Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Learning Lessons

When I opened my eyes this morning I was slapped in the face with the reality that summer is almost over. I knew it was going to speed by, but I did not heed my own warning. My list of goals for the summer had slid itself under the other stacks of paper, long forgotten about. I discovered it the other day when I was moving into my new room for the upcoming school year. Turns out I completed all of zero things on that list. I stared at it wondering what on earth happened to my 115 days of freedom.

Summer setting like the sun
I'm trying to convince myself that it's okay I didn't do anything on my list because I was able to do a whole lot of other things I never considered prior to summer. I traveled a lot, almost every weekend. I was able to do a lot of writing. And I have spent a few too many hours with my mostly adorable nanny-girls. (Can you tell I am ready for them to go back to school?)

At the beginning of the summer I thought about learning the importance of rest but decided I didn't have enough time for that. I ended the school year in May and walked right into a full-time job. I took a couple classes and kept my summer very disciplined and scheduled. And while I do not regret not completing my list, I do wish I had taken more time to rest.

Friends have started to move back to campus and I must admit I am a little sad that my quiet campus is bustling again. (Do I sound like an introvert, or what? Yikes.) The presence of people has sparked this unpleasant reminder that summer is almost over and it is time for me to reenter into discipline and schedule and I am realizing I never had a break from either of those things.

And with this rude awakening comes stress, my nemesis. I thought I had kicked that thing a long time ago, yet here it is again. And I know I am not the only one feeling this way; loads of other students are coming to terms with this sad reality that we suddenly have a lot to do. But starting the school year in a stressed state of mind doesn't seem like a very smart move.

I think stress is a choice. When we get dressed in the morning we can choose to accessorize with stress of we can hand that one over to God and allow Him to clothe us with peace instead. For some reason it is not easy to relinquish stress, even though I know Jesus wants to carry my burdens and stress. I can't seem to get it through my thick head that I don't have to pile on the weight of the world and grin and bear it all on my own.

A couple close friends have encouraged me to let this upcoming school year be my year of No! because I don't say no, ever. So I have decided to say yes to saying no. However I am already being bombarded with people who need me and tasks that need to be completed. And here I am, shaking my head yes. It is hard to implement change.

I thought I was really good at time management, but I'm starting to think that part of time management is saying no. And part of time management is blocking out time to rest. And even as I type this I am turning up my nose in disdain and thinking But I don't have time to rest. Not only that, I don't want to rest. I just want to say yes, even though I know the consequences of always saying yes.

So, if you encounter me this year and ask me to do something or be something or say something and I respond with a No just smile at me and know that two-letter word was harder for me to utter than actually doing the thing you want me to do.

Part of growing and becoming more of who God intended us to be is making mistakes and learning lessons. I know I have not fully learned this lesson; in fact, I am pretty certain I am going to keep making this mistake for a while. But I would like to go ahead and encourage you, in my hypocrisy, to learn from my mistake; don't make this one for yourself. Release the stress, take time to rest, and don't be afraid to say no.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Looking Through Windows

This morning I woke up eye-level to bright-white cumulus cotton balls in the sky. I pressed my face against the too small 9x12.5 inch frame, captivated by the view and desiring to get even closer to the beauty.

I love the sky. I tend to spend a good part of my day on the ground with my neck craned upward noticing the way in which God chose to paint the sky that day. As much as I love the sky from the ground, I think it’s even more beautiful when I fly. The clouds bolder, the sky bluer, the sunsets grander. The problem is I can only view a very limited portion because I’m stuffed into a tiny seat and only offered a tiny window.

In general, I really enjoy windows. They are like picture frames. Each window provides a different perspective to see what lies beyond it because each one is shaped differently. The view that a large wide-open window presents is very different from one that an oval shaped window with wooden panes would give.

In every event or circumstance or occasion we each have our own window – our own perspective – to look through. We can be crammed into an airplane, straining our neck in all sorts of directions, hoping to catch a glimpse. Or, we can fling the enormous rectangle window open wide, soaking in all it has to offer.

Regardless, of the size of the window, we are still looking through a window. Our perspective is still limited. We can only perceive so much as long as we are standing inside looking out.

Rapunzel is a classic example of one who peers out the window, stuck perceiving the world through a crude hole. Thankfully we are not Rapunzel. We are not trapped in our tower waiting for our prince to climb our outrageously long locks. We get to make a choice.

This past week I have been in Germany visiting one of my dearest friends. The trip has been fun and relaxing and replenishing. I used to love to travel because I wanted to experience new cultures and I wanted to be anywhere but America. I used to travel because I didn’t have a home and traveling was the most comforting option. But now I have a home and I have a window I can look out of, and I feel content to not hop on a plane every couple months.

I could have easily let Bekka tell me all sorts of stories about Germany. I could have stayed at home and allowed her to show me picture after picture and give detailed descriptions of the country. But then I would only be looking through a window. I would be playing the part of Rapunzel.

But instead I went. I made the choice to get up and go and broaden my view. I wanted to see more than what a window-view could offer.

Strangely, (or maybe not so strangely) I think it all comes back to love. I didn't come to Germany for my own benefit. (I mean, yes, of course I wanted to have a fun, relaxing, and replenishing week in a foreign country; who doesn’t?) but ultimately I came because I love this friend of mine. I wanted to come to spend time with her and allow her to show me more of who she is.

When you make the choice to love, when you make the choice to step out to the other side of the window, suddenly people are what matter. Time and money and any other obstacle fade in comparison to the love you have for people.

Yes, relationships can certainly be cultivated through a window, but you can only go so far with them. You can only listen to so many stories and see so many pictures. Besides, communication through a window is a bit rough what with the hand gestures and the muffled words and the sad attempt to read lips. Eventually you have to get out and start doing with her (or him or them) instead of looking at her through the window picture frame.

It is taking me a long time to grasp this whole concept of love, but I'm starting realize that Bob Goff was on to something: love actually does. We’ve got to take action to love and to get on the other side of the window and experience more. I don’t think this means everyone needs to board the next plane to Germany, but I think we should be open to the idea of performing radical acts of love on any scale. This will look different for each person. But when you make the choice to love, when you make the choice to stop looking through the window and instead venture to the other side, suddenly the options and ways in which you can love are endless. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Feathers and True Love

I woke up to a completely gorgeous 59-degree morning. I must be turning into a good little Minnesotan because I am tired of wearing shorts and t-shirts. I’m ready to break out the jeans and cooler weather clothes. (Notice I didn’t say “cold weather” just “cooler weather.” I’m not that Minnesotan.)

Sometimes I am struck with the realization that God gives us everything we need exactly when we need it. The warm sun, the brief gust of wind or the gentle breeze, the 59-degree morning, the friendships and relationships in our lives, the rough days, the beautiful days. He is in control of it all. And He knows what we need better than we do.

I think that’s why we pray. There is more than one reason why we pray, but I think we pray because we are acknowledging that God holds all things in His hands. In praying, we are giving God full control and full credit. We present our requests to God, meaning we hand them over to Him. Here are my desires Lord; here are my requests. But I’m giving them to You because I trust You, because You know better than I do. And You have the best in mind. Even in praying for something as simple as a safe drive or healing from an illness, it’s completely out of our hands, so we hand it over to God because it is completely in His hands.

A couple months ago I got a feather tattoo on my left arm. It has several different meanings, but the simplest explanation of the image is that it represents freedom. A bird cannot hang onto its old and broken feathers if it expects to fly to the best of its ability. There is a season for acknowledging our brokenness and taking the time to heal, but then there comes a time to molt, to remove our broken feathers so that we can fly again.

In May I felt like I had finally arrived at this place of freedom, like my healing was complete for this season of my life. So I got the reminder permanently inked onto my body, and somehow that action resulted in: cue Satan, stage right. The joy-stealer. The one who makes you question everything you thought true. The one who intentionally drags you through the mud.

And so I looked at my feather tattoo and thought Was I wrong to think I was done healing from these particular wounds? Was I premature in displaying my freedom so blatantly? Satan would like me to think so. And even though I’ve made a permanent choice to be free from my past, Satan will throw doubts at me to get me to think otherwise.

But my freedom is permanent because Jesus died for it. And yes I have hurts, and yes I have healed, and yes I will have more hurts and more seasons of healing. But Jesus died for all that.

And it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around, because it is the most ultimate act of love. And love, true love, is puzzling and challenging and even uncomfortable because it’s foreign.

I sheepishly admit to you that the other day I was watching an episode of the Flash. The supposed villain of the episode turned out not to be a villain after all. Plot twist. Anyway, at the end he said, 
“Love is about letting yourself be saved, it’s not just about saving other people.”

I tend to think the opposite. I often think love is a one-way street. I think love is about doing for others. I expect others to receive love, but I don’t accpet it for myself. I struggle to receive love from other humans. I struggle to receive love from Jesus. I struggle to accept that He died for my freedom because of love.

Love is scary. It’s daring. It’s an adventure. It’s unlike anything else we have or will experience. And as long as I am in Christ, abiding in Him, I have every reason to ink my freedom onto my arm. And that inking doesn’t mean the past is gone. I can look at my feather and remember the past, because in remembering the past I become more aware, more humbled, more grateful for the love that Jesus is. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Honesty, Vulnerability, and the Hard Topics

Summer is well under way. The days are warm. The nights are cool. The sun hangs around for a good long while allowing us to cram in as many outdoor activities as we can before we are forced into hibernation once again. My summer has been quiet and beautiful. I spend my days taking care of my two nanny girls, and I usually spend my evenings outside actively-relaxing.

So, the thing is, life isn’t always good. (Sorry if this comes as a surprise to you.)  

I can say that my summer has been beautiful because I have learned that ugly can be beautiful. Beauty isn’t defined by sunshine. But, in a lot of ways, although beautiful, this past month has been challenging.

The following is something that I am not open about, at all. I try to ignore it and suppress it, pretending it doesn’t exist or thinking if I fight hard enough it will go away. But it isn’t going to go away. And it is something God has allowed, so here we go:

Mental disorders.

They’re horrible. I have spent a long time learning and I’m continuing to learn how to live with mine. I hate it. I have “flare ups” every now and then when things get a little too out of control. This past month has been one of those times.

There are certainly contributing factors like the weather or my circumstances or encounters in a day, but a lot of it is just there because it’s chemical. I do a lot to cope and stay balanced so most of the people in my life have no idea it’s even a thing for me. Which is exactly how I like it.

Even with these coping skills and ways I counteract my disorder, I recognize that there are times when I am actually stuck and I can’t help how I’m feeling. I just have to ride it out and wait for the storm to pass.  

However, I believe that I do have a choice. Depending on the severity of the episode, I can make the choice to stay quiet or ask for help. I can make the choice to go for a walk or stay inside. Most of the time (not always) I do have an ability to fight, but it’s hard.  

Often, I have found that when I’m struggling (mental disorder or not, this applies to everyone) it’s because my focus has turned inward. I’m thinking too much about my current mental state and my woes and how bad I feel. Sometimes I can’t help it, because it’s chemical (I have to keep reminding myself). However, I do think it is possible to fix my eyes on something (or someone) other than myself.

Yesterday I made the choice to fight through my day and not give into the temptation to stay in bed. I didn’t want to fight, but at the same time I did want to. I figured if God woke me up for yesterday then I may as well go ahead and live it to the best of my ability. Because He calls us to live, and be alive and fully engaged.

And while I drove to take care of my two nanny girls I listened to a song by Matthew Mole:

And if I am your child, then why should the slightest of fears overcome my line of sight? I’ll be more inclined to you.

And then I was reminded of Peter walking on water. The only reason why he started to sink was because he took his eyes off Jesus.

All it takes is a slight glance. Initially, I don’t even have to move. I only need to shift my eyes from looking downward to looking upward once again.

Something that I love about Paul’s message regarding the Armor of God in Ephesians 6 is that it only ever says “stand.” Not “stand and fight.” Jesus has done and is doing the fighting for us. All we have to do is make the choice to stand. To look up and gaze into His face.

And it is the upward-turned eyes that make it possible to call ugly days beautiful. Smiles can be had on both cloudy days and sunny days, I promise. I haven’t always believed this, and I don’t always believe this. Two days ago I would not have been able to type these words, but that is because my eyes were cast down.

I can’t do anything about my mental disorder. It’s there. It’s a part of my life. Sometimes it takes over my life more than I’d like it to, and other times I can function rather normally. But regardless, through each “episode” and each roller coaster of a day, all I need to do is keep my eyes turned slightly upward. 

So, maybe this post is more for me than for you. A chance for me to tear a little bit of my wall down and reveal that I don't actually have everything all figured out. To unveil that I am human and I struggle a lot. Or maybe it's to speak up and encourage others with mental disorders. It's not an easy life we have to live. I know there will be days ahead when friends will attempt to recite these words back to me and I won't be able to receive them. But I also know that there will be days when I will be breathing and smiling and full of life. Regardless, Jesus is present. He is fighting for us. Keep your eyes on Him. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Puzzle Pieces

You know when you meet someone for the first time and think, Where have you been all my life? There are certain people who you just click with, you jive, you dance and things are good. Then there are people who you meet and instantly wish you could unmeet them. There’s no clicking or jiving and the only dance you are doing is the one to get away from this new acquaintance. (Not that he or she is bad, but he just doesn’t fit into your puzzle.)

I’ve recently been pondering relationships and human interactions. Side bar: Some of you may be raising your eyebrows with a slight smirk on your lips because, if you pay any attention to the happenings on my Facebook page, you will know I recently entered into a relationship (with someone wonderful).  While this “someone wonderful” may have triggered a few of these thoughts below, the term “relationships” here (in this post) does not strictly apply to the romantic kind, but rather a reflection of all forms of relationships: family, friends, significant others, circumstances and opportunities. End side bar.

Each of our lives are like a large, intricate, and challenging jigsaw puzzle. The kind that would take you several weeks to put together; the kind that takes over your dining room table and beckons you to keep assembling it even though you have more important things to do. Maybe you don’t enjoy puzzles, in which case this analogy is totally lost on you.

All puzzles start the same way: with a single piece. After dumping the contents of the box onto the table, any puzzler begins by picking up one piece. That initial piece is you. Unique, uncoordinated, unambiguous. The puzzler then examines the piece and looks for a second piece to fit it.

All of the remaining puzzle pieces that are scattered about your dining room table represent the people and places and opportunities you will have throughout your life. You will find friends and a husband or a wife and a family. You make choices and take chances with your career and the place you choose to live. Your whole life spread on the dining room table.

Assembling this puzzle, just like any other puzzle, takes trial and error. You may try to make a piece fit, foolishly forcing it into place, while other pieces will effortlessly slide into their designated spot. As the pieces begin to fit together, the beauty of your life becomes evident. Each of these people, places, or opportunities are no longer individual shapes, they are now a part of you and who you are.

A too common characteristic of puzzles are their missing pieces. How many puzzles have been started only to be disassembled by disgruntled puzzlers because pieces were discovered missing? Missing puzzles pieces are okay. The missing pieces represent loss and brokenness. At one time that piece fit perfectly into your puzzle, into your life, but the friendship was severed. At one time that job was a great fit for you, but then you were fired. While these things are hard and painful, they are still a part of your story, your puzzle. You can keep assembling a puzzle without all the pieces; in fact, that is what we are supposed to do. Keep assembling, keep going. Acknowledge the heartache, but keep going.

Our lives are puzzles: confusing, complex, captivating. But we get to figure them out, to assemble, to try and fail, to love and lose. Every piece is necessary, so embrace them all. Sometimes it’s okay to step away from the puzzle for a while to gain a new perspective and look at the big picture, but don’t give up on the task you have set out to accomplish. Keep puzzling. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Incomplete Thoughts and Important Choices

My parents were recently in France and they brought this small leather journal, handmade by a street vendor, back for me. I love this journal for a lot of reasons. First, this journal has character. Even with still primarily blank pages, it already has a story to tell because of who made it and how it was made. I appreciate that it came from a side-alley street vendor, from the not-so glamorous and potentially overlooked. This journal makes me feel like a real writer while I scribble random thoughts onto the unlined pages; I feel like a Victor Hugo or even F. Scott Fitzgerald during his time in France. This journal inspires me to dig deeper and go further into my passion.

I’ve recently been reflecting on repentance and how we have this need (or even command) for daily repentance. I wake up a sinner and go to bed a sinner, but too often I fail to see the gravity of my sin on a day to day basis. When you do something against someone, you apologize/confess/repent in order to make your relationship right again. This is common knowledge and we all practice this readily. But every day I sever my relationship with the Lord because of my actions and I do not make the right efforts to restore. I have a need for daily repentance in order to maintain a right relationship. (Not that it is even my doing, only His doing, but I won’t get into the theology now.)

One of the ways I sin against Him is in my independence. I take great pride in the fact that I have my life rather figured out. (Famous last words?) But actually, I have a routine and a system and it works. Structure is good and important, but it results in a lack of dependence on the Lord. As long as I stick to my schedule I’m going to have a great day. But is there room for reliance in my schedule?

This morning in church we sang a rendition of Great is Thy Faithfulness, and afterwards the pastor said, “It has never been a question of God’s faithfulness but rather our faithfulness. We are people who continually make a mess of things both advertently and inadvertently.” At that moment, the words repentance and dependence flashed across my mind.

Naturally, because writing is my passion, words are also. I was intrigued by the way these words sound so similar. I did a little research to see if they have more in common than seven letters. Sadly, they do not.

Repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia which literally means “to change one’s mind.” When metanoia enters our English language and becomes repentance it loses some of its intended meaning. Metanoia isn’t meant to be about guilt or shame, but rather about making a decision to turn around.

Unfortunately, the origin of the word dependence is very pathetic in comparison to repentance and hardly even worth mentioning. Dependence comes from the Old English word dependre which means to rely. The end. My excitement came to a crashing halt when I discovered just how boring dependence is. 

However, all is not lost, I am still going to attempt a correlation between the two. Every morning I wake up a sinner and I am faced with a choice: to repent or not to repent. And it is not about waking up with guilt, it’s about waking up with a choice. The choice to depend. To turn away from my own self and my own routine and desires, and instead rely on Him. God is a relational God. He loves us, and love has to have a choice; He allows us to choose. This is both daunting and humbling. We can choose to turn to Him or not. 

So, I’ll continue to write and scribble in my little French journal and make choices. I’ll make thousands of choices every day, some will be bad and others will be good. But the most important decision I can make in the morning and all throughout my day is to continually turn away from myself and toward Him. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Father’s Day

Dads are tricky. They hold a whole lot of power and most of them don’t even realize it. Some of them do realize it. I’m not sure which is worse.

But see, when Paul commanded us to “honor our fathers (and mothers)” that was not a conditional statement. Love your fathers as long as they love you. As long as they value you and notice you and respect you. Nope, nothing conditional about his command.

So how then can we honor mothers or fathers who have failed us?

That’s exactly where the beauty lies.

It’s easy to honor someone who has never wronged you. But the moment you honor someone who has hurt you is when ugly and broken become beautiful and renewed.

In some twisted way, we should actually be giving thanks for our parents when they fail us because that means they are human. And I would rather have imperfect human parents than perfect robot ones.

So, Father’s Day: a day to honor the father.

To the man who taught me how to dig the knife deep into the peanut butter jar and smear it on the banana, still in peel.

Who showed me that grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are better than not grilled. And sitting on the kitchen floor eating a bowl of cereal late at night is truly the best way to eat it.

Who taught me how to throw and catch a baseball and how to send it flying over the fence with a perfect swing.

Who took me out on the day after Christmas to learn to drive stick-shift because “If you can drive in today’s traffic you can drive any day.” And taught me to parallel park on a hill because “If you can parallel park on a hill in a stick-shift, you can parallel park anywhere.” And taught me to ride with the windows down when Mom wasn't in the car because she doesn't like her hair blown around.

Who filled my ears with music of all kinds and gave me an enormous understanding and appreciation for it.

To the man who held me to a high standard because he saw potential in me. Who taught me to always strive for better, to set goals and attain them through hard work and discipline.

When I think of our relationship many words come to mind. But one that stands out from the rest is grace. Grace from the Lord.  Grace from me to you and from you to me. You and I would amount to a whole bunch of nothing if it wasn’t for grace.

So, I’m thankful for the present grace and the presence you have in my life. Thank you for fighting for your family and for striving to be better and not perfect.

 Happy Father’s Day, Dad.