Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ten Years Later

I struggled with writing this.

In fact, I had a couple of false starts and even almost had an entire blog written (and if you know me, they can get looooong), but all that I had written just wasn't right, somehow.

I set it aside a few days.  Sometimes that's all it takes to figure out how to go about this.

Because how does one approach writing a blog about the tenth anniversary of what was one of the worst days of one's life?

It was also my 25th birthday, just FYI.

And I got dumped by a guy I was absolutely and totally in love with.  I thought I was going to marry him.

But I didn't.

In fact, he's married to someone else.  

And, well...good.

I don't mean that in a Grumpy Cat sort of way.  I mean like a real, honest, wonderful good.

The reason I struggled so much to write this blog, something I'd planned to do for about a year now, was that I realized it's just not even that big of a deal, anymore.

I spent a the better part of the last decade thinking of that guy every single day.  I prayed God would take care of him.  There were times when I prayed God would bring us back together.  There were times when I just prayed God would get me over him.  But mostly, I just tried to live my life in the midst of the struggle.  And people didn't always like the way my life looked.  They wanted me to move on or whatever.

I did.  Just not how or when they wanted me to.

This post isn't so much about the relationship I had with this guy that ended ten years ago as much as it is about how God has used  the struggle to shape my life over the past ten years.

It wasn't until about this time last year that God finally let me know it was time to let go.  And there will be people who will argue with me about that and say I needed to let go way earlier, but I can't worry about them.  It wasn't their struggle.  It was the one God gave me.  And He had me struggle with it for years--about 13, all in all, considering the time when I met the guy to the time when I was 100% over all that had happened with him.  I still do love him, really, but oh, not at all in a way that might be considered romantic or even friendly.  I honestly hope I never see him again--not because I hate him or because I'm bitter, but simply because it would be ALL KINDS of awkward.  I wish him well.  I pray for him sometimes, whenever he comes to mind--which is not nearly as often as he used to.  I pray that he and his wife will honor each other and honor God.  And I leave it at that and go on with my life.

I couldn't do that until a little over a year ago.  And it's okay.  In fact, it's good.

And if you ask me why God had me go through all of that, I don't have a definitive answer.  I can give you a few things that I learned through it, a few ways I'm a better person for it, but in the end, that's all rubbish.  The real answer is: I don't know.

That's okay.

People told me right after the relationship ended that God just wanted me to learn something from it.  But I rejected that idea then, and I reject it now.  God didn't want me to love someone just so I could gain some lesson from the experience.  Certainly, I did learn a thing or two, but that wasn't the only reason or even the main reason for the relationship.  God wanted me to love that guy because He wanted me to love that guy.  Plain and simple.  He wanted me to, and so I did.  And He wanted me to wrestle with that for almost 9 years even after the relationship ended.  So I did.

I don't claim to understand it.  Trust isn't about understanding.  Trust is about obeying.

And the same Father who brought me into it brought me through and out of it, and I'm here on the other side a 35 year old (gosh that age sounds so grown up) woman who is still kind of figuring out who she is apart from that struggle.  Of course, I've got about a hundred other struggles that have come into my life since I became free of that one.  It's still okay.  It's still good.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I really hate the winter.  I don't like the snow.  I don't like the cold.  I don't like the stillness of nature, probably because humans are too busy to slow down along with it.  We're still going about all of our business unless we get snowed in or something.  Because humans are too dumb to hibernate.

But spring is my favorite season, and I'm glad that my birthday comes at the very end of winter.  It's not quite yet spring, but the world certainly knows it's coming.  Sometimes we have to struggle through some very long winters before the spring comes.  Sometimes we have to struggle through some very long nights before joy can come in the morning.

It's good.  I don't claim to understand it, but it's good.

So ten years later?  I'm not exactly who I thought I'd be.  But I know myself, and I do like myself.  I think both of those things are pretty important.

It's almost spring again.  There's a lot of uncertainty in my life right now--I have no idea what life will look like in a few months, let alone a few years.  Chances are, I'm going to have some struggles.

But, as I've said before and will continue to say, there's mercy in the struggle.

It's good.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Insecurity's Biggest Lie

This morning at church, my adult Sunday School class (they don't call it that, but that's what it is) got out very early.  Only a few people showed up, since there was a little bit of ice mixed in with the morning rain, and people down here in the South are paranoid (with good reason, I guess).

Some of my friends were going to be presented to the church as new members at the close the second service (which meets during my Sunday School hour), and I wanted to be there for them, so I decided to just sit in the foyer outside the sanctuary worship center and wait until closer to the end of the service.

I was sitting there, watching the sermon on a monitor.  I had already heard the sermon during the first service, so I wasn't paying all that much attention.  Still, it was nice to note that the pastor's second service sermon wasn't 100% identical to the first service sermon.  He spiced it up a little with different little examples and such.  Nice guy, that pastor.

Then a lady came and sat down next to me.  She was probably in her early-to-mid 60s.  I'd never seen her before, that I recall.  We sat in silence for a few minutes, and I figured we would just mostly ignore each other.

Then she asked me a question.

"Do you have any pets?"

I thought it was a weird opening question to ask a stranger, but I answered politely that I would love pets, but I can't have them in my rental property (without paying a huge deposit).

She told me about her "little Yorkie dog" and her "yaller (yellow) cat."

I nodded politely.  I am not good at making conversation, and I thought it was a little odd how much she seemed to want to talk about pets.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then she asked me, "Do you have any children?"

I just said, "No, I don't have any children" and hoped that was the end of the conversation.

But she continued.  "Why don't you have any children?"

I managed to stay polite, I think, which is pretty difficult for me most of the time.  I am pretty good about saying whatever is on my mind, and right at that moment, what was on my mind wasn't polite. I wanted to tell her to mind her own business.  Instead, I gave her the short answer to why I don't have any children.

"I never got married.  I never had any children."

The long answer wasn't something I really wanted to go into with a complete stranger.

She asked me another question.  "Don't you WANT to get married and have children?"

I took a very deep breath and said, "I am at the age now that if I do get married, I'd like to adopt, but I don't know if that's going to happen."

I immediately pulled out my phone and got on the Facebook, mainly to show her that I wasn't interested in furthering the conversation.  I didn't want her questions.  I didn't want her judgment.  The fact that I'm not a mom and will probably never be is something that I've made peace with, but it's not something that makes me particularly happy, either.  When people start judging me for something that has been a struggle, for something that's broken my heart, I really don't like it.

So I shut her out.

As I continued to browse the Facebook, I vaguely heard her mutter something about having tried to have kids, but not being able to.  I heard her say that she even tried to adopt once, but the adoption didn't go through.  Whatever, lady.  The conversation was over, as far as I was concerned.  How dare a stranger judge me for something they couldn't possibly understand.  How dare a stranger pry into my life without my permission.

After a moment or two, the lady realized I wasn't going to talk to her, and she got up.  She crossed the foyer to the welcome desk where one of the ministers was standing.  I heard her ask the minister the same questions she asked me.  She started out by asking if he had any pets.  It still struck me as a strange opening question, but he responded much more graciously than I did.  He also listened more graciously as she told him about her "little Yorkie dog" and her "yaller cat."

Then she asked him about his family, and he talked proudly about his wife and newborn son.  Then she talked to him about the child she had tried to adopt, and even though she wasn't talking to me anymore, I listened that time.

And I realized something.

The lady wasn't judging me; she was just trying to talk to me.

She was looking for someone who she could talk to about the things that had hurt her.  She was talking about her pets who meant the world to her, who were like her children, because she had never been able to have kids of her own.  And when she was asking those questions of me, she WAS trying to get into my life, but not in a prying sort of way.  She just wanted someone to talk to.  She wanted a human connection, to know that she wasn't alone.

Maybe she was a little awkward about it, but then, I know a thing or two about being awkward.

And like a fool, I let my insecurity lie to me again.

Insecurity's biggest lie is that other people don't have insecurities.  Insecurity's biggest lie is that other people aren't speaking from a place of brokenness, but they're speaking from a place of arrogance, from a place of judgment.  Insecurity's biggest lie is that we're the only ones who are hurting, the only ones who are fighting sin, the only ones who fail, the only ones who are needy.  And so we hide, we run, we fight, because we don't want to be hurt by those who are, in reality, hurting just as much as we are.

Instead of letting this lady reach out to me, instead of reaching back out to her, I shut her out to avoid being hurt.

And I missed that she was hurting, too.

I don't know what you believe.  I don't know if you're doing fine, or if you're facing the biggest battle you've ever faced.  I don't know if you feel hurt or judged or neglected or alone.

But don't let your insecurity tell you that you are alone.

No one wants to be hurt.  No one wants to be judged.  That keeps us apart.

I know that there are people out there who are filled with hate and pride and hypocrisy.  They lash out because their sin is greater than the sin they like to imagine and attack in others.  Sin is real, sin is ugly, and sometimes sin is all too easy to see in the hate that other people have towards others.  Those people are out there, and they make me sad.

But there are also people out there who are hurt, who are scared, who are angry, who are defensive.  They lash out because they've been hurt, or they stay quiet because it's hard to trust.  They fight or flee because their insecurity tells them that others don't care, that others will hurt them, that a lack of understanding or agreement means a lack of love.

It's hard to tell the difference sometimes.  Nothing is ever easy.

But I believe that love is the opposite of fear, and I believe that if we make that effort and that choice to love others more than we fear getting hurt, that some remarkable things can happen.  It doesn't mean that we'll agree on everything or even understand everything.

It does mean that we won't be alone.

I blew it today.  I missed the opportunity to make a new friend.  I missed the opportunity to see someone, to know just a little bit of who she is.  And maybe she's a little quirky and loves her Yorkie dog like a child, and maybe I'm a little quirky and eat too much hummus and draw horrible sketches of Dragons in my sermon notes.  Maybe we're both a little awkward and don't know how to have a conversation like normal people.  She, at least, tried.

But like an insecure jerk, I chose to believe she was seeking to hurt me instead of seeking healing, and I shut her out.

So I guess this is my penance.  It's not much, but it's sincere, at any rate.  Maybe a song will come out of the experience and be a better penance than this simple blog entry.  Or maybe my penance will be that next time (and I both pray and believe there will be a next time, because God is far more gracious than I deserve), when I see someone who strikes me as a little bit odd, a little bit rough around the edges, a little bit broken, and I choose to love instead of fear.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

That's Why It's Called Trust

I've been blogging a lot lately, which is probably a good thing.  I don't know.  At least I'm writing something.  I haven't been able to do that so much lately.

Depression--particularly the apathetic kind, to which I seem to be prone--is a beast.

I've got a day off today, which is a rare and wonderful thing.  I have stuff I should be doing--errands I should be running.  I need to go make a bunch of appointments--to see the eye doctor, to see the real doctor, to go get a massage someone was kind enough to buy for me.  But I decided to stay in today and just rest, just think about life.

I've been under Spiritual attack a lot lately, whether it's through insecurity or depression or anxiety or a fierce combination of all of those.  And mostly, people have been awesome about it.  I do get the occasional, "Well, here's a book to show you how to change your life around in ten easy steps," or "Hey, maybe you need to take these 'magic pills' that make you happy," or, perhaps the worst, "What sins have you been committing that have led to your depression and anxiety? God doesn't want us to be depressed or anxious.  You must be doing something sinful to cause these problems in your life."

I'm not perfect.  I make a lot of mistakes.  And honestly, the more I pray through what I'm going through, I think God is showing me how much he's working in and through my imperfections.  I don't have to be perfect.  I don't have to do everything right.

Right now, I'm struggling to get up in the morning.  I'm struggling to do simple tasks like make the coffee (which, ironically, is something that helps me get the day going).  I'm struggling to do my preschool planning.  I'm struggling to study music for songs I'm learning.  I'm struggling to read books, to write--something that has been second nature to me for so long.  The prospect of hanging out with friends or chatting over coffee is even something I sort of dread all of the sudden--even though I know I'll enjoy it if I just go DO it.  Everything is just suddenly so hard.

And, basically, I know I'm not doing all the things I could be doing.  I know I'm not doing all the things I should be doing.

Yet, God is doing so much in the midst of these things in which I'm failing.  Just last week, a dear friend and preschool coworker presented me with a gift card for no reason at all.  Well, she had a reason.  It was something that absolutely astounded me.  She gave me a little note with the gift card just thanking me for always having a friendly, encouraging word and a smile for her in the mornings.  I didn't even realize I was encouraging her.  I come into work most mornings feeling like I'm not doing all I should be doing.  But I do remember greeting her on those mornings, talking with her briefly, maybe giving her a hug that I needed more than she did.  Apparently, that was HUGE to her.  And all I can say is that I didn't really do anything--God did all of that through me.

And I wish I could just focus on little things like that all the time.

I need to confess a sin of pride that is just eating away at me.

It's a pride that is so sneaky that it disguises itself, quite well, as humility.  And I have a feeling there will be some song lyrics to come out of that before all of this is over.

The other day, someone me gave me a compliment.  Only, I didn't see it as such.  I know the person did NOTHING wrong.  I wasn't mad at him at all.  But what he said was devastating.  It shook me so hard that I wanted to retreat back into the turtle shell I've somehow developed as of late.

There are certain vocalists that I don't like.  Hearing them sing makes me cringe.  And this guy compared my voice to that of a vocalist I really don't like.

He meant nothing by it.  He was being nice.  But I respect his musical opinion very much.  And what he said sent me in a downward spiral like nothing else.  The ironic thing was, he also said something about how much he appreciated my humility.

But I wasn't being humble.  I was being the opposite of humble.

Because suddenly, I thought that if I sounded like that vocalist I don't like, then it meant I was a horrible singer (something he never said, but my insecurity was shouting at me).  I thought that if I was a horrible singer, I shouldn't be singing at all.  I thought that if I shouldn't be singing at all, then all the things I thought about myself and had worked towards were worthless.  If all the things I thought about myself and had worked towards were worthless, then I was worthless.

Because, as I might have mentioned in previous blogs, I can go from "just fine" to "worst-case-scenario" in less than 60 seconds.

Similar things have happened with my writing.  I lost a jump drive with a complete novel on it, one I was editing.  I had saved versions of it elsewhere.  I KNOW I had saved them in multiple places--including on email accounts so I couldn't lose them, but now I can't find them anywhere.  And after all the work I put into that book, I wonder now if the reason I lost it was because God never wanted me to write in the first place.  It makes me wonder if all the things I've wanted to do and be are things I was never supposed to do and be.  And if that's the case, who in the world am I?

And it really makes it hard for me to want to try again.

It's all pride.  It's all me putting trust in myself and in the abilities I was given.  And the thing is, those abilities are things God gave me--but they ARE NOT GOD.

And when you put your trust in anything besides God, no matter how good it is, you're sinning.

And that's how I've been sinning lately.  That's NOT to say that my sin has CAUSED my anxiety and depression.  Rather, God's just good enough to show me things as I'm walking with Him through whatever He's brought me to.

The anxiety and depression and whatever I'm going through are just ways God is showing me how NOT in control I am.  I can't despair of the season I'm in.  Nor can I will myself out of it, or just "try harder" or any of that nonsense.  I know I can't try harder.  I've tried to try harder.  That's when something else happens to knock the proverbial wind out of my proverbial sails.  BECAUSE THIS IS NOT ABOUT MY EFFORTS.  It's about God doing what I can't do.  And there's a lot that I just CAN'T do.

What I can do, however, is trust.

I can trust that God is using me, as I am--as weak, as imperfect, as broken as I am.  He's using me.
I can trust that He is in control.  I can trust He's leading me, even when I can't see what's ahead or what He's doing.  I can trust that where He's leading is not somewhere He doesn't want me to be.  I can trust that where He's leading is to something that is ultimately going to bring Him more glory.
I can trust that He's good.  I can trust that He's able.  I can trust that He loves me.

I'm scared.  I'm afraid.

And I know this is the year of "Do not be afraid, Part Two."  I know that God repeated in Scripture, over and over, "Be strong and courageous."  I figure He repeated that so much because He knows our fears.  Being strong and courageous is part of the battle, part of the struggle.

And there's mercy in the struggle.

So maybe my writing isn't something that I'm supposed to share with the world (I don't think that's the case, actually, but you know, just hypothetically speaking).  Maybe my voice isn't the greatest, and maybe my songs aren't a style a lot of people want to hear.

And maybe God is using me anyway.  Maybe God is using those talents He gave me anyway.  And maybe I need to trust in Him more than in those talents and things that I thought were what made me who I am.

As I told a friend yesterday, "Trust is hard.  That's why it's called trust."

It's a one-day-at-a-time sort of thing.  All I can do is put one foot in front of the other as He leads.

I'm sharing a song to close this post.  It's called "My Salvation" by Mitch McVicker.

"Lord, please change these driftings in my soul,
Cuz I've been fading just trying to grab control...

You're my strength
You're the tune I'm whistling
When I'm afraid.
So now I cling to You when I can't see.
Every day
You become
My Salvation.
You're my Salvation."


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Survival Mechanism I Could Never Live With

About a month ago I did something that most people these days have done in their lives...sometimes on a daily basis.  I offended someone on Facebook.  They'd posted a picture with an inspirational quote, nothing big. They were well-meaning, and I wasn't offended by what they posted.  I just had a reply for it that I don't think they could appreciate.

Okay.  Back story.

Earlier that day, I'd been just flat out accosted by misunderstandings.  One person assumed I was angry when I was fine, and started walking on unnecessary eggshells around me.  The fact that they assumed I was angry ended up making me as angry as they originally assumed me to be (funny how that works).  But I just took Queen Elsa's advice:

Only my hair didn't look as awesome.

  Later that day, when I was minding my own business, a friend greeted me with the statement, "What's wrong with you? You look like something's bothering you."  I said nothing was bothering me, because nothing was bothering me, and I got an argument in reply.  "No.  Something's bothering you.  I can tell from the look on your face."  I restated, rather firmly, that nothing was bothering me.  In fact, the only thing bothering me at that particular moment was the fact that she kept insisting that something was bothering me.  "Well, I know something's bothering you because your voice sounds like something's bothering you."


Look lady.

But I just took Taylor's advice:

Sidenote: I think there should be an obscure American religions version of this song:
Shakers gonna shake shake shake shake shake shake
Quakers gonna quake quake quake quake quake quake. Okay.

About twenty minutes later, when I was again minding my own business, ANOTHER friend just flat out started attacking me with accusations that I was being rude to her. 

I'd run out of cartoon characters, pop culture icons, and catchy lyrics to give me advice of what to do in such situations, and I basically threw a Ruth Fit

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

I'd had enough.  People who were my friends were misinterpreting my facial expressions or my introversion and jumping to conclusions about my thought processes, and I felt attacked.  I felt like I couldn't even mind my own business without hurting someone's feelings somehow.  And since I have a whole mess of insecurities inside this crazy brain of mine, I pretty much went from being completely un-bovveredbothered to wanting to crawl under a rock and die the death.

That's actually a pretty common-place occurrence.  I can go from just-fine to worst-case-scenario in less than 60 seconds.  Call it a superpower, if you want to.  I call it a jerkface.  Incidentally, that's also the name of my elliptical.  Fitting, since I keep running in circles obsessively with both of them and never actually get anywhere.

Well, since I can't keep anything in, I put a little something on the Facebook about all these attacks.  Maybe I shouldn't do that.  People are always like, "If you're vague on the Facebook, it's because you want attention."  Actually, I just want prayer, which is usually what I ask for when being vague, but okay.

I prayed through it myself, and started realizing that the first two "attacks" weren't really attacks at all.  They were simple misunderstandings from concerned friends.  Maybe these friends were pushy, but it wasn't their intention to be harmful.  They cared.  The third attack really was an attack, but I started thinking about the possible reasons behind the attack.

She was attacking me.  Why do people attack?  Because they're defensive.  Why do people get defensive?  Because they're afraid.

And I took the focus off myself and put it on the other person.  She was afraid.  She misinterpreted my minding my own business to be something unkind towards her--I was preoccupied with what I was doing and trying to focus (something that's hard for me because I get distracted by shiny objects), but she thought I was ignoring her.  And that hurt her feelings.  So she accused me of some things that weren't true.  I sent her an email about it.  We talked.  We made up.  We're friends again.

But through all of that, the things on the Facebook still remained, and a well-meaning friend posted one of those inspirational quotes on my wall to help me feel better.  I don't even remember what it said, but it was one of those generic things about only letting people in your life who appreciate you, about getting rid of the people who hurt you.

And I understand why these attitudes exist.  They are survival mechanisms.  There are abusive people in this world.  There are people who will take and take and take and never give.  There are toxic people with horrible attitudes and actions that just poison everyone else around them.  I understand that.  And sometimes they abuse others so much that it's entirely healthy and good for those people to GET OUT of those relationships, to get away from those people, to move on in a different, more positive direction.

I've had to let go of some friendships that I realized were toxic.  I realized I was always apologizing for the sake of restoring the friendship, even when I hadn't really done anything wrong. I was trying to be the "Peacemaker," but no peace was being made because the other person didn't want to change. The other person was always quick to "forgive me" for my apologies, but she never admitted guilt of her own.  I eventually "defriended" this individual, but I never blocked her.  Because I'm praying that there's restoration one day.  I'll always pray for that.  I still pray for her.  I still think about her.  I still hope one day we can be friends again.

Because when it really comes down to it, it's completely against my nature to stop caring.  And I think there's a danger in taking the "Let it go" attitude too far.  I've only seen Frozen a couple of times, and it has some decent lessons in it.  The trouble is, too many people focus on Elsa's "Let it go" rampage more than they do on Anna's sacrificial love for her sister.  And "shaking things off" is great if you're talking about not caring too much about what people think, but it can go too far if you use that attitude to stop actually caring about PEOPLE.  And I think people don't know the difference anymore.  But I probably err too much on the other side and care too much about what people think WHILE I'm caring about the people.  And I just can't seem to stop caring about people.

I'm not trying to say I'm anything great.  I'm not.  I've got hangups and stuff as much as anyone else (see above comments about crazy brain insecurities).  But one of the perks about being an overly-sensitive person is that I do care about people.  Sometimes that care can morph into something ugly where I care too much about what people think or say.  But the flipside of that, the good side of that, is that the main reason I let things bother me so much is because I do care about people.

That's why, after I calmed down, I was able to sit there and think the whole situation through.  I was able to think through things and determine if a friend's comments were spoken out of love, or if they were spoken out of fear.  I was able to reach out to a person who had attacked and deeply hurt me because I realized SHE was hurting, too.

I could have just let this friend go.  I could have just shook her off.  The world would have told me to do just that.  I am glad I didn't.  And I know it's not always applicable.  Some people have been in situations where it's dangerous and unwise to seek reconciliation.  But I'm thankful that God has never looked at me, a rebellious child who has failed him time and time again, who takes so much and gives so little back of what I've been given, and He's never turned His back on me.  We're not God.  We're not able to take as much as He can take.  We're not able to give as much of ourselves as He has given of Himself.  But aren't we called to see beyond our own selves and our own fears and defenses and insecurities?  Aren't we called to forgive?  Aren't we called to love?

That love looks different in every relationship, every situation.  Sometimes it is more loving and more healthy to walk away.  But that should never be the norm, never the initial reaction.  My fear in this "let it go" society is that people are giving up on other people way too quickly.

And I looked at the inspirational thing my Facebook friend had sent me, and I knew it just wasn't fitting for me or my situation.  And I responded to it by saying something along the lines of, "If I had that attitude, it would mean I didn't care.  That's really just not my style."

And the relief I felt in posting that was just tangible.  I realized, again, that I really do like who I am.  It's something a lot of people misunderstand, it's something a lot of people just CAN'T understand.  But I like me.  I like me in all my insecure, over-thinking, obsessing-over-little-things glory.  I care too much.  And I dare to say that it's not always a bad thing.

I noticed that the entire post my Facebook friend had posted was gone a few minutes after I'd posted my comment on it, so I sincerely hope I didn't hurt any feelings.  As I've said, other people have other situations.  There's a place to let go of harmful people.  I just don't find myself in that place very often, and when I do, I never really stop caring completely.

That's why it took me the better part of a decade to get over a broken heart.
I don't even regret that.
I still care, in fact--not at ALL in a romantic way, but I do pray for him from time to time.  I pray that he's being a good husband to his new wife (and I'm thankful she's not me).  I pray God's leading him.

Because I'm not the sort of person to just forget the people who have hurt me.  I figure they were part of my life for a reason.  If they're not part of my life anymore, whether by their choice, my choice, or just chance, then I can still give them a passing thought or prayer. 

There are survival mechanisms and such that people adopt to get away from pain.  And I probably have a few of those in my crazy brain, too.  But I'm not able to turn off the part of my soul that cares.  In some ways, I guess it's inconvenient.  I just can't bring myself to regret even those relationships that have hurt me. 

And I can't bring myself to regret who I am.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Procrastination and Fear

It was a Sunday night.

I'd had a busy weekend.  Most of my weekends are busy.  This particular weekend was even busier--with an extra band practice and work and some side projects that were going to take up most of my time on Friday night, my whole Saturday, and my Sunday morning and afternoon, I knew I was going to have to plan well to get everything done.  So I told myself all week that I would have to be a grown up and set aside Sunday night to do some work for preschool.  I had a preschool work day on Monday and knew I would need to do some pre-planning for it.

So the weekend happened.  I had band practice and went to work and got all my side projects done.  Sunday night came.  I turned on my computer.  I looked at the folder on my computer's desktop--the one labeled "Preschool."  I looked at it for several seconds.

I clicked my internet browser on and clicked on my Facebook tab.  I played around on Facebook for a few minutes.  Or an hour.  I forget which.

I, again, had a stare-down with the "Preschool" folder on my computer's desktop.

I watched a few BuzzFeed YouTube videos.  Were Ashley and Andrew dating yet?

No.  Of course not.

I looked at that "Preschool" folder again.

I had to check Facebook again to see if anyone had responded to my hilarious status.  I had a couple likes.  That was nice.

I looked at the "Preschool" folder again.

I checked my bank account to make sure there were no fraudulent charges.  You never know when someone's going to steal your info.  Nope.  All clear there.

I checked the Facebook again.

I watched another YouTube video.  It had been a while since I watched David After Dentist, and you know, those older videos are still pretty hilarious.  How old is David now, anyway?  I should Google that.  Oh, My Lanta.  He's a teenager now.  I need to stop looking at this.  It makes me feel old.

And I looked at the "Preschool" folder.  Enough procrastination.  Do your work, Ruth.

I checked the Facebook again.

And then I started my preschool work.

Half an hour later, I was too tired to brain anymore.  My eyes were closing by themselves as I typed, so "Circle Time" became "Cieroiuadkjaofu."  I had to go to sleep.  My work was unfinished, but I figured I'd get up early and work on it.

Only, of course, I overslept.  I made it to work, but I had to use my work day to do my lesson plans instead of work on other stuff I'd intended to do.

And I realized I had a problem.


Now, I've always been a bit of a procrastinator.  I've never really had a problem with being a procrastinator.  But recently, I've started thinking about the reasons behind my procrastination.  And that was a slap in the face.  It wasn't what I was expecting, but I have to admit that it's true.

My procrastination is based on fear.

And since I'm doing a repeat in my "Year of No Fear" (last year just wasn't enough of a lesson), fear-based procrastination just isn't good enough.  It's just not.

There are several reasons why I procrastinate.

1. I'm afraid what I need to do is going to take forever, so I don't want to start.

I have been watching the same girls for 6 years.  They're older now, so I'm pretty much just a glorified chauffeur who yells at them to do their chores and homework.  But when the youngest one was younger, I would help her with her homework.

And by "help her with her homework," I mean "we met on the glorious field of battle."

There were tears.  From both of us.  Cries of outrage. Fits of fury.  You name it.

The worst part about it was that she would whine/cry/scream/fight/literally throw things before she would even START on her homework.  She'd complain for at least 45 minutes, and usually much longer, about how hard her homework would be, about how long it would take her to finish.  I would physically put her pencil in her hand because she claimed it was too hard to hold it.  I'd make her write her name, and she would AGONIZE for five minutes over that simple starting task.  Sometimes this sort of thing went on for an hour or more.

Then, when she finally started, she was done with her homework in ten minutes.  Ten minutes.  Homework time sometimes lasted an hour.  Only ten minutes of that time was actual homework.  The other 50 minutes was the battle before hand--the needless worry and anxiety that it would take FOREVER.

And sometimes, I act just like that.  I don't want to start because I'm afraid of the time commitment.  If I would just START doing what I'm supposed to do, it would be over quickly.  The work would be done.  But that fear of committing the time is just so hard to overcome sometimes.

2. I'm afraid I'm going to fail, so I don't even want to try.

I'm not a perfectionist, but I do want to do things well when I do them.  Sometimes I'm afraid that I'm going to fail before I even start.  So I put it off because I don't want to fail.  I put it off because I think it's going to be too hard.  I put it off because I don't want to make mistakes.  I put it off because I don't think it's going to matter, that no one will care or notice, that all my work will be in vain.  I put it off because I don't want to deal with the fear of being wrong, of being imperfect, of being not good enough.

I think that's probably the most relatable procrastination fear.

It's just hard to try sometimes.  It's hard to trust that the effort you put into something is going to be worth it in the end.

3. I'm afraid I'm going to succeed, and dude, that's a lot of pressure.

Have you ever done something really well, and then all of the sudden people expect greatness out of you all of the time?  What if you can't reproduce that?  What if people only like you because you did something well?  What if they stop liking you if you don't do it as well the next time?  What if they try to build a bridge out of you because they think you're a witch?  What if? What if? What if?

Go home, insecure brain.  You're drunk on lies.

4. I am afraid of gaining my soul, but losing the whole world.


That's the face punch right there.

When you get right down to it, that's the biggest problem I have.  I want to use "my time" on "my pursuits."  I'm like a dumb kid who wants to eat a steady diet of jelly beans, when my mommy wants me to eat my veggies.  It's fun to eat the jelly beans, but it's not responsible, and I'm going to eventually get sick.

I'd rather sit on the computer and waste time on silly things like Facebook and YouTube videos than do work that's important.  That important work requires an investment, and that investment is something that's going to turn into something eternally good--blessing children and their parents, and more importantly, furthering God's Kingdom.  Watching a YouTube video isn't doing anything but furthering my kingdom.  And my kingdom is kind of lame, quite honestly.  We don't even have pony rides.

But sometimes I act like I don't want to lose that kingdom, that tiny, insignificant kingdom.  Sometimes I act like I'd rather forfeit my soul in order to gain the whole world.  And what good is that?  Seriously.  What good is that?

It's not good at all.  And it's based in a fear that is really quite silly and selfish.  And it's just not good enough.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't have down time.  I need down time.  There's nothing wrong with Facebook or YouTube videos or reading or television or video games or whatever.  But there is something wrong with wasting time for the sake of wasting time.  There's something wrong with procrastinating because you're afraid.  And I'm guilty of both of these things.

And I'm just thankful the Holy Spirit has convicted me.  The hard part is now--putting the knowledge into action, making the changes.

God's been so faithful to me in this season of depression and anxiety and fear.  I'm learning so much.  I know He's going to get me through this season.  I just have to remember what's important.  I just have to remember that I'm dust, but with His breath inside me.

I want to breathe.  I want to live.  I want this life He's given me to matter.

Living in fear, living in self, living in just mere existence?  That's not good enough.

He's done too much for me.

He's done too much for me to live in fear.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Grandmother's Last Christmas Gift

*The following was written in July of 2014.  It took me over five years to work up the courage to write it, but I wasn't ready to share it yet.  I think the time to share has finally come.*

You never know when you’ll be ready.
For instance, it’s July of 2014, and my grandmother died in February of 2009.
I’m sitting on a screened in porch at a house where I’m dog sitting, and it just occurred to me that I’m ready.
For the past five and a half years, I've grieved my grandmother’s death and celebrated her life.  I've needed to write about it, and badly, but haven’t quite been able to do so.  I haven’t been ready.
Because how can I even begin to put into words who my grandmother was to me?  How can I describe the way I feel when I smell something that reminds me of her—a feeling that can only be described as her.  It’s more than a feeling or a scent or a sight or anything tangible, this presence that she’s left here, imprinted on my life and on who I am and on everything I've ever been or will ever become.
            But I do think her when I smell the aroma I now know is the scent of stale perfume mingling with even staler cigarette smoke.  When I was younger, the smell didn't have a name or components.  It was just the way my grandmother smelled, a smell that was so completely her and all the things I felt when I was with her.  It’s ironic that the masked, fragranced cigarette smell I associate so closely with her is what eventually killed her.  And yet, I can’t bring myself to hate that smell, for it brings with it the memories of all she meant to me.
            And I realized while writing that how wrong it was, because all she meant to me was really all I meant to her.  For that was the impression she made on me—that everything she was could be reflected in how she loved me, in how she loved others.  That’s why when I smell perfume and cigarettes, I feel safe.  I feel loved.  I feel important.  I feel all the things I was to her.
            I remember the seemingly hundreds of feral cats and sweet old dogs lining the porch of her house.  It was the house with the hollow concrete stairs leading up to the animal covered porch.  I’d make sure and jump on that step, just for the satisfaction of hearing the low hollow thump.  And those stairs eventually cracked (probably because I, and every other child in the family, jumped on them so much) and were replaced with something more substantial, and it’s all just a metaphor of how things never stay the same.  And my childhood has been replaced with something more substantial, but I still listen for the hollow thump of that step.  I still strive to breathe in a bit of her when I smell the perfumed cigarette smoke. 
            And at least my memories are good, for now.  They’re not as hollow as they once seemed.
            I remember Christmas.  There isn't anything more to say on that, and still I know I have to try to describe something that can’t be described.  For Christmas was always partially defined by her.  Christmas was never complete until we had gone to grandma’s house.  When most children longed for Santa to come, I’d anticipate along with them, but the anticipation carried on throughout the day.  I knew more was to come, and more would include family, food, presents, joy, togetherness, love. 
            My grandmother lived for Christmas, and I take after her in that.  But, oh.  It was her show.  She started her Christmas shopping in January, buying multiple gifts for everyone.  The tree was perfect.  In my childhood, I always thought it looked like the sort of Christmas tree one might find in a magical fairy forest, all white and shining.  The tree we had at home was green and plastic and boring, covered in cheap ornaments containing pictures of me and my brother and sister.  I knew those ornaments meant love, anyway.
            But my grandmother’s Christmas tree was the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen.  It was covered in magical snow that never melted.  When I got old enough to know better, I realized the white tree wasn't really covered in snow, but rather, in cheap aerosol flocking.  But there were pictures of me and the other grandkids in plastic ornaments scattered throughout.  And when I got old enough to know better all over again, I realized there really was some magic in that tree.
            Presents surrounded it, and everyone expressed a few words of guilt about how much we had compared to the less-fortunate before we ripped into those presents.  And parents would complain about how much stuff they had to carry home, while the kids would revel in their new treasures.  And grandma would sit in her chair and smile.  Everyone gave her gifts, too, and she loved them.  But the present she wanted most was one that she had given to herself—a family that surrounded her, a family she loved so much.
            I got older and my grandmother got older.  She was sick for a long time before she died.  And I didn't always cope well with that, and she knew it.   I wanted my grandmother to be young and beautiful, as I remembered.  I wanted her to sit on the stool behind her kitchen counter and tell me stories about when my mother was a little girl, or about how much she hated it that time granddaddy grew a beard, or about silly things I did when I was really little.
            I think back on it now and realize I should have asked her so much about her.  I should have asked her about her childhood, about her own grandmother.  I should have asked what it was like to grow up with so many siblings.  I should have asked her about how she met granddaddy, or I should have asked to hear again how they had to wait a year to get married because the minister said they were too young.  I should have asked how she felt when she became a mother, to my mother, for the first time, young and poor.  I should have asked her how hard it was to work and raise six children.  I should have asked her how hard it was to be a State Trooper’s wife, always on the move.  I should have asked so many things, just so I could know her.  Because it occurs to me that the only way I knew her was just as my grandmother, as the one who loved her family.  As the one who loved her grandchildren.
            As the one who loved me.
            And on the last Christmas I ever saw her, the last day I ever saw her, she gave me a gift. 
            When I was a child, I’d get many gifts from her.  I’d get dollar store trinkets that I thought were the greatest toys in the world.  I’d get more expensive toys that I’d brag about.  I’d get clothes and books and toys and music boxes and jewelry.  When I was older, in my twenties, she gave me a diamond cluster ring.  She had saved up and bought one for all her daughters, daughters-in-law, for all her granddaughters.  And to this day, it’s one of my most valued possessions.  It was something she wanted to do for those she loved.
            But the gift she gave me that last Christmas was more valuable than the ring or any other gift she gave me.  She was so weak.  She didn't even look like herself.  And I was shocked to see her like that.  My mom had tried to prepare me, but nothing could have prepared me to see my beautiful, strong grandmother in such a frail condition.  I don’t think I hid my shock well.  But she was my grandmother, and I loved her.  I took her hand.  I told her Merry Christmas.
            She said to me, “Ruth, I love you more than you’ll ever know.”
            That was the last thing she ever said to me.  She knew it would be the last thing she ever said to me.  I was too much in denial to realize it.  But she knew.
            And that was her last Christmas present to me.  It was the embodiment of every Christmas present she had ever given me.  It was, pure and simple, her love.
            My granddaddy remarried a few years ago.  He had been married to my grandmother for 60 years (and almost 2 months).  They celebrated their 60th anniversary on Christmas Eve.  She died a few days after Valentine’s Day.
            When my granddaddy told my mother, his first child, he was seeing another lady, a year or two after my grandmother had passed, he was so nervous.  He had only ever loved my grandmother, and wasn't sure how the rest of the family would accept his new relationship.
            He needn't have worried.
            Because when my grandmother had an opportunity to accept someone into the family, when she had an opportunity to love someone, she took it.  And we all followed her example.  No one in the family had trouble accepting the precious lady who would become my granddaddy’s new wife.
            As I was writing this on the screened in porch, thinking of Christmas while it’s the heat of July, the wind was blowing.  Now it’s calm.  And I’m calm, though there are tears of memories and love in my eyes.  I’m waiting for a Christmas that will never come again, longing for a smell that I’ll never smell again, hoping to hear that hollow thump that I’ll never hear again.
            And it’s all right.  The change I wasn't ready for I’m still not ready for.  And I think I've come to realize that I’ll never be ready for it.  It’s all right.  It’s just all right.
            Because there’s always room for more.  I can have the memories of the sounds and smells and feelings.  I can have the wintry chill in the air that enhanced my excitement of going to grandma’s house.  I can have this warm breeze that calms me now.  I don’t have to lose anything in order to gain anything.
            That’s love.  There’s always room.  And I don’t know if I’ll ever have a child of my own, let alone a grandchild.  But I hope I do, and I hope that if I do, she knows me.  She doesn't have to know that I’m insecure about everything or that I love Rich Mullins music.  She doesn't have to know that I once had a cat named Bradley that was my best friend, or that I got my heart broken in college, or that I used to sit out on borrowed screened in porches and write.
            Because, in a way, everyone we meet becomes a different person when we meet them.  We have a version of who we know them to be in our minds, in our hearts, that is just a little bit different from what anyone else knows in their minds or hearts.  And I don’t know who my grandmother was to everyone else.  I just know she was my grandmother.  I know she loved me.  And partly because she loved me, I know how to love others. 
            That was her last Christmas gift.
            I can’t wear it on my hand like a ring, nor can I play with it like a silly toy.  But it’s in the memories—the perfumed smoke and the hollow steps.  It’s in the summer breeze and the Christmas chill.  It’s part of the present, part of all I do, all I say.  Her love that always, always makes room.
            The windchimes chime now, and I am ready.  I’m ready to write.  I’m ready to live.  I’m ready to remember.  I’m ready to love. I’m just ready.

            I’m ready now.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Glory Shown (Christmas 2014)

Often, I find myself being drawn to the more mysterious places in Scripture. Some of my favorite passages are where God does something really unusual, such as when He wrestled with Jacob or when He spoke to Elijah in a still small Voice.  And I suppose it could be argued, quite easily, that the entirety of Scripture is the story of God doing something really mysterious and unusual.  It's the story of the Creator pursuing His creation. But sometimes the stories and characters in Scripture seem commonplace.  I think that people then got so busy "doing life" that they forgot the mystery.  And people today do the same thing.

One of my favorite mysterious stories from Scripture is about Moses.  Here's a man with a great and terrible past--with insecurities and hesitations.  He never really wanted to lead.  But God called him out.  By the power of God, he had spoken to Pharaoh.  By the power of God, he had done signs and wonders.  By the power of God, he split the waters so that the Israelites could be free from their Egyptian bondage.  And by the power of God, he led the people, with riches to spare, out of the land of Egypt.

He spoke God's words to the people, and the people vowed that they would do all that the Lord had spoken.  So Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to speak with God.  He was gone 40 days and 40 nights.

The people, who had so quickly vowed to do all that the Lord had said, just as quickly turned away.  Tired and afraid of waiting, they made a golden calf to worship in the place of God.

When Moses learned of this, he grieved.  God threatened to desert the people.  Yet Moses dared to intercede with God for his people, the people God had given him to lead.  And he knew that he couldn't continue to lead this stiff-necked people without God.  He knew that they needed God with them.

And Moses said, "Show me Your glory."

A few years ago, I tried to figure out exactly what glory is.  I know it's obviously something to do with having great honor, worth, and/or majesty, but I don't think I've ever heard a satisfactory definition.  It's a word that is frequently used and perhaps overused, but I'm not sure how many people, if any, really know what it means.  The closest I got to figuring out glory was by reading a thesaurus.  I found nothing really helpful in the synonyms (all of them seemed to fall short), but then I read the antonyms.  Base.

When I think of something that is base, I think of something lowly--the lowliest.  I think of something that is lower than anything else.  I think of something stuck on the bottom of my shoe, but not something even sticky or foul-smelling enough to worry about.  It just stays on the bottom of my shoe, trodden upon, ignored and forgotten.  Glory is the complete opposite of base.  It's the highest.  It's above anything else.  It's something so high that base fools like us can't even define or imagine it.

And that's what Moses asked to be shown from God.  He wanted to be shown GOD in all His fullness, in all His GLORY.  Moses knew that he needed to see pure glory if he were to continue leading the stubborn people of Israel, those wrestlers with God.

So God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand, for He knew Moses couldn't see His face and live.  After God had passed by, He allowed Moses to see His back, where He had been.  He allowed Moses to see the glory that had passed.  But He didn't let Moses see Him face to face.

Bethlehem was a small town, unimportant, as towns go.  There, not in a palace or a mansion or even an inn, but in a stable, Mary, Joseph, and the lowly shepherds were the first ones to peer into the face of God.  He didn't look glorious, I'm sure, all tiny and red and potato-headish (as newborns tend to be), and probably covered in birth goo.  He didn't have a lot of power and might.  In fact, I can't think of many things weaker and more helpless than a newborn human being.  There were many alive at the time who probably would have thought as little of this baby as they would of something stuck to the bottom of their sandals.

The Beloved Disciple wrote in John 1:14, " And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

The Word--Jesus--became flesh, and came down here to this base world full of base people.  And we saw His glory.  Moses' prayer was answered, not in the way he expected, and years after he prayed it.  What he had seen was a partial revelation, but He later revealed the full.  God showed us His glory--not just where He had been and in what He had done, but in what He was doing.  And the world finally could see God face to face, for God had become like us.  God was with us.  Moses had asked for God to be with them in the wilderness.  Those in the wilderness needed God to be with them in the time that Jesus walked the earth.  Those of us today in the wilderness need God to be with us now.

And because God, the Father so full of glory we can't even comprehend Him, chose to set aside His glory and come down here to this base world, in the form of a weak little baby, we no longer have to walk through the dark wilderness alone.

And the very act of setting aside so much for so little is a glorious act in itself.  It's one of those mysterious moments, when God does something really unusual.  That's probably why Christmas is my favorite time of year, a time to celebrate the miracle of God being with us.  Emmanuel.

We have seen His glory.  We are not alone.  He is with us.