Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ho Ho No

I am a fan of Grumpy Cat.

So as soon as I saw the Grumpy Cat T-shirt, I knew I had to buy it for my Christmas party; wearing it would be the perfect expression of my paradoxical attitude to Christmas.

On one hand, I do enjoy Christmas (when it's relegated to its proper month -- December). The food. The beauty of the lights and decorations and (if we're lucky) snow. The story. The pageantry of a Festival of Lessons and Carols in a cathedral. The music (again, only when it's played in December, as is right and fitting). The chance to dress up. The sense of goodwill and cheer and warm fuzzies. Oh, and the food.

Mmhm, those classy Christmas feels.

On the other hand, there is something of a Grinch or a Grumpy Cat in me. (Some would say that is reflected in my "December only!" attitude. But actually I would argue that this is because Christmas loses its special-ness if it's dragged out from October or November. Therefore, keeping Christmas in December guards its sense of beauty and sacredness. Just me? Anyway... Maybe it's a personality thing?)

The awful cheesy Christmas movies. Those inquires about your relationship status from relatives worried about why you aren't married yet and the state of your womb. The shopping in uncomfortably crowded stores. The stress. The bank balance. The inability to feel the magic or warm fuzzies of your childhood. (Certain friends would add "tearing ligaments slipping on ice" and "getting mild concussion from falling snow-laden branches" to this list.)

Do you find the Christmas spirit a little more elusive for you now, as well? Sometimes I wonder why that is. Perhaps we all have different answers.

The four candles represent hope, peace,
love, and joy.
A potential reason, for me, struck me today as I was researching articles for a Christmas-themed radio broadcast. I suddenly realized that somewhere along the way, I have stopped celebrating Advent.

Advent (meaning "coming") is the period of four weeks of expectation leading up to Christmas. Although not every denomination emphasizes its celebration, for Christians Advent is traditionally a time to prepare our hearts for the season, to think about the deeper meaning of Christmas beyond consumerism and sentiment.

As a child, I remember the excitement of opening the windows of my little Advent calendar every day. We had a family Advent calendar too, that my mother had made, with a special story or activity for each day of December.

Then we kids grew up and moved away, and I stopped thinking about Advent. Certainly when I was in college, I had a million things to do and exams to take in the run-up to Christmas, and that took priority in my thoughts. Now, I am busy with work and various other projects and seem to stumble upon Christmas at the last moment. "Oh, is that the date?!" A few days ago, my mother asked me if I had come across any nice Advent readings I might share to welcome the Sabbath. "I don't read anything for Advent," I told her. And then I felt a tiny bit bad.

Pondering the meaning of the holiday isn't high on my to-do list. I don't try to make the season so special any more. Isn't this simply practical, adult life?

Life. Adulting. Bah humbug!

Perhaps that is a loss. Perhaps there would be merit in celebrating Advent again somehow. To take that time to slow down and genuinely think, "What are the deeper, spiritual meanings and lessons of this season? Who is Jesus? What does it mean to welcome Immanuel -- God with us, God with me?"

Perhaps we can't expect the magic of Christmas just to "happen" anymore. Perhaps Christmas, like a good relationship, a passion project, or anything worthwhile (as the saying goes), takes some work. But not simply the kind of work in putting up a tree or throwing a Christmas party. Some heart work.

Somehow, I think that real Christmas spirit doesn't have to be showy or sickeningly sentimental. Perhaps it can be a quiet, simple sense of peace, gratitude, hope, and joy. 

So, how will you fight for joy, not just in this Christmas season but in your life? How can you recover a sense of wonder and thankfulness, and your heart?

After all, even the Grinch recovers his heart for Christmas in the end.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Disarming Fear

Ever have those nights when you struggle to sleep because your brain just won't shut up? Me too.

I recently went through a stretch of tearful evenings because, as I lay in the dark willing myself to just go to sleep, my imagination would run riot. I would visualize real concerns. Bad memories. Imaginary scenarios and conversations that may never happen in real life, but which nonetheless filled me with pain or anger or stress as I played them out in my mind. Negative self-talk. Future fears. My mind seemed to snatch up each bleak thought, eager to obsess over it.

Rather like this.

Some nights I would struggle against the tide of negativity, praying for relief. Some nights I would be frustrated that I still felt tense and miserable even after presenting my woes to God. Some nights I would just give in to the waves of unhappiness.

Lately, though, God has been calling to my attention to how He wants to help me through adjusting the focus and framework of my prayers. Thus I will be better equipped to disarm my lingering fears.

Often, the focus of my petitions tends to be on my issues, frustrations, and fears -- or, at least, those are the emotions prompting a large number of prayers. This is not bad per se. We are told to pour out our hearts to God, to roll our cares onto Him, and to pray all kinds of prayers. The Psalms are replete with desperate cries to God about how much life sucks, about deepening depression, and about a desire to get out of the mire (see Psalm 69 for one example).

However, darkness or desperation isn't where our prayers are supposed to linger long-term.

Three points from my recent reading, the book "If Only God Would Answer" by Steven Mosley, have highlighted what the problem is in my case. I have a sneaking feeling many of us may share a similar issue.

Tossed About

The book of James talks about the prayers of the double-minded person who is tossed about like a wave. Mosley comments, "A double-minded person can ask for one thing while thinking of something else quite the opposite." (p. 53) I can be like that. I can struggle to find a solid footing and to pray with real trust, particularly when allowing myself to be tossed about and drowned by ever-changing emotions that may or may not let me feel strength and faith.
Catherine Marshall, one of my
favourite authors.

In her beautiful memoir "Meeting God at Every Turn," writer Catherine Marshall shares a story of her loneliness after the death of her first husband, U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall. Eventually, she received assurance from God that remarriage was His idea for her, and noted in her journal that she accepted this gift with gratitude and "all [she had] to do is give thanks to God that the matter is settled and relax until God's time comes..." (p. 159). This idea jumped off the page and burned into my consciousness. What a contrast to my usual mode of operation! Certainly some of my anxieties spring from a desire to be in control and a struggle to simply be thankful for what God is giving, and to relax in the waiting, whatever I am waiting for.

After all, we have the clear and startling promise that if we ask anything from God that is in line with His will, we can be sure of receiving it (see 1 John 5:14-15). The Bible is full of promises and passages that show us the will of God, and we also have His Spirit's intimate guidance in our personal walk with Him, which can lead us to peace in knowing that He hears and answers our petitions.

In pondering all this, I felt God whispering to me, "Instead of being tossed about, you can learn to relax if you turn from focusing on your variable circumstances and emotions to thanking Me instead that I have heard you and that the answer will be realized at the right time."

How Do I See God?

One of Mosley's chapters compared Bible passages about persistence in prayer. On one hand, we have parables and injunctions to keep praying and not give up. On the other hand, we have a warning against being like those who "think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again" (Matthew 6:7). Isn't this a bit of a contradiction?

Mosley points out that the passages are based on the same reasoning about the character of God. God the Judge is more eager to dispense justice than any human official; God the Father is more willing to give good gifts to us than human parents are to their child; and, after the warning about babbling, Jesus says our Father knows our need before we ask.
"Obviously there's a healthy kind of persistence and an unhealthy kind. The key difference relates to that common conclusion: God's generosity. Why we persist in prayer makes a big difference. The pagans Jesus mentioned as bad examples of prayer went on and on petitioning because they thought their god had to be talked into doing good; they assumed a certain quantity of prayer would create some kind of cosmic coercion, forcing their god's hand. In the back of their minds, they believed he was lazy or indifferent and had to be prodded into action." (p. 64)
When you pray, how do you see God? I know that sometimes my prayers are motivated more by this "pagan" mindset of seeing God as reluctant, distant, and needing coercion. Yet God is generous and eager and able, beyond what I can ask or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20 and Psalm 31:19).

Where Is My Focus? 

Another quote from Mosley resonated with me:
"Make God bigger than your problems. Don't go on and on moaning about how terrible your situation is and begging God for His help. Instead go on and on about how wonderful God is and express confidence in His ability to help you. This is a healthy, logical perspective in prayer." (p. 58) 
Even the most raw Psalms often turn in the end to praise, thankfulness, and hope. They affirm God's unfailing love and faithfulness. For example, after honestly declaring his deep discouragement and grief, the poet says to himself, "Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again --  my Saviour and my God!" (Psalm 42:11)

Disarming Fear

In order to help me disarm my fears, then, I have sensed God calling me not merely to be honest about my dark emotions, but to switch the focus of my prayers:

From fear to His faithfulness.

From the problem to His power and love.

From begging based on dread and a desire to control and coerce, to thankfulness for God's heart of abundance, His willingness to give good gifts, and the answers He has already given.

From sadness and frustration to hope.

From my circumstances to my God.

From the temporary to the eternal.

From my feelings to truth.

Good ol' pity parties
In short, to pray with much more praise and positivity, to "express hope, not just desperation." (Mosley, p. 70)

This won't always be easy. Old habits die hard. And honestly, there's part of me that likes to have the luxury of pity parties.

Also, the Enemy will want to keep me locked into fear and discouragement. He will use any opportunity to bring those pessimistic pictures into my mind.

But I am instructed to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to "let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think" (Romans 12:2). When my imagination starts down those gloomy trails, instead of going along with it, I can examine the scenario to see what exactly scares or pains me -- and then disarm that thought, and infuse into that picture the power, presence, and love of God.
"You tend to project yourself mentally into the [future], and you visualize yourself coping badly in those times. What you are seeing is a false image, because it doesn't include Me... When a future-oriented worry assails you, capture it and disarm it by suffusing the Light of My Presence into that mental image. Say to yourself, 'Jesus will be with me then and there. With His help, I can cope!' Then come home to the present moment, where you can enjoy peace in My presence." (Jesus Calling, Nov 9)

One of my favourite songs affirms, "I'm no longer a slave to fear...You drowned my fears in perfect love."

Thank you, Father. Your generous heart, your perfect love, is what I lean on.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


"You rarely let me into your internal world. I'd like to support you more, if you want, but in order to do that I need to be let in more and know you are hurting. 

I can't read between the lines very well. I'd give you more support if you told me in the moment, rather than finding out through your blog later. I don't always know what you need, because you so rarely ask for it."

Ouch. I had just finished a rant to one of my best friends, Andrea, venting slightly unfair grievances I had over certain friendships I felt were too one-sided and lacking in support. She'd given me some sympathetic but objective perspective, and then she called me out -- she was glad I was being open now, but generally I was reluctant to be vulnerable and ask for help.

Dang, she's so right, I thought. Why am I like this?

Do you consider yourself the "strong one" in your relationships? Do you feel the need to always wear a "calm and collected" mask? Do you, like me, resist showing vulnerability? Have you ever asked yourself why?

By Catliv

For me, part of it is personality. "I am quite a stoic character," I acknowledged to Andrea. "I've always preferred to work through something quietly myself rather than 'making a fuss' -- which could be quite British, on reflection."

I can't blame my Britishness entirely, though, and personalities are molded by our experiences to some degree.

"Much of what we call our 'personalities' is actually the mosaic of our choices for self-protection plus our plan to get something of the love we were created for." Stasi Eldredge, Captivating

My past plays a significant role in my reluctance to be vulnerable, as I imagine it does for you, particularly wounds received and agreements made during turbulent teenage years, and in unhappy romances. I remember resolving, at one point, never to show when I was upset because then people would know my weaknesses and know where to hurt me.

Moving around a lot had an impact, too. I never knew how long a friendship would last. Even now, I expect people to exit my life at some point, so as a self-protective measure I can tend to avoid deeper connection.

For the friendships I did have growing up, I often perceived myself to be cast in the role of the "strong one." From around 8 years old, I remember having a string of friendships in which I seemed to be the level-headed one while the other was falling to pieces. Sometimes others seemed so caught up in their own drama (which was sometimes truly traumatic) that they didn't seem interested or capable of supporting me in mine.

Another factor, I realized, was my perfectionism. Trying to keep your best face forward and do everything possible to be good enough, to be worthy of love and acceptance, does not allow much room for anything that can be perceived as weakness.

Besides, doesn't it feel somehow extremely humiliating to admit to needing help? It hurts the pride.

However, constantly trying to self-protect, to be self-sufficient, to be strong on our own, can be exhausting and demoralizing. And it sabotages us in the area we truly long for -- real connection. We need community. We need to let another person see our humanity, our struggles, our pain sometimes. (Men, you too, not just women!)

"I still think there's merit in not always making a fuss, or in processing things yourself," I admitted to Andrea, "but I'm also coming to see there is value in vulnerability sometimes. That burdens don't always have to be borne alone. That sometimes people are safe enough to let them see behind the smile."

"True community is what we need the most and fear the most," I remember hearing once. (If only I could remember where.) This quote resonated with me then and resonates with me now. And true community involves giving and receiving.

Caveat: This does not mean you should start oversharing with all and sundry! It's important to establish healthy boundaries and find safe people. (There's lots of resources out there to help with this. Try Boundaries or Safe People by Drs. Cloud and Townsend.)

You don't need to be the mouse!

"Share each other's burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ." (Gal 6:2)
And what is the law of Christ? In a nutshell, as He explained it, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind...and love your neighbor as you love yourself." (See Matthew 22:36-40) 

So, based on my experience, what can I recommend if you see yourself as the "strong one?"

Know there are people who want to support you and will love you even when they realize you're not perfect (hint: they already know that, and they're still by your side). Realize it's OK to need help. Try taking off the mask sometimes. Embrace healthy vulnerability, even if you have to take it slow.

What do I recommend if you are the friend trying to help the "strong one?" (And this applies to you, my friend, reading this.)

Be a safe person. Build trust (and realize that trust is built in the small moments). Be patient, but don't be afraid to call them out gently sometimes. Ask them how they're really doing, and really listen. Show them, in whatever way they receive love best, that you genuinely care.

Ultimately, vulnerability is powerful. Vulnerability allows us to move towards the community, intimacy, and love that we all need. And I am learning this one tiny, trembling step at a time.

Brene Brown's stuff <3 p="">

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Wednesday evening I sat sobbing on my bed under a cloud of hopeless despondency. It was an outburst provoked by a picture and a message, and undoubtedly fuelled in part by floods of helpful hormones. There was a guest waiting downstairs, my mother was about to serve dinner, and here I was having a mini breakdown, hating myself for it, and throwing jaded, hurt-laden questions to the heavens. I sniffled my way to bed that night, feeling unreasonably despairing.   

"Disney taught me the best way to express sadness is to throw yourself on the bed and cry dramatically."

You know those moments when you realize God is really trying to get your attention? When something keeps coming up again and again and again?

A particular verse had been appearing repeatedly, whether verbatim or simply in concept. Social media feeds. Messages from friends. Books. "Verse of the day" in my Bible app. The text was everywhere.

It's a verse I could recite in my sleep, and perhaps for this reason I hadn't paid it much attention, but when it popped up again on Thursday morning, this time it spoke to my heart, which was still slightly fragile from the night before.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."
 (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT)

"OK, God, what are you saying with this repeated passage?" As I pondered the verse, journal and cup of tea in hand, two thoughts occurred to me.

First, this was God's encouragement to me. In my moments of discouragement, I had thought, "Can I really trust that God is guiding me?" It had been one of my tearful questions the night before. Now, I knew this verse was whispering an answer. I sensed God addressing my heart:

"Haven't you been seeking my will? Haven't you been open to whatever that was, with all the honesty of your will you could muster, regardless of your feelings?"
"Yes, I have."
"Then I have honored that; you can trust that I am leading you. Stop second guessing all the time just because things aren't always going as you would like or expect! You are learning to listen to my voice, and you know that I am actually guiding you, and that it's not a product of your imagination. You can trust Me to direct you."

Second, this verse was also a much-needed reminder not to rely on ("lean on," as some translations phrase it) my own understanding. I think that's a huge issue for many of us. It is for me. How easy it is to look at our lives sometimes and compare our current circumstances with how God has been leading or speaking to us -- or even just to look at one or the other without the comparison -- and think, "I don't understand!"

Often, we're relying on what we think we know to try and figure things out.

"The key to receiving answers to prayers for guidance is to let go of our constant attempt to 'figure things out.' Really, it is almost incessant; I will be in the midst of seeking the God of four hundred billion billion suns on some issue of guidance, and in the midst of asking him, I am thinking through the options, trying to figure it out as I pray." (John Eldredge in Moving Mountains)

Often we're relying on our own ken, our perspective, our interpretation of situations, even when we purport to be trusting in God. I know I do that, and I can get frustrated and discouraged as a result.

In fact, the concept came up in my reading a couple of days ago: "Learn also to wait on God for the unfolding of His will. Let God form your plans about everything in your mind and heart and then let Him execute them. Do not rely on any wisdom of your own. For many times His execution will seem so contradictory to the plan He gave. Simply listen, obey, and trust God even when it seems highest folly to do so." (Streams in the Desert)

Learning not to lean on my own understanding is a struggle, but for every time I complain, "God, I don't understand why..." this verse reminds me of how God responds: Trust Me.
"But in my perspective, this is..." Trust.
"God, You said this, but it looks like..." Trust.
"But so and so thinks...and they may have a point." Trust.
"Are You sure I shouldn't/should do this?" Trust.

As if I needed a little extra confirmation or emphasis to the message, the same thing has been circling round my head for the last couple of days in Portuguese. The lyrics of a song I hadn't heard in ages popped into my mind, and I pottered round the house humming to myself, "Confia, confia! [Trust, trust!]"

It's a good song. 
Today I looked up all the lyrics to the song. They say, in part,

"Trust Him who has chosen you, in Him who has promised you, trust, trust, trust.
Trust, even if there is no way out -- even if there is no more life -- even if everything went wrong -- trust.
Trust, even if He is on the cross -- even if the light is buried -- trust, for on the third day death will not hold you.
Trust, even if He is silent -- even if the world is over -- trust, He will arrive in time to bless you."

What is the secret of being able to trust, of being sure that God is directing your path? There is a clue in verse 6: "Seek His will in all you do," or "In all your ways acknowledge Him..."

This is not only about asking for guidance, though, or tagging on to your prayers the phrase, "Your will be done." The Hebrew word translated as "acknowledge" or "seek" is actually the word for "know."

Thus, the verse could also be rendered something like this: "Know God in all of your ways, and He will direct your paths."

It comes down to relationship. To friendship. God wants that personal, intimate connection with you. He wants you to know Him as He knows you. He wants to speak into your situations. It is possible.

I love that reminder. 

"The Way of Joy" by Greg Olsen. I love what this picture expresses about friendship with God.

"If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me." (Jeremiah 29:13)

"I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me... My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10: 14, 27)

So here I am. The cloud of despair and of doubtful questioning has lifted this morning. I am reminded, and I am aiming to obey -- to trust God and not rely on my own understanding, to know Him in all of my ways, and to rest in the resulting surety that He is showing me the right paths to take. 

"4 Choices" by Adam DeClercq

Monday, September 11, 2017


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


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) 

Plot Twist!

I needed a change. After seven years of teaching, on and off, I wasn't sure that I wanted to continue. Perhaps it was a temporary di...