Friday, October 30, 2015

“…all things are possible with God.” ~ Mark 10:27b

This week I had the opportunity to see a special showing of the Chonda Pierce documentary Laughing in the Dark. My mom had asked my sister and I to see this movie with her as a birthday gift, but since my sister was sick all week my Dad ended up going with us and we were joined by some dear friends. Going into this I didn't really know anything about Chonda Pierce - had never heard of her and didn't know what to expect. Apparently she is the top-selling female comedian of all time! Who knew? :) She is also a Christian and is known for her clean comedy, honest story-telling and making you laugh and cry. I won't tell you every detail about it, but it was a great film!! She was hilarious, vulnerable, spiritually encouraging and very real. Her life has been quite difficult, but she loves Jesus and she loves making people laugh.

Apparently the movie was so popular Fathom Events has decided to have another evening showing on November 17 and I highly recommend going if you have a chance. I think you will enjoy it and come away feeling blessed...and you will laugh a LOT! :)

“There are two myths that we tend to believe about our stories: the first is that they’re about us, and the second is that because they’re about us, they don’t matter. But they’re not only about us, and they matter more than ever right now. When we, any of us who have been transformed by Christ, tell our own stories, we’re telling the story of who God is. I bet God has done something in your life that would make our hair stand on end if you told us about it. I bet the story God has written in your life and your home gives voice and breath and arms and legs to the gospel every bit as much as a church sermon ever did. Preaching is important, certainly. But it can’t be the only way we allow God’s story to be told in our midst.” ~ Shauna Niequist

Before the movie started, I was catching up with my dear friend and spiritual mentor Shauna since I hadn't seen her in a long time and she always wants to know what God is doing and speaking in my life. She and I are very similar - introverted, preacher's daughter's, people pleasers, "good girls", etc. and yet we talked about how as much as we might relate to these things we know God has more for us, wants more for us and is slowly breaking these bonds and helping us become who He has made us to be. Not afraid, not perfect - but real and vulnerable - and unafraid to share the broken pieces of our lives and the ways God is moving in and through them. We talked about how important it is to share our stories and be honest with the people in our lives. When we are able to do that, we're so much more likely to find those "me too!" moments that make us realize we aren't alone. We aren't the only ones who struggle. We aren't the only broken ones. But we have to be brave enough to be real.

“…we have to make the long journey from ‘What will people think?’ to ‘I am enough.’ That journey begins with shame resilience, self-compassion, and owning our stories. To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and the very imperfect nature of our lives, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections. To be kinder and gentler with ourselves and each other. To talk to ourselves the same way we’d talk to someone we care about.” ~ Brené Brown

All too often in this world, especially the Christian world, and especially among women we get caught up in the lie that we have to always be perfect, never show weakness, have the perfect house and family and job and life and never struggle or fail. Underneath these masks, we are failing, we are imperfect, we do feel weak and ashamed and unworthy. But we fear opening up about it because what if no one understands? What if no one says "me too!"? What if people judge me? What if all I hear is silence and I'm ignored?

There is definitely risk in being vulnerable. There will be people who won't understand. There will be people who judge us or ignore us. But, sometimes there will be someone who does understand. Or someone who then feels able to share their struggles with you. And then you can experience the beautiful feeling of not being alone. It doesn't necessarily make life better or fix your struggles...but knowing you aren't alone can sometimes make it easier to bear. God provides these people in our lives, and when we find them what a gift it is! Sometimes they will be the people you've known for a long time but maybe something happens that makes your friendship deepen and become more open and real. Sometimes it may be someone you meet in a Bible study or other group setting and you are able to take the risk of being real and find someone who is blessed by your story - and often you will feel blessed in return because of their empathy and understanding. Sometimes it will be someone you may never meet - like a blog writer or book author or documentary star - but they talk about their life and their struggles and you feel a connection that makes you realize you aren't alone and that might make you brave enough to start being vulnerable.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ~ Pema Chodron

One of the things I love about Shauna is her willingness to speak truth to me. She knows me and she loves me and I believe that God has placed her in my life for many reasons, but one of them is definitely to speak His truth to me. Of course, I know that God is more than capable of speaking to me directly, and He has...through His Word, through the Holy Spirit...but I also believe that God sometimes uses people in our lives to do this too. My writing this blog was a direct result of her speaking truth to me over a year ago. But the other night, she had more to share with me and I'll admit it's a little scary, it's out of my comfort zone, but in my heart I heard the truth of what she was saying and felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit that she was right. She told me that God has much bigger plans and dreams for my life than I imagine and that means being open and daring to be willing to follow where He leads. She also shared that I need to be more open to receiving help from others which I definitely struggle with, but have been working toward in recent months. I know she spoke truth to me and it's exciting and scary and yet also amazing to think about what the future holds - but I know Who holds my future.

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints and His incomparably great power for us who believe.” ~ Ephesians 1:18-19

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” ~ John 14:26

As I continue this journey, I have begun to see more and more connections between the things I'm learning about God, about courage and vulnerability and shame, about the traps of perfectionism, about trusting and depending on God, about relationships and faith. I just feel like I'm learning again and again how much everything is connected and about how important connection and community is to our lives. I struggle with what it means to put it all together and what that looks like in my life. I struggle with not knowing how to be as open and vulnerable and real as I should be with people in my life. I've spent too much time keeping things to myself, trying to handle it on my own, and not doing anything to rock the boat. But I want to be who I am, to be who God created me to be. And that has been hard because I feel like I don't know who that is and I'm afraid that if it ends up being different than I've been all these years then I won't be accepted or understood or even loved. My head knows not everyone has to like me, but what if it changes relationships with people who currently love me? What if they decide not to anymore because they don't like who I become?

“The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

“…the vulnerability journey is not the kind of journey we can make alone. We need support. We need folks who will let us try on new ways being without judging us. We need a hand to pull us up off the ground when we get kicked down in the arena (and if we live a courageous life, that will happen)…Most of us are good at giving help, but when it comes to vulnerability, we need to ask for help too.” ~ Brené Brown

In this season of struggling with who I am, I am thankful for those people who are standing with me and supporting me and walking this journey with me. I know they are a gift from God and one of His ways of loving me "with skin on." I read so many books and often find one leading to another. Recently I needed something to read and found on my shelf a book my Grandma had given me within the last two years. She is part of a book club and usually at Christmas she passes along the books she's read to me and my sister and mom. This one was called Secrets Over Sweet Tea by Denise Hildreth Jones and it was set in the South and talked about secrets, the courage to be vulnerable and healing. I didn't expect a lot out of it, but it made me cry because it hit close to home several times. And at the back of the book there was a note about a devotional the author had written to go along with the themes in this story called Reclaiming Your Heart: a Journey back to Laughing, Loving and Living. I decided to read that book as well and although I hadn't imagined that I was living with a "shut-down heart" I could see myself in several of the descriptions she talked about and it spoke to me powerfully.

"...reclaiming your heart takes courage. It takes work too – the work of honestly examining your life and then being intentional with different choices. But it’s so worth it. With God’s help, you can reclaim your shut-down heart and run headlong into your amazing future...Will some change happen quickly? Possibly…But moments like that are rare. It’s far more likely that reclaiming a shut-down heart will happen slowly and gradually. Day by day, moment by moment, you’ll have to decide whether you will revert to your old shut-down patterns of behavior or fight for your freedom to live as God designed you. And shutting down will always be a temptation because while reclaiming your heart brings joy and freedom, it also puts you at risk for pain...The most important thing you can do on the journey to reclaim your heart is to stay grounded in the Word of God. It’s your dependable source of truth to counter the enemy’s lies. ” ~ Denise Hildreth Jones

I want to live with an open heart. I want to have the courage to be vulnerable. I want to learn to be who I am - who God has created me to be. I want to not be afraid to share my struggles, my successes, my failures and my feelings. While I don't exactly want to be uncomfortable, I know that all growth comes from stepping outside my comfort zones and allowing God to do as He will in my life. And so although I might be afraid, I want to step out in faith and trust in His plan for me. I know I will fail and I will fall. I know I will have moments where I want to stop and let go. I know I will want to hide and run away. But I'm going to try and I'm going to need help at times.

“God’s goal isn’t to make us comfortable here but to help us know him and to intensify our longings for him. Our troubles are not signs of abandonment but are evidence that he is mightily at work. He uses trouble to draw us closer and open our eyes to see more of him (see Heb. 12:5-11).” ~ Carolyn Custis James

“God will strengthen you with His own great power so that you will not give up when troubles come, but you will be patient!” ~ Colossians 1:11

“We simply can’t learn to be more vulnerable and courageous on our own. Sometimes our first and greatest dare is asking for support.” 
~ Brené Brown

I do believe that God has a plan and purpose and a dream for my life. I know it is bigger and more than I can imagine or hope. I know that it will likely involve change and stepping out of my comfort zone and a deep and abiding faith in God. I want to be brave enough to embrace His dreams for me. I want to be vulnerable enough to be myself and allow others to be real about their struggles as well. I'm going to need help. I am asking for help. I may not always be as open to it as I should be, but I am going to try. God knows where this help will come from. I trust Him to lead and direct the people He wants to work in my life. I trust Him to do what He needs to do and I trust Him to lead me where I need to go. I want to be brave enough to tell my stories and open enough to listen to the stories of others.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” 
~ Psalm 27:14

“God will fulfill His purpose for you.” ~ Psalm 138:8

“This is what I want you to do: tell your story. Don’t allow the story of God, the sacred, transforming story of what God does in a human heart to become flat and lifeless. If we choose silence, if we allow the gospel to be told only on Sundays, only in sanctuaries, only by approved and educated professionals, that life-changing story will lose its ability to change lives. It always goes back to the beginning, no matter how far we’ve wandered off course. When Christ walked among us, he entrusted the gospel to plain old regular people who were absolutely not religious professionals. If you have been transformed by the grace of God, then you have within you all you need to write your manifesto, your poem, your song, your battle cry, your love letter to a beautiful and broken world. Your story must be told.” ~ Shauna Niequist

To be really honest, this post was both the hardest and the easiest thing I've ever written. Hardest because I know I was really real and vulnerable and honest - and speaking these truths out loud makes them real. Easiest because the words just seemed to flow out of my head and heart directly onto the page. This isn't the post I had intended to write, but it is the post God wanted me to write and obviously that needed to be written. So I'm putting it out there - raw and vulnerable - asking for support that I'm also slightly terrified of actually receiving. Believing that God has a dream for me, but a bit afraid at what the end result may be. But also excited because I feel peace in my heart and a deep knowledge that this is true and real and although I don't know what the next step is and I definitely don't know what the future holds, I do feel confident that God knows. I know He loves me, He is always there for me, and He will never leave me...and so I believe.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the lessons you are teaching me. Thank You for the dreams and plans and hopes and purpose You have for me. Help me to be open to Your leading, Your direction, and Your truth. Give me the willingness to be accepting of the help that I need. Help me to be gracious and open and vulnerable, especially when it's hard and when I would rather shut down and hide. Thank You for the wonderful people You put in my life who can be there to support and love me and help me to always be thankful. Give me discernment and wisdom as I learn about You and Your plans for me and direct my paths. Thank You so much for loving me, for loving all of us...we love you too. Amen.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

“…a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” ~ Proverbs 27:9b

I love celebrating my birthday. My parents have always made it a big deal reminding me that this was the day God chose for me to be born and that makes it very special. One of our family traditions is getting to choose what we want for breakfast, lunch and dinner on our birthday. We always make a big deal and I really do love that.

I usually have a birthday party with friends and family and over the years I've had some amazing ones. The year we bought our house was also my 30th birthday, so we had a combination housewarming birthday party with a Greek theme - Mamma Mia! It's my big, fat, Greek 30th Birthday/Housewarming. The next year I decided to do a 1960's Mad Men themed cocktail party which included 1960's era party food, a dress code and we ended up taking hundreds of photos - it was an amazing evening!

For the next two years, I was obsessed with French food. My sister created, cooked and served an elaborate French feast which included appetizers (basil palmiers, gougeres & an onion tart), French onion soup, Chateaubriand for dinner, an amazing cheese course and two desserts - crème brulee and chocolate soufflé. The following year was planned by a friend who chose the wonderful French restaurant Le Rendez-Vous.

The last two years, I decided to have a gathering of friends for potluck-style parties with the theme of appetizers in 2013 and comfort food in 2014. But both years I baked my own birthday cake - Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Strawberry Nutella cake - OMGoodness it is delicious!!!

This year for my birthday, I decided to try something I'd been wanting to do for a few years. I am naturally a very introverted person and while I do love big celebrations for my birthday I also struggle with all the attention and the need to divide my time between all my friends. I'm used to spending time with my friends in small groups or individually and it's so difficult when they're all in the same place because I can never spend as much time as I'd like with anyone. I decided to invite my friends to make plans in small groups or individually with me over the course of my birthday month - that way we'd end up with quality and quantity of time together and I wouldn't feel so overwhelmed.

Over the course of August, I was so blessed to celebrate in different and wonderful ways with some of my friends. It was such a blessing to me to have real quality time with each person or small group and it allowed our conversations to go deeper and our friendships to grow. Plus it was a lot of fun - going to the movies, painting at Color Me Mine, dinner at a favorite restaurant, and a tea party at a fun teashop! What meant the most to me was seeing my friends excited about planning a special time with me, and then celebrating together both my birthday and the gift of friendship.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known…” ~ Brene Brown

I struggled at first about celebrating my birthday this way, because it felt selfish in some ways, although I recognize that it isn't selfish to let people I love know how I feel and what would make me happy. And part of me was worried that no one would make any plans...though quickly I saw many friends excited to plan a special get together with me. Yes, there were some who didn't make plans and in some cases that really hurt my feelings. It was a little scary to be vulnerable and realize that some people might not understand and might be upset about doing something different. But part of the journey I've been on is about taking risks, and being vulnerable and opening up about how I feel and what I want and what makes me happy...or sad or hurt. This was an opportunity to be real and honest and although I was a little worried, I'm glad I did it. Because ultimately, I felt so seen and known and loved by the ones who took the time to celebrate with me and it ended up being a wonderful birthday month.

“True friendship is a sacred, important thing, and it happens when we drop down into that deeper level of who we are, when we cross over into the broken, fragile parts of ourselves. We have to give something up in order to get friendship like that. We have to give up our need to be perceived as perfect. We have to give up our ability to control what people think of us. We have to overcome the fear that when they see the depths of who we are, they’ll leave. But what we give up is nothing in comparison to what this kind of friendship gives to us. Friendship is about risk. Love is about risk. If we can control it and manage it and manufacture it, then it’s something else, but if it’s really love, really friendship, it’s a little scary around the edges.” ~ Shauna Niequist

Two of the gifts I received for my birthday really blessed me and in both cases made me feel seen and known and loved...which of course made me cry. The first was a letter written by a close friend who took the time to tell me what she loved about me and our friendship. Her insights were things I did know about myself, but had never put together in those ways and had never had anyone tell me how much they liked those qualities. "I know, in spite of all these wonderful traits that you sometimes think you lack confidence. But confidence in yourself - not the loud, bravado kind of confidence, but the certainty that how you feel is valid and that what you believe about the world is true - that's the kind of confidence I know you have. I know because I can feel it when I'm with you. It spreads to the people around you and makes them feel surer of themselves without you needing to say a word. It's a rare kind of magic." It made my heart feel so happy and full and understood - she really "got" me - quirks and all and wanted me to know it. I will cherish that letter and her friendship forever.

The other gift was a jar of Kind Notes - little tiny cards in envelopes with encouraging and kind quotes. This was sent by some dear friends from college and when I received it I felt so overwhelmed and loved and understood. One of the things I do (I think it's a spiritual gift of mine) is to send cards to friends and family - birthday cards, anniversary cards, get well cards, thinking of you or praying for you cards, etc. What I felt when I received this gift was that these friends had seen and known this gift of mine (sending cards) and having been recipients of it many times over the years, took the time to reciprocate in a way that they knew meant something to me. It felt deeply personal and heartfelt and it blessed me in ways that I find difficult to express completely. Most of all, I felt known and understood and loved and appreciated. It was a gift I will treasure forever.

“A person can grow to his or her fullest capacity only in mutually caring relationships with others.” ~ Mister Rogers

I feel truly blessed to be surrounded with so many friends who love me. It is a privilege to know and love them and I do my best to make time to grow and deepen these relationships. For some who live far away, this means being intentional about making time to call and catch up. It includes sending cards or letters, communicating through Facebook or email or texting. And when time and finances allow, it will include making a visit. This doesn't happen as often as I'd like, but it's definitely something I try to make happen. For those friends who live nearby, this means making plans for coffee or lunch or dinner. It can include calls, definitely texting, and keeping up to date in Facebook. With some friends we've established a pattern of monthly dinners or lunches. With other friends it's more random but ends up being at least monthly if not more often. My husband and I frequently like to have friends over for meals and we often discuss who we haven't seen in awhile and then make plans to get together with them. Being in community with others is very important to us, to me. I look forward to time spent with my friends and family and cherish the moments we spend together.

“Community is beautiful, and every one of us needs it. Without community we’ll sink. And the only way to have true community is to be transparent. To share the stuff you think about at night as you go to bed. To ask the hard questions. To encourage, listen, pray for, and speak truth to.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn & Alyssa Joy Bethke

It's amazing how God brings certain people into our lives. Something I've discovered in the past few years, is how certain friendships in my life have deepened over the course of this journey I'm on. Friends who I might not have expected have stepped into my life and encouraged me, supported me and helped me grow. Some of these friends have been really vulnerable and real, and their transparency has helped me to feel brave enough to be vulnerable and real in return. When someone is willing to be really real - the good stuff, the bad stuff, the hard stuff, the really really bad and hard stuff, the sad stuff, and even the amazing wonderful stuff - and when you are willing to brave and take the risk to be vulnerable too, God draws your hearts closer in ways you never imagined was possible. It makes those friendships become like family...and I am so thankful for and amazed by those friends.

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”
~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

“Such is the gift of true community – a wee tribe of people who will cheer for us, not necessarily because we’re good, but because they claim us as theirs.” ~ Lisa Harper

God created us to be in community. To have our tribe of people around us who help to teach and encourage, to convict and support, and to love us. The community can be found in our families, in our churches, in our friendships and even in people we may not be able to meet - like my spiritual mentor, Henri Nouwen. These people help us to not feel alone. They help us feel known and understood. They help us to grow and deepen our relationship with God. We can learn from each other and teach one another. What a beautiful thing community is and what a wonderful gift from our heavenly Father.

“Friendship is acting out God’s love for people in tangible ways…Friendship is an opportunity to act on God’s behalf in the lives of the people that we’re close to, reminding each other who God is.”
~ Shauna Niequist

I'm grateful for the ways God uses me to encourage my friends and family with the truth of His Word. When I send a card to someone, I always include quotes and verses - sometimes just one, but usually a lot. As I'm choosing them, I think about that person and the reasons I'm sending them a card. I think about our friendship and why I love them, I think about how to pray for them, and I think about what might best encourage and support them and show my love and care for them, but more importantly, God's love for them. I know that He leads me in my choices and it encourages me to be able to be a blessing and encouragement to that person on God's behalf. This is why I know it's a spiritual gift, because every time I send a card, I know I'm being the person God created me to be and sending love and truth to someone who He has placed on my heart and using the words He wants me to use. It's a gift and a responsibility that I don't take lightly because it's one of the ways I can shine my light for Him to the world.

“…glad they had each other during this time and could be anchored together in the safe harbor of a steady friendship and an abiding hope in God’s faithfulness.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” ~ Philippians 1:3

Friendship is a blessing and something I am thankful for every day. The beauty of the friends and family that God has brought into my life is something to treasure. The ways I have felt supported, encouraged, and loved by those friends is so important to me and has helped me to feel seen and known and loved. The ability to be a friend to others and to help them feel heard and seen and known and loved is such a gift. I'm so grateful for those who have been open and vulnerable with me, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to be real and honest in return. Each friendship has the ability to teach me things about how to relate to others, how to grow and change, and how to share God's love with the people in our lives. There is a South African word "Ubuntu" which means "I am because we are" and it really fits this idea of the importance of friendship and community. We are affected by the people around us and we become more of who we are because of who they are and the relationships between us. This also relates to our relationship with God - we become more like Him the longer we are in relationship with Him. What a blessing!

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the gifts of community and friendship. Thank You for the very special people You bring into our lives and the ways those relationships show us how deeply we are loved, especially by You. Thank You for the opportunity to show love to others. Thank You for the gift of encouragement and thank You for using me to encourage others. Help me to always reflect Your love and concern for others. Thank You for the ways You are helping me to be vulnerable, and help me to continue to do so even when it's scary. Thank You for the people who love me and see me and know me...and thank You for always seeing me, knowing me intimately and always loving me no matter what. I love you too. Amen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, whose thoughts are fixed on You.” ~ Isaiah 26:3

I have a hard time trusting. This seems clearly tied to my struggles with letting go. And although I want to say I will trust...or that I will let go...I know myself and yet again I find myself holding on and not trusting. Even beginning to write this post, I struggle with not wanting to share and let go of my struggles and insecurities and vulnerability.

At work, I trust myself to know what to do and how to do it. But part of my job is training others to do many of those same things. The only way they will learn to be confident in their skills is to trust them enough to do what they are trained to do. And generally, I succeed in letting go at work. Yes, I'm always listening and ready to pipe in with the correct information as needed, but as time progresses I have to let go. I think I've gotten better with this process at work, but as I'm in my 15th year it could just be a result of time wearing me down. I'd like to think it's growth though. :)

At home, I struggle with letting go of the "right" way to do things. I do understand in my head that this is not exactly fair since most things can have multiple ways of being handled and none are truly better than any other. But I cling to my "right" way and this causes struggles between my husband and I many times. Even though I know this is another way of not trusting, not letting go...I still stubbornly do it. Why?

 In my relationship with God, I find myself all too easily trusting Him and placing my full faith in Him...when things are good...when I'm not struggling...when I feel happy and secure and at peace. But when trouble comes, when anything goes wrong, when I feel sad or angry or depressed or anxious...then I worry and stress and let go of my strong faith. I get scared and want to hide and do not handle things well. I cry, I lash out, I have fear and doubts, and then this vicious circle begins.

First, I am worried and scared and feeling weak in my faith. Then I start to feel like a bad person, a bad wife, a bad friend, a terrible Christian. I begin to think that my struggles aren't that hard, that I need to get over it, that I'm being a poor witness. Sometimes I allow myself to share my struggles and vulnerabilities. But then I start to be overwhelmed by the attention of well-meaning and thoughtful friends and family who encourage me. I feel like I have to be better all of a sudden, that I need to get over it for them, to have "victory in Christ."

“I have learned to recognize what it means to be human. I’m so tired of hearing about the victorious Christian life that I think I will die. Do you know what the victorious Christian life is? It is keeping your nose above water. It is keeping on trucking for another day. It is being faithful – just barely. It is keeping from messing it up too terribly. We have this idea of what a real Christian ought to be, say, and think, and then we try to live up to that idea and force everyone else to live up to it too.” 
~ Stephen Brown

One of the things I've been so encouraged by in all the reading I've done over the past few years is each author's openness, vulnerability and courage - and ultimately what I've discovered is the reality that we all struggle with these feelings and one of the best things we can do is share these truths with each other because more often than not you will experience the "me too" moment and know you aren't alone.

The other thing I've been delighted to discover is how much God loves us and how willing He is to deal with our fears and struggles and feelings and emotions. Reading through Psalms I found myself realizing for the first time what an emotional roller coaster it is - the highest highs, lowest lows, and angriest anger. I started to think that maybe the reason it's in the Bible is because God wants us to know it's okay to feel all the feelings. And even more important, to share them with Him. He already knows of course, but it's for our benefit that we admit them and really feel them. And the Psalms helps remind us that we aren't alone...and in reading we can relate to the happy, to the sad, or to the angry...or even to all three, or more.

“Regardless of whether we feel strong or weak in our faith, we remember that our assurance is not based upon our ability to conjure up some special feeling. Rather, it is built upon a confident assurance in the faithfulness of God. We focus on His trustworthiness and especially on His steadfast love.” ~ Richard J. Foster

“As for me, I look to the LORD for help. I wait confidently for God to save me and my God will certainly hear me…for though I fall, I will rise again! Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.” 
~ Micah 7:7-8

Certainly, I have not arrived. I have not been perfected. I keep struggling with the same things. I fail. But I keep getting up. I keep placing my hand back in His (I let go, never Him). I keep building my faith and trusting. Although I am certain that I will fail again, I am glad to be able to place my trust in Someone who will never fail. Thankfully God is so good. So strong. So faithful. So trustworthy. So loving.

“Our faith doesn’t cause God to be faithful; it simply helps us discover that God has been faithful all along!” ~ Ron Vanderwell

“Your eternal word, O LORD, stands firm in heaven. Your faithfulness extends to every generation.” ~ Psalm 119:89-90a

One of my favorite authors is Robin Jones Gunn. I have read all her books and have felt especially connected to her Christy Miller series. I first read the original 12 book series when I was in high school, and as the stories have continued in other follow-up series, I have grown up along with these beloved characters. I have always felt connected to the main character Christy. Many times the issues she dealt with were very similar to things I had experienced or struggled with and it helped make me feel less alone. Her newest series is called Christy & Todd: The Married Years, and once again it has been amazing to me to see so much of my own struggles in the life of Christy - like trusting God, living with friends, financial struggles, etc..

“…Moses stepped into the deep darkness because God was there. It’s the mystery part of following God. I feel like that’s what we’re doing now. Instead of pulling back in fear, we’re stepping into the deep darkness of the unknown future…And the reason we’re doing it is because we know that God is already there and more than anything, we want to be with Him.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn

I want to step into the deep darkness. Writing this blog is part of that journey. Putting my thoughts and fears and vulnerabilities out there for others to see, instead of hiding inside myself. It's scary, but a little bit exciting. I want to know what plans God has for me and I have faith that they are bigger and braver and bolder than I would ever imagine or attempt for myself. And while I know He might allow me to live with tiny dreams, I know that He has huge dreams and I have to trust Him to fulfill them. And I have to step out in faith and trust Him to always have me.

“Blessed is the [woman] who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is in the LORD.” ~ Jeremiah 17:7

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.” 
~ Proverbs 3:5-6

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for being Someone always dependable, always trustworthy, always faithful, and always loving. I know that I struggle in so many ways in trusting and letting go. Thank You for the ways You have been convicting me and teaching me in these areas. I know this is a lifelong process, but help me to keep depending on You and trusting You, especially when times get hard and scary. Help me be able to let go when I should and not be afraid of what might happen. Thank You for providing such wisdom in Your Word the Bible, in the words of authors who are brave enough to speak truth, and in the words of those people around me. Help me to be brave, to step out into the darkness, to place my full faith and trust in You...and thank You for never letting go and always loving me. I love you too. Amen.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

“But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:17

Six months. That's how much time has passed since I last wrote on this blog. In many ways, so much has happened, but honestly not that much has happened beyond normal life. I was reading back through my last post and with the gift of time I start to see some things make a little more sense.

I talked a lot in my last post about being brave, about being open and honest, about sharing my feelings. Guess what? I didn't do that. I got afraid. I let myself hold things in. I didn't do what I know I should do, even what I wanted to do.

It's been a rough few months. True, nothing really terrible has happened to me. In fact, a lot of really wonderful things have happened. But I've been hiding in myself. I've been hiding myself away. Definitely from writing here...obviously. Everything that has been rough has been inside. My emotions have felt all over the place. I've felt like I wanted to say everything and also say nothing. I've felt like I needed to scream or cry or like I'd come out of my skin if I didn't express some things.

Some of it I've been able to express. I've experienced some wonderful deepening of certain relationships and that has blessed my soul. I've also experienced some falling away in certain relationships and that has ravaged my soul. It's been good and it's been bad and it's been hard. Hard to know where to start, where to go and where I'm hoping to end up. I still don't really know what to do...but I think I might be ready to write about it.

Recently, I started reading a (new-to-me) blog and just loved it. A lot of it was encouraging and funny. I cried after reading one post. I laughed so many times. And then I got to this one post and it was convicting. She shared this quote in her post

"To the degree that you need people to affirm you, you will limit God's ability to use you." ~ Levi Lusko

Like her, I struggle with being a people pleaser. I struggle all the time with wanting nobody to be mad at me, for everybody to like me...not like be in love with me, but at least think I'm okay...and it's hard because it's unsustainable. I know in my head that it is impossible. I tell myself that life will go on if someone doesn't like me or is mad at me. But I find it hard to live with or to let those things go. They bug me and keep me thinking and worrying and stressing. All of which is not good, and I know it's not good, but I still do it.

I don't want to be tied up in people pleasing. I know it doesn't work.

I signed up to receive her blog in my email, and she's been doing a blogging challenge where she writes a post every day in the month of October. I love that she's so real. Some posts are serious and thought-provoking. One post was about the TV show Scandal. I've posted a few comments on posts that really meant something to me and in reading her responses, it makes me believe she and I could be good friends. :) Her post today really got me thinking since it was again about some of these things I've been struggling with - namely, what people think of me.

I know this is something I can't do on my own and that's where my blog title comes into play...I know that my strength comes from the Lord. I know it in my head, but have trouble holding on to that in my heart.

“But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it – you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked – well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.”
~ Romans 4:5

When I read through my Bible, I read it in the Message and loved it so much. Everything seemed so fresh and amazing and incredibly encouraging. The book of Romans quickly became one of my favorites and this verse is one of the many reasons. It reminds me that I need to be "willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God's action for [me]" ~ Romans 4:12. God can make changes in me that are impossible without Him. But I have to let go and trust Him.

“Remember, tho’ we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way around – we get afraid because we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don’t you think Our Lord says to you ‘Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the everlasting arms. Let go, I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?’”
~ C.S. Lewis

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” ~ Deuteronomy 33:27

So, even though I'm afraid of letting go. Even though I'm afraid of being real. Even though I'm afraid that people won't like me. I want to let go. I want to be real. I want to be okay with not having people like me. So I'm going to try. I'm going to trust. I want to let go.

I will start writing this blog again. I will try to be real. I will continue to be encouraged by the people around me being brave. I will trust God to be my strength when I am weak. I have some ideas about what this might look like. I think it will probably be different than I imagine, but I'm okay with that. I know God is leading my life in lots of different ways and looking back I can see how the things I saw as obstacles and chaos and crisis were being used to change me in ways I needed but couldn't have learned in any other way. I feel excited about this, even though it's still a little scary.

“The LORD gives His people strength. The LORD blesses them with peace.” ~ Psalm 29:11

“The LORD is my strength, my shield from every danger. I trust in Him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.”
~ Psalm 28:7

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
~ Philippians 4:13

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for never giving up on me, on any of us, no matter how much we struggle and fail and flail about. Thank You for loving us anyway, for loving us more than we can even imagine. Thank You for the people in my life who help me to grow and feel strong and feel loved. Help me to not depend on them for my sense of self, or purpose, or worth. Help me to depend on You and not be afraid of what people think. Please be with my friends and family who are dealing with all sorts of issues and struggles - give them Your peace and comfort and help them to trust and depend on You. Thank You for loving us, we love you too. Amen.