The Story I Tell

So for the next little bit, the blog is going to veer away from political posts (mostly). I know it’s been charged for the last few months, and part of that has been my own personal journey of owning who and where I am – even in the face of potentially convincing people that I’m a few fries short of a happy meal. I don’t regret the pull I felt to write them, though if anything I said in attempting to respond to that pull hurt you or made you feel like I have any room to stand in judgment against you, I apologize. It is never my intention to attempt to pick up the conviction that the Spirit has placed on me and try to use it to carve you up instead. If I’ve done that, please contact me and give me the opportunity to make it right with you – I can live with making people uncomfortable but wounding people is not acceptable.

So, back to the regularly scheduled program: let’s talk about anxiety.

It’s terrible.

It springs from situations that shouldn’t be debilitating and overwhelming, creating some new ugly thing that derails even the most mundane, comfortable activities. If you suffer from (or think that you might have) anxiety, I strongly encourage you to do some research and find a therapist. The good ones are worth their weight in gold, and you won’t believe the difference it makes once you start to work towards healing and healthy living. One of the things I have found to be the most helpful in pulling up from the spiral is a concept that carries over into regular life as well. It is the practice of sitting in your truth.

That sounds more impressive than it is, I think, but the actual act is kind of absurdly simple. Sitting in your truth requires you to stop and hold the fear, the panic, long enough to determine if it feels true or if it is true.

I spent a long time trying to plan and create lists when I felt the panic rising. I would write down everything that I had to do and there was catharsis until the next thing threw me for a loop, causing the whole process to start over. It was a snooze button for the panic, because it took everything I knew was standing in my way and let me find ways to individually try to accomplish it. It made me incredibly self-sufficient and resourceful…but it also made me unwilling to need anyone or anything else, with a heavy dose of pride in my own ability to save the day.

But it didn’t do anything to address the root of the problem. It didn’t, couldn’t, tell me if everything was going to be okay. If I would be enough, if I could survive it, if I would further my career and save my relationships. The lists were an attempt at combatting the anxiety with the truth. When it felt like I had too many things to ever accomplish, writing everything down helped put it into perspective and made it feel achievable. It had good intentions, it just wasn’t enough. It was too narrow an approach to be applied universally.

Enter, truth sitting.

When you are in the middle of a wave of anxiety and panic, or just feeling fear about something that seems exponentially bigger than you, things that are completely false can feel like truth. Some things that have felt like truth (but weren’t) from the last few weeks:

  • I’m slowly training for a half marathon, but if I go more than a week between days when I make time to run, I start to believe that I am incapable and that the 30 minute program will be impossible to complete.
  • If I go too long without working with a particular age group in the classroom and then pick up a job in that age group, I worry that I’ve forgotten how to connect with them and I’m going to somehow not survive the day.
  • If I spend too much time at home (shout out to all of the introverts out there), I catastrophize what will happen when I go back into social situations. I worry that I’ll not be able to put an outfit together without looking hideous or mismatched. I worry that I’ll say or do something stupid, or stand confidently on something and find out later that I’m wrong. This leads me to start to believe that I am bad at connecting with people and that I am incapable of carrying myself well without a ton of planning and preparation.
  • I’ve been eating healthfully and exercising pretty faithfully for the last few months, with evident progress, but when I eat meals that aren’t overtly healthy, I immediately worry that I’ve gained a ton of weight and everyone will notice.
  • Financially things are really tight right now, and I start to believe that I’m always going to be broke and will never have enough money to pay all of the bills I need to pay and still buy groceries.

None of these things were true, but in the midst of my fear and worry, they certainly seemed true. I can and do survive (and somehow mostly enjoy) every one of the times I go running. I don’t always handle classroom situations as well as is possible, but I always survive and usually walk away from the day feeling like I am good at my job. I love to connect with people and am usually able to carry myself well as long as I don’t get in my own way with worry. I have enough nutrition knowledge to know that one meal won’t undo the months of work I’ve put in, and that I just have to keep moving forward in healthy living. I am working towards the credential that is paving the way for a career. The struggle in this moment is worth acknowledging, and fully experiencing, but it isn’t going to last forever.

Sitting in truth is not a knee jerk reaction. It is not immediately instinctual, when you have spent years listening and buying in to fear. It is a retraining of the brain – a habit we practice and practice until we are able to catch ourselves veering off path, and are able to stop and course correct. There is still failure a plenty here. Sometimes you’ll catch it before you start to fully freak out, and other times, you won’t see a spiral coming until it’s knocked you completely over, and you’ve got to find your way back. The best way I’ve found to come back to calm and peace is to speak truth over myself. Something about these things that I know but don’t always remember coming out of my own mouth manages to make more of a difference than just hearing someone else say it.

For me, this sometimes look like repeating scripture, or prayers that probably don’t make much sense to anyone else. There is admittedly quite a bit of talking to oneself involved. My mantra often sounds something like this: “I am enough. I know that I am because of who God says I am. I am capable of change. I am strong enough to survive [insert specific topic here] and potential failure there. I am loved and worthy of love and belonging. I can do scary things. God is in control here. He is incapable of failing me. He has never deserted me. Even if this all ends in disaster, I am surrounded by people who will still love me, and are waiting to help me if I ask for it.”

It reads a little like every self-help book out there, but each of those hit on my biggest anxiety triggers. And though the results are not always immediate, saying things that I know to be constant truth breaks through the fog. It allows relief, peace and determination to settle down into my bones. It puts me in a head space to be able to work on the things I can change, and to not borrow worry for the things I’m not able to influence. It changes the story I tell about myself.

It reminds me that I am brave. That failure and relapse are a part of the process, but they don’t have to be the end of the story. That even when situations seem hopeless, there is always hope.

The Grace Option

This morning, I woke up feeling a bit raw.

In situations like this, my first response is to write, because I tend to process and find catharsis through blogging and translating the thoughts in my head into something tangible. So I jump from this topic or that one, starting half a dozen drafts because I feel like I need to share from the heart, but the thought of being more vulnerable chafes at the already-tender spots. The part of me that likes to forget how rarely I actually have all of this figured out, tries to convince me that if I power through, if I keep sharing even though I know that I need to give myself permission to be affected, it will make me feel better, faster.

I know it doesn’t work that way, but I cannot be faulted for missing an opportunity to try to streamline emotions. They are messy and hard and ripe with ways for me to mess up. They make life vibrant and colorful, but they are also the surest way to get hurt, and I am a master hurt avoider.

Sometimes I need the reminder (and I suspect that I’m not alone) that it’s okay to feel how you feel. It’s okay to admit that you are frustrated and disappointed, and that doesn’t mean that you are the losing party. It’s okay to not have everything figured out, or to fail and have to pick yourself back up. It’s certainly not fun, and it doesn’t feel good – but it’s part of the process. It’s okay for hurt, anger and grief to not be linear. To be full of relapse and progress. It does eventually get better, and you are better for having gone through the struggle of being present and sitting in your own discomfort. But it can’t really ever get better, until you slow down enough to name the injury and let healing happen in a way that isn’t forced.

I know how to hide behind therapy and conversations that make me sound really self-aware. Often times I feel self-aware, largely because I’ve done a lot of work to get to where I am now. I just also know how to say the right words and psychoanalyze the crap out of other people so I can avoid having to turn the focus on myself. Or worse, so that I have something to do rather than sit in the parts of my own experience that are screaming for my attention. Because at the end of the day, no matter how much training you have or hours you’ve sat on a couch, experiencing messy emotions is still messy. Processing hurt and grief, letting yourself be seen and known, letting yourself revel in joy without being worried about the fallout, loving flawed and broken people, discovering ways to love yourself – they are all difficult journeys that are full to the brim of times where everyone involved misses the mark.

In those situations, we really have two options. We can be quick to reach for judgment in an attempt to feel vindicated or protected, or we can muddle our way though choosing to revel in grace. I’ve done both. The judgment side, especially when I’m the one who should have seen it coming or should have done more to prevent the outcome, gives me a list of things that I need to work on. It gives me a list of things to make sure I never let myself do again to avoid getting hurt, or bruised. It makes me feel like I learned something from the situation, even if all I learned was how to keep people at arms length.

The grace option is so much harder.

It extends forgiveness in obnoxious amounts, even when I want to stay wrapped up in my hurt or anger or self-recrimination blanket. It reminds me that failure is not the end of the story, and that I am worth doing the work to pick myself back up. It is quick to point out that any process, this one included, is full of failure, missteps and trial by fire. It reminds me that I am not valued by what I bring to the table, how I look, or who wants to invest in me – but that I am already enough before I can begin to count the successes and the failures. It has a mountain of evidence to support it’s claims that regardless of the injury, being seen and known by people who have earned it is always worth the risk. It doesn’t yell, shame or degrade me for failing and falling, it just sits with me until I’ve caught my breath and encourages me to get back up when I’m ready.

It is convicting and persistent, but it is unimaginably gentle. And I find the more I choose the grace option, the more gentle I am too. Gentle with myself, gentle with the journey, gentle with those that love me and with those that hurt me.

I can’t say for sure that being gentle makes the healing go any faster, but it certainly makes the process the tiniest bit more bearable – which somehow manages to make all the difference.

Who and Where I am

Some days, I am so happy with my life that I can hardly stand it.

Naturally, in those moments, the darker parts of my mind start to search diligently for things that must be improved and increased, because the work must never be done. Without fail, I find the things that can always be made better, more presentable, more desirable, more polite, more palatable. And without my even realizing, the dizzy wonder I had about the every day life gives way to striving and exhaustion.

I’m so tired of it. Tired of feeling like if I just can fix this issue, improve this part of me, get this degree or that one, land this job, pay that bill, date that person – then I’ll finally be able to slow down. I know better. I know that unless you consciously decide to give yourself permission to slow down, you never will. I know that years can go by in a blink while you are determined to just earn one more thing.

I don’t want to live that way. I don’t think I want to live a life devoid of self improvement either, but I am my best self when I’ve made peace with who and where I am. When I can look at friends in their careers, with their spouses, raising their children, and be happy for them without wondering what is wrong with me that my life doesn’t look like that. I want a stable career, to have student loans be nothing more than a memory, a spouse that I love, admire and will work through life with, and children to help shape into grown humans. I want them, and for whatever reason I haven’t found my way to all of those milestones yet.

But when I get caught up in that comparison, when I start to put my own measures of worth and value in how closely my life, spirit and body look like The Jones’s – the first thing to go is my ability to be content in my own skin. And I’m not sure there is an achievement in the world worth that cost.

I’ve gained two diplomas, a ton of knowledge and understanding of the world and my place in it, the beginnings of a career, more shoes than I should have, definitely more nail polish than is necessary and a thousand other things that may seem impressive (or superfluous) to the outside observer, since beginning this journey of healing and whole-hearted living. And not one of those things is more precious to me than the fact that when I come to a complete stop, I genuinely like the person that I am. Not a single one.

This is perhaps the first season of my life where I can say with total honesty that I enjoy my own company. Don’t get me wrong, I still know all too well how to forget it, but when I stop and take stock of who and where I am, I’m not afraid of the person reflecting back at me. My relationship with loving my body is a complicated one, but it’s worlds better than where it used to be. I’m not afraid of who I’ll be if the things I know how to offer people stop being impressive. I am talented, creative, kind, thoughtful and intelligent – even if somebody from the sidelines thinks to tell me they don’t think I am. I am not what the voice of Dysmorphia tells me I am. I am enough.

Even when I start to be frustrated that I don’t have more of my life figured out, or that despite my best efforts I still don’t love to run, or that my savings account doesn’t have more zeroes. Even when I am quick to forget that I can’t be all things to all people. Even when I fail at loving and being gentle with myself. Even when I fall further down the “wouldn’t it be nice if I had…” rabbit hole than I should, given how blessed I am. Even if there comes a day when I am surrounded on all sides by people who are determined to convince me that I’m not. Even if I have to choose myself over things that could be wonderful a thousand times. Even if at the end of the day, all I’ve got left is the Lord and my own company.

Even then, I’m enough.

And though you may not believe me, I promise that you are too. It’s one of those things you can be afraid to believe about yourself until that moment when it finally seeps down into your bones so far that you just know. And you’ll be quick to pick up the old way of thinking that told you that you were lacking, or entirely too much, especially at first. But keep going. Retraining your brain to choose to hear the quiet voice of truth over the one that yells your worst fears is not an easy task, but it’s so worth it. Sit in truth. Rest in it.

You are enough. You are loved, worthy, precious and enough.

Let’s all slow down a little, celebrate who and where we are, and let truth begin to reshape the broken parts of us. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile.

You First. Always.

I think I have a tendency to want to cling to God’s promises more than I do God himself.

It takes me so long to settle into resting in grace and accepting things the Lord has for me that somewhere along the journey from first recognition to acceptance, I lose track. Little by little, what consumes my energy and my time is the anticipation and preparation of the thing I’m waiting for. It all starts out innocently enough, with prayer for this person and that one, for this job, for that interview, for clarity and focus in this relationship. But before I know what’s happened, I spend more time praying for that person or that one, for that job or interview, for this relationship and that one, than I do simply communing with my creator.

My view of a day, then, becomes unfortunately tangled with how well those aspects of my life are doing. How much progress is being made? Have I succeeded in any of them? Can I put a check next to that line in my pretty floral planner? Am I doing everything I can to make those dreams a reality and those promises come into being?

When my answer is yes, I feel like I deserve the things God has promised me.

When my answer is no, I work even harder to try to force a yes.

In that space, I am not mindful of self-care. I do not listen to my body when it is more tired than it should be, or when it gets sick more than normal. I don’t listen to my spirit when it is discontent, and can’t seem to find a place of peace and rest. I definitely don’t listen to my Jesus as he calls me home. But why would I? Aren’t I, after all, doing everything He is asking of me? Aren’t I working with all I have towards earning his promises and gifts to me? Aren’t I supposed to throw myself into this path, His path, with fervor?

I manage to lose sight, yet again, of the reality that the purpose of this Christianity business, of this life, is relationship with Jesus. It does not benefit me even a little to forgo that relationship in favor of working really hard to get to the promised returns. And yet, I am exceptionally good at being unaware as I do just that.

I want to live a life that reflects that nothing matters more to me than my relationship with Jesus. Not my job, not paying down student loans, not the promise of a family and husband of my own, not owning a house and having my life together, not esteem and respect of the public, not degrees, not fame, not notoriety, not blog posts full of sage wisdom, not messages that reach a dozen people or a hundred, or ten-thousand. Just Jesus.

That my heart would willingly surrender anything and everything else if it means that Jesus would come first. Achieving any one of those things at the expense of this relationship couldn’t possibly be worth it. Couldn’t possibly be fulfilling or worthy of defining my life.

That I would desire nothing more in this life than a life spent with Jesus. That my hands would always be open, and my eyes fixed on the One who gives, not the things He brings. That my money, my time, my intellect, my compassion, my passion, and my drive would all be home in Him. That before I work to bring Him glory, speak to those who He loves, or follow Him out across the world, I would guard my relationship with Him like priceless treasure.

That my prayer would be frequent, but that every single one coming from my lips would be grounded in “You first. Always.”

Creating Space

For a long time, I didn’t give myself permission to fully feel my own pain. I was a girl, which did allow for some difficulty in society, but I was a white girl from an educated, upper-middle class family. I had parents who were still married, (though certainly human and flawed) loved each other, my sister and me fiercely, had successful careers that they enjoyed, and did everything within their power to instill in me an understanding that I could have all of those same things, if I was willing to work for them.

Though as a teenager, I definitely did not understand white privilege or the benefits it has afforded me, I still understood that I had been significantly more blessed than many in the world. And because I had much to be thankful for, any pain or heartache on my part was whiny and selfish. It had to be, because when there were people starving, what right did I have to be heartbroken or devastated at my own brokenness? So I became a master minimizer. I put on a brave face, did my best to shrink my own pain down to minimal levels, and refused to acknowledge any that wouldn’t fit within what I was comfortable accepting.

It became an either-or situation. Either they were justified in their hurt, or I was in mine, but only one of us could win. Comparison fed the beast at the root of it all, and took hold in the way I interacted with pretty much everything. It didn’t stop at pain, as these things rarely do, but bled into the way I evaluated my performance, my ability to love myself and other people, my evaluation of the quality of my life, and my estimation of my own value.

My GPA was impressive, because it was better than this person or that one this semester. Or because it was perfect and there was no fault to be found within it, even when held up to someone else’s track record. I wasn’t more beautiful than this friend or that one, so I couldn’t really imagine the guys I thought were good and decent could be attracted to me. I had a serious medical scare in high school, that could and should have been caught sooner, but I downplayed it because I figured it couldn’t be all that dangerous if I could still semi-function. After all, thousands of kids were dying every day, people within my own family had cancer and life-long illness, people I knew didn’t have full use of their own body with various impairments, so could I really complain about a constant headache?

Certainly not.

Except that I definitely should have. I am blessed to still have both eyes, and to not have had lasting damage, because I was negligent with listening to my own body and needs. And nearly everyone agrees with me, when I retell that story. Because of course I have a right to be in physical pain, and acknowledge that pain, even if someone in my very own circle may be hurting worse.

Attempting to minimize the pain I am feeling doesn’t fix the problem, or alleviate what is hurting me. It may make me an expert at letting myself get more and more seriously injured, because I don’t ask for the help I need when I need it. It may mean that I don’t ever fully let myself enjoy the beautiful and wonderful things that take up residence in my life, because I need to remember that life will get hard again later. It can also make me inadvertently hurt people around me when, because I don’t create space for my own emotion for fear that someone else’s has it worse, I am not good at giving others space to be hurt, pained, excited or joyful, too.

I think that happens an awful lot more than most of us realize. My journey with grace and relearning so much of the path to peace and self-acceptance has illuminated an unfortunate, but prevalent, trend: when I cannot let myself need grace, or feel pain, or be loved in spite of my many flaws, I can’t let other people have any of those things either. I de-escalate their pain, because I’m an expert at de-escalating my own. I minimize their experiences, because people have it worse than we do, and it’s not seemly to fall apart over things in your life when someone else has worse things in life to deal with. I’ve done it in the name of bringing reality and perspective to the situation, with the best of, if not rather cynical, intentions.

Just typing that breaks my heart all over again. I’m so sorry for the times I have done that to you, those of you who read these things, because that wasn’t fair of me. I didn’t know at the time, that minimizing the hurt just means that it lasts a heck of a lot longer, and makes the healing process that much more work on the other end. I didn’t know that dampening the joy didn’t make the hard parts of life any easier when they came back around again, because knowing the shoe was going to eventually drop didn’t actually make the dropping less disturbing.

I’m sorry that I didn’t know that I needed to create space – to feel, to be – in my own life, before I could begin to extend it to you. Instead of assessing things from a them or me perspective, I needed to allow that both groups could be hurting, without trying to rank the hurt. I needed to stop trying to pretend that mine couldn’t be real, in the name of a warped sense of perspective. It is possible to be hurt and angry that children are starving in this and other countries, and grieve for the years of my life lost to attempting to ignore a disorder I’m still not rid of. And, as these things rarely do, it doesn’t stop with pain – physical, mental or emotional.

It is possible to be angry at the treatment of people of color, being willing to advocate with them that their lives matter, and still believe that life – whether it be black life, white life, asian life, hispanic life, human life of all occupations – matters. It is possible to be angry at some of the things this country has stood for, and to protest it, and still be American. It is possible to be against many of the wars this country has fought in, and will fight in, and still be in support of the people who go off to fight them. It is possible to love the church, and it’s Savior, and not vote or believe the way that many of the messages preached from many of the pulpits say you should – on either side of the aisle.

Truly, when we minimize those things, we are actively working against the healing and resolution that needs to be a part of the process. It may not always be a pretty one, or one without heartache, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that life without that process isn’t much of a life at all. I don’t know that we even have to fully understand what we are creating space for, but I know that I, that we, are better when our responses are full of compassion and a safe space for others to be who and where they are.

 

Don’t Give Up

I work through a lot of issues while driving alone in my car. I have wept, yelled, had startling revelations, and just communed with God as my car has driven the miles up and down the West Coast. While I do often wish I could just “I Dream of Jeannie” myself places, I don’t mind the drive to go visit people and places I love, because I have come to treasure the time alone in my car.

Last weekend, I got up early on Saturday and drove down to Pasadena to see one of my best friends. Though that drive is not particularly long , I had a lot that got worked through on the way there and back. While not the biggest revelation, the one that stood out to me the most was one that dealt with Dysmorphia. (If you are just tuning into the blog now, I wrote this post that gives a little bit of back story on what that is and has been for me.)

Dysmorphia is essentially distortion. It distorts the way you see yourself, the way you think other people see you, and the way you assign your own worthiness. I doubt that particular definition will make it into the DSM-VI classification, but in my own life, distortion is the most accurate explanation of the chaos that lied in wait for a decade. And because distortion reigned in my heart and mind, my ability to discern the truth was largely impaired for quite a long time. This presents an interesting situation when, on this side of working through repair and healing, I know that the most prevalent of my spiritual gifts is discernment. Discernment is seeing something and determining the true nature of that thing. You see through the pretense, and the façade, to what really lies beneath. Unless of course, you have a warped ability to perceive and your understanding of truth is distorted.

The last 4 years have been full of work, therapy, accountability and retraining the way that my brain looks at myself, the world around me and the things that God has instilled within me. I’m not 100% yet, but I am so much better than where I started. It can be disheartening to feel like I may never be perfectly healed on this side of Heaven, but when I am being honest and fair, I look at where I started and I see that God is and has been doing big things.The leaps and bounds to which my ability to discern and to know people (as I have worked to better know myself) has increased is evidence of that.

I would never have dreamed the lengths to which God would ask me to share my story. I would never have dreamed the lengths to which I would have to dive to the deepest, ugliest parts of me to clean out the diseased, infected thought-processes so that healing could begin. I would have never dreamed the lengths to which God would use this example of my sickness, my weakness, to lift up other people. I would have never dreamed any of this: the discernment, the honesty, the blogs, the grace, the healing, the work, the parts that are still broken, the self-acceptance I strive for. None of it even showed up on my radar because the distortion felt so big, so huge, that I couldn’t see anything else.

There were so many times, especially in that first year, that I wanted to throw in the towel on all of it. Digging up the things in life you have spent a long time rationalizing and repressing is painful. Often incredibly so. And no matter how many results you see, there will be that little voice that says that you could just put it all down, and go back to the way things used to be. It would all be so much easier, you wouldn’t have to work this hard or deal with this heartache and struggle.

But it’s so worth it. It may not feel that way for the first week, month, or year. You may not be able to see how far you’ve come for the first 5 years. But it most certainly is worth the work you are doing right now. Even if, like me, you look back years from when you started, and you aren’t totally fixed.

Don’t give up. You can’t even begin to imagine how much of life is waiting for you as you begin to wade through these murky, uncertain waters. There are parts of you that are going to change the way you interact with the world that you haven’t even discovered about yourself yet. There is so much grace and freedom in Jesus that you haven’t even begun to rest in yet.

You are not alone, not in this or in anything else. It may feel that way, but trust me when I say that distortion isn’t the truth of the situation. This is a journey worth taking. You are worth the work of healing.

You will be stretched, pulled and probably a little beat up before it’s all over. You’ll be exhausted and out of energy to get back up or make yourself care. You’ll likely be mad at yourself, at God and at the terrible luck of the draw that combined predisposition with life factors that led you to your current situation. But I urge you, as one who is walking the healing path, doesn’t always handle it gracefully, and has fallen more than a few times – don’t give up.

There is beauty underneath all of that heartache. There is acceptance, grace and recognition of your own value. There is love and wholeheartedness. There is a surety that settles into your bones that you are worthy of love and belonging. There is work being done, even as you are slipping and sliding through the mud and muck in your healing story.

The Goodwill Box

This has been one of the strangest summers of my life. I graduated from my Master’s program, my job changed directions, I moved, I planned several events that were significantly more work than I anticipated, I had to work through a series of really heavy emotional issues and some relapses that I would have rather avoided, I was physically ill for quite a few weeks and started my quarter life crisis.

It’s been a full 10 weeks.

Can we talk about how terrible and precious life-crises are for a minute?

I do not enjoy questioning everything about my career, if all of the student loans I took out were worth it, if I should just throw in the towel and teach a subject that I’m not passionate about for the job security and the fact that I’m good at it, if I’ll stay sassy and single forever, if I wont stay single forever and be a colossal failure at all of it, if I’ll ever feel like I have a handle on dysmorphia and love myself.

I don’t like the feeling of my world being tilted on its axis, or feeling like “none of this is a sure thing. Nothing but Jesus. The rest of it is bumping around in the dark like dummies and hoping like hell we find out what comes next.” I am a huge fan of lists, plans and surety. I want to make sure that I’ve covered the eventualities and that I have contingencies in place if the other shoe drops and catches me somewhat by surprise.

While I recognize that those parts of this season are terrible, and I don’t relish the fact that I am in a position to have to sort through the things I’ve let take up space in my life to determine what needs to stay and what has got to go, I’m also starting to see the value in it. This place is hard, but it’s like the etch-a-sketch of life has shaken away all of the random things I’ve drawn in so far, and I now get to decide what gets put back up.

It reminds me of having to go through my toys and stuffed animals as a child, having to figure out what I still wanted to play with and create space for and what can and should find itself in a Goodwill box. I always hated that, because I loved all of them. I couldn’t get rid of this toy or that one, because it held significance for a time in my life that had somehow become the past without me realizing. Keeping all of them meant certain chaos, but I was used to the shelves as full as they were, and all of that stuff had at one point served a purpose. Though I am completely sure that the 5 year old me had no idea that was why I was clinging to them, if I got rid of those things, I had to admit that I didn’t need them anymore. I had to run the risk of being in a situation down the road where I would have liked to have had those things, and have let them go. Never mind that all they ended up doing was taking up space and making it more difficult for me to have order and peace (without adding anything beneficial), I could give them up and end up regretting it.

And at 23, it feels equally difficult to discern what needs to stay, what will bring me joy and be beneficial to me moving forward, and what needs to find its way into the Goodwill box.

Do I really need to continue to strive to look like a Proverbs 31 woman? Do I need to continue to define myself by modesty, purity, and conservative culture? Am I still beloved by Jesus and worthy of love and affection if I fall on the controversial side of some of those things? Can I still be worthy of love if I put more effort in learning to love myself than trying to fix myself? Can people still want me around if I am not the first to jump in and serve? Can I still be worthy of love and desirable if my BMI is never again in the 18.5 – 24.9 category? Can I still be following God if my narrative looks so much different than what I thought it would? Can I believe in God’s healing and work towards it, and still end the day a bit broken?

What does it say about me, that in this season of discovery and being consciously selective, that my foundation is built on the fact that Jesus is good, and is who He says He is, but that it allows that I may have gotten parts of this Christianity thing wrong so far? What does it say about me that I’m coming to terms with the fact that I may never, even with all of these degrees, have a job that is prestigious? What does it say about me that I’m not afraid of being alone, and that while I wouldn’t run from a healthy relationship, I’m not waiting on it to start my life? What does it say about me when I find myself looking less and less like the “ideal” Christian I’ve come to expect from myself, despite my wanting to love God and love like him? What does it say about me, when I can admit to myself that I need grace so much that I run the risk of misusing it?

I wish I knew what it says about me, because despite my best efforts, I still care. I’m still concerned. I still feel like this season has cost me dearly, and that I’m coming out the other side having lost large parts of myself. But I also feel like I’m starting to ask questions that can’t be put off any longer. And that while those questions scare me, they are healthy, necessary, and good.

Unfortunately for the parts of me that want it to be over and done with already, I’m still in the middle of it. Still trying to sit with all of these emotionally significant things and doing my best to figure out what is worth fighting to keep, and what I need to surrender to the Goodwill box. Still trying to figure out how to be gracious and not cry and wail because I really need to hang on to that ideal that has been sitting on my shelves collecting dust, even though it’s not what I need anymore.

I’m so thankful for a firm foundation in this, for the peace that I have in Jesus, even when this season is not a peaceful one. I am so thankful for the friends who sit with me and let me externally process these things that don’t always make sense. I am so thankful for a therapist, a blog and a journal that help me make order of the chaos. I am so thankful for you, friends, because I know that we can come alongside one another and figure out what should be pulled from the shelves and fill the Goodwill boxes together.

Ask

I love to people watch. I enjoy meeting friends after work for a drink, but the part that usually sways me from just inviting them to my house and having them there instead is the promise of people watching. We are a fascinating species, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get tired of watching people interact, picking up on cues from body language and expressions.

Because I try to be observant, and feel like I read people well, I get frustrated when the people in my life don’t seem to be accurately reading me.

 

And for a long time, I held out, wishing that someone in my family and close circle would know me well enough to know what I needed without me having to actually ask for it. Sometimes they did..but more often than not, they assumed that if I needed something, I knew how to ask for it.

 

I hate that. 

 

It’s not an unfair expectation. I am rather self-assured as a general rule, and don’t have an issue having hard conversations or adapting to change if it means that something gets done well and more efficiently than the alternative. I try to be conscientious of others but I’m also unnervingly stubborn when it comes to accomplishing whatever it is I’ve decided upon.

 

Except that somewhere in the 20-plus years I’ve been alive, I’ve managed to divorce asking for what I need to accomplish my to-do list, and asking for what I need to feel wanted and worthy.

 

I told myself for a long time that if these people really loved me, if they really knew me, they would get it. They’d do it, because who would willingly deny someone something they considered vital to being loved and valued? And if they didn’t, I probably didn’t actually need that thing or that conversation after all. So I spent a lot of time secretly resenting the people I loved because I felt like they were wronging me. Like they didn’t know the real me. Like they couldn’t possibly like the real me because she was going to ask things of them that they weren’t willing to voluntarily give.

 

Friends, please hear me when I say this: Ask the people you love for what you need.

 

Ask them.

 

That conversation may be awkward and painful and filled with frustration, but it is the only way you can reasonably expect to feel like your needs and wants are being conveyed to the other person. Even then, they may not fully get it. But like anything in life, the more you practice – having hard conversations, setting boundaries, being specific and explicit in what you need from people – the better you get at it.

 

It doesn’t mean that they will actually act on any of what you have expressed to them. They may not respond in a healthy or helpful way to you and the amount of bravery and work it took for you to put into words what you need from them. They may hear you, and get you, and still continue doing what they’ve always done. That puts you in an entirely different situation, filled with entirely different hard conversations, but you have done what you can to be transparent.

 

Deep down, no matter how people seem on the surface, we all want to be known by those we love. But it is unfair of us to assume that being fully known requires no effort on our part. It does require effort, and finding tactful ways to speak the truth in love, and coming back with equal parts forgiveness and apology when it’s not been done right. If it ever gets easy to have those conversations, that’s surprising and welcome news to me…but if my gut is right, it won’t. It may get easier – because we know that they end result is worth the discomfort, or because we learn to trust the process so the whole thing isn’t as anxiety inducing as it once was, but I don’t think it will ever stop being something that makes our heart beat a little faster.

 

I look forward to that day in my own life – the day that it transitions to easier –  because my heart still pounds and my stomach still pools with dread whenever I have to have those conversations. And honestly, sometimes I avoid them for far longer than I should, because the whole situation wants to send me spiraling into a mess of my own anxiety triggers. When I’m spiraling, I feel like they are terrible, horrible experiences that freak me out…but I know that good things require work, effort, and the tenacity to get up again and face those things that leave me shaking in my boots.

 

And those conversations, scary as they are, are good things. Are healthy things. Are worthy things.

Owning Our Story

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to change my name to Melissa. I had a teacher the year before who was named Melissa and I LOVED her, and really thought that from my vantage point as a 9 year old who had life figured out, Melissa’s really had it together. I started playing piano at 8 because my Gran and mom grew up playing, and I wanted to be just like them. Charles Colton wrote that “imitation is the sincerest of flattery” and as one who had a little sister who copied everything I did for much of our childhoods, I have to agree. Especially as little kids, imitating the people we love and admire is par for the course, and can often teach us some really useful techniques for living life.

The trouble comes when we find ourselves all grown up, and still trying to be like people who have it together. Who are popular, beautiful, rich and influential. When we would rather pick and choose parts of ourselves that align with these ideals and suppress/ignore the rest, than fully explore and understand who we are. So we spend countless hours trying and often failing to be more of this and less of that. To be more of whatever it is that causes them to be successful and less of whatever it is that causes us to be so…us. And we find ourselves stuck in this cycle of wanting more than anything to be loved fully and completely, but so determined to be better and different than who we know we are that we can’t even see ourselves clearly, let alone invite somebody into the mess with us.

My mother is one crafty lady. Seriously, she can come in and make gorgeous floral arrangements, do chalk lettering that rivals anything you can find on Etsy, can sing first soprano and tenor and everything in between, has incredible handwriting (even when in a hurry), never forgets a birthday or special event, still stays up late to bake incredible goodies for work and social functions, can knit with the best of them, has sewn multiple prom dresses for me from scratch, routinely cans the apricots from our tree into life-changing jams – all while working a full time job and being active in community service. She has enormous shoes when one is the first-born daughter stepping out into the world. I have spent much of my life wanting to be just like her, and feeling so inadequate when I cannot be all that she is.

Somehow I left behind the child-like curiosity part of imitation that says, “That’s so cool! I want to learn from her to do that too!” and jumped right into “I can’t do it as well as she does it. I’m not good enough. Why bother showing up when I’ll know she does it better?” I viewed my ability and worthiness from a lens of comparison, and through that lens, I was always painfully inadequate. I didn’t own my story, the ins and outs of who exactly I am and have been created to be. Rather, the parts of the story I wished looked differently than they do spent all of my time owning me.

I pushed myself for the first two years of undergrad to pursue pre-med education, because I was smart and decided I should be a doctor. Never mind the fact that I get more than a little squeamish around gore, I catch any sickness around me faster than I should, and I genuinely wasn’t created to be a doctor. In my mind, whatever I was created to be, even if it could be used for Kingdom work, wasn’t as big or as glorious in the grand scheme of things if I wasn’t a doctor. I realized that I hated pre-med classes in about the 3rd week of my first quarter, and hung on for two years. Nearly 730 days of dragging myself to class (or sleeping through too many of them), failing classes, hating the prospect of the next ten years of schooling in this field, much of the field itself. Because I decided that Hannah MD should be a part of my story, I spent the better part of 2 years feeling way less intelligent than my peers, miserable and ending each day a little bit less secure in who I was than I’d started it. Even worse, I was preparing myself for a lifetime of misery because I had decided that the only way I could make an impact, the only way I would be worth something, was if I stuffed myself into this teeny, tiny box of success.

Owning our story is hard. It takes some of the hope and idealism away, and leaves us with a ground level in the sense of who we are. But it doesn’t even begin to diminish the things we are capable of. If anything, it humbles us because it forces us to take a good, long look at the things we are and aren’t good at, the things we are and aren’t renewed by. I don’t think we can ever really be content with ourselves until we forgive ourselves for the things we aren’t.

Have you done that? Have you forgiven yourself and claimed God’s grace for the things you just aren’t? Its uncomfortable, because to me and the parts of my brain that are determined that I can do literally anything I set my mind to given enough time and charm, it feels like defeat. Except that in admitting this truth, it may be the first time many of us have a chance at not being defeated.

Can you imagine if you went to go see a movie about a superhero who had to defeat the villain, watching him build his entire battle plan around the fact that he would fly in to the evil lair and use his super strength to defeat his enemy, only to then be let in on the fact that he wasn’t super strong and he couldn’t fly? He’d be toast, and we the audience would be left hiding behind our hands just waiting for him to be seriously hurt. And yet, how many of us blindly walk into situations (relationships, careers, entire decades of our lives) determined that we can do similarly outlandish things because we’ve decided we should be able to or someone has told us we should, only to find ourselves knocked over again and again.

Admitting and forgiving ourselves for the things we aren’t provides an opportunity to invite Jesus into our weakness. It also gives us an opportunity to actually ask the Lord who we are created to be. The Lord isn’t surprised when we finally admit to him that we aren’t good at certain things. That we don’t feel like we were made to be or do certain things.

Romans 12 says it this way:

 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

I always hesitate to include this passage because I’ve heard it quoted a thousand times as an excuse as to why we don’t have to be giving, or serve others, or to be encouraging, or any other thing we’d really rather not do because that isn’t our “gift”. Beyond the fact that this argument pretty much flies in the face of everything that Jesus did and taught, it’s so selfish.

Please understand the distinction I am trying to make here: there is freedom in admitting that there are things that you aren’t, especially when you’ve been trying to make them work so that you’ll be worthy of love and affection, so that you’ll be enough. In owning the hard and uncomfortable parts of our stories and the things that have happened to us, we limit the power those things have over us and find ourselves in a position to rewrite the ending, regardless of the events themselves. It is not a get-out-of-work-free card, nor an excuse to do run from hard things because they don’t fall in our “gifting”. If anything, this kind of admission requires even more work because we have to sit in the discomfort of our finite ability and work towards healing and wholeness.

Owning your story won’t decrease the amount of work, both physical and emotional, that there is to be done. It just opens you up to finally being able to do the right kind of work. Work that is productive and makes you better for it at the end of the day. Wholeness and wholehearted living is not a walk in the park, nor is it a journey that won’t knock you over a few times. It’s still hard, and will still take everything you know how to give and then some, it just yields results that leave you better than you started. It requires far more bravery than seems logical, and more faith than most of us are comfortable exercising.

It says, “I want to know who I am and have been created to be, even if that means that I’m going to be scared and unsure along the way. Even if that means that I discover ways that I’ve been fighting tooth and nail to be who I’m not. Even if I have to start over, and go back to square one, I will be better and wiser for it. So even if it turns out nothing like I thought, if I end up in a life I never imagined for myself, who am I Lord?”

And even when the answer feels delayed, partial, or just completely different than what we would have answered for ourselves, it always comes. He always answers, often not with those that feel comfortable or explicable to us or are what we want to hear, but that ring of truth all the same.

Settling for Normal

“I know that you aren’t fearless, but the fact that you routinely set your sights on things that are big and a little bit outlandish, even when they scare you, is one of the things I love most about you. It’s one of the traits that I’m most proud of you for.”

So said my mother last week. It may have been the very best compliment I’ve received from anyone, ever.

Bravery is so hard. It gets even harder when we give fear more power in our lives than we should. Fear is one of those things that multiplies when left alone in the dark, and takes root much more broadly than it first appears. Kind of like mint. Mint is delicious, and I love having fresh mint on hand for things, but if you put it in the ground, you had better be vigilant about making sure that sucker doesn’t spread. It has these creeper vines that just move outward from where it’s planted, and when you see those vines spreading, you can bet they’ve already put down roots to wherever they’ve gone. And from there it keeps getting bigger, and taking over more space and sending out even more vines that set down roots until every available amount of space is covered – both above and below ground.

I may have been naive in my assumption, but I never thought of myself as a fearful person. Sure, social interaction when I don’t know at least 3 people in the room freaked me out, public speaking, anything where people can weigh in on my performance and by default my ability, singing the melody freaked me out if I’m flying solo, having too many people look at me, being alone in the dark, being vulnerable and having my attempts at connection rejected, failure in general, letting down the people I care about, giving bad advice…and probably a good amount more.

I think for a long time I avoided as many of the above situations as humanly possible, I kept the “mint” as contained as I thought I could, but I missed out on the fact that there was an entire network system under the surface that was alive and well. I am part of a generation that often wears anxiety disorders and insecurity like a badge of honor, and it becomes so much easier to write it off as normal, rather than address the fact that it may not be healthy. I was plenty brave in the things I was willing to let Jesus into, but kept a tight grip on the parts I’d rather not deal with. It became something I didn’t even need to pray about really, unless I was in the thick of an extremely difficult situation, because it was my normal. Normal and healthy are not interchangeable. Normalcy is not the same thing as wholeness. And I wonder if, like me, many Christians settle for their “normal” rather than running to Jesus to be made whole.

If that is the case, I have news for you friends: Jesus doesn’t call us to things that don’t scare us. It’s just not the way He operates. Frankly, it should scare us, because we can’t do it properly when we do it by ourselves, and relinquishing control is always a scary thing.

I want a life that is so much bigger than just me, but that won’t happen if I keep letting my fear convince me that Jesus smaller than He is. When has He ever cut and run, leaving me to deal with it myself? Never. When has He ever let a situation break me? Never. When has He ever asked me to let go of something that didn’t ultimately benefit me? Never.

So why do I instinctively respond as if He has? Why do I resort to such a pitiful attempt at self-protection that all I end up doing is hiding from things that I know I’ve been called to do? I want to live bravely, and be known as one who did things that scared her, even if they sometimes crashed and burned along the way. I want to respond with trust in the fact that Jesus routinely calls us out on the water, even though it’s weird, hard, scary and uncomfortable when we are in the thick of it.

Lord, make me braver than I feel right now. Even if the fear never fully dissipates, let me trust You enough to step out of the boat anyway. I trade my normal for your wholeness. Call me to scary things, and teach me to respond with trust before I have a chance to freak out about the details. Put me in situations where I have to talk about what you’re doing, even though I can’t fully explain it or my role in it. Make this life about so much more than just me, draw me deeper and reveal more of yourself to me. Let me be overwhelmed with thankfulness, quick to repent, quick to forgive and firm in my faith in you.