Pleasing God without the Dreams.

silhouette photo of five person walking on seashore during golden hour

My Christian college took the idea of the secular “American Dream” and Christian-ized it to be preached in a godly way to the Christian university population. What was the American Dream became this Christian perspective: if you play to the strengths God has given you, you will be able to “Build a life that matters.” What I took away from that was that, so long as I was playing to my God-given strengths, I would have no problem finding a fulfilling job where I truly made a difference. And, of course, if I was appreciated at work, I should be able to make enough money to live independently. Along with that, I’d come home from work confident and unstressed–ready to use my strengths outside of work to build fulfilling relationships and encourage my friends, spreading joy wherever I went.

Yeah, yeah, I know the American Dream isn’t real, but this sounded like it could merge with my faith. It also sounded pretty darn nice: use the gifts God’s given you and, in return, he will provide fulfilling satisfaction. Why not? I mean, God’s totally in the center of that equation, so it’s fair to believe he’ll honor that system, right? He wants to be in the center of our lives.

God created me to accomplish things beyond what I could imagine. He has great plans for me.  Ephesians 2:10 has been quoted to me countless times: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” He set up my fulfilling life before I was even born! There is good stuff out there for me!

When I graduated college, I had no clue what career I wanted to pursue, but seeing as how I had wrapped school up earlier than most and I finished valedictorian, I clearly had God’s blessing. So I was off to find and then offer the world my amazing, God-given strengths!

So far I’m finding my story far less picturesque than I was led to believe it could be. I did find a job and moved away independently. It was even at a Christian camp, so that seemed a god place to grow God-given strengths.

But then, with this good set up, out of the blue, I was asked to resign and I returned to my parents home and started working retail.

Every so often my college will ask for updates with questions like, “Have you gotten married? Started a new job? Achieved a new goal? Share your updates with us!” I delete the email in shame thinking about what “pride” I’d bring my school if I told them, “No, I actually got fired from my job and then started a job a high schooler could do. My boyfriend and I ran into a hard patch and I don’t even have goals to aim for!”

What about God carrying through on my “building a life that matters”? What about my strengths being appreciated and changing the world? What about my confidence soaring?

silhouette of man and woman under yellow sky

And most days, carrying on my daily life, working my high school job from my parents house, I think about how I let myself down. How I let my school down. And, evidently, how I let God down. I was told God has great plans for me. Clearly, I’ve failed something, and missed out on those. I assure you, right now, I am not living out any great plans.

Yesterday I read the following: “But Jesus did live with family, and, as Betsy Ricucci points out, that’s all he had done at the time the Father proclaimed, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17). ‘What had Jesus done to receive such praise? Nothing but live in his own home, honoring his parents and serving his father’s carpentry business. Apparently that was enough to please God.'”

And Luke shared with me the other day from a book he was reading. He said you can live your life trying to please God, or you can live your life trying to trust God. When you try to please God through your works, you are not accepting the fact that he is pleased with you completely regardless of your actions. However, when you live your life with the goal of learning to trust God (even in the simple things), you are doing what he created you for: you are pleasing him. Your existence is bringing him joy.

woman riding on swing during sunset

I don’t know how to accept this truth. Too long I have been caught up in the “God has great plans for you. The moment you are living in his great plans, both you and God will find the ultimate fulfillment.” But the truth that Betsy Ricucci and Luke’s book point out is that, even in my parents house, even without career goals, even having been fired, even when Luke and I hurt each other through our imperfections, even in the uncertain mundane, every moment of my existence is pleasing to God.

Oh Father, help my unbelief!

I have legitimate needs. I need to set up boundaries.

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My recent discovery is that I have needs. Legitimate needs. And I need to make sure they get met.

On the one hand, your first thought might be, “Well, duh. Very insightful, girlfriend. Everyone has needs. For example, everyone needs water, food, love…” Or it could be the opposite, “‘Need’ is a very strong word. Most of what you think you need is really a want.” I would know; I’ve tended to ride these extremes.

However, the fact of the matter is that there is a middle ground–one that deserves our attention. Sometimes I inaccurately frame my “wants” as “needs.” But just as likely, I fear, I dismiss my sincere and legitimate “needs” as only selfish “wants.” And that isn’t fair to myself.

I, after all, am a princess of the True and living God, complete with needs deserving much more than flippant dismissal. I am worth fighting for and I–being the one best aware of my needs–have the responsibility to fight for them.

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Honestly, it is a bit humbling.

It’s humbling to admit I have needs. It’s humbling to put a limit on what I can do for others because I need to take time for myself. It’s humbling to ask for things I need.

But I’m worth it. So I’ve been learning to set up boundaries. Not to control others. But for my own safety–out of self-respect. It’s not easy.

First, I have to recognize needs that I have a right to: Respect. Trust. Truth. Space… 

Then I have to set up realistic, concrete boundaries.

“I need rest, hence I can help you, but only until 10 pm.”

“I need respect so if you continue to use that tone of voice with me, I will walk away.”

“I value our relationship, however, I need it to be grounded on trust and if you continue to lie to me, I will have to remove myself from this situation for my own safety.”

“I need someone to listen, so even if it might inconvenience her, I will call my friend.”

“I need help with dinner, so I need you to turn off the TV.”

“I need your attention, so I need you to set aside your phone.”

green leafed plant near table

While the concepts are always true, most of my specific boundaries are grounded in some time and circumstantial frame; things I need in certain moments, but not all the time. For example, some nights I can stay up later than 10 talking to a friend. Sometimes I can grin and bear it and make dinner alone. Sometimes I can just journal instead of talking in real time to a friend. However, just because they aren’t always a need doesn’t dismiss them as never a need.

I definitely don’t claim to know the trick to determining when a desire is a want versus a need. That’s a struggle I’m dealing with every day. Do I really need time alone or am I just wanting it? And then there are other confusing conflicts; I need time alone to rest and she needs someone to be with her and listen to her. What then? My mom needs to be treated with respect, but her son needs to be heard and loved regardless.

So, no, I don’t have that down yet. But for now I’m giving myself space to recognize that I do have needs. Legitimate needs. And, being a human created in the very image of our great God, I have a right to treat myself with respect. In fact, I have the duty to stand up for myself–to make sure my needs are met. Because I’m worth it.

You’re worth it. And you do have needs. And that’s perfectly okay. It’s right, even. So give yourself space to listen to your needs. And then set up boundaries to take care of yourself. It’s how God created us. Self-respect is not selfish.

Comment below. What are some needs that you legitimately have? What are some boundaries that are appropriate, even though they may sometimes feel selfish? What do you do to differentiate between a want and a need?

brown wooden fence

 

Me vs. Me

person outside the window

The emotional me lies. It tells me I hate myself. It tells me I can’t ever grow. It tells me I’m a failure. Ironically, my emotional me even hates itself. It says I’m hopelessly trapped in a roller coaster of uncontrollable emotions. And that’s shameful.

And I also have a logical side of me. That logical side of me has to constantly fight my emotional me. It has to daily reign her in, it has to constantly speak truth over her shrieking lies, it has to calm her down, it has to teach her not to hate herself.

When I’m really having a bad day, I only listen to the emotional side of me. And I hate myself. But when I recognize that I also have a logical side, I have to admit, I respect her grayscale photography of kids walking on roada lot.

After all, she’s so stinkin’ loyal. Almost twenty-three long (short?) years, she’s been trying to be her “brother’s keeper,” trying to reign in my emotional me with tenderness, self-compassion, truth, hope, love, and grace. And there is something very respectable about that.

Day after day after day, she gets an onslaught of emotional me’s lies and fights. But she takes it like a hero and keeps speaking truth. She believes in the whole of me and loves the whole of me–even her emotional “enemy.” Like a mother of an unruly toddler, she isn’t trying to slay my emotions. She loves and respects even the emotional me. But having respect for the emotional side means she has high hopes and expectations and believes the emotional me can be respectable. She’s working to put her in line. And that’s admirable. 

I hate battling myself. The good news is that my logical self is working daily with God, working to calm and shape my emotional self. And when someone is working in tandem with God–up against an enormous battle or not–she has the upper hand.

silhouette close-up photo of wheat fieldSo daily, while my emotional side tells lies and spreads shame and hopelessness and fear, my logical side continues to stand beside her, hugging her, telling her the truth and taking the blows while still loving her nonetheless.

And I’m proud of that side of me.

That’s all I got.

I am Strong

woman covering half of her face grayscale photography

I’m afraid that when I thought I was positive, strong, and able, that I was wrong.

A friend gave me a “Daily Question” journal that asked, “What are you afraid of?” Last year the above was my answer. Sometimes I feel on top of the world, but just as often–if not more–I really feel who I thought I was in my strong moments was all a lie. In these moments of terror, if someone else tells me I’m strong, I can’t take the compliment. Instead, I believe they only say this because they don’t actually know me …and then I only feel weaker.

Jason Gray, in his song “The Wound is Where the Light Gets in” sings, “…everybody wishes they were born with thicker skin.” I can relate. But in my worst moments, I’ve found it helps to journal. To journal in desperate prayer and allow God to speak to me as I pour out my fears.

Last year, in a time of struggle, I picked up my journal and wrote, choosing to believe the truth that God speaks over me. The following is what I wrote; I found it helpful in the moment and helpful to reflect back on.

“Strength isn’t never feeling weak. Strength is fighting even with the weakness. And I will be strong. I will fight when I don’t feel like it. I will work out. I will wake up. I will clean my house. I will answer the phone. I will eat when I don’t feel like it. Because I am strong.

“No one can help the personality he or she is born with. Maybe it’s a blessing, maybe it’s a handicap. But whatever I have been dealt, with God, I will push forward to be ever stronger than I was.

“I am beautiful. I might have emotional crashes. I might not even feel like eating. But I am strong. I have grit and determination. I have self-awareness and I have unimaginable value in the eyes of my God.

“I have no reason to be ashamed–I am a daughter of the King. I am loved unconditionally. I am growing, even if I don’t know it.

“I can push forward even when I don’t want to. That is strong. I am strong.

“I impact others. I am here for a purpose. I am not as strong as I want to be. I am not as devoted to God as I want to be. But I am loved as I am. And he is delighted to work with and in me. I will continue to make a difference.”

The world speaks painful lies to us every day, and if we aren’t intentional, we begin to shallow focus photography of flowersembrace these lies instead of the truth God is desperately wanting us to recognize. You may not be where you want to be, but you are created in the image of God. And God don’t make no junk.

I strongly encourage you to listen for God’s truth both today and every day, whether that be through God’s word, prayer, journaling, music, or other ways.

You are’t going to always feel strong. But the truth is, strength isn’t never feeling weak; Strength is fighting even with the weakness. What are you doing to allow God to speak truth to you? Comment with your thoughts.

I need to remember: There is hope.

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I need to remember: nothing is beyond God.

I need to remember: He loves me infinitely. He pursues me. He’s not–ever in a lifetime–once gonna forget me.

I need to remember: I am strong. God has created me with talents and skills. He has created me in his image.

I also need to remember that I will fail. That I’m imperfect. That I won’t understand. That I’ll be ashamed. That life on earth will suck. That I will be unhappy. Frustrated. Feeling hopeless. I need to remember that I will disappoint others. That I’ll disappoint myself. That I’ll hate my life with a burning passion.

Because it’s true. To expect anything else will desolate me when struggles hit because if I don’t recognize my faults and the faults of this sinful world, my foundation will be severely lacking.focus eye of human

But it’s when I recognize the pain that exists and will exist in this world that I can truly experience a genuine hope. What is hope that is grounded in false expectations? What is joy that is dependent on today’s ease? What is God if he’s only the God of a painless future?

Recognizing the depth of hurt and sin in the world is the only way we can even start to recognize how big our God is. It is only through seeing the pain that we will be in awe of what God will overcome. I don’t like hurt. I don’t like frustration. I don’t even like getting out of my warm bed into the cold air in the mornings.

But to minimalize the struggles of life, to expect a purely delightful future, to believe that being saved means being happy sets us up for an insincere sense of hope and a huge letdown. purple flowers

I need to remember: nothing is beyond God.

I need to remember: he loves me infinitely. He pursues me. He’s not–ever in a lifetime–once gonna forget me.

I need to remember: I am strong. God has created me with talents and skills. He has created me in his image.

I need to remember: this life is a long war filled with many battles that I was drafted into. It’s gonna hurt.

I need to remember: there is hope.

The Messed-Up World: Having a Realistic Perspective of Life

IMG_20180522_182606897Will it hurt? Will I be afraid? Will I be lonely? Will I mess up? Will I hate it? Will I be bored? Will I want to die?

It’s no secret I struggle with fear of the future. Recently I’ve seen dread stealing joy. Memorial day weekend was a beautiful three-day weekend; but some of the bliss of an extra day off from work was masked by dread of starting work again. If I get to bed on time, I can have the peace of knowing I can sleep for the next eight hours; but sometimes that peace is stolen by the dread of waking up. I love school and enjoy so many aspects of being at Cornerstone University; but sometimes the blessings of school is darkened by my dread of what happens after I graduate.

How frustrating it is to so often not be able to appreciate the joys I have right in front my face. But what I realized recently is that I actually don’t even have to ask these haunting questions anymore; I already have the answers: yes, yes, and yes to all of the above.

Honestly folks, don’t try to tell me otherwise. In the future, I will hurt, I will be afraid, I will be lonely, I will mess up, I will hate life, I will be bored, and I will want to die. After A shattered flowerpot on a windowsillall, the author of Philippians put it well, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” We live in a sinful, broken, painful but temporary world. We who are sincerely pursuing a relationship with Christ are called to be soldiers in the battle on this world. That means we’re going to get hurt, we’re going to get tired, and we’re going to go through some really rough patches. But, after the Fall, this is the way the world is and–in a manner of speaking–it’s quite the way it’s supposed to be.

The significance of this may not be clear at first. After all, how can such depressing news lead to anything but dread of the future?! But see, perspective is powerful.

The first thing this realization does is remind me that life on earth is temporary and it’s not the worst thing that could happen if it doesn’t go great. I mean, if my entire life–every second of it–were to be wholly rotten, as soon as I was resurrected, the temporary pain would be completely past and absolutely nothing in comparison to eternity.

Secondly, this realization helps me to reorient my expectations. If I expect that happiness and ease are owed me, then it makes sense for me to fear their leaving. Today I might fear tomorrow’s happiness being stolen because I am deserving of that pleasure tomorrow, but I know I don’t always have it. Therefore, I fear being cheated. However, to recognize that pleasure isn’t something I can expect means that I don’t have to fear it not existing tomorrow.

Image result for lawn mowerConsider this: if you were to borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower, would you, whilst mowing your lawn, dread the moment you have to return it? I would hope not. Instead you’re likely to be grateful to have it in the moment. Indeed, if pleasure is not something guaranteed, but is, instead borrowed in a way, then it becomes a pleasant surprise when offered. It is easier to enjoy the extra day off from work, the eight hours of sleep, or the current situation in school, because these pleasures are not guaranteed, so we don’t try to possess them. At the same time, they aren’t inherently expected–so they are also a beautiful surprise.

C. S. Lewis in his book, The Screwtape Letters, points out that man, expecting his free time to be wholly “his,” becomes upset when something is required of him during this moment. But, how narrow-minded this is! God has gifted each man with every breath he breathes. If we, instead, expect to use our time for God’s glory, the times that he provides for our individual rest will be accepted in gratitude instead of demanded in selfish pride.

Therefore, going through life expecting it to be painful and hard and, sometimes, wretched, in an ironic way, opens my eyes to the beauty and joy and pleasures that I am offered in the present. 

I feel I ought to note also that having this realistic perception of the fallenness of the world doesn’t inherently mean we cannot always be joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16) or cannot always sense God’s peace that surpasses understanding (Philipians 4:7). I wholeheartedly believe that, because we know how the story ends, we can still experience these blessings, even without being blind to the painful situation Earth is in. Faith is not a feeling and feeling lonely or scared or like a failure is inevitable sometimes. However, these feelings need not define us.

Overall, then, I call Christians to a realistic perception of the world: it stinks. “Smile, Jesus Image result for smile jesus loves youloves you” isn’t inherently wrong by any means, but we also can’t expect that all the time. We should live fully aware that we are soldiers fighting a bloody battle, aware that we’ll often lie sleepless at night bearing the burdens of the world, and that there will be days where we’d much rather take the gain of death than the life of Christ.

But, in all of this, there is a peace and a joy that comes with the release of the “American dream.” Enjoy every blessing that God offers you right now. But don’t worry about what will come tomorrow. Your pleasure isn’t expected tomorrow, it’s expected in the next life.

 

I Feel Like I’m a Failure: Putting Feelings in Perspective

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June 6, 2016.”This morning I awoke in my normal weekday mind set…” I read this as I looked back back in my journal from last year, “…and completely detested life.” Well, I guess some things just never change. Can anybody relate?

Interpersonal communication is communication between two or more people. This is what most of my school-year posts were about. Intrapersonal communication is the communication that occurs internally. It’s the conversations you have with yourself in your own brain. When working 40+ hours at a job I don’t necessarily love, I need to focus more on intrapersonal communication–which explains the last numerous blog posts…and this current one.

The battle I find myself fighting so hard for is that of having a good attitude, being content, joyful always, and hopeful–all the things I like to shove in my readers’ faces (yes, I’m a hypocrite). Truth be told, I write these blog posts to myself as much as to anyone else. But what happens after I write all these things, after I instruct you to look for the positives, to see work as a service and purpose-provider, to keep the future perfection in mind, to communicate the hope we as Christians have? What happens after I instruct all these things but don’t feel like anything has changed? What happens when I still Image result for waking upwake up most mornings and scowl at the fact that I’m still breathing? Where did I go wrong?

I could be wrong, but this past week I had a revelation.  It was one of those revelations that come in the form of a bold, random thought that shocks you because you didn’t think you had it in you to think like that. This is otherwise known as God speaking, I believe. Anyway, my thought was, “what if using feelings and emotions to measure my accomplishments in the area of joyfulness, contentment, hope, and peace is the wrong form of measurement?

Perhaps you roll your eyes at me and think, “Duh. That’s not a revelation.” But to me it was. I try so hard to think of work as being a service. I try so hard to think of it as being prep work for heaven. But I feel like I fail because I awake in the morning with my grumpy face on, I count down the minutes at work wishing time away, and happiness seems so distant and so desperately short lived.

But what if being content were different from feeling content? What if being joyful weren’t the same as feeling joyful? What if I can use my time at work as a service just by knowing it can be and not by feeling all warm and fuzzy for helping others? What if I am  using my time as prep for heaven simply by having heaven on my mind even if I’m not jumping up and down with excitement? What if trust doesn’t have to mean I feel safe? What if courage doesn’t have to mean I feel strong? What if love doesn’t have to feel romantic?

night blue sky stars galaxies trees plant silhouette light lightning storm Especially in our culture, we are told to “follow your heart.” We’re told that your emotions should determine who you pursue, what you pursue, and how long you pursue it. Granted, your likes and dislikes, gifts and talents need to be taken into account when making decisions. But emotions are not the end all be all. I love David Dunn‘s song “Lightning Storm,” as its lyrics make some good points in a culture whose songs normally preach following any and all feelings: “So stop existing for what you’re feeling. Open your mind up and let the truth in.”

If these things were true–that feelings don’t accurately measure how much I’m growing, it could mean I am trusting God, I am serving through work, I am prepping for heaven, I am living with hope, I have joy…even when I don’t feel it. That would mean that waking up angry doesn’t mean I’m failing.

Granted, recognizing this isn’t going to change anything. There is no easy fix to trudging through work. I have a feeling I’m still going to have an awful lot of bad days in the upcoming weeks. But it’s encouraging to think that this lack of positive feelings isn’t proof of anything really. Feeling like a failure doesn’t make me one.

Feeling unhappy isn’t fun. But recognizing that my feelings don’t define me, I can see them as they are: feelings. They don’t have inherent significance nor do they speak truth all the time. And a side bonus of putting feelings aside is that often if you force your feelings to give superiority to reality, your feelings will eventually submit.

Don’t let your feelings define you. Seek out the truth.

people man alone bible book wall bench I believe God has a purpose for each person he creates and that he loves you with a love deeper than you can ever know. You matter and he won’t let you fail life if you turn to him.

Let me know your thoughts. I love hearing back from readers 🙂