Not Scary- FUN!

My two year old daughter is terrified of all things that make noise.   Anything can send her into hysterics- the garbage disposal, the bathroom fan, the ice machine on the fridge, half of the toys she owns…

In order to contain the terror, my husband and I have a phrase we keep repeating whenever she is screaming in terror… not scary- FUN!  She dutifully repeats this back to us- not scary… fun… This pattern has repeated itself over and over often enough that now, whenever she hears a loud noise, she comes sprinting towards us, hysterically half-laughing, half-crying, screaming NOT SCARY- FUN at the top of her lungs.  Other times, she buries her head in my shoulder, weeping, repeating not scary- fun.  Sometimes I wonder what kind of psychological damage we are inflicting upon her young mind.

Then I shrug, and turn back on the hair dryer.

not scary- fun

I may not be afraid of household appliances (with the exception to the vacuum cleaner) but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that send me into hysterical fits.  Things like walking into a room of people I only know marginally well, and being expected to socialize.  Buying airplane tickets.  Making decisions that will affect other people. Leaning in and engaging in conflict.  Adulting in general.

There is so much about living life as a human that feels terrifying and unpredictable.  The stakes can feel so high.  Decisions, even tiny ones, can have huge consequences.  If you allow yourself to feel truly alone in the midst of this, the weight can be crushing.

I cannot count the times in my life that I wanted to run and bury my head in someone’s shoulder, to be held and reassured.  But we are all trying too hard to seem confident and put together to allow ourselves to do this.

Today, I was reflecting on some of my life mottoes- quotes and phrases that stick with me. and I noticed a common theme:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every situation where you really stop to look fear in the face.  You are able to say to yourself, I have lived through this horror.  I can take the next thing that comes along.  You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Fake it ’til you make it.

Here is the World.
Beautiful and Terrible Things will Happen.
Don’t be Afraid.
-Fredrich Buechner

Yoga Pants.
Messy Bun.
Coffee’s Brewing.
Get it Done.

When I stop to think about it, all of these quotes lead towards the central truth in one of my favorite passages of scripture…

You have not been given a spirit of timidity and fear, but one of power, love, and self control.
2 Timothy 1:7

The spirit in you, it is created in the image of God.  We live our lives in full view of the loving eyes of our Savior.  Every day is written in his book.  Every tear is collected in his bottle.  There is nothing that can hide us, remove us, or exclude us from His love.

We feel timid, we feel fearful, but this is not who we are.  We are immortal souls, who have one shot at this life we have been given.  It’s a divine opportunity to do our best, to give our all.  To love big, fail big, and learn and to stretch our wings.  The Spirit that is in us is greater than the spirit that is in the world.

Who would you be, if you were freed from the spirit of fear that is holding you captive?  What would you do, if you were unleashed to be the person you truly are on the inside?  How would the world change if we gave ourselves permission to really try?  Perhaps then, the words would ring true…

Not scary- FUN!

Why yes, I am a Christian on antidepressants…

Those of you who know me know that I am fairly private person. I am happy to share my story with anyone, but I am not the type who will shout it from the rooftops. So publishing this blog post terrifies me. But here’s the thing… I have had enough people in my life who seem surprised, disappointed, even betrayed when I mention the fact that I am on antidepressants. Someone needs to speak up. I guess that someone is me.

I have noticed there is this  thing in church culture- we are quick to affirm that other people should go to counseling, that it is OK if others are on antidepressants, but when one of us is struggling, we fall silent. It’s terribly hard to admit that you are the one who isn’t doing just fine on your own. But because of this, far too many suffer in silence. So, even though it goes against my nature to put this out here, here it is. I take a little blue pill every morning. And that is OK.

I have heard all of the arguments, doubts, questions about psychopharmacology. Isn’t taking a medication to change your emotional state covering up who you really are? Perhaps this is a thorn in your side, some way that God has created you to be. Shouldn’t you be able to pray more, trust more, eat better, do something to fix yourself? Isn’t medication the easy way out?

I remember the first time that I was truly depressed. I was a sophomore in college and I cried every day. I remember having a conversation in my dorm room and through my tears trying to explain that this wasn’t me. That I shouldn’t be crying right now. That all of this emotion wasn’t who I was. It didn’t make sense to the person I was talking to. And it doesn’t make sense today. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Depression had settled over my life like an itchy wool blanket. The me I knew myself to be was smothering underneath a thick layer of emotion that I couldn’t contain. 

But I didn’t get help then. I soldiered on. Then, a few years later, I (literally) ran half marathons around the fact that my dad was dying. I thought that exercising could cure the pain. I didn’t reach out for help. Neither did I when my first son was born and I wept through the entire first year of his life. 
It wasn’t until my daughter was born, when I felt the dreaded weight of the darkness rolling over my life again, when a trusted doctor gently suggested that I wasn’t doing just fine, that I finally reached out. And now, with a full glass of water each morning, I make a toast to life. 

  
We all know we live in a broken world. We all know that we ourselves are fallen. But when confronted with our individual brokenness, I fear that we feel pressure to fix ourselves. No one thinks that taking insulin for diabetes is cheating God’s ability to heal. People don’t judge women in childbirth for electing to have an epidural instead of enduring ‘the curse.’ But when the pain is psychic, we feel more skeptical.

I don’t feel that taking medication is limiting or changing who God created to me to be. Depression isn’t my identity. The struggle does not define me, nor does it take me deeper in my walk of faith. Instead it blunts me. It consumes me. It distracts me from this life that I love so dearly and my sweet savior who is ever present. Taking these pills, in my mind, is not walking away from a challenge set before me, it is more fully embracing the life I have been given to lead. 

So yes. I am a believer who believes in taking antidepressants. And if you are struggling my friend, if you find yourself in that deep hole, smothered by that thick blanket, trapped inside of emotions do not feel like they are yours… please.  Reach out. For counseling. For friendship. For humility and transparency. For medication, if that’s what you need. But mostly, reach out to others, and to God. This is not your burden alone to bear…

Selah. 

Please Don’t Give Up Chocolate for Lent this Year…

vhovolsyr

Today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.  Which means that people all over the world will begin their Lenten fasts.  In my experience, however, these chosen fasts have more to do with crash dieting than with deepening one’s walk with Christ.

Having grown up in a tradition that didn’t talk that much about practicing Lent, I only had a vague idea of what Lent was as a high schooler.  If you were to ask 16 year old me what it meant to practice Lent, I probably would have told you that for 40 days before Easter you weren’t allowed to eat chocolate, soda, and you were supposed to go for a 3 mile run instead of watching TV every day.  In essence, Lent was a second shot at that failed New Year’s Resolution.  Other than the timing of the season, I didn’t know that Lent had all that much to do with God.

As an adult, I have come to understand what Lent means in the practice of the faith.  The season is meant to be a time of anticipation, a time of making room for Christ.  That is the purpose of a Lenten fast- to create a hunger for God, to create space in your life and your schedule to devote yourself to prayer and reflection.  In my thinking, the practice of Lent should draw you closer to God, creates a sense of fullness and satisfaction, not one of hunger or deprivation.  So let me ask you (humbly, gently); does giving up chocolate, caffeine, or fast food really create room and awareness of God in your life?

Is there another practice that could better accomplish that purpose?

I so often see people (and have been guilty myself) of choosing something for a fast that is really more of a diet plan.  In my mind I am thinking I am doing this for God, but if I also happen to lose a bit of weight in the process, that’s ok too.  As I reflect upon this, I realize that that is dancing a line very close to idolatry.  What am I really pursuing in this goal?  To draw closer to Christ, or to draw closer to my goal of the perfect body?

In the past few years I have decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, I will instead add something.  A daily (or if that’s too hard, regular) practice that serves to draw me closer to my savior.  To more deeply connect me with the author of life. To invite me into a time of personal worship.  This year, I am going to try and set some time each day to create.  As an act of worship.  Acknowledging that I am formed in the image of my Creator.  That practice speaks deeply into my soul as something I need right now.  Perhaps there is something your heart is whispering to you that would draw you closer to God…

Time each day to walk, outside, appreciating God’s marvelous creation.

A family meal each week, set aside to connect with each other on a deeper level.

Worship music in your car on your morning commute.

Reading the Christian book that has been sitting on your nightstand for weeks.

My challenge to you is to use Lent to enrich your relationship with Christ in a way that has no other outside benefits.  Let your pursuit of Him for the next 40 days be unspoiled by other secondary goals.

And may the Peace of Christ be with you.

 

Snowstorm Sabbath

2015-02-26 09.01.32

One of my favorite things about living in the South is our kooky reaction to winter weather.  As the first flakes of frozen precipitation begin to fall from above, we feel compelled to act as if the sky itself is falling.  School is cancelled.  There is a run on the grocery store.  Motorists on all major thoroughfares immediately smash into fellow  vehicles.  We stack up our firewood, pile on the blankets, and drink mug after mug of hot chocolate.  It’s amazing.

We have just weathered one of those storms, and, as we emerge from the blizzard of 2016, I find myself realizing what it is that I love so much about our winter panic- in the midst of the storm, everything stops.  We stay at home.  Engage with our families.  Cook luxurious meals and excuse ourselves from going to work, to the gym, to board meetings and the other obligations that fill our days.  We shelter in place.

In essence, we take a sabbath.

I cannot tell you how much the last few days have meant to me.  I have had real conversations with my family.  I have gotten down on the floor and played with my children. I took moments to pet my dog.  Wash my dishes by hand.  Talk to my neighbors.  I have marveled at the beauty of nature, and listened to good music.  In essence, I have taken time to stop and truly enjoy this beautiful life I am living.

In typical Southern fashion, the weather today is heading towards 50 degrees.  On the street outside of my office I see people in winter parkas walking next to others in t-shirts.  And I find myself a bit sad about the thaw.  Because although I appreciate the return to normal patterns and schedules, I know I will miss the freedom and space created by the snow.

For the record, no, I am am not wishing for an eternal winter. But I do find myself asking what it is about these snow days that are so meaningful.  What practices can I carry forward into the sunshine?

Here are some questions I have been asking myself in the discovery process… maybe they will resonate with you as well:

What do I cherish the most about snow days?

What elements of this time can I begin to incorporate into my own sabbath practices?

How can I hold myself accountable to engage deeply in relationships with those I love in the midst of my busy-ness?

Are there any new traditions I can put in place in my life to capture some of this whimsy and peace I love so dearly?

On Getting Unstuck

Being a blogger is a funny thing.  I don’t have many readers, so many times I feel as if I am just sending out words into the void.  But here is the thing, my words still matter.  To me if no one else.  And because of that, I feel tremendous pressure to write ‘correctly.’  To have something to say.  And not just anything to say, but something substantive, important, original.  That’s a lot of pressure!

And so many times, I allow this pressure to be amazing to silence my voice.  It’s as if I only have two options, be remarkable, or be invisible.  Be pitch perfect, or be silent.  The more I think about it, the more parallels to this pressure I see across my life.  If I can’t be the best, I often would rather not show up.  And, may I just say, that as a working mom of two littles, there are precious few areas of life where I feel like I am bringing my A game these days.  I can change a diaper like a champ.  I am pretty darn good at using Amazon Prime.  And I make a mean Eggo Waffle.  Not exactly skills to brag (blog) about.

So where does that leave me?  Silent.  Afraid to share the thoughts I do have for fear that they are not polished, not worthy to send out into the world.

And yet, am I not a person, created in God’s own Image?  Do my words not reflect his divine Creativity in the fact that I have strung them together from nothing, creating something out of the void?

Blank notepad and pencilAll to often I let being the best become the enemy of being good.  Of being mediocre even.  Of being me.  I lock myself in, for fear of lacking in comparison.  I get stuck.  In my own insecurity, my own reticence.

Is not writing a form of creating, which in itself is a form of worship?  As I label the words in my mind as not worthy, I am affixing the same description to myself, as God’s created.

What is it that is holding you back from being fully you?  How will you get unstuck today?

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
     “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:37-40

The voices in our heads…

Question:  What were you just thinking? Just then?  If a day in your head goes anything like a day in my head, the answer could be anything.  From pondering the grocery list to reflecting on the meaning of life, the gears in my head are always moving.  And not in a linear, predictable way.  One seemingly mundane thought can lead to another, and another, until my mind ends up miles from where it began.

In the truest part of ourselves, we are thinking creatures.  We think an amazing amount of thoughts, ALL the time.  In the morning, we wake up thinking about our days, thinking that we wish that we had more sleep, thinking about the dreams we just had that were actually the thoughts we were having in our sleep.  At the breakfast table we eat our cereal as we think about how stressed out we are about the day ahead.  All day long it goes, thinking, daydreaming, worrying, but living our lives in our heads, many times much more than we do outside of our heads.

maybieHave you ever wondered what it would be like to NOT think so much?  Take my dog Maybie, for instance.  Do you know what she thinks about?  Squirrels.  And walks.  That’s it.  Literally.  Sometimes I just want to spend a day in her head, looking out the window and waiting for my next walk.  Thinking about… squirrels.  I think more than my dog because that is how I was created.  In the Garden of Eden, God created us in His Image.

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  Genesis 1:27

And what does it mean to be created in the Image of God?  What IS God?

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
John 1:1-4

God created us in His image, and in the Bible, His Image is described as the Word.  So, When you think of it, our capacity for speech, for words, for thought, is part of what makes us image bearers of Christ.  This ability to think, to reason, to observe and interpret the world and our lives is a sacred thing.  In the Garden of Eden, we were created as real, thinking beings who spent our lives in the presence of God, walked with him in the evenings, and shared every bit of our lives with him.

Worry was not a thing.

Fear didn’t exist.

Our minds, our thoughts, were happy, joyful, creative places.

So what happened?

The serpent.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the first thoughts Adam and Eve had after they ate the apple were ones of anxiety?

Ack!  I’m naked!

In an instant, a life of peace, a mind of harmony, was transformed into one of fear, anxiety, and self doubt.

When we began to doubt God’s goodness, we immediately began to doubt everything we knew about our lives, our selves, as well.  The serpent keeps whispering his lies into our ears.

Have you ever taken inventory of your thoughts?  Kept track of how many of your thoughts in a given day are happy ones, verses sad, scary, or anxious ones?  If you are like me, the bad ones outnumber the good ones.  And what’s more, the bad ones are the ones I pay attention to.  Why?  These ones are the lies…

But everyone does it.  However, is this the way it has to be?  In the world of therapy, professionals are starting to question the assumption that all of our thoughts are true, all are valid.  How can someone who is socially successful feel in the depths of her heart that she is unlovable?  How can a person who by societal standards is beautiful still believe with all of her mind that she is ugly, fat?  How can a mother who is working herself to the bone to support and nurture her family lays awake at night, convinced that she isn’t doing enough?  The truth is, we are all walking around believing lies, despite overwhelming evidence of that these things simply aren’t true.

We all live in a world where it feels as if there is an angel on one shoulder and a devil on another.  One is whispering lies, telling us we aren’t good enough.  The other is whispering the truth of God, that we are dearly loved, cherished, enough.

Which voice are you listening to?

John 10:1-10
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber!  But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.  They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.  Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.  The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

Satan’s purpose is to steal our joy.  To kill our confidence, to destroy our peace and our relationships with others.  God’s purpose is to give us life, and life to the fullest.

But here is the thing.  You get to choose which voice you listen to.  You can allow words of life, or of death, to rule your brains every day.  Which voice are you going to choose to listen to?

I am going to leave you with one final thought… words directly from God, in one of my favorite passages of the Bible- Philippians 4:6-9.  These words have been so influential for me in the battle for my mind.  Let these words wash over you and know, above all else, that you are dearly loved.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

prayer: a poem

all day long the mumbled missives are sent:
postcard length portraits of this human experience.

our cherished hopes,
concerns for our loved ones,
whispered pleas for green lights,
passing thoughts for strangers,

prayers fill in our still moments, forming
the punctuation of our days.

the world as we wish it to be,

all placed carefully in the palm of our creator.

who do you love?
What is it you hope for?
Who are you
truly?

the contents of our prayers tell the true story, revealed only to
a God who sees us.

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freedom

So I just spent a week blogging about ways my life could use discipline… but as I was jogging yesterday, I realized that I cannot talk about these things without also talking about the most important principle of my life.

freedom.

You see, freedom, specifically, my freedom in Christ, is one of the most defining characteristics of my existence.  I grew up in a faithful Christian home, full of grace filled believers.  But somehow, I grew up with the misconception that living a life as a Christ follower involved toeing the line in all areas.  I was a dedicated do-gooder, a person who believed that living in a way that pleased God meant that I had to beat myself into submission.  Although I could define grace if asked, I lived as if it had no impact on my life and my world.

So what happened to change things?  I messed up.  I made mistakes.  Big ones.  Ones that went against my definition of who I was, and flew in the face of what I had decided a ‘good Christian’ should be.  My selfish and immature 19 year old mistakes wrecked my model of Christianity and I found myself at a Crossroads: walk away from my faith in disgrace, or engage with God on new terms.

Once I wrecked my paradigm of Good Christian Behavior, the Bible began to make more sense.  900 some pages of people messing up, and God remaining faithful.  Before, I read these scriptures as a Pharisee, scoffing at the Israelites’  hardheadedness.  Now, I comprehended the message that God was SHOUTING through these pages- there is simply no way to be good enough to earn your way into heaven.

You can’t do it.

And yet, God still loves us.  Has redeemed us.  Sent his Son to suffer and die and pay the price of our hardheadedness, our sin, our stiff necked pride.  Through Jesus, we have been given a precious gift: freedom.  Our very inability to be good enough to win God’s favor invites us into a world of adventure.  One where failure is acceptable, even expected.  One where we have the opportunity to discover who we really are, and in turn, more of who God is.

Yes.  We try to honor God with our choices.  Yes.  Discipline is part of the Christian walk.  But discipline inevitably leads to failure.  And sometimes, deliberately breaking the rules we set for ourselves reminds us of who is ultimately in charge.

freedomSo when I wake up tired or discouraged, I give myself permission to fail.  To fall short of the 20 mile march.  To leave the laundry unfolded.  To turn the 8 PM rule into the 4 PM rule, or to burn the midnight oil, whatever is required to honor the needs of my soul.  And in these permissions, I am also realizing that I am free.  As a child of Christ, my worth isn’t set upon what I accomplish, the cleanliness of my house, the behavior of my kids or the balance in my checkbook.  My identity is hidden in Him, and I am free to rest in the shadow of his wings.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:1-4

the 8 o’clock rule

Earlier this year, I was reading a new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry, by Gina Abbas.  As she was talking about balancing life and work, she mentioned a rule that she and her husband had devised.  No matter what remains undone, they stop working after 8 PM.  Once the clock strikes 8, they are off the clock.  The rest of the evening remains for resting, spending time with each other, and reminding themselves that they are real adults who are allowed to relax and enjoy a portion of their day.

Wow.

For me, this has been a mental game changer in my life.  Giving myself permission NOT TO DO things.  My kids are usually in bed by 7:30, so that gives me a 30 minute window to get things done.  Get the leftovers put into the fridge, the dishwasher loaded.  Put my laundry away.  Clean up the living room.  But once 8 PM rolls around, I am done.

800-pm-clockBut what if there are still dirty pots on the stove?  That’s ok.  They will be there tomorrow.  But what if I still have to send a work email?  Do you really want people to expect you to be checking and sending work email at night?  But what if the living room is still covered in toys?  Well then the kids will have an easier time when they start to play in the morning.

I find this rule to be a great complement to the 20 mile march.  Because there are days (plenty of them), when the work doesn’t get done.  And knocking off after 14 or 18 miles… that is ok.  If I don’t carve out time for rest, renewal, and remembering to be myself, the chances that i will be successful tomorrow diminish as well.  Creating a rule for rest is something I find necessary, or else I won’t give myself permission to do it.  And isn’t rest, Sabbath, one of God’s priorities?  Sometimes checking out reminds me of my real importance (or lack of importance) in the world.  Reminding myself that things won’t crash down around me just because I am watching TV is a good thing.  A holy thing even.  We have a sustainer of the universe.  But it’s not me.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Mark 6:31

the one minute rule

Question:  how much time do you spend stressed out by piles of paper in your life?
Answer:  if you are like me, probably a lot.

For some reason, papers seem to gather in my house.  A pile of unpaid bills mixed up with coupons and take out menus on the kitchen counter.  A jumble of children’s drawings and notes from meetings on the ottoman in the bedroom.  A pile of unopened mail on the table by the front door.  These papers, while seeming innocuous, are very good at needling me.  Reminding me of the things I need to get done.  These piles of paper serve as a metaphor for me- silent reminders of the (many) things that are going undone.

They can also make me feel out of control.  Wherever I look, my eyes seem to land on yet another thing on my to-do list.  And just like that, an out of control day begins to feel like an out of control life.

When reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, I came across the One-Minute Rule.  It is simple. If a task can be completed in one minute or less, just go ahead and do it.  Hang up your coat.  Pay the credit card bill on your mobile app.  Put the dishes in your dishwasher.  Change the toilet paper roll.

By taking a proactive role on these ‘micro-chores’, I have found myself feeling much more empowered.  The volume of visual reminders of things I have yet to do decreases dramatically.

I have also found that some of these simple tasks have more of a payoff than I would believe.  Making the bed.  Flossing.  Recycling the junk mail, unopened.  For some reason, knowing that I have done these tasks make me feel more in control of my life, more competent.  More adult.

What one minute tasks could you take on today?  Try a couple- and see how you feel!

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?
Ecclesiastes 3:22minute