Category Archives: Personal Image

What Drives You?

Why do you do what you do?

Why did you spend hours cooking in the kitchen yesterday (or why did you not)?
Why are you out buying the Christmas gifts you’re buying?
Why do you get mad when someone trash talks your favorite athlete?
Or when they criticize your music? Or TV show? Or favorite movie?
Why do you work to make the grades you make?
Why do you take it personally when someone rejects something you’ve worked on for them?

What is driving you?

Is it selflessness, or is there something else lurking there?  Some desire to be recognized, appreciated, needed, loved?  Not that those are bad things, but if those things are why you’re doing what you’re doing, there will be more problems in the long run than blessings.

So, this holiday season, take time to analyze your motives.  Why are you buying those particular presents?  Why are you going to yet another Christmas party?  Why are you baking another batch of cookies?

What drives you?

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Sensei God

Hey Guys!  Meagan’s back with her brilliant thoughts! 

While my husband and I were on a backpacking vacation this summer, I poured out my heart to God, sitting in our tent. I have poured out my heart many times over the past two years, as we have faced physical, emotional and spiritual struggles like none I’ve never experienced. While I was in that tent, ferociously scrawling out prayers and thoughts into my tiny travel journal, a word came to me: Abide. It was unmistakably a word from God. Abide. What does that mean anyway? It means stay. To stay within, and partake fully in something. God told me to abide in him.

Specifically, he wanted me not to be looking for anything while I abide. Soley to know him better by staying in his presence. Over the past years I have been constantly seeking answers about my future, my past, how to deal with a lot of pain. I look for purpose, I ask for direction, I pray for all kinds of temporal blessings. All of those aren’t bad things until they become a laundry list of requests as if we are wishing to a Genie. God is not a wish-granting factory. He is a God of relationship.

So, I spent the rest of vacation pondering that word, abide, and how I might proceed to abide when I returned home. I began reading a daily devotional that is specific to experiencing the presence of God and how he sees, guides and nurtures us. Through scripture, the short daily readings have expanded my understanding of his character, and taught me to trust him with my life. That’s a HUGE step for a control freak.

Though, when you think about it, aren’t we all control freaks? We make every decision based on our belief that we can command the outcome of every part our lives. If something goes wrong in our master plan, we look for where we screwed up our system, or blame someone else for screwing it up.

In abiding, I’ve been trying to learn how to let go of that habit, and let God handle my outcomes. But like a classic control freak, I got wrapped up in the habit of “doing my devotional” rather than practicing the Presence of God. I went back to my usual daily treadmill, kind of half-praying to him when I “got the chance”  instead of truly listening to him. I let myself be distracted by every other thing.

This happens when we start feeling confident and good, doesn’t it? We forget to hang out with God. Or we remember, but put it off. Why IS that? Why do we forget to commune? We start relying on our own perceived strength and promptly forget he was the one who picked us up off the floor in the first place. Talk about lack of gratitude. Talk about abandoning and ignoring a friend that has helped, you, or rather, saved your ass.

When my life started getting disorganized and overwhelming again, I realized the auto-pilot habit I got into. I had a one-on-one date with God to just hang out. I need that radio-muted, inner-racket-muted, TV-off, chores-left, quiet, in order to hear him and really communicate — two ways. He doesn’t yell over my own noise. He waits for me to pursue him and gently reminds me that he is pursuing me.

This season, where I’m waiting and kind of wrestling with him to stop trying to run after some life that I find “meaningful,” is the abiding season. In a desert, there’s nothing else to do but talk to God. And drink lots of water.

The purpose is not to do anything but know him. Not to halfway know and then ask for something, but to really KNOW. Not to try to get answers, but just be still and know. Know his character, know what he expects from me, let him teach me His ways (which are so far from my ways, it’s laughable) and take those ways as my own. Sort of like a Sensei and his student.

There’s a scene in the movie Kill Bill, where Kung Fu Master Pai Mei teaches his student, Beatrix Kiddo, to punch a hole through a 4-inch thick wall. He says to her, “Now that your arm belongs to me, I want it strong.” She spends the next several months with a broken, swollen hand, learning to master the wall.

Displaying Pai_Mei_teaching_Bride_Punch.jpg

In the same way, our body, mind and soul belong to God. Like any good teacher, God shows us our weaknesses, through our own flailing attempts control our lives. When we end up in a puddle on the floor, he uses our utter dependence upon his mercy to rebuild us with divine strength. Strength that actually lasts. Strength that can beat any foe.

This process is going to take a LOOOOONG time for me. God has a lot to teach me, and is very patient. Meanwhile, I’m very flawed, very undisciplined, and incredibly impatient. I am going to have to hit a wall with my fist until I break my hand.

I  challenge you to learn what it means to abide in God and learn his ways as your Sensei.

I challenge you to discipline your mind so that you can give your full attention to the ultimate teacher.

More than anything, I challenge you to fully trust him. Every morning, choose to let go of your little dominion of control, and let him handle your worries, fears, and doubts. Let him show you the better way, through his eternal view.

I’ve been practicing these three moves, and I can tell you from experience, it’s been the most rewarding learning in my life. If God can redeem a disaster case like mine, he’ll do it for you, too. He’s made that promise in his infallible Word — Check out Genesis 28:15, Hebrews 11:6-7 and Psalm 37:4-7.

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The Exception

DSCN8247                So I’m half way through my semester, and one of the main things I can tell you that I can take away from my Brief Therapy class is “the exception”.  When nothing else is working in your life, think back to a time when something was working, preferably something that was working that is similar to whatever “everything” isn’t working right now, or a time when the “everything” was working.  Generally something was different.  That one different thing was what was helping it work.  That different is called the exception.   Once you figure out what the exception was – do more of it.  It’ll help fix whatever “everything” is going wrong.
One of the ways I remind myself to slow down is to always carry a camera with me.  It’s a reminder for me to take time to listen to God, or to be aware of God’s love for me.  I have found, in taking pictures, that often my favorites are ones with “exceptions”; ones with the one scarlet leaf or even a cluster of crimson flakes clinging to a towering pillar of golden coins.  Pictures with a single white rose amidst a garden of red, or the sunflower that has its held titled just so, allowing the sun to illuminate it, while the rest are pointed in just enough of a different angle so as to not be lit-up.

The exceptions.  They’re the ones that make us stop and take notice.   They’re the ones that help make things better.

The exception – this is what Christians are called too.

The thing is, it’s hard to be an exception.  There is something inside humanity that seems to desire to fit in.  And yet, while we want to fit in, we want to stand out.  We seem to innately understand that the unique ones are the ones that are noticed, and we want to be noticed and not blend in with the crowd.  We want to be recognized for who we are, for the person God crafted us to be, and we recognize that God only crafts unique individuals.  We want our individuality to be known, and we want to be loved despite (or even better – because of) it.

And yet – being the exception is scary and potentially painful, and so we also have the instinct to simply be blend in with the crowd.  I think we want to fit in because we’re insecure and need the safety of a group.

We’re confused, basically.  We want to be wall flowers and the life of the party all at the same time.

Beauty is always unique.  The minute it becomes commonplace, it is no longer as easily recognized as beautiful.  It no longer makes us stop and stare.  We no longer appreciate it.

But being willing to be the one that stands out, the one that everyone stops to notice, is hard.  In our currently messed-up world, it means being willing to be ridiculed or worse, celebrated.  It is painful.

And yet, this is exactly how God created us – each with our own unique thing that can make others stop and take notice.  And as Christians, our lives are supposed to be the exception to the world around us.

There is pain, sure, in being the exception, but there is beauty too.  And this is what Christians are called to – being the exception.  Being the ones who can fully embrace the being God originally created them to be.  Being the ones who accept better than anything else.   Being the ones who can see pain and need and joy better than anyone else.  Being the ones who can see the exception in others and celebrating it.  Being the ones who can enter into others’ pain better than anyone else.  Being the ones who love all types – the easy and the hard, the confusing and the understandable, the painful and the happy – better than anyone else.

Be the exception.

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Grasping Christ Among the Tangles

Hey Guys!  Meagan’s back with a follow-up from last week!  YAY!!!!!

Hiya! Have I said what a privilege it is to get to share my thoughts and meditations with you? It’s a huge privilege and I hope it will be encouraging.

So last week we were talking about how easy it is to compare yourself to everyone around you and feel inadequate. I caught myself doing this *again* this very past week at work, even though I make a good salary and have a “real career.”

Here’s why I was moping: I work for scientists. Not just any scientists, but the kind who get interviewed on CNN, have their research featured in Science Magazine, and are changing the world by inventing vaccines to stop disease in Africa, engineering working human body parts, and targeting cancer cures. My boss is a Nobel Laureate. Every day, I come into my building and am surrounded by engineers, bioscientists, and every other kind of over-achieving Ph.D. you can think of.

Then there’s me: I got my B.S. (B.arely S.craped by) in Journalism, got laid off when the newspaper industry died, and was slowly sucked into research accounting, where I have now been stuck for 5 years. I don’t race in triathlons or volunteer to help Haitian refugees. I don’t have any particular skills or accomplishments to put on my life resume.

I wanted to write for the New York Times— to write stories about gorillas in the mist, and doctors helping people in the slums of India.

Instead, like some of you, I’ve been thinking about my life, going “how did I land here?” Some of us never merge into the Ph.D. track to ultra-life success. And not because we didn’t try.

Walking to my intimidatingly-large bioscience building Monday morning, I was overwhelmed, unmotivated and uninspired. Trudging into my drab, windowless office, I felt unappreciated and largely ignored by the scientists I support (unless, of course, they need something that involves money). Sorry for whining at you.

The point is that I started concentrating on wanting to feel significant. To do things that I believe are significant like influencing and inspiring others, taking care of the poor, giving of myself. Hear me: Those desires aren’t wrong. My focus was wrong.

God reminded me on the walk to work–

“Where do you get your value? From them? Or from me and what I say is true about you?”

“From you, O Lord.”

“What is more precious to you—their evaluation of you, or mine?”

“Yours, O Lord.”

Alright, but do I really believe that? Do my actions and thoughts consistently reflect the things I say to God? It’s easy to say in the moment, but not so easy to practice, is it?

Yeah, I feel ya. I cry out to him in my self-inflicted pain: “I know you say you’re there, God, but how do I find you in this mess?! How in the world do I even start?”

Some pastors, well-meaning but shallow Christians, and devotional writers will preach: Just put your eyes on Jesus. Just. As if it’s that easy. Well, instead of condescending to you, I’m going to give you an actual, practicable answer. Ready?

How you find life purpose and peace through Jesus:

The ugly answer, as in all things that are life-changing, is (and sorry for this):

It takes brokenness.

Then desperation.

And then it takes practice.

Not simple. Definitely not pretty.

Why these three things?

  • Brokenness: Your grand life plans = Epic Fail. All kinds of things break people: discovering a cancerous tumor, the death of a child, spouse or sibling, losing a job or a home, addiction and mental illness, being the victim of a crime or natural disaster. Sometimes it’s bad choices you make. Sometimes it’s bad choices others perpetrate on you. Sometimes, it seems like the universe just singled you out.
  • Desperation: You realize you aren’t actually the master of your destiny. Loneliness and fear descend upon you like a shroud. You cry out for help into the empty air. Times of desperation are when you are most likely to be open to change – to finding a better way that can sustain you in the long-term.

(Before number three, there is a wall that some people are unable to break through. That is a discussion about suicide, for another post.)

  • Practice: You emerge from the shattered glass that once mirrored your life, and grasp on to something. Let’s hope the something is not a radical new diet or extreme-makeover fitness program. Let’s hope it is Christ. You may not be the master of your own destiny, but you are the master of how you respond to it.

You don’t just magically change from your old, bad habits though. You constantly revert back to them like a baby blanket that you believe has protected you from harm, but really has no power at all.

To change, to really hold on to what you have found and fully transform, you have to practice. Like any athlete who sustains herself through the finish line.

Well, crap. How do I “practice” grasping on to this invisible, elusive Christ?

Don’t be discouraged! There are some tools to help you start. And unlike a trendy fad diet, the results are lasting– because they are backed by a King who wants to know you, who wants you to succeed in the life He gave you, and who will help you along the way…

We’ll get to some practice exercises next week. This week, meditate on what brokenness looks like for you. Consider what it feels like to be desperate.

Um… Amy Leigh… can I hijack your blog for a Part III?

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Tripping Over the Potholes Of Comparison

This week I have the honor of setting aside my random thoughts and contemplations and instead, I get to introduce you to one of my dearest friends – Meagan!  After much persuasion and a bit of patience (good writing, like wine, takes time and a bit of squeezing), she’s finally graced us with a guest blog post!  I’m thrilled. 
                She has written articles for several well-known publications, has traveled to one or two  corners of the Earth, is a wife to a pretty decent dude, lives in them there mountains, is the friend of a fox or two AND is provider of sugary nectar for several hummingbirds.  But as cool as all that stuff is, those things are merely indicators of the large heart and vibrant spirit this woman envelops – not who she actually is.  She is a woman who has the humility to merely seek the Father, vigilantly deal with her personal healing, love those around her, and enjoy life as best as she humanly can. 
                Meagan has been a major force in my life over the time I have known her, and I am excited for you to meet her and get to know her heart too.  Also, when you’re done reading, leave a comment for her! 

It’s so easy to look at others — and I do it all the time — and see what we don’t have or who we aren’t. “She’s written a book,” “she has a nice house,” “he’s smarter and more capable than me,” “he’s traveled the world, “she has an amazing job,” “she overcame cancer and is a doctor now,” and, my personal favorite, “They all have purpose and I don’t have anything that is special about me.”

The fact is, looking around at everyone else denies and detracts from what God made you. It’s kind of an insult. Yeah, I may not have those things or talents or experiences that the people I look up to have, but we’ve got to learn that those external things are not what give us value. What gives me value is the unique person God made me, simply because he loves me. I have worth, because I belong to the God of the universe. My identity is as His — not as the things I accomplish or the talents or stuff I have.

How could he have made me and not love me? Would he have spent so much time making me that he knows every hair on my head, and not given me a unique purpose in this world to live out? Would he let me miss out on that– if I’m really seeking His will? Certainly not — he’s not a petty, ruthless God out to show you how bad you suck compared to him and everyone else. Instead, he is your champion and cheerleader. Embrace what he gave you, learn to love what he made you.

So stop looking around at everybody else, stop looking down at the potholes in your life — your inadequacies, your circumstances that look to ensnare you in an endless pit of discontent — and look forward to Christ alone.

A wise lady, my counselor of 15 years, told me: If you are running from a monster, and you look back at it, all of your energy is consumed by focusing on it instead of the path of escape. If you are running a race, and looking around at your competitors, they will overtake you.

Keep your eyes focused on the one thing that can keep you going forward, in the right direction. Christ alone.

So that I don’t leave you without any idea of what that means, here are some ways to get your eyes off yourself and others, and on to the place they belong.

  • Instead of waking up and thinking about the day in front of you, pray this prayer FIRST thing: “God, what do you have for me today?” Wait and listen. Tell him your thoughts, feelings and fears and listen. Keep talking to him, keep listening. This will be very difficult to do at first, so don’t beat yourself up, just keep trying. If your mind strays, come back to talking to him.
  • Then, as you are eating your brekkie, or before you leave for school or work, read a Psalm every morning – pick an encouraging one, not a sad one or the ones that have ancient Israeli history that you can’t relate to. As you read, focus on God’s promises and his greatness.
  • Think of what promises he’s kept to you and WRITE THEM DOWN. In a journal, on a notepad, wherever. It will help you remember them. Think of the scripture you read throughout the day.
  • As you go throughout your day and good things happen, or you are encouraged by something, WRITE IT DOWN on that notepad, thank God for it OUT LOUD (even if you work in a cubicle, do it as a whisper). Praising God audibly discourages the enemy’s attacks.

 

That’s a start. We’ll do more next post. There’s lots of help to be had. Keep up hope.

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The Here and Now

We don’t always recognize the BIG moments when they occur – often they look like all the normal ones that bookend either side.

Which I guess is another reason to pay attention to what’s going on here, now, right now.  Because someday you might want to look back and remember this very moment.

This very moment that you’re living through might be the reason a group of strangers become friends and hang out.  Or the reason you apply for that new job.  Or the inspiration for a new song you write.  Or the moment you find the courage to smile back at him.

And if you’re so focused on the past, you’re not gonna remember this moment.

And if you’re too focused on the mystical future, you’re not gonna remember the details of this moment.

So pay attention.  Don’t wish yourself elsewhere.  Don’t try to just live through it; don’t agree to just survive it.

Pay attention.

 

(Yes, I realize this is just an extension of last week.  Not sure what God’s trying to tell me.  Maybe to stop complaining and to just enjoy the journey. )

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Facebook, peer pressure, cold water, and what to do

It happened.

I knew it would, and I had been trying to figure out how to respond to it when it did, but, when it actually happened, I still didn’t have a clue.

See, there’s this thing, going around on Facebook where people dump water over their heads in support of a horrible degenerative disease that goes by the initials ALS, and since over half my Facebook friends are kids, well, I was gonna get nominated to dump ice over my head at some point, sooner or later.

But see, I’m in this thoughtful season of life, when I want to think about everything before I do it.  So, I wanted to know where I actually stood on this “challenge” thing before I simply lemming-style dumped five gallons of ice on me – in public (well, filmed, and then posted on Facebook, so the modern form of public).  I know, I know, I’m probably over-thinking it.  Or, as my brother would affectionately say, I’m “femaling it up”.

But I didn’t want to just mindlessly dump water over my head.  And no, it’s not because it’s cold.

See, I want my kids to think through something before they do it.  And if I want that from them, then I need to model it.

And I’m not really sure of the best response.  See, ALS is a degenerative disease where you lose control of everything.  And that’s horrible.  And if pouring a bucket of ice over my head will help someone research it and come up with a cure – great.  Pour five buckets over my head.  But see, pouring a bucket over my head means that I’m not giving money to fund that person to go find that cure.  So, I should give money.  Which I’d do if I had any (being a student will take all the money you’ve got – and then some).  But even then, even still, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it.  Because, see, if I simply give money, than I can be done.  I don’t have to think about it anymore.  I can say I did my part and go dive back into school papers, or hiking in the mountains, or drinking coffee with one of my teens.

But that’s not really what we’re called to do as Christians.  We’re called to sit with each other in our pain.  We are called to help someone out – to take care of them – no matter what.  To stay there, where they are.  Not to throw money at them and then walk away.  Not to say, “Hey, look how much I care; I’m pouring water over my head” and then walk away.  I’m called to befriend those in pain, those who are uncomfortable, those who will ask much of me because they can’t give anything back.

So, how do I do that?  I don’t know anyone with ALS.  Do I go find someone who has ALS?  Do I just accept that God hasn’t put anyone in my life with ALS and focus on the people He has put in my life – and their needs?

Truth is – I don’t know.  I could dump a bucket of water over my head in solidarity or something, sure.  But…doesn’t that just bring more attention to me than to the thousands suffering?  I mean somewhere the video label will say ALS on it, and so everyone will know I care…but do I, really?

The only answer that comes to mind, as I wrestle with this, is one that feels trite because it has been a Christian cop-out so often – prayer.

I don’t know anyone with ALS; I don’t have anything to give; I don’t really believe pouring a bucket of watery frigidness will do any good, so what do I have?

I have God.  I have prayer.  And, in the long run, assuming I actually pray and ask God to do a work – in my heart at the very least – that might be the most powerful thing I could do.

Note – if I felt God was calling me to do something about ALS specifically, this would be different.  Maybe I’ll talk about that next week.

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