Category Archives: Self / Emotions

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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Pirate Eyes

Pirate hori
Today is National Talk Like A Pirate Day.  No really, apparently it is.  I discovered this amazing tid bit of glorious holiday-ness when I was in college.  So speak with pirate-speak, me matey.  Strrrretch out yer “arrrrrrrrrs” in everrrrrrry worrrrrrd you use.  Yell “Aye” and “Nay” as often as you can.  And, if you’rrrrre super-clever and piratey you’ll slip the quote, “I disincline to acquiesce to your request” at least thrrree times into yerrr speak.

But really.  I’ve felt ratherrr pirrrratey (annnd that’s annoying) for the last three or four weeks.  No, I’m not wearing large gold hoop earrings, I don’t have a strange urge to cover my hair with a bandanna, my personal hygiene is at normal levels, and I don’t have large, length-of-my-leg knives (otherwise known as swords) on a belt, bruising my hip.

No, I’ve been feeling piratey in the sense that I’m rather envious of some of my friends.    I want what they want, and I even have moments when I am green-eyed envious enough to want to just take it.  Not that I could.   I look at their lives, their relationships, their houses, their careers, and I get envious.   I just… I somehow foolishly thought I’d be where they are at this point in my life.  Well, no, that’s not true.  I thought I’d be living in the middle of Africa (somehow still with my curling iron) teaching missionary kids.  And I’m not doing that either.

Instead I’m in my early thirties, going to school to get a Masters that does not guarantee me a job (and definitely not a well-paying one).  I don’t have my own place.  I nanny for a living.  I’m crying a lot recently.  And romantically, well I’m bust.

The thing is, on an intellectual level, I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.  I wouldn’t give up a single year or experience.  Looking back, God has obviously written my story, bringing me here, now, to this pretty painful moment (okay, not JUST to this moment, but to this season of life).  And I know good things are going to come of this time.  And I know I need to stay here, in this pain, in this confusion, frustration and loneliness.  I shouldn’t run from it.  I shouldn’t dwell in it, but I shouldn’t ignore it either.  I’m here for a reason.  I have lessons to learn here.  There are wonderful, joyful memories to be had here.  I need to stay and search for them.

I can’t dwell in the familiarity of the past, and I shouldn’t escape to the mystery of the future.

But my heart…well, my heart is pretty raw right now.  In my envy of those around me, I forget what I know about the character of God.  I forget that He is good (or I run to my “well, God’s good is different than ours” speech).  I forget that He is righteous, and jealous, and can get angry when His children are hurt or get distracted by smaller gods.  I forget so quickly how holy He is.  I forget that He is loving.  I forget that He has placed the passions and desires within my heart for a reason – whether or not I ever actually experience those passions and deep desires becoming fulfilled.  I forget that He is GOD.  That He can make anything – ANYTHING – happen, that He has a reason for everything (even in my piddly little life).  I forget that He moved Heaven and Earth with His love in order to redeem me.  I forget.  I forget all that He has given me (really, I have lived an incredible life).  I forget that He holds me, that He knows how many hairs are on my head, and that He cherishes every tear I cry.

I forget that He loves me better than anyone else ever has, can, or will.  And that as He is the one in charge of my story, He’s writing the best version – director’s cut – of said story.  I need to trust that He’s got this, that the desires in me will either fade away, or be fulfilled and either way they should send me to Him, not to staring at what my friends have.

As long as I don’t have the green, envious eyes of a pirate, life is good.

But even better – GOD is good, all the time.

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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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Mommy, why is the sky red?

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The sky was red last night.  Gorgeous streaks of what my fourth-grade self would have described as neon watermelon (it was a colored pencil name – mid 90’s, era of the neon…until now, of course) swirled among puffs of deep soul blue and quiet gray.  It was glorious.  Gorgeous.  Breath-taking.  And I took pictures, because that is one of my favorite ways to express all the joy and love that is inside me during such moments.  And I did a couple step-hops as the neon watermelon swirls got deeper and brighter and less watermelon-y and more…indescribable.  And I ran from one side of the house to watch the sunset over the mountains to the other side, to watch the sunset over the city. And every atom currently making up my body felt loved, and overwhelmed, and accepted, and beautiful, and…. And I am full.

As I watched the sunset, the phrase, “The sky is red Momma, why is the sky red?” kept coming to my mind.  My last year of college (so, a while ago) I wrote a one-act for my college’s final theatrical fling of the year – called Drop Dead.  It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime-experiences-that-I-got-the-privilege-of-participating-in-three-wait-four?-no-I-can-only-remember-three times.  I wrote one acts for all three times.  And the last one act I wrote I don’t remember as vividly as I remember the first one, but I know it started out with a little girl and her momma staring at the sky, with the girl asking her momma why the sky is red.  The point of the play was a bit about perspectives, and a bit about arguing with God, and a bit that God really does have a plan for all things. 

I’d re-read it right now, but I wrote it on a different laptop, and I don’t have the jump drive with me that I saved it onto when that computer died. 

But it got me thinking about sunsets, and God, and love, and how He really does have a plan for everything, and how He’s in charge. 

Recently, I’ve wondered a bit if He does.  I mean, yes, I know, God’s in control and has everything covered.  But, as is always the case when what we know in our minds is challenged by real life experience, I’ve had to do a bit of trusting that it’s really true, and then releasing worry to God, and praying my heart out. 

Because, see, I’m rather human, and I don’t understand everything. I mean, how does free will work?  If God loves us, and if He’s constantly pursuing each of us (I’m not much of a pre-destined-er) in the best way for us, what about when we don’t want Him to pursue?  Does He still pursue our hearts, just more gently, more from a distance, more from the shadows?  Does He let us go about our lives, doing what we want, in the hopes that our empty lives will draw us back to Him?  Does that tactic work? 

How does this work?  If true love really does allow us a choice, how do we express that choice?  And then if God is love, than He respects that choice….  But then He also knows everything, and is outside of time, and knows how it all plays out…so if He knows that you say you don’t want Him now, but you will in five years, then what? 

I don’t know.  I trust that He loves each of us, and that He desires each of us to enter into the relationship with Him that He originally created us for. He wants us to be the best, most fulfilling version of ourselves.   And I’m not sure I’ll ever know – or ever really want to know exactly how He handles every little detail.  God is God, and I am not.  And He is love, and good, and righteous, and merciful, and graceful, and just.  And patient.  God is sooooo patient.   And I trust in that – even when it’s easy to trust that because the skies are full of masterpiece red and orange and yellow and purple swirls.

 

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Mountain Tops and Attitudes

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I just got back from backpacking with some of the awesome high schoolers in the youth group I work with.  And I noticed something odd, something that has been niggling at the back of my mind for over a month now.

See, a little over a month ago I went camping with some of my middle schoolers from the same youth group.  We hiked a 14er (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but that means a mountain whose summit is over 14,000 feet above sea level).  Now, this is nothing new; we do this every year.  And I am the “in the back” leader, pushing those who don’t necessarily want to go, up the mountain (mostly because I’m one of the slowest hikers I know, so I naturally fit there).  Until this year, I’d never summitted a mountain.  We’d gotten pretty close at least twice, but never to the summit.  But somehow, this year, the group in the back made it all the way up.  Craziness.  I knew it wasn’t because I was in better shape.  Definitely NOT the case this year.  I chalked it up to having kids who were in better condition and more willing to hike than in years before.

But then, this last week when we went backpacking, a similar thing happened.  Hiking into the camping site, backpacks the size of some of our middle schoolers on our backs, we didn’t stop nearly as much as before.  And, the coolest part was, I, personally, didn’t have to stop nearly as much as in the past.  Really, I promise I’m not in better condition.

But obviously something’s changed.  Whether it’s because the kids needed me to push them less this time ‘round, or there’s less emotional baggage for me to carry, or what, I don’t know.  But I’m enjoying the difference.

It’s kinda crazy because other than not using strength to push other’s attitudes aside and encourage them, there really was not much different.  Which, I guess goes to show just how every important it is to have good attitudes about everything – and to have people around you who encourage you (as well as you can encourage).  When the people around you are only griping and complaining…life gets hard.  It’s hard to be the sole encourager; it takes a great deal of emotional strength to do that, which saps your physical strength.

So, I guess my challenge is to surround yourself with people who will encourage you as much as you encourage them.  Make it up the mountain with them.

And keep trudgin’.  It’s when we stop that we feel we can’t start again.

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