Change.

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Change.

This is a short, difficult, and honest post for me. But it needed to be written.

I’m admittedly not the greatest at handling all the changes life seems to throw at me. I’ve also noticed that most big life changes love to hit all at once with absolutely no regard for my emotional and mental health!

Many times even my trust in God waivers, because yes, I know he will never leave me. But that doesn’t make me feel any better when I could honestly just use a hug on lonely nights when I’m too stressed to fall asleep—or when the hopes and plans I’ve held onto so tightly for too long are crumbling all around me.

When I come face-to-face with overwhelming changes, my first reaction is to withdraw inside myself, to try going back to the last place where I felt safe and comfortable.  This coping mechanism doesn’t help at all though. Instead of learning to face new situations with confidence, I constantly second-guess myself.  I wonder if I’ll actually fit in with a new group, if everyone will see how absolutely terrified I am, if I’ll completely fail.

Why don’t we share these stories with each other? Surely I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Why do we try so hard to hide behind facades of having it all together when we’re falling apart behind our Barbie smiles?

Honesty can be freeing if we’re strong enough to try it.

Maybe it is time for yet another change.

What do you think?

 

When We Forget to Rest

What do Louisa May Alcott and Little Women, Jane Austen and Northanger Abbey, and sixteenth-century author Margaret Cavendish all have in common? If you answered that they are all authors, you’re correct. If you have no idea, that’s also perfectly acceptable; I didn’t know who Cavendish was until two months ago. These three authors are the topics of my first three graduate school seminar papers. With a minimum of 15 pages required for each paper, I currently feel as though I have emptied my mind of every intelligent-sounding argument, and words are becoming increasingly difficult to string together coherently. How long is too long to stare at a blinking cursor while trying to come up with just four more pages or remember a synonym for “opposite”?

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It is during these times of mental exhaustion when I’m reminded that my life isn’t being graded. If it were, God knows that most days I’d barely be passing. It is incredibly easy to fall into the trap of perfectionism—to think that one mistake equals instant failure, to fear the future, and obsess over each stressful detail as though it were all-important. But this is not how we’re called to live.

The Bible says in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV). I don’t know about you, but I crave that peace even as I cram my busy life so full that I wouldn’t recognize peace if it showed up on my doorstep with a chick flick and a carton of mint chip ice cream.

So, if you’re overwhelmed by a stack of unfinished tasks and all the holiday shopping still to be done or dreading those stressful family gatherings, take a moment to breathe. Pray. Say thank you. And pause to recognize the peace that is truly available to us in every instant if we’re paying attention–and if we’re willing to rest.

 

When God says “Pay Attention”: Times In Between

Last fall when I began this blog, I lamented the fact that I wasn’t buying school supplies. Fast forward 12 months, and I’ve just returned from the school supply aisles of Walmart with a blue Five Star 3-subject notebook and new pens—the minimal school supplies I’ve realized are necessary. In nine days, I will begin yet another first day of school to earn my M.A. in American and English literature. 17th grade? Freshman year of grad school? I don’t know if there is a correct term, but I do know it’s another new beginning. And with every new beginning in my life so far, I’ve ended up thinking back to what I’ve learned from the “in between”—a place that is anything but dull.

This last “in between” year has been one of constant challenges and personal growth. I feel like I have been tested, and I definitely don’t feel like I passed with flying colors—quite the opposite actually. Have you ever read the passage in Romans 7 when Paul seems to be talking in circles?

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do….For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

It’s crazy confusing right? At least I always thought so until I found myself in the exact same situation. I was alternately overwhelmed with guilt and a profound rebelliousness that I had never before experienced. There is no possible way to bring these two opposite reactions into an equilibrium. Then I read Paul’s words again. And it hit me—finally.

Life isn’t simply black and white with a little gray area. It’s full of an array of colors and decisions waiting to be made that can be combined into gorgeous hues—green emerging from blue and yellow, purple from red and blue. Or, something drastically different can happen. Remember in elementary school when you mixed every paint color together and ended up with a strange color similar to brown, purple, and mud? With so many options mixed together, a strange, dark, indescribable color is created. I think this was the direction I was headed.

But as Paul says, now I am working to delight in God’s law even when it feels like sin is waging a war within me. Because of Jesus, I will not be overwhelmed or defeated—but only if I continually choose Him from among the barrage of options in this world. I want my life to be a work of art created by God and not a mud-colored, goo-covered finger painting that I try to take control of and create on my own.

So, another new beginning. Another reminder that life is made up of changes, struggles, and choices. But I know that God is the same always and forever, and I love His promises in Isaiah 43:19: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” My “in between” times always feel like wastelands, and in some ways, maybe all our lives are lived in these spaces in between. I don’t know about you, but this promise gives me hope for new beginnings, and a challenge to pay attention next time God asks “Do you not perceive it?”

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“What are you going to do with that degree?”

Do you believe that each person has one specific purpose in life?

I used to obsess about it—thinking that something must be wrong with me if I had no idea what my “purpose in life” was. Shouldn’t I at least have an idea? I still remember the agonizing hours I spent trying to choose a major in college. It seemed like a life or death decision, and when I finally settled on an English language and literature degree, many people made certain I realized that it was the “easy” option and a useless degree in today’s economy.

But four years later, when I walked across the stage at graduation to receive my diploma, it didn’t feel like it had been easy. I had accomplished something. I will never be a rocket scientist, and I’m OK with that fact. I won’t bring about world peace, but I’m not sure that is even possible. This fall, I am beginning a graduate degree in American and English literature, and I am prepared to listen to the differing opinions and the never-ending question of “What are you going to do with that degree?” Because I don’t need to have an answer right now.

In the two years since college graduation, it has often felt as though each decision I make will directly impact either my future success or my massive failure. I have struggled to plan everything down to the minutest detail while simultaneously learning that life happens whether you plan for it or not. Six months after starting my first “grown up job,” I was laid-off due to budget cuts. That’s not something I could plan for, but it happened anyway.

It is incredibly easy to become overwhelmed, frustrated, and depressed. I look around and compare myself to other people my age, and they seem to be doing so well—flourishing in careers, getting married, starting families. I wonder if I’m messing up, doing something wrong, missing my purpose.

There is a quote I’ve heard many times that goes something like: “The only constant in life is change.”  I am learning this the hard way—which is really the only way to learn it—by living it. Most days I don’t know if I have the patience or endurance to get to the next milestone, but this is simply life. And when I step back and look away from myself, I am reminded of how beautiful life can be.

As far as there being one great overarching purpose in life, I’m not so sure it exists. When I was younger and people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would always answer, “I don’t know. All I know is that I want to love God and love people.” And as simple as it sounds, I really do believe that loving God and loving others are the only purposes that everyone is called to fulfill. In Matthew 26:37-38, when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, He answers: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Micah 6:8 says: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It seems to me that this is my purpose in life. No matter where I live, where I work, what I do, or whether or not I get married and have a family, I can always do these things. Yes, they are challenging, but in so many ways, it is a freeing realization to know that I am capable of fulfilling this purpose. I don’t have an unrealistically high bar set before me that measures whether I succeed or fail. I have a compassionate Creator God who wants me to love Him first and then share it with the world.

The Relationship Between Trust and Contentment

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I’ve been spending a lot of time in thought lately—probably too much time since I have a tendency to overthink everything. But sometimes all the time spent thinking can actually result in good ideas and conclusions instead of making me frustrated and obsessed. This morning I stumbled upon a relationship between trust and contentment. Actually, I think I’ve always known of this connection, but recently it was made all too clear.

If I’m honest, I don’t find it at all easy to trust God. Maybe I could blame it on the level of importance placed on independence in our modern culture, but it’s more than likely because of my own stubbornness—and ultimately because of fear. Probably too many of my blog posts have mentioned singleness, but it seems to be the central theme of my life currently. And my failure to give up control of my relationships vs. the lack thereof is definitely impacting my ability to trust God fully. Several months ago I decided to “take things into my own hands,” which was obviously not the best decision—especially when I knew God was calling me to trust Him. My reasoning was that if God wasn’t going to “do” anything, then I would just help the process along. I tried online dating and went on a few extremely awkward dates. If you know me, you know that meeting random strangers in new places is not comfortable for me at all. I know that dating sites work for many people, but they are definitely not for me.

My initial frustration at my failed attempt to “fix” my singleness quickly turned to anger. I kept asking God why everyone else seemed to have someone when I had been alone for so long. And of course I know I’m not really alone. I’m surrounded by really amazing friends and family. Maybe I have simply fallen into the trap of wanting what I don’t have instead of being thankful for what I do. And I think that is the most accurate description of discontentment. When I am not trusting God, I sink into feelings of discontent; but when I’m actively trying to trust Him more, I feel much more at peace.

Learning to trust God is a long, slow, and painful process for me. My longing for a romantic relationship has far too often been stronger than my longing for God. The best part is that He has always forgiven me for wandering away and welcomed me back. I feel sometimes that God must be tired of continually teaching me the same lessons only to have me make the same mistakes. But I think that’s what a Father does. Maybe I will never feel completely content on earth because earthly contentment will always be lacking, but I am consciously choosing to trust that God knows what is best for me.

This is not easy, but I know it is right.

This is Not Advice for “Surviving Singleness”

This is not a “once you stop looking for someone, God will bring that person into your life” blog. This is not another “I’ve finally found peace and now I’m celebrating my singleness!” post. This is definitely not a “how to survive singleness” blog.

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve read enough of those to have them memorized. And while I usually don’t disagree with them, they annoy me. They annoy me because I already know all these things. Given the opportunity, I could list off any number of reasons to rejoice in this “season of singleness” and many ways to focus more on God and others while investing your time and energy in healthy activities. It’s all good advice. So why do I feel worse after reading them?

Recently, I read a blog post entitled “You Don’t Have to Like Being Single” (http://truelovedates.com/how-do-i-get-over-my-discontent-with-singleness/). The True Love Dates website has been encouraging me, and this post in particular relieved some guilt I had been feeling. For some reason, I felt that I was failing—that by not learning contentment and thankfulness in singleness, I was somehow failing as a Christian. I think that many other single people can probably attest to similar feelings. I was caught in a mental and emotional cycle of forced “contentment,” frustration, and the feeling of failure. Obviously, my relationship with God suffered, and I was in no place to actually begin a relationship. Having my feelings of guilt and shame lifted gave me the opportunity to view singleness in a new and different light.

I’m not sure whether it’s a cultural or maybe even a religious expectation, but I struggle with feeling left out and isolated without a boyfriend. And yes, I know it is not true. No person can complete me, but all the perfect couples’ photos on Facebook definitely remind me that I’m “missing” something. It felt so good to realize that it’s completely acceptable to not like my singleness. But until I’m in a relationship (and even if that takes a very long time), I’m going to stop feeling inferior simply because I can’t check the “plus one” box on all my friends’ wedding invitations.

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I’m not saying that this is easy or that I’m succeeding at it. On the contrary, it’s very difficult, and most days I forget my resolution and end up feeling sorry for myself again. So, I’ve decided to simply remind myself that I am not alone. Singleness does not define me. I’m surrounded by friends and family. I have a new job that I enjoy. And I have a God who loves me enough to care even when I’m constantly whining about one thing instead of thanking Him for so much. If you’re also struggling with these feelings, be encouraged that you’re not the only one. And know that it’s completely OK to tell God that you don’t like being single, because he already knows the truth. Don’t fake contentment—but purposely focus on all the other aspects of life besides relationships. Because honestly, life is good. And there is so much more to life than a relationship status.

“In our end is our beginning”

AshWednesday

I went to my first ever Ash Wednesday service last night, and it was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had. Since I grew up in non-denominational churches, Ash Wednesday was something I knew about but didn’t understand at all. It honestly seemed really odd to me that people would walk around all day with an ashen cross on their foreheads.

After the service, I was convicted about how wrong I was to judge something that I didn’t fully understand. The cross of ashes is a powerful symbol of remembrance—as Ecclesiastes 3:20 reminds us, “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” I don’t have any deep insights that came from the service, but it forced me to be still and to realize the weight of the truth that God became human and died for me. Death is one thing that we can never escape, but God gives us the gift of life with Him even after our earthly bodies return to ashes. During the season of Lent this year, I am going to try much harder to remember what a powerful gift that is. I want to remember the sacrifice Jesus made and repent of all the times I forget to stop and say thank you.

My pastor shared the “Hymn of Promise” at the service, and I wanted to post it here. I also found a video of a choral performance of the hymn, and the music is beautiful too. The link is at the end of this post. These words are filled with the hope and promise that we have in Christ. My hope for all of us is that we don’t take this season of Lent for granted or ignore it—but that we take the time to focus our hearts and minds on the greatest Sacrifice and Love ever given.

“Hymn of Promise”

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.