Monday, September 11, 2017

Guilt

The soundtrack to young adult life...
"Have you got a full-time job yet?"
"So, what are you doing now?"
"Have you got work lined up?"

I squirm.

The queries are always well-meant. Sometimes they're even thoughtless conversation starters. Yet I often have a sneaking suspicion that they are disguising the real questions: "What are you doing with your world-class degree? Why aren't you on a firm career path? What are you even doing with your life?!"

In many ways, I have the ideal set-up. Part-time teacher, part-time proofreader. I often get to work from home. I get to see people, then I get to hide away for a while. I'm not overwhelmed by the aspects of the teacher lifestyle I hate -- the System, the inability to switch off, the planning and marking and paperwork that steals me away from other people and activities I love. I'm not a slave to the 9-5 (and overtime).

The downside of part-time or freelance work, particularly at this stage of my career, is that it is not always consistent. It is also not expected, particularly of a 27-year-old with honors in her undergraduate and post-graduate degrees.

(There is also the temptation of succumbing to the easy entertainment of Netflix and mindless Internet scrolling.)

So I often feel guilty:

I'm not making enough money.

I'm a burden on my family (typical Millenial, having moved back home for financial reasons).

I'm not doing enough. (I seem to have inherited a tendency, from all the women in my family, to have a compulsion to do things, and a sense of guilt when I am not doing. Although who defines what "doing things" actually means?)
"I'm not doing enough!"
I'm not where I should be in life.

I'm not on a typical career path.

(Does anyone else remember hearing Twenty-One Pilots' song "Stressed Out" and really resonating with it? "Now they're laughing at our face, singing 'Wake up, you need to make money!'")

It is a little disconcerting to find that you're not actually that passionate about what you thought was going to be your entire career path. (Although who knows, this may just be at this point in my life.)

It does make me feel a touch guilty when I look at my teacher friends in good jobs right out of college, and I do not share their palpable excitement over classroom decoration, lesson plans, and other expectations and preparations for the school year.

I do experience the odd twinge of self-reproach for wanting to continue to explore my options, to have my finger in more than one pie, instead of committing myself to a steady, regular teaching position.

Yet, when society's ideas of success and (sometimes legitimate) concerns about cash flow attempt to crank the guilt higher, I try to remember the importance of staying true to myself and my values.



There are reasons I have chosen to stay where I am for now. They are several and a little complex, but suffice it to say that I have always felt it was the right decision. It may not be typical. It may not be what's expected of me. But it feels right. It is true to what I want. And in spite of my bouts of guilt, I am content.



Contentment counts for a lot.

"What are you even doing with your life?!"

I am being present for friends and family, building relationships with people I love.

I am taking time to deal with personal growth and healing, instead of getting busy enough to ignore my issues. (And believe me, that takes a lot of time and energy!)

I am expanding my professional and personal interests.

I am working with words, which I love.

I am travelling.

I am attempting commitment to a church family and its accompanying responsibilities (which I haven't had to do for ten years!).

I am learning to appreciate beauty in little things and commonplace days.

I am trying to rediscover my creative side.

I am working on finding my passions and creating new goals.

Sometimes, when people's questions and my own comparisons make me feel guilty or inadequate, I have to remind myself that these are all worthwhile pursuits.

It's true that my entire life's path has been atypical. But it is my path.



It's true that at some point, probably next year, I will have to take a different path. I'm trying to decide what that path will look like and where it will take me. (Brazil? Asia? England still? Somewhere else entirely?! "The world's your oyster" presents too many options!)  

Perhaps the next path I take will again be somewhat unexpected. It may look unusual or even risky. But, as James van Praagh says,

"We have all been placed on this earth to discover our own path, and and we will never be happy if we live someone else's idea of life."

Find your vision. Know your values. Stay true to yourself and your own path.

One of my favourite promises for contemplating my path.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Jealous

That other woman who seems so much better than you...
I was blindingly jealous. She was my age, around 15 years old, and she commanded the hall with her surprisingly mature, velvet singing voice and a sense of poise I could only dream of having. She was beautiful. She wore beautiful clothes. She had curves.


I wriggled in my seat, suddenly and intensely aware of how utterly unremarkable I was. She had everything I wished for. I, in contrast, had an average voice, was awkward and shy, and skinny and short-haired like a boy. And the floral skirt I had felt so elegant in only a few minutes before now felt like the charity-shop bargain it had been.

Ah, comparison.

Over the following years, I did not think of myself as an envious person. I could "rejoice with those who rejoice."  With the arrival of Instagram, I wasn't someone who scrolled through friends' and strangers' pictures, feeling pangs of discontent and resentment over their travel, their families, their bodies, their lifestyles (although seriously, how do some of those 'yummy mummies' manage to look so put-together?!). I was satisfied with my life.

But then I began to notice. There were pin-pricks of jealousy...

  ... over someone's stylish home in the country.
         ... over financially-stable friends who seemed secure and passionate in their work.
                   ...over whoever seemed to have their life figured out and be "ahead" of me.

But the real straight-up stabbings of jealousy always came from situations that were relational.

Jealousy, Tihamer Margitay, 1892

The woman getting the attention I wanted from that man. The excursion I wasn't invited on. The apparent intimacy I saw and longed for.

The moment that really made me sit up was my reaction to a friend's news. While she bubbled with the joy of a dream come true, I found it difficult to wholeheartedly rejoice with her. "Warm fuzzies! I'm happy for you!" I messaged, and I was, but I was also jealous, and just a tiny bit bitter. Why her and not me?

"This is completely ridiculous," I wrote in my journal, kicking myself for what I was feeling. But I kept feeling it, surrendering to its dark tide as other events of that weekend dragged me deeper into resentment and envy.

God had been whispering to my heart in recent months, with each of these events, and now He was saying again firmly: "This is an area that needs attention."

One thing about Christian life is that while God is merciful, He is also insistent. After all, He wants to make us "whole and holy" for our own good (and let's be honest, everyone else's good as well). He fixes what is broken, and sometimes that means prompting us to take a hard, painful look at what is going on in our hearts.

Maybe the roots of jealousy vary, differing based on our own histories and personalities. Perhaps there are also different kinds of jealousy.

I realized that one root of my jealousy is simply stumbling into the trap of comparison. I've wrestled with that one before. Sometimes I still need to remind myself that my story is my own, and comparing it with others is pointless.

I'm sorry, I had to. The pun!

However, a truly impactful moment of revelation came with reading a simple line in a blog:
"Live loved."
Whoa. How many of us "live loved?" Do we get up and go through our day resting in the surety that we are cherished? Too often, I don't.

Part of the tangled roots of my jealousy may be related to the desire to feel valued and loved and seen, and from the wounds that came from the times when I felt I was not.

It wouldn't surprise me. Those of you who know me, or who have read previous blogs, know this has always been a challenging issue for me, and one which God has been working on for a looong time. (Sometimes it feels like one step forward, three steps back.)

"Through jealousy, the deepest desires of our hearts are elicited and amplified. The fire of jealousy burns away the distractions of life's details to show us the things we treasure. This process of internal emotional suffering -- of  jealousy most pointedly -- can help clarify and bring to the surface all that we would otherwise have kept hidden from God and even from ourselves." (Paul Maxwell)

We all want to be loved. The heart is almost insatiable. But, as John Eldrege explains, we are "leaky vessels," feeling happy and loved one day and yet waking up the next day with a needy soul.

"'I keep telling him he's doing great. It doesn't seem to sink in.'
'I don't know how many times I've shown her I am here for her. It's like she doesn't believe me or something.'" 
"Let's face it -- we are insatiable...The human heart has an infinite capacity for happiness and an unending need for love, because it is created for an infinite God who is unending love. The desperate turn is when we bring the aching abyss of our hearts to one another with the hope, the plea, 'Make me happy. Fill this ache.' And often out of love, we do try to make one another happy, and then we wonder why it never lasts. It can't be done. You will kill yourself trying." (John and Stasi Eldredge, Love & War pp 66-68 )  

This is not to negate good relationships. But people fail. We've all been on the giving and receiving ends of wounds. My jealous moments reflect the yearing for love in me that I cannot expect another human being to completely fill, in any relational capacity. The solution is another Source.
"The love of God is real, and personal, and available. He wants to be this for you." (John and Stasi Eldredge, Love & War p 69)
"We are created to be the object of desire and affection of one who is totally and completely in love with us. And we are. An intimate relationship with Jesus is not only for other [people], for [people] who seem to have their acts together, who appear godly and whose nails are nicely shaped. It is for each and every one of us. God wants intimacy with you." (Stasi Eldredge, Captivating p 122)    
This unchanging, soul-quenching love is what enables me to choose to "live loved." As Lysa TerKeurst says about the concept,
"It's settling in your soul, I was created by a God who formed me because he so very much loved the thought of me. When I was nothing, he saw something and declared it good. Very good. And very loved. This should be the genesis thought of every new day: I am loved."
This is, bottom line, what is truest.

Sure, sometimes it doesn't feel that way. Sometimes the greater truth may seem to be what he did to me, what she said about me, how they made me feel.

Yet I am learning how to fight against such negative feelings and self-assessment -- the feeling of being permanently marked "Not ____ Enough" -- with truth.

It's an exhausting fight, some days.

But the truth sets you free. And the truth is, you are loved. I am loved.

Little by little, I am learning that. The truth is beginning to feel more real in my life.
"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us." 1 John 4:16
I can live trusting that I am under the complete care of One who

                           ... knows me the best, and loves me the most.
                                ... sees all my faults, but doesn't replace me in His affections.
                                    ... hears my thoughts and ideas all the time, and isn't tired of me.
                                         ... promises to guide my life, working all things out for good.

(See Psalm 139,  Psalm 32:8 and Romans 8:28)

I have a feeling that, within this context, if I start choosing to "live loved" more frequently, the green eyed monster will start to slink away, defeated.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Learning to Love

It is probably not the best policy to deal with sensitive issues at 3am, after exactly 0 hours of sleep, quality or otherwise.


I totally feel this cartoon.

I lay tangled in my sheets, bleary eyes staring at my phone screen, trying to process the emotionally-charged conversation I was having with a friend. Instead of being rational, or merciful, I became offended.

Over the next few days, the little devil on my shoulder maliciously fed me lots of examples of the failings of my friends. My bad mood was not helped by work stress, consistent lack of sleep, and some other emotionally draining experiences, and within my heart festered a growing resentment over feeling ill-used and neglected. 

I was feeling that many of my relationships were strained, and I was miserable.

Cue pity-party. How could they?! Didn’t they know friendship is a two-way street?! Shouldn’t my dear friends know me well enough, or care enough about me, to do something?!

I said nothing to the friends I inwardly resented. 

When it comes to handling conflict, my default style is either A) ignore it, B) play the unaffected Ice Queen who gets on with life as normal (it can’t hurt if you don’t have a heart), or C) pull away. (This may have something to do with moving a lot. Regardless of the situation, something in my subconscious usually says, “At some point, I will leave you, or you will leave me, so why have difficult conversations, why reveal my true self, why work to make things better?”)

I always related to Elsa. "Don't let them in,
don't let them see..."

I have been making efforts to change this over the past year. There may indeed be a time to be quiet and let it go, but there’s also a time to be vulnerable and honest and try to improve a situation or deepen a relationship.

I did make things right with my friend. My rationality kicked back in eventually, I got some more sleep, and I got over my mood. We had that honest, vulnerable conversation at a saner hour of the day, and I realized something important in the process.

"We are here to learn how to love." John & Stasi Eldredge

Love isn’t simply about romance. Love is about friendship, too.

There seems to be a lot said about communication and "love languages" (ways we communicate and feel love) when it comes to building a relationship with a special someone. After all, especially in the first stages of romance, it’s fun to find out and implement exactly what makes the object of your affection feel appreciated. And it remains important over time.

But what about building strong friendships? Communication and love languages are relevant here, too.

Do you know what makes your friends feel most loved? Do you know how you give and receive love? (You can find out for free here. I always like free personality tests haha…)

Any guesses what their love languages are? :)


According to Gary Chapman, we tend to give love in the way we receive it. 

For example, my two main "love languages" are words of affirmation and quality time. I feel most loved when my friends talk with or write to me (especially if they take time to write meaningful messages that go deeper than “Hey, how’s life? I’m good here.”), affirm or compliment me, and when we go on adventures or even spend time doing simple, everyday things together.

In turn, I tend to show my love to them by messaging, writing cards, and trying to initiate hang-outs. That’s what makes me feel loved, so why wouldn’t they feel loved, right?

Fair enough. But it’s so much more meaningful to find out exactly what makes your friend feel the most valued, and then do that. It becomes easier for them to “get” how much you care about them.

Besides learning how to better show my appreciation to my friends, I'm also discovering that learning to love means learning how to communicate more effectively. 

Quote from this book, one of my recent favourites.
Read it!
That may mean learning how to be a better listener. To find out where the other person is coming from. To realize how they handle conflict, and what affects their responses. 

"We too often act from scripts generated by the crises of long ago that we've all but consciously forgotten. We behave according to an archaic logic which now escapes us, following a meaning we can't properly lay bare to those we depend on most. We may struggle to know which period of our lives we are really in, with whom we are truly dealing and what sort of behaviour the person before us is rightfully owed. We are a little tricky to be around." -- Alain de Botton 


That may also mean being more willing to voice what is actually going on inside. To stop sweeping things under a rug. To share our feelings, respectfully but honestly, with safe people. To risk being seen. 

Friendships, as well as romance, take work. Or, if you don’t like the term “work,” try substituting “effort” and “intentionality.”  

Learning how to love is not always easy.  But great friendships, like great romantic relationships, don’t just “happen.” 

People don’t magically find connections that stay close and amazing at all times, no matter what. There are ebbs and flows to relationships, and for anything to grow, it needs nurturing.




Over the past few months, I have been challenged to learn how to love better. I have realized the importance of admitting that I am not the perfect friend, either. 

Learning to love takes effort, intentionality, and humility... but I have a feeling it's worth it. 


"We realize that life depends -- quite literally -- on the capacity for love... We learn the relief and privilege of being granted something more important to live for than ourselves." -- Alain de Botton




Sunday, March 12, 2017

Songbird Barbie Blues: Thoughts on Disappointment and Gratefulness

When I was six years old, all I wanted for Christmas was Songbird Barbie. I saw her on the shelf of a department store and was immediately obsessed. I thought she was the most beautiful Barbie I had ever seen, and in my vivid imagination I made up stories featuring this singing princess, talking birds, and, of course, a few handsome princes for good measure. In my mind, Songbird Barbie lived. I made sure my parents knew how much I wanted her. When I went to bed on Christmas Eve, I dreamt about running to the tree the next morning and finally unwrapping my coveted doll. Reality, however, was sorely disappointing. I don't remember what I actually did receive that Christmas; I was so focused on what I hadn't been given that more than twenty years later, I still remember that I didn't get Songbird Barbie after all. Woe was me.

My six-year-old conception of real happiness
As an adult, sometimes I've caught myself repeating this negative kind of focus. Sometimes I find myself so fixated on things that aren't working out the way I wanted, that I miss what I can be grateful for in the moment. I sigh over what I don't have and don't fully appreciate what I do have. I look so long at some loss that I forget to see gain. I focus on what God isn't giving rather than what He is giving. 



John Eldredge tells a story of how he went on a wilderness hike to fish in a particular creek. As he hiked along the way, he fished in the beautiful Bear river.
"The Bear proved to be the treat of the day. By the time I reached the creek, I'd caught a half-dozen fish without much effort. And now that I'd reached my goal, it became obvious that the creek was unfishable." (Walking with God, p. 68)
John was as disappointed at not getting his creek as my six-year-old self had been about not getting her Barbie. Although the river had turned out to be everything he had hoped the creek would be -- "solitude, beauty, wild fish on a dry fly" -- he sulked the way back to his car because he hadn't got what he wanted. However, he draws a profound point from his experience.
"Then I remembered something that God has been teaching me this summer--it's not what he isn't giving but what he is giving. We can get so locked onto what we don't have, what we think we want or need, that we miss the gifts God is giving." (Ibid.
It's about what God is giving. This is something I have been learning, too.

Sometimes there's a reason we don't receive what we want, a reason that God is not giving us something, as I have discovered more keenly with jobs and relationships. Sometimes we can look back and honestly say, "Actually, it's good that didn't work out the way I thought I wanted it."

For example, recently I applied for a librarian/teaching job. I thought I really wanted it; the description sounded like it would suit me perfectly. I didn't get the job. I did cover the position until the new staff member arrived, however, and I was surprised to discover that I didn't like the role after all. It didn't fit me, and I felt a surge of relief when the cover period was over! It was one of those moments when I could look back and be glad something wasn't given to me.

At other times, we just have to wait for God to give us the something we've been asking for.

And sometimes God wants to give us something totally different.

Wherever we are in the process of asking, waiting, receiving, or not receiving, I'm learning that it's so important to focus on what God is giving. Every day there is something.

"He doesn't deny any good thing to those who live with integrity." (Psalm 84:11)
"You feed them from the abundance of your own house, letting them drink from your river of delights." (Psalm 36:8)
"So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." (Matthew 7:11)
"Now to the God who can do so many awe-inspiring things, immeasurable things, things greater than we could ask or imagine..." (Ephesians 3:20)
"Pray, and keep praying. Be alert and thankful when you pray." (Colossians 4:2, emphasis mine)
The Bible is full of promises and verses about God's abundance and desire to give us good things. The trick, I guess, is trying to see things from His perspective, especially when it appears He isn't giving that good thing we want yet! I continue to learn to trust that He is working out the best for me, that He will give good things, and that He is giving good things.

Cultivating a habit of gratefulness, of paying attention to what He is giving, even in the small things, makes so much difference to your perspective and your emotions. (It may even make a difference to your brain!)

So, what is He giving you today?

"Father, forgive me. Forgive my demanding posture that life has to come to me on my terms. Oh Lord, how many gifts have I missed? The posture is ugly and narrow. I pray for a more gracious posture, to be open and grateful for what you are giving at any time." (Walking with God, p. 70)



Friday, February 17, 2017

I Will Lead Her to the Wilderness

The new year did not start very well for me.

One particularly difficult night, as I spilled my hurting soul onto the pages of my journal, I listened to one song again and again. The chorus resounded, "I will trust you. All my hope is found in your love. I will trust you. My whole life is found in your love. And your goodness, kindness, faithfulness persist through the night." Yes, I thought. In the end, God, it's all about your love, even through the night. Show me.

The next morning I woke up with these words running through my mind: "I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her." I knew it was from a Bible text; I had seen a friend post a Facebook status about it several weeks ago. A quick Google search gave me the verse.

"Therefore, look! I will now allure her. I will make her go out to the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart. There I will restore her vineyards to her, and the Valley of Achor will become a doorway to hope." Hosea 2:14-15 (International Standard Version)  

In that moment, as my heart responded to the text, I knew God was speaking to me.



I knew God had been leading me, but...I hadn't expected to be led into the wilderness. Such a barren, difficult environment is hardly somewhere you would expect to be allured to. Yet perhaps it was here that I would be in a better position for God to speak "tenderly" to me, or speak to my heart, as the translation above puts it.

The Hebrew word translated as "tenderly" (v 14) is literally leb, meaning "heart." God was saying he would have a heart-to-heart with me -- an intimate conversation from his heart to mine.

The Bible commentator Barne's notes on this passage threw some further beautiful light on the meaning of God speaking to the heart:

"Literally, on her heart, making an impression on it, soothing it, in words which will dwell in it and rest there... God speaks to the heart so as to reach it, soften it, comfort it, tranquillise it, and, at the last, assure it...

"It is in solitude that he so speaks to the soul and is heard by her, warning, reproving, penetrating through every fold, until he reaches the very inmost heart and dwells there. And then he infuses hope, kindles love, enlightens faith, gives feelings of childlike trust, lifts the soul tremblingly to cleave to him whose voice she has heard within her.

"Then his infinite Beauty touches her heart; his holiness, truth, mercy penetrate the soul; in silence and stillness the soul learns to know itself and God, to repent of its sins, to conquer self; to meditate on God."

That, I knew, was what I wanted. To hear God more clearly, to have my walk with him be even more real and personal. At that moment I felt that although I wasn't quite sure how, I would get through the wilderness if I could hear him speak to my heart like that.

 "...There I will restore her vineyards to her, and the Valley of Achor will become a doorway to hope."

Beyond the assurance that God would speak to me in my wilderness, this verse reminded me there was good to come. Although the desert place may be full of trouble and hardship (as the Hebrew name Achor signifies), God would somehow use it as a doorway to hope.

In that moment, my heart felt peace. Somehow, ultimately, everything would be OK.

In fact, reading the next verse showed me more of what God would be doing through this experience.

"'At that time,' declares the Lord, 'you will address me as 'My Husband,' and you will no longer call me 'My Master.'" (Hosea 2:16)

Our wilderness experiences can lead us to a more intimate view of and relationship with God.

I think that's beautiful, I wrote in my journal, because after all, that is what my whole life is about, and what I ultimately want most. 

As I wrote down more of my reactions to the verses in Hosea, I looked them up in the original Hebrew (yeah, I'm geeky like that). I was struck to find that the word translated as "lead" or "make her go" into the wilderness can also be translated as "come" or "accompany."

So God goes with me into the wilderness, I noted. Then my eyes fell on the Bible texts printed at the bottom of the journal pages I had been filling:

"May the God of peace Himself give you His peace at all times and in every situation." (2 Thess 3:16)

"Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts." (Col 3:15)

"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you." (Isaiah 43:1-2)

Oh, the kindness of God. He knew what I needed to hear.

I knew I was still going to struggle through a difficult time, through my own wilderness, but I wasn't going to be alone. God was up to something. God was speaking to me, and he would continue to speak to me. I simply had to wait.

The God who speaks his heart to me, who cares about the details of my personal life, and who relates to me as if I were the only one on earth to have his watch-care, feels exactly the same about you.

In the middle of your wilderness, he is with you. He wants to speak to your heart. He waits and works to turn your difficult place, your "valley of Achor," into a doorway of hope.

Trust him.

 "To all who grieve, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory." (Isaiah 61:3)