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On Whining and Birthday Questions

Today is a turn off the AC and open the windows kind of day. We don’t do that in the summer in Texas, so today I’m appreciating this South Dakota breeze. I’m sitting in my favorite room of the house that hardly ever gets used in the brown comfy chairs that JD and I bought together in California. These chairs have been sat in by people we love during after dinner drinks and competitive board games. These chairs swept me up in refuge as I tucked in my feet and cried to my friends about freshly losing my mom. In both houses, these chairs have only been placed in “sitting room” environments because I refuse to have a TV in every room of our house; therefore, these chairs are only used when engaged with something other than a TV screen. These chairs have purpose, although I’m not sure we intended it that way. They are for conversation, laughter, and deepening relationship. They are for curling up and reading a good book, and for open-window kind of days like today. For writing, and listening, and appreciating.

Last week was my 30th birthday, and JD and I were able to snag a date night. Over dinner, as tradition has it, JD asked me “the birthday questions.” The birthday questions originated from a friend and former colleague of mine in California. Everyone knew that on your birthday, Liz would ask you the birthday questions. While at first it kind of puts people on the spot, year after year, we would anticipate these questions. I love these because not only does it help the birthday girl/boy process their year, it also creates intimacy with the people they are sharing with.

So the birthday questions are as followed:

  1. What was the highlight of your year?
  2. What was the lowlight?
  3. What have you learned?
  4. What do you look forward to?

Not surprisingly, the answer to my lowlight and what I’ve learned were the same. While my lowlight was pouting about where we live, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can’t pout about where I live.  This was hard for me to admit because I naturally want to justify my feelings and actions, not apologize for them.

But I’m pretty sure Jesus hates whiners. I get it. It drives me crazy when Anna whines. When she finally waits patiently and asks politely, I can breath a little easier, and I’m much more inclined to acknowledge her requests. So i get it. It must be so frustrating for God to hear us complaining all the time.

Whether our feelings and actions are valid or not, it is a slap in to whine about the things God has given us.

So I sent out a text message to some women who I thought might be interested in and open to diving into deeper relationship. After enthusiastic “yes’s,” I hosted 5 other ladies at my house Monday night for wine and fishbowl night. They each came with a question in mind, threw it in the fishbowl, and as we (they- gotta love being pregnant) drank wine, we began to dive into conversation that I’ve been longing for for 2 1/2 years. After months and months of small talk and gossip, I heard stories of God working in each of their lives and stories of heartbreak that brought most of us to tears.

The only reason I initiated it was because I’ve been hearing over and over from God to stop complaining and do something about my discontent. It’s scary to host a party and ask people to be vulnerable, but by God’s grace, they were up for it. In fact, they are up for it once a month.

When the whining stops and we unclench our fists just a little bit, God takes a sigh of relief and blesses. 

They say it’s not where we live but who we’re with, but I think I’m realizing that it’s not just about the people we’re with but also the atmosphere that we create. Sometimes life offers people and situations that feel uncomfortable and we don’t seem to fit, but maybe we need to evaluate what fits for us, what we need, and try the best we can to create a good fit.

I now know I can offer an invitation, wine, and the comfy brown chairs. To me, that fits, and it turns out, it fits for some other people too.

What Would Jesus Do? – Thoughts on the Supreme Court Ruling

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling last week, I have heard and read a lot of differing view points. I currently live in a very conservative area, so the opinions I’m  primarily surrounded by are those of angry Christians, and I have felt a great deal of unease and anger toward their responses. If I was living in the Bay Area still, I’m sure I would be dealing with different struggles listening to extreme liberals talk about their view point. But this is my context right now, and I am unsettled. A large theme I have heard over and over since I’ve lived here, much before the recent ruling, is that American Christians today are too scared to speak up for what they believe in. We are too concerned with offending anyone that we stay quiet and let things slide. We are wishy-washy and need to take a stand on what we believe.

This viewpoint gets under my skin.

I used to be the kind of Christian who “knew what she believed and wasn’t afraid to tell people what I thought.” What did that get me? Loss of relationship with people who wrote me off because I judged them. As a result, I started to become friends with people who were homosexuals and suddenly this sin that I had zero tolerance for was an actual person standing in front of me. I began to shut my mouth and listen more. I began to allow people into my life and called them a friend, not just homosexuals but many different kinds of people who believed differently than me. I began to see how positioning myself with people who are different than me actually makes me better and helps me not get stuck in my world and ultimately, my pride of being right.

It has taken many years of humbling myself, trying to choose the way of Jesus, and practicing self-restraint as I hold my tongue.  So when I hear it implied that I am a coward and that I’m wishy-washy, I get a little offended.

Because when we TRULY listen and sit in relationship with people who are different than us without an agenda or something to prove, there’s a beautiful thing that happens.: Empathy. We put ourselves in their position and our hearts soften enough to understand their perspective.

I believe we are not a fearful or too silent Christian generation in regard to homosexual rights; I believe we are finally being cautious. We are exiting an era in the 80s and 90s when young kids were terrified to come out to their families and churches. We are seeing the repercussions of families and churches kicking precious members out because of their sexual orientation. We are finally (in most regional areas) past the idea that if we just trap homosexuals in a camp setting or facility for a few months that we can make them straight. I have heard countless stories of men and women leaving the church because of the deep hurt and alienation they have felt from people they thought loved them.

It’s the typical story, isn’t it? A young boy  grows up in the church, but quickly realizes he has attraction for other men. He has two choices: let his family know what’s going on or hide it forever. It truly has been a loose loose. For years, there have been families that hear this news and make their child feel like they are less-than. They try to convert him or they simply kick him out of the house, physically or emotionally, until he decides to stop living in sin. The alternative is a life of secrets, shame, feeling unknown, and feeling very very alone. Finally, he breaks away from these harsh institutions and find someone or a lot of someones, a community of people, who love, accept, and make him feel like he finally belongs. But with this new-found belonging he carries bitterness/and hatred toward the people who made him feel less-than, the church. And who does this group of people reflect? Jesus. The Jesus I follow does not make people feel less-than. He says, “you belong.”

Our generation has heard these stories, from our friends, and we’re recognizing that it’s not ok. It does NOT reflect Jesus, and it actually points people away from Him.

And our job is to point people toward Jesus. 

And I think this is what the current generation of Christians is desperately trying to communicate. Just like previous generations, we are all fallen and sinful, and we are going to get it wrong. Maybe in our swing toward “overly accepting” and celebrating, we are doing harm to the church, the Bible, and our witness. This is very possible.

I don’t know what the right answer is. I have cried many tears over this. It makes me so mad the way the church has responded to this and continues to respond. It makes me so mad that people I love, friends of mine, have felt alone, abandoned, and unaccepted for something they had no control over. It makes me mad that there isn’t a simple answer and a simple response. If you are a Christian and stand up what your believe, you are called a hateful hypocrite. If you love, accept, and celebrate with people, you are called soft, wishy-washy, and a coward.

I don’t want to be any of those things. I follow Jesus because I have seen his radical grace in my life. I follow Jesus because I have seen supernatural change in myself and in the people around me. I follow Jesus because I ultimately believe he will sort everything out, that he knows exactly how to handle hard situations in a way that shows truth as well as radical love and acceptance.

I think we all have our own ideas about how we think Jesus would respond in this situation. I ask Him that question every day. We are each sifting through what that looks like and what our role is. I truly feel for and with my conservative Christian friends as I believe many of their points are valid.

But in my limited experience living in this world, I have yet to witness a situation when arguing about who is “right” ends better than when two people respectfully listen to each other.

So that’s what I’m going to continue to do. I’m going to continue to walk the line of sides, as wishy-washy as that may sound, because ultimately each side is made up of broken, sinful people. There’s no way conservatives are always right and there’s no way liberals are always right.

But Jesus is always right, so I’m going to keep turning back to Him and hopefully point others that way in the process.

Before Baby

Before Baby, I thought about the world.

Before Baby, I thought about religion and theology.

Before Baby, I thought about politics.

Before Baby, I thought.

Before Baby, my heart broke for the people around me.

Before Baby, my heart broke for people who were living in injustices.

Before Baby, my heart broke for people I didn’t even know.

Before Baby, my heart broke.

Before Baby, I listened to my friends for hours at a time.

Before Baby, I listened to my husband’s wins and losses at work.

Before Baby, I listened to the spirit move in my life.

Before Baby, I listened.

It’s not my intention for this to sound like having a baby was like experiencing a death or a terminal illness, I can just as easily recite all of the beautiful gifts I’ve been given through adding “baby” to my life.

However, I think it has taken me until recently to discover the shift in my being, the change in my cares and motivation for each day since the day that precious girl was born. Or maybe I’ve seen it all along but I didn’t have the energy to care about anything else.

‘Cause when we are in the midst of raising baby, he/she is the only thing that seems to matter. And I am going to go out on a limb and say that is ok, and right, and worthwhile.

But now I feel like, what I would assume an undercover cop might feel like, after completing a season in the field. Or maybe an actor who completely contorted her personality to portray her character accurately.  I’m beginning to connect again to the person, feelings, passions, fears, and purposes I identified before, but first I have to sift through the life that has happened around me the last two years.

In the past two years, I’ve cared a lot about sleep schedules, nutritious meals, and coaching a new learner on how to behave in this world.

Yet, I’ve cared little about strengthening my marriage.

While raising a baby, I’ve cared a lot about meeting other moms and providing socialization for myself and my child.

Yet, I’ve cared very little about the needs of the community or the inevitable brokenness of the people around me, the brokenness we all share as human beings in this world.

I’ve found myself navigating the anxiety-filled roller coaster of making sure baby has everything she needs which looked like last minute Amazon Prime purchases, and late night Target runs.

Yet, I’ve cared little about our finances and how we spend our money.

So now I’m reconciling these past two years. Like Novocain wearing off, I’m beginning to feel things the way I used to. I’m crying at stories of injustice and hatred. My heart flutters when God shows up through song, or laughter or a cool breeze. Dissonance creeps up within me forcing me to ask tough questions.  I’m beginning to care about people and important issues going on in the world around me. The feelings I had before baby are now resurfacing.

But now there’s more at stake than Before Baby.

Now my world view, the way I treat people, the way I live my life, will be watched closely by that (not anymore) baby and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.

I’ve become convinced that After Baby, preceding that shallow, empty, seemingly meaningless season of my life, can and should be the most profound of them all.

After Baby, I MUST think.

After Baby, My heart MUST break.

After Baby, I MUST listen.

Because that’s the kind of person I want her to see. And that’s the kind of person I want her to be.

Surviving Outside of the Wild

I have sort of a deep obsession with the show Survivor. It’s a real problem, actually. We recently disconnected our cable and in order to watch The Bachelor (my other not-so-guilty pleasure) I subscribed to Hulu Plus. Well, wouldn’t you know that 15 past seasons of Survivor are available on Hulu Plus and once I realized that, I began to binge. There are nights when JD has to work late or has other plans and that is how I spend my time: watching all of the seasons I’ve never seen before. I love it. I love it so much.

I watch survivor, and I imagine how I would react in certain situations and what my strategy would be, as I’m sitting on my couch, in my warm house, eating spaghetti. It may seem silly, but I really have given a lot of thought to why I love it so much. Why am I so drawn to that show? Why does it ignite so much emotion in me? I honestly couldn’t put my finger on it until last week.

Jd had another commitment one night, so I decided to watch the movie, Wild based on the book I read last fall. After reading the book, I was of course inspired because of my love of the outdoors and my longing to have access to hiking and mountains and beautiful landscape. I also related personally to the main character losing her mom, although I thank God for protecting me from the way she chose to grieve.

All of those emotions were expected knowing my past experience. However, the same fire, the same emotion, the same “need to get up and do” that I feel when I watch Survivor came to the surface while watching Wild. And it made me wonder… what is that about?

I think what it is for me is that I long for an experience that results in deep transformation but i want to choose the hardship that gets me there.

I have been through hard experiences and very few were my choice. They caught me off guard which made the “transformation process” ugly, inconsistent, and not sexy.

I have a deep-rooted desire for hard experiences that are prefaced with excitement, that are prefaced with a positive transformation guarantee at the end, something that a person can prepare for and navigate with knowledge and expectation.

In short, I want to control the beating that my body, my mind, and my life takes.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were able to voluntarily decide which hardships we experience in life?

It goes without saying that that’s not how life works, but processing through this has brought to light, yet again, my deep need for control. Why does it always come back to that?

Maybe I will be given the opportunity to sign up for a couple of hardships in my lifetime. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with living an adventurous life and taking risks.

But until then, it might be wise to put my remote down for a while and acknowledge that God has already given me the very thing I long for: deep transformation. The things that have “happened to me,” although I didn’t choose them, have brought meaning and wisdom, which are all of the things I crave.

But I still really want to be on Survivor. 🙂

Desperate Anticipation

It has been way too long since I’ve written! These last few weeks, I was preparing for a week-long trip with JD to Jamaica WITHOUT Anna (so wonderful), and I consequently left the lap top at home to create more space for quality time with my husband.

As nice as a vacation was and as much as I valued that time away with my spouse, it has been interesting to see the struggle once we returned. It seemed like we all, including Anna, enjoyed a break from the every day routine of life yet it has almost been harder to gain that momentum once we slowed down so significantly. Much like coming to a complete halt at the end of a ski slope only to have to turn around and skate uphill to the next lift, it has been a battle, mentally and physically, to regain position. It almost seems easier to stay at a stand still.

That’s what I’ve felt like this week. I’ve felt sluggish. I’ve skipped the gym on days I regularly went. I’ve ignored my Bible Study because I’m behind and it feels too overwhelming to try to catch up. I’ve chosen TV shows during the day instead of housework and naps instead of writing. I’m completely out of my groove and my attitude has shifted just slightly enough that I’ve noticed moments of discontentment.

One of the big reasons we booked that trip was to break up the winter, to give us something to look forward to, and to help our everyday become a little more bearable… I booked our trip in August, shortly after I had expressed to JD how much I wanted to move. I needed something to look forward to, something to keep my mind off the weather, and the people, and my unhappiness. I needed to anticipate Jamaica so that I wouldn’t be so discontent in my everyday routine.

Yet…now that I’m back, I’m craving my everyday routine. I’m lamenting that feeling at the end of the day of accomplishment, fatigue, and having LIVED. I pushed really hard from August until now to where I have a deeper relationship with Christ and a deeper understanding of who I am and my purpose. Although strenuous at times, I was hugging the line of surrender, obedience, and hope in this life God has given me. So now, I’m huffing and puffing up that ski slope desperately trying to gain that momentum again because I know how easy it is for me to coast in laziness.

How funny that the life I couldn’t wait to leave is the life that I’m desperately trying to not lose sight of.

That trip to Jamaica is one I will always treasure because JD and I had an uninterrupted week where we had not one worry in the world. It was worth every penny and every moment away from our little girl.

But I learned I don’t need that to have a good life where I’m at. I don’t need the anticipation of escape to guide my feelings of joy. 

The rich life can’t be contingent on the next vacation, the next shopping trip or hair cut, the next baby or the next move.  A rich life is how we spend our day to day…

Thank you, Jesus, for pulling me away and allowing me to see how special, how rich, my life really is.

Repeat

Repetition is a powerful thing. When we listen to a song over and over, it finds a place to reside in our hearts. Ten years from now we can hear that same song and recite every last word because our brains have not allowed it to escape. At a certain point, the repetition creates permanency.

On the flip side, when we’ve heard a song only once or twice, we may have a vague memory that can bring recollection, but there was not enough repetition for that song to take a permanent seat.

That’s how our brains work. It’s brilliant. So it makes sense why God uses repetition to not only grab our attention but to help a concept feel permanent to us, to create a memory so vivid that we remember every single word ten years down the line.

Worthy is the word that is on repeat right now.There are some concepts that God has  showed me that are not a surprise when they resurface in my life. However, ‘Worthy’ is not one of them. Or maybe it has been but I have never considered it something I needed to be taught.

“you are a child of God.”

“you are His beloved.”

“You are worthy of His love”

These are all ideas that have been preached to me throughout my life, especially being a women. This tends to be the theme to most Bible Studies and retreats. But I’ve always thought of it as a little fluffy, a little cheesy, and definitely NOT something I’d like to hear if I’m going through a hard time. Because of that, I think I’ve ignored it.

Yet, THIS is the repetition in my life right now and it’s kind of overwhelming. I’ve been hearing it in my Bible Study, in books I’ve been reading, in sermon’s, and in daily conversations, all of which are completely unrelated avenues.

This repetition has most definitely caught my attention and the biggest surprise of all is that this is probably the most important concept I will ever understand. In fact, I’m beginning to understand that knowing and embracing my belovedness is essential for healthy relationships with God, others, and myself.

There have been times in the last 2 years that I have not been walking with Jesus. I had lost sight of Christ, and in the mean time I’ve kick and screamed and banged my fists because the people in Aberdeen weren’t fulfilling my needs, the weather was not fulfilling my needs, the churches, the opportunities, the children’s activities, the restaurants, none of it was fulfilling my needs.  On numerous occasions I have asked God,  Why am I here?

and God whispers to me:

“because this is where I’m going to save your life.”

Not like a Field of Dreams whisper, but just something in my gut that keeps answering my frustrations.

And as I’ve been seeking Jesus more in the last few months, he has added to his promises, and they’re sounded a little bit like this:

“This is where I’m going to show you that you are loved far beyond your comprehension”

“While you struggle for horizontal connection here, this is where I will show you how to rest your value in the vertical connection ONLY.

“While you are confused with your purpose in vocation, this is where I will shower you with worth far beyond what a career would bring”

“While you wrestle with the church not meeting your needs, this is where I will show you that your needs are completely met through me and church is much more than four walls.”

“This is where you will discover for yourself, in your heart, that you are worthy, you are my beloved, and that I want you to experience joy in your life”

This repetition is now at the point that when I hear this truth over and over, the truth that I am passionately loved by God, tears begin to fill my eyes because it’s clear that I’m hearing from the voice of God and that in itself says something about my worth.

The annoying part? I think I still need more repetition because this is a big one. This is one that could change and inform the way I view myself and others. This could change my life.

So, repeat, repeat, repeat, Jesus, so that ten years from now I will remember every word.

Choosing the Orange Dress

For my senior prom, I had the choice between two dresses. One was red with sequence, sweetheart top, two piece that met at the waist, mostly flattering, and exactly what everyone would expect me to wear. The other was orange, slim fitting, brushed the floor and was sheer all along both sides of the dress starting from my arm down to my feet. When I put on the orange dress, I felt really confident. I felt like it spoke to a part of me that not many people see. It wasn’t slutty but just daring enough that it made me feel nonconventional and different from the other girls. I loved that orange dress.

I chose the red dress.

Maybe a silly example but these are the decisions and actions I battle with everyday. I really want to do one thing or I feel called to action, but conventional wisdom tells me to go a different route. I get excited about something that might feel initially more risky or difficult and 9 times out of 10, I chose safe. Why?

Because I care a whole lot about what people think about me.

It’s my battle. We all have our battles in life that we struggle with every day. Call me a people pleaser or even a selfless person, but the core of the issue is my need to put on a persona for people so that they will like me.  I can’t stand when people don’t like me. It drives me even crazier if I can’t tell if someone likes me. When that happens, I’m constantly guessing and constantly self-conscious.

The times in my life I felt the most secure were the summers I worked at camp. Staff training, the two weeks before the kids arrived, were designed to foster vulnerability. Through that vulnerability and therefore, trust that we developed with each other, we were able to sift through all of the bull shit before it was time to do our jobs. Trust was developed so we felt confident enough to worry about one thing only: the kids. Some of the things I did at camp, I would never do in real life. I jumped up and down with MAJOR enthusiasm during camp songs and pretty much any other reason a person would be even semi enthused. I participated in skits. I led groups of people to Mexico, Puerto Rico, and various day camps throughout Colorado and New Mexico. I dove DEEP into friendships with people who I still consider lifelong friends.

I was vulnerable in that environment because I chose to be.

I was vulnerable in that environment because it was incredibly easy.

The camp I worked at is designed to support people, praise their differences and create connection. Including myself, I watched multiple staff members walk into the first week feeling awkward and reserved only to leave at the end of the summer with a freeing sense of confidence and self-assurance.

If there were a prom at camp, I would have chosen the orange dress. If there was a prom tonight, I would be wearing the red dress.

The world we live in is not designed to support people, praise their differences and create connection. As much as we boast of our progressive thinking and empathetic initiatives, we are still ruthless with each other. We’re extremely competitive in a destructive way. We have images to withhold, whether with our bodies or status. We are constantly surrounded by people’s opinions on TV and social media and instead of being constructive, these opinions are usually expressed in a “I’m right, you’re wrong” way. Or in other words, “if you don’t think the way I do, you’re probably not very smart.” Whether spoken or unspoken, our attitudes about how other people should be are typically negative and very unsupportive.

It’s much riskier to expose our true selves to a world who is repulsed by differences.

But living with limited exposure of myself is debilitating and exhausting. It’s costing me the joy I felt when I was 20 years old working at summer camp. Living my life based on other’s perception of me robs me of freedom that is absolutely available if I chose it.

I just finished the book, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and it’s changing me. Everyone should read this book whether you’re a parent, business person, spouse, teacher.. really everyone. She touches on all of this and more, and it’s more evident to me now than ever that the words of shame we choose to tell each other and ourselves are the words that strap us down, steal our joy, and keep us from being our true selves. When we see ourselves as worthy and enough apart from other people, we are free to be vulnerable in our actions which leads to an invigorating fullness in life. Daring Greatly is not just an idea but a practice and one that I’m committed to embarking on for the sake of my life.

So what does this look like?

It looks making choices with MY worth in mind, not the worth other people give me. It means speaking out when it’s much more comfortable to stay quiet. It means going out of my way to encourage a friend even when I might worry I’ll say the wrong thing. It means leaning into the feelings of embarrassment or shame, and instead of burying them deep, tell someone about it so it doesn’t have power. It means engaging with people in Aberdeen regardless of the length of time we spend here. It means that when those feeling of, “i’m not pretty enough, smart enough, athletic enough, confident enough, talented enough” creep in, I will choose to speak gently to myself, like I would a close friend, rather than putting fuel on the fire. It means writing, reading, and pacing my day rather than staying busy the way a stay-at-home-mom should.

It looks like choosing the orange dress.