My Dark Secret Story

As Christians, we have this whole set of practices embedded in our culture that seem pretty bizarrstorye if we step back and look at them.  Things like… fake cussing.  “Holy Toledo,”  “Mother of Pearl,” “No effing way,” and, worst of all, “Bless Her Heart.”

We sing in groups.  In what other area of your life to adults get together once a week and sing?  Don’t get me wrong- I love it, but, outside the church (and community chorus) it’s not a normal activity.

Then there are the essential parts of our faith.  Things sacred and beautiful to us, but probably seem bizarre to outsiders.  Baptism (dumping cold water on babies).  Communion (eating bread and juice and talking about eating the Body and Blood of Christ).  Confession (telling our deepest darkest secrets to our friends).

As part of my job, I recruit one person from my church to share their faith story with the high schoolers monthly.  I am always surprised to hear how many people don’t feel as if they have a story to tell.  I hear over and over that their story is boring.  That they never really did anything ‘worth’ giving a testimony about.

We seem to have a misunderstanding in the church.  We believe that unless you have some horrid history to share, that you don’t have a story to tell.  If you weren’t a former alcoholic, scam artist, or motorcycle gang member, then you don’t have a testimony others want to hear.

In terms of testimonies, my story is pretty basic.  Sure, I made some boneheaded decisions as a teenager.  I got my heart broken a few times.  I wrestled with forgiveness.  But all in all, my story is pretty vanilla.  But here is the thing- it is my story, which makes it precious.  As I tell my high schoolers each month, the reason we tell our faith stories is to remind ourselves that God is doing something in the lives of everyone we see, including our own.  The more of other’s stories we hear, the better we are able to recognize the love story God is telling in our own lives.

Here is the truth.  No matter how boring our story may seem to us, it is actually epic.  Here is how your story goes:

You were lost.  Unredeemed.  Guilty and sentenced to death.  Living a life utterly without hope.

And a hero came.

He swept you off your feet.  Loved you without fear.  Delighted in the things that make you utterly unique.  Reminded you of your worth and your beauty.  And then, this lover of yours did the unthinkable.

He dove in front of the train.  He sacrificed his life, without a second thought, took your punishment upon himself, so that you were rescued.  Because of His sacrifice, you have a second chance at life.

Your faith story is SO much less about you, and MORE about Jesus, than you could ever imagine.  And because of that, we all have a story to tell.  One of the greatest love stories of all time.  One that includes drama, suspense, tragedy and triumph.  And your story is yours alone.

So you don’t have a shameful, dark past to tell?  So what?  You still have so much to share.  And your testimony can be told forwards as well as backwards.  What adventures are you living now, as you walk hand in hand with your Savior?  If you think your story is boring, stir it up!  See what adventures you can live today, next week, in your next decade!

 

Fake Busy

You know what I am tired of hearing myself talk about?  How busy I am.  Yes.  I do a bunch of stuff.  But yes- I have the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else has.  And, just like everyone else, I get to choose how I spend it!  So why do I get stuck in this cycle of complaining about how little time I have like my own schedule is something that is happening TO me?

I chose this!

Half the things I find myself racing around to do are things that my husband calls ‘fake busy’… burning items on my to do list that I just made up out of my head that I need to get done.  Since when is buying a new pack of athletic socks an emergency?  It sure seemed couponthat way to me last Thursday!  Just because I have $10 loyalty rewards and a 40% coupon at AC Moore does not mean that I am required to go to that store today.  Whether or not I have painted my fireplace is actually not a life and death situation.  And yet, that’s how I live my life!  80% of the things I feel stressed about are things that I made up for myself to do.

How about you?

How often are your days filled with ‘fake busy’ items on your to do list?

How much time to you spend in front of the TV?  On social media? Disengaged with your life?

How many hidden pockets of time are being lost in your day?

I have a lot.  And as I am reflecting this Lenten season, I wonder what would happen if I invested that time more wisely?  If I lived my life intentionally, prioritizing people over things?  If I spent the hours entrusted to me engaging with my kids, calling an out of town friend, or just savoring the sweetness of my life, instead of rushing headlong into the next project I created for myself?

    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.” Interlude
We are merely moving shadows,
   and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
-Psalm 39:4-6

We have a choice.  Even on the things we have to do.  Yes.  Humans need to eat, with shocking regularity.  But what if cooking a meal was an invitation into presence?  If we enjoy the scents, the smells, the colors of cooking our food, instead of rushing it onto plates?  What if time spent in the car was seen as an opportunity to pray blessings on the strangers we pass along the road?  Or to marvel at the beauty of a sunset, a tree branch, a backseat child’s laughter?

There is a difference between surviving and truly living.  We all have 24 hours.  How we spend them is an attitude of the mind.

 

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. 

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 Mindset of Scarcity

It is written in our nature that we expect there to be enough to go around. Enough money, enough time, enough love, enough friends, enough… blessings.  It is our human experience to realize, that to our great chagrin, this is not always the case.  Moments when we crash into this reality are always unsettling.  They feel like the experience when you leave a moving walkway and once again step on solid ground.  Your body lurches forward with momentum, yet your feet stagger below you, unused to their new yet familiar burden.

These predicaments often get a lot of press.  Poverty is a national conversation.  Loneliness is so pervasive that it is something of a shared experience, even in it’s very alone-ness.  And yet, scarcity of time is something that is so common that it has in many ways become our mode of operation.  It is almost a point of pride to be so busy juggling obligations that you have no margin for error.  Yet, our life is such a precious gift, simply enduring our days does not seem to be what he asks of us.

O Lord, make me know my end
    and what is the measure of my days;
    let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
    and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
Psalm 39:4-5

I have just come out of a busy time at work.  It has only been in the past few days that I felt like I have had the ability to stop and take a breath, to look up and see the world around me.  The past three months have held so many responsibilities, trips away from home, odd and extra time spent at the office.  It can be hard to feel as if you are so busy at a time of year when other people seem to have time to relax.  However, when I take a step back, I realize that although I had a lot going on, and although I did it all, I had the completely wrong mentality.

Stimeomewhere along the line, I allowed myself to slip into what I think of as the mindset of scarcity. At some point, I told myself that there wasn’t enough time to do what I needed to do.  And with that assertion, things began to snowball.  I had less capacity to hold things in my head.  I had less patience for myself, for my kids, for my husband.  I began to cut corners at home, dishes began to pile up on the counter.  I became impatient and resentful of people who asked things of me, or who failed to immediately deliver what I asked of them.  I lost touch with friends.  I started skipping social events.   In other words, i was a royal pain to be around.

Why?

Because I had told myself that there wasn’t enough of me to go around.  That my mental and emotional stores were depleted.  Which felt true.  But with that statement, I was also telling myself a lie about God.  That he didn’t care.  That he couldn’t renew me, guide me, or console me.  That I simply had to survive what was ahead, instead of daring to engage or thrive within these challenges.  I slammed the door in God’s face.  I stopped carving out time for prayer and reflection.  I did not allow God the space he needed to renew me.

When I slip into the mindset of scarcity, the first thing that happens is that I feel frazzled.  Then I feel overburdened, then tired, then resentful.  I start focusing on what I don’t have, instead of celebrating what I do have.  I begin desperately hoarding quiet moments, only to fill them with my unquiet thoughts and anxieties.  Does that sound familiar to you?

What if, when we meet times of trials, we look in hope for God’s provinence?  What if we expect Him to turn up, to order our days, to replenish our flagging spirits? Think of how you could view new challenges with this mindset- eager to see what God will do, even, dare I say, what God will do through you? 

The best I can say about these past few months is that I survived.  Even while I was in the midst of it, I had a nagging feeling that I was doing it wrong.  But this feeling simply mixed in with the rest of the gloomy negativity to continue to drag me down.  However, it is my prayer and my hope that the next time I walk though this valley of scarcity, I will look to my Provider for strength, for hope, and for guidance!

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Romans 5:1-5

Two Men, Three Crosses

 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:38-42

The car is not a happy place for me.  Four times my car has been totaled.  Four times the wreck was not my fault.  For me, when I am driving, I am fully aware each second that I am not in control of what anyone else on the road may do.  When something unexpected happens in the car, I can’t seem to stop my mind from playing the scenario through to it’s gory, fiery end.  Therefore, I am frequently on edge, white knuckling the steering wheel.

It is in the car that I most often ponder my demise.  It’s the closest I can imagine to what the thieves on the cross must have experienced, starting into the certainty of their mortality.  Two men, two completely different reactions.  One looking into the void with bitterness and arrogance, the other chastened, humbled.  And between them, a savior.

When I was young, I was afraid of dying,  afraid that I would die without asking forgiveness for each individual sin. I thought Jesus was capable of forgiving all, but that I had to recite each one.

To the thief on the cross, forgiveness was granted with open hands.  There was no complicated or detailed acts of contrition required, no game of cat and mouse.  Simply grace, offered openly.   Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. 

How do you encounter Jesus?  Do you allow grace to be this easy?  Or do you muddy the waters with your own dance of atonement?  I know that I do, feeling that I must fully wallow in my guilt and seek to fix things before I allow Jesus to lift away my sin.  Grace is a free gift.

But grace, though freely given, was purchased at a costly price.  On the cross, in between those two thieves, was one innocent man.  Who suffered.  Groaned.  Bled.  For your sake, and mine.  On this Good Friday, I challenge you to take some time to reflect on the price paid for your sin, and offer up thanks to your Savior.

three-crosses-kelly-nowak