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.

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