listen. This is simply the musings and ramblings of a girl wondering the best way to honor the Lord, while living the life of honoring herself by feeding herself the things she wants the most. I say with my lips lined with lipliner and lipgloss that I really do hear the message of honor and love, and then go live the life of honoring my things. I wonder what message I'm sending, but I think I already know. I can say 'I love you' but I really don't want to get my hands dirty. And I also wonder...is there a way to stop a bullet train? Is there a way to turn a heart so in love with the culture's idea of success and happiness? Is there a way to change a mind so set on gathering what makes it the most temporarily satisfied? I know that if I say yes, then I will probably feel some pressure to change, but if I say no, then I can stay complacent in my satisfyingly numbed state of mind. Better yet, if I stay indecisive and wavering, then I don't have to make a decision at all. I can continue to sing praises with my lips and live life just as I always have. Except that this little nagging feeling won't go away, and my mind keeps on churning out words and thoughts about life that make me uncomfortable, and I keep having to push down my thoughts about where my loyalty really lies every time I deposit my whole entire check into my checking account, without any thoughts of my 10%, while telling myself that I work hard and I deserve what I earn. 

Except who gets to decide who deserves what. Because some really underserving people have made it really big, and some really deserving people continue to struggle. In my opinion.

That's the beauty of the gospel, honestly. No one deserves anything, yet we have been given the gift of love and a direct line to God. And the ourpouring of gratefulness from our hearts results in mercy and grace and sharing that love with others. It's not mine to hold onto, I'm just a person who I'd like to be open enough for it to flow through. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I am not. Sometimes I turn my gaze away and I fill my eyes with what looks appetizing, yet never fills. 

Church: I'm not critizing you. 
People: I'm not critizing you, either. 
Heather: you might want to look at your heart and be open to some growth and maturity. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Plans

Plans. I've been making them since I was three.

One day I'm going to marry a prince and live in a beautiful pink and purple castle...

One day I'm going to be a beautiful actress like Brooke Shields...

One day I'm going to be a beautiful model like Christie Brinkley...

One day I'm going to be a teacher...

One day I'm going to be the perfect mother who doesn't let her child scream in the middle of Target...

One day my children are going to listen to me...

One day I'm going to achieve Houzz-like perfection...

Some dreams and plans die a hard, slow, very painful death. Some stay alive, burning in my soul, aching to come alive yet never really realizing their full potential. It's these plans for my life that I have the firmest grip on, and a determination to make them succeed.

My plans for my day and my life are mostly made to benefit moi. I know it sounds selfish, and I would agree that it is. And ultimately, my plans, whether they are short-term goals to grow longer lashes (today's mental expenditure) or to organize the basement, or longer-term goals, like going back to school, they are made to make me look better and be better and do better. A better me. Who can argue with that?

Except that I believe that God also has plans for me; plans for peace and not evil, to give me a future and a hope (jeremiah 29:11). And in my finite, limited view of the world and my place in it, it is entirely possible for me to continue on with my plans--good as they may be-- and disregard His and still entirely miss the point.

I don't like chaos. It is perhaps because there tends to be so much going on in my head that I have trouble containing it, and in my younger years, saw that internal rumble spilling over as disorganization and a seeming inability to pull it together. An unholy mess of life all mixed up with me sitting in the middle, trying to plan my way out. As a result, 2016 brings on such a rigid organization (ahem...labeled cabinets) that I find myself inflexible and unmoving, seeking perfection and organization in everything I do.

God's plans for me, when investigated, come with promises that I could never dream up on my own. And even if I did, what power do I have to make absolutely certain that my promises to myself come true? A part of humanity that is true yet pushed aside as weak, I choose to see it as a part of life. I am limited. But for every weakness I have, His power and strength are revealed (2 corinthians 12:9), and His grace covers me. And even within the confines of humanity, I can lay claim to the promises that He gives, through His mercy and grace. I can roll the dice, but God decides what they will determine (proverbs 16:33).

So with (quite a bit of!) trepidation, I open my iron fist just enough to look at today. Yes, I have a plan in place. I believe that my plan is good for me. But what of God and His plan for this day? Should He have a say? Could I even begin to think that while my plan is good, His could be better? That, in fact, His plan for my day could be more than I ever could have asked or imagined? The thing is, I won't know until I'm willing to open up that iron fist and trust that He is, in the words of Margaret Feinburg, up to something good.

Thievery happens in all sorts of strange and unsuspecting ways; one minute, you think you have it all organized and figured out, and the next, you find yourself slave to your to-do lists and your busyness and your plans. Is there joy in organization? Certainly. In absolute rigidity? Maybe one could argue for some truth there, but the reality is, many forms of rigidity are fear in disguise, and fear is the opposite of joy and peace. Joy is stolen right out from under your nose. The ultimate scam.

What now? This is my thought for the day. Not just my singular thought, I should say, but my plural. Thoughts. Being open to God's plan means dying to my own. Hard as it may be for me, I crave that abundant, joyful life He promised in John 10:10, and on some days, it becomes an internal battle for what I crave more. For what I crave the most. My friend Erin tells a story (I won't get it exactly right but...) about two wolves, a good wolf and an evil wolf, both fighting for survival. Which one will live? The one you feed the most.

Cash is something most of us can relate to, and is definitely something many of us want.  But if we could stop for a minute and equate our minutes to our cash, an idea I got from Jennie Allen's study stuck, then we can say how are we spending our minutes just like we might say how am I spending my money? Are we wasting them, or saving them, or using them fully? I don't want to get to the end of my life full of apologies for how I chose to spend my minutes, knowing I don't have many left. And since none of us know exactly when the end of our lives may be...today is the day.

Let's live it well.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Less Traveled

Today I pondered over the question what do I really want out of this life.1 In my mind I could have answered the question two ways, but instead of quickly answering with peace, love, happiness, stuff, I forced myself to really assess what it is I want out of life. This life. Today. Because, see, I'm stuck, probably like a lot of people, in the I wish and One Day categories. I wish I was less distracted and more outgoing. I wish my sister lived closer. I wish my kids would listen. I wish I had horses. I wish...and one day I will deal with my anxiety and finally be happy. One day I will have less heartache. One day my kids will get it. One day I will be truly filled with joy. One day...

One day I will stop being stuck.

When I truly consider the things that I think I want out of this life, my list is shorter than I realize. It's simple, really. Peace. Joy. Less fear. Less heartache. To enjoy life. To live life to the fullest. And yet I find myself not able to attain those things, truly, because I hold back. I question. I wonder why. I let myself get distracted by the antidotes the world has to offer. My heart aches over the frustration of never being quite filled enough, never being quite content enough, always reaching yet never quite close enough to grasp. So I settle. I settle for good because I'm scared of what could be great. Can Great be trusted? Will Great follow through? Will Great really fulfill what my heart is searching for? Is contentment an idea or a reality?

Somewhere along the way we as a group must have decided that settling for the antidotes was better than truly searching for contentment, and we hold on tight to those things we know don't work and probably never will but we desperately wish would.

Don't you open up that window
Don't you let out that antidote...
I just want dinero...
{travis scott}

So what would it take to never be jealous or discontent again?2 I'm sure a list could be made, and it would look different for everyone. Friends. Love. Relief from addiction, anxiety, depression, anger, hopelessness, pain, loneliness, grief. More stuff. Nicer stuff. Beauty. Weight loss. Respect. Health. Those things that represent Contentment. Those things that are within sight but mostly out of reach. Those things that distract and dissolve into smoke and mirrors. Those things. How do you conquer a list that is constantly shifting underneath your feet?

I'll probably never, ever be content. Really. Even if I had it all. Truth. I have a beautiful life and while I have a want list, I also know that the happy it brings is fleeting. Even if I had All The Things (and I'm talking about non-material things, too, like friends, peace, wisdom, discernment), that yawning hole of discontentment would only temporarily be filled.

Life offers many paths. It's not a simple as Robert Frost makes it sound. A fork in the road with only two options would be a blessing to some people. But when all the options you think you have are exhausted and none of them have worked, the road less traveled is typically where one finds herself standing. While other grounds shift, this One remains steady and true.

Fear and distrust are merely choices, not permanent sentences. And we have been given the freedom to choose.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
{robert frost}


1,2 Questions taken from stuck by Jennie Allen

Monday, January 25, 2016

Store-Bought Waffles Deserve Maple Syrup

"I'm going to have some waffles for breakfast," my son announced this morning. "Will you ice them with peanut butter?"

I have turned into somewhat of a food tyrant; in our house, it comes down to syrup. Because I won't buy it. "It's not healthy to start your day with a stomach full of sugar," I explain to them. "And peanut butter has protein and fat to start your day." And if you are going to start your day with sub-par store-bought waffles, then the least we can do is add some sort of nutritional gravy to it. It's not that I'm looking for ways to deny my children the things they want. I'm just trying to get them to see that maple syrup (don't get me started on table syrup) is not adding much in the way of a healthy start.

But we live in a time and place that has us all believing that not only do we want to start our day with syrup on our waffles, but that we deserve to start our day with syrup on our waffles. It's available to me at the store and I do have the $8 it costs to buy it, and it does taste good. So why should I not buy it?

It's not about syrup for me. I've (mostly...) cut sugar out of my diet and am happy without syrup. It fits for me. But I do believe that when I want a new rug under the kitchen table, I should go ahead and get one. I don't necessarily think it should be the most expensive (the sacrifice), but I do think I need a new one. Even if the old one still works.

So maybe it's not about syrup or rugs for some people. I have a list of wants that is a mile long and I'll keep adding to it because I like to dream. It includes a Houzz-worthy white kitchen (with reclaimed ceiling beams, obviously) and reclaimed walnut floors in the basement and marble counter tops in the bathroom. I think I'm worthy enough to actually deserve these things; why not? That doesn't mean I'll get them, but a part of me, albeit a small part, wonders why I should be denied the good things, whatever those good things might be. Chocolate. Hardwood floors. A prime spot at the front of the store. All things happy, all the time.

This week of Jennie Allen's study stuck was hard for me. I don't like hard. I don't mind introspective and thoughtful, but I don't like hard. Parenting is hard. Relationships are hard. Friendships? Hard. Being mad on the inside because I've (a) made up a list of deserved rights in my head, (b) been offended when that list is challenged or stepped on and then (c) being asked to give up my "rights" to said feelings of offense? Ha! OFFENSIVE.

"I'll have you know," I thought to myself this week. "That I'm not your biggest fan right now, Jennie Allen. I like my list of rights that I've made for myself and anyways My People and All The People should know better than to step on my list." The List, as follows (some items have been omitted to protect the reputation of the author):

1. Don't step on my toes. I'm sensitive.
2. Don't ask me to do anything out of my comfort zone. I don't like it.
3. Don't challenge me on what I deserve. Because I actually deserve it all.
4. Don't argue with me. Just don't.
5. Don't ask me to change. Because I probably won't.

I feel like it's a little bit of a touchy subject, this "What Do We Deserve" topic, because I think there are basic human rights that we are entitled to. But entitlement is a dangerous word, and it's bled into our lives like a slow drip IV, making me believe (with gusto) that the current bathtub situation that I must deal with every day  (sniff) has got to change or I can't be happy. Which, among other things wrong with that example, means that I'm literally placing my happy in a bathtub, and I think you might agree that that doesn't make much sense. How can a bathtub determine my ultimate happiness? And yet. I think about it much more than what actually brings real joy, peace and real, actual goodness. Which is something I could use.

I find that when I focus on myself, and by default, all the things I want and need and deserve (and then demand), it actually takes away from the things that I really do value in my life, like creativity, peace, calm, organization, relationships, and gratitude. Those things are are life-giving to me, just like exercise is. They fill me up so that the things that do drain the well (like certain social engagements, which are sometimes killer for me) don't drain me to the point of no return. But focusing on myself takes away from those things, yet I do it with alarming regularity (and passion, I might add, since I am sometimes my very own most favorite person, hands down. And I do have the best ideas.).

So last week, when reading my study and discovering that the suggestion was to lay down my perceived rights, I was at first offended, and then mad. I found it laughable that someone else would suggest something as radical as offering to lay down one's own rights. No! I hold onto them with a tight fist, because if I don't fight for myself, who will? 


Jesus wants our dignity to come from Him...
Do we trust Him to defend us if we stop 
defending ourselves?
jennie allen

But then I, at the suggestion of a friend, bought a relationship book that we are going to read together, and it suggested laying down your rights. And then I read about laying down your rights during my quiet time on this very morning. And whether you just think three's a charm or repetition is God's way of getting your attention, I think it might merit just that. My attention.

It would be radical, wouldn't it, to adopt a lifestyle that says something about sacrifice. See, maple syrup isn't really a sacrifice for me, and really, neither is not getting the perfect rug for under my kitchen table. I want those things, but don't really care enough about them to get really worked up over them. (Well, sometimes maple syrup gets me worked up, but that's another story for another day.) The point is, I don't feel any internal struggle when I'm debating either of those things. It's not really a sacrifice for me, really, to give up on the Quest For A New Rug. What does cause much internal chaos is when someone says something as radical as give up your perceived right to not getting your toes stepped on, because (a) you're not that sensitive and (b) you don't really deserve it in the first place. It is here that I'm stopped in my tracks, and here that I'm doubly offended that someone would even suggest such a thing. And here that I have to stop and think why. Why am I so afraid of this? Why do I think I deserve it all, no questions asked? Why do I think everyone else should deal with getting their toes getting stepped on, their beliefs challenged, their habits changed, their forgiveness withheld, their motives questioned, but not me? And yet I rise with an indignation performance worthy of an Oscar at the mere thought of being placed in such a position.

Christ laid down all his rights, put on a cloak of humility, and was beaten and hung on a cross, so that I (and you and everybody) could be forgiven and free. The real sacrifice was done for me, so I could live in freedom, but also so I could live in a way that shows what Christ did for me. So in a way, I'm living for Christ and not for for myself, and while this goes against every selfish grain in my being, it's what I believe. So it's my responsibility to show love, and that's love for others, not for myself. And to show forgiveness and humility and that happiness can be found beyond bathtubs and All The Things (seriously, sometimes I do want All The Things).


God doesn't tell us never to get angry. God's call is that we be slow to anger because He knows we are so easily offended. And in doing this we live like God: "The LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6).



If Christ, laying down His rights, justified so few reasons on this planet to respond with anger, how many can we justify?



Let's pick our fights wisely.



jennie allen