Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Stop the Static

Sometimes I treat my growing faith like a one-dimensional diary.

While I make it a point to get the Good Stuff in (reading, reflecting and journaling), I still suffer from the constant static of self focus. I often find myself listening to a looped monologue inside my head more than I meditate on Christ's words. For the most part, the monologue runs along the same formulaic rails every day.

Open on a one-way street where I'm talking to myself about myself and wondering how other people feel about me and how that affects how I feel about them. And now pan out to the horizon where I stand below the constant drip of discontent and wonder if I am more or less myself as I am becoming more and more of who I really am. Then fade to a shadowy place where I'm longing to disband the stereotypes of whoever it was that everyone thought I should be by restructuring who I hope to become.

Wow. How revealing. How exhausting. How ugly. How futile.

I know I can't change a single thing about myself by trying. I can't change a single bad trait by making good habits. Pleasing man is a waste of time- not everyone will like me, believe me, learn from me, or care to come to know me.

I believe I am inherently a screw up. But I am irrevocably secured by an amazingly good God.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he[d]made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Ephesians 1: 7-10

THANK GOD. Literally. I am so thankful to God, that I, me, the little kahuna- am not where the road ends. I am so glad that my tendency to get lost in self-talk and trying harder isn't necessary. It is so freeing to understand that my identity when riveted upon my own ability doesn't define who I am. My worth is determined by God's grace. His plan. It is determined by His ultimate love story written in the bloody scrawl of a ridiculously perfect man who hung his head in shame so I didn't have to.

So if I know all of this to be true, how come I am still so hung up on how life is supposed to look? How come I still care about the world's opinion? About how I measure up?

Well, how come we all do? Why do we let our ideals- these impossible standards of living that are sold to us at all hours of the day dictate our life decisions? Why do we think that happiness is the zenith of existence?

Happiness is a vapor. It is a 'chasing after the wind' (Ecc. 1:17). We were not made to be happy. We were made to be humbled, held, and reliant on a Hero.

But it is hard as a human to not act like a human. Our world is made to cater to our deepest insecurities. It will tell you that if you can change your marriage, if you can restructure your job, if you can lose those last pounds, if you can finally find the right guy, if you just follow your heart- then life will be perfect.

It won't.

I can say now that I am getting better at breaking up the incessant barrage of "but-what-about-me's"? I do this by intentionally taking time to read the Word and let Christ inject some truth into my mush of me-ism. His way of life, his servanthood, his giving away, his shunning of the spotlight, his compassion for the compassionless- it causes me to spin some plates; fall out of my hoggish headspace. His beauty causes me to lurch out of my internal blender just long enough to slow the blades. To stop the bleeding. To apply a grace-soaked turnacet to this hemorrhaging heart.

I will take a chance and bet that your inner monologue isn't much different than mine. We all have our own internal paparazzi. And sometimes the pictures we are taking aren't too pretty.

But the good news is that these images, these thoughts, this cycle of self worship isn't all there is. There is so  much more. I have found that in those moments when I give up trying to fashion the life I imagined for myself- I am then able to be rebuilt from the inside out. That I am able to be thankful for what I have. And I have SO much. A beautiful family, a loving husband, a job I love, and a life I couldn't have written the script for.

He knew what I needed to be drawn into his embrace. He knew that the interior walls of my mind would squeeze him out, unless I was surrounded by people who show me His beauty or cause me to crawl to him in desperation, day after day. He meant it to feel this way.

And, friends- the storyline He has for you is so much better than what you're trying to create on your own. I went to a woman's conference earlier this year and I heard something that resonates with me to this day, "If you ever feel like all you do is serve others in your life- cleaning up after them, shelving your priorities for them, and putting yourself last- then thank God. Thank Him that for one day, for a few moments-- you got it right."

We're in this together,

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

From Strength to Strength

I am coming to terms with the fact that I am an extremist. And not in the way where I have a bomb-shelter in my basement, but more so in the speaking sense.

I over state. A lot. I come from a long line of exaggerators. So, why not blame it on the gene pool?

If my daughter has a cough, I worry that it may be pneumonia and say, "I feel like she has been sick forever. When will this end?"

If my son loses his cool in public, I assume he must be suffering from severe starvation since he had only eaten a raisin that day. "I wonder if he needs a feeding tube?"

Blech. I'm so embarrassing to myself.

If I am overwhelmed, I think I will always feel overwhelmed.

Words like always and forever creep into my daily dialogue without much intentional thought. I'm just trying to prove a point, right? I think,  I do feel like I am always cleaning ketchup off the table. I do feel like I may never go to the bathroom alone. I do wonder if my legs will forever be partially unshaved since I rush out of the shower to comfort a child after his nap.

And I know that when I finally have fully-shaven legs, I will miss running out of the shower to comfort a child after his nap.

This morning I read an amazing verse in Psalms. I have had a love affair with these passages since I was young, but somehow I feel like I have never read this before:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,  in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

The NIV of the Bible, explains the highway to Zion as a "pilgrimage". I would think that this means our lives' pilgrimage. The steps we take everyday towards missionally loving our family, friends, enemies, and strangers.  The steps we take towards solidifying the truth about who God is in our everyday lives. Becoming more like Jesus, and yet understanding that perfection was never a part of his plan.

As a young mom with two kids, I can say that my heart's highway has been speeding past at 100mph lately. New jobs, new school classes, new baby, and that some old sleep. I wake up feeling weak. And I am not very coy about sharing those feelings.

But absolutes are so very different than feelings. And God in his wisdom gave us a Spirit that can take us from strength to strength. He can lead us through a valley flooded with replenishment. A rain-soaked Savior in the middle of an insanely thirsty life.

My tendency to complain about my circumstances to the max, shows a very big tear in my faith. It shows me where I don't believe He is strong enough. It reveals that I believe my weakness is all I have in moments that try me. I let my emotions run away with my words.

Instead, I should focus on letting His words run away with my heart.

He takes us from strength to strength.

 I want my heart to hold the highways to Zion inside of it, and in order to train my heart to feel differently about my everyday circumstances I need to use my words to speak truth instead of lies.

But its not always the bad circumstances I am trying to manage, it's the good ones too.

Honestly, sometimes I am afraid to speak of the joy I feel in my life for fear that I am not "trying" hard enough for my faith. Wow, that is such an elementary Christian 'no-no' right? And yet, I still struggle with the idea of Christian hedonism (in the words of John Piper). I still wax and wane about my personal belief that God wants us to live life to the fullest- in JOY.

And not just churchy joy because of a successful altar call or a speaking in tongues translation- I am talking about life-giving joy. Joy because of great sex with my godly husband. Joy in wine tasting (not slurping) among gorgeous vineyards. Joy in eating amazing food and in seeing amazing the places He created. Joy in funny conversations and snuggles in cashmere blankets.

We aren't talking about a bland, I'll skip-the-butter-on-my-bread type-of-false-joy. We are talking about a real Jesus-drenched joy lavishly given us on the cross. Its the very joy that everyone wants, but can't find. It's that nagging dissatisfaction that is poured into buying functional gods with extended warranties that go out of style or lose their sparkle after we've lost interest.

You see, I need to relish in the beautiful days. I need to be quick to speak about the joy, and the gifts as often as I am about the struggle. I need to speak unabashedly about those moments when my heart twists in joyful pain over the laugh of my baby girl, the holding of my husband's hand, or the cuddle of my precious son. I need to remind myself that He is leading me from strength to strength.

He wants us to experience the joy of living fully in Him- which means that our weaknesses are made strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

He has the biggest tears in our faith covered. They are covered with a blood-soaked fragment of cloth that will always and forever be all we need to live in the land of plenty and resplendent joy.

We're in this together,