It was about a year ago I went on my own bucket list trip. I think it is always interesting to hear about people’s bucket lists and the things and places they want to travel… More
“So often we miss life’s beauty because we’re too preoccupied with it’s flaws.” -Ann Spangler
Did you forget God created you in His image? Or that He created the ground you walk on and grass you seem to mow 24/7? Or the cat who keeps calling your new patio cushions home?
I think we become so engrossed with what’s wrong or “what just has to be survived” rather than remembering the Creator who made it, Who thought it out of absolutely nothing to reflect Him.
It may seem rather Pollyanna-ish to think about it, but when you start to see a person as a fellow creative image of Him, created by His hand, you tend to approach them differently. You value them in a different way and the time you are given to interact and engage with them. It reflects our God, His creativity and absolute sovereignty in situations and our lives.
When we focus on the flaws of this life, even in ourselves, we miss the absolute wonder and creativity of the God who created this world from nothing, created us from mere dust of the earth, who brought land to life and animals into being. What if we focus on His beauty and creativity in our day rather than the flaws or ways we wish it were instead? I truly believe it brings Him joy and we get to give some praise back when we are able to celebrate His creative character in those small ways in every single day.
Do you ever resign yourself to the thought “Well, this is just the season I am in,” and just wallow in it? It’s a difficult season, or a quiet one, and you just find yourself giving in and wallowing a bit? Does that sound familiar? Or that it’s just so busy and crowded with things, that you think this is the way it will always be?
Recently I was skimming a couple of social media accounts I follow and seeing their “Hang on (fill in the blank situation) person, this is only a season” and it gave me pause. The reason why I wouldn’t understand until this weekend. I truly believe it’s because I was putting my very own excuse on a “season” I have been in and have thus grown to disdain it. I labeled it simply to get out of owning the fact I was uncomfortable with the wrestling, with the work of it, the tension and the change of schedule.
I kept being asked about my book, my writing, how it was going, by dear friends who were checking in on my life but I felt I had to label as a season of no writing. A season of quiet and contemplation. When in reality, I was quite willing to let this portion of my life die. I was putting down my writing life for no good reason, a calling I had so passionately from God years ago simply because it got hard. I was wrestling with realities and words, with stories and sharing, with being personal and very raw with my own life and struggles.
I had labeled it “just a season” as my excuse and hearing the words “Hang in there…” started to really make my stomach and my eyes roll. Because I knew it was all a label to me, for me and my giving up, my own death of a part of me. This part was who I was made to be, and what I was made to do in some form. It was a part of my life, and not a season.
Why stay here until we die? (2 Kings 7)
Those words were exactly what I had chosen for myself. Sitting outside the city gate in the midst of a famine as a leper of my own making. Staying in that season til I die, til that part of me was good and dead. In reading those words of 2 Kings I found myself leaning back into the very time God has called me to be in. A time of writing, a life of writing in fact. A life of living out the hard and pressing through it knowing that I am living it. For so many months I’d chosen death, the stench of it surrounding my life in a way I hadn’t clearly noticed, making this season one of despising and struggle rather than joy and searching.
Maybe you’re in a season of life, where you just can’t stand it being called a season. Because it’s not, it is a defining portion of your life from here on out. It’s more than a chapter, it’s the very plotline of your character development. What you are living, dealing with today, is the very thing making your day tomorrow, your month and your years. It is you. Just yet, you need to not hear the words “Hang in there” and instead, get up and live it. Live the hard. Live the difficult. Live out the strain and the stress, the chaos of it all. But live it. Don’t resign yourself to staying in it and dying. Don’t wallow in the death of it because that too will become what you live. You will be the walking dead of your life.
Today it’s being real that I just gave up for a bit. That I defiantly attempted to die at the gate instead of going to see about life.
God doesn’t share a platform.
I read that quote in the context of an article on patriotism and the church. It was cautioning those on Sunday who would seek to put their love of country ahead of their love of God in their worship services.
If I am honest, having grown up right in the buckle of the Bible belt all my life, I hadn’t given the patriotic-themed services much thought before. I am in a family of military servants, the daughter and granddaughter of veterans of wars. I truly enjoy holidays, especially the Fourth of July. History was my major for a while in college because of my love of the story of America’s founding.
Yet, somewhere along the way, and quite possibly never more prevalent than in the last two years, have I seen the absolute love of country come before the love of God here in America. Where our citizenship in a country that easily will pass away is far more important to us than our eternal citizenship in heaven.Where we wave our rights to land, jobs, ego and pride around rather than living humbly, seeking mercy, walking justly with our God.
Somewhere along that path the church got mixed up in it. Where we joined up patriotism with our Christianity and made them one. Love of God and country. I get it. Seriously I do, I do love the country I was fortunate to be born in, to call myself a citizen of. But when it comes before my walk with God? Well, it is simply idolatry. It’s valuing anything above God and His Word, my relationship with Him, what He has asked of my life as an heir, a child of God.
While I will watch fireworks tomorrow, sport my stars and stripes in my special POUND class and sing “God bless America” I know that it doesn’t come before God for me. He is a jealous God, One who doesn’t share a platform and most assuredly doesn’t put celebrating our independence ahead of our dependence upon Him. This isn’t a Jesus juke by any means, but thoughts on how we have so easily slid into the celebration of country even in worship services ahead of worshiping the glory of our God. It’s a conviction that our hearts value comforts of country over the conflicts of a Christian walk.
So maybe we shoot off fireworks, we grill out with family and friends, but we keep in mind the fleeting context of our country. We realize our citizenship in our country comes second to our citizenship in an eternal kingdom.
Recently two separate self-storage facilities have been built within about three miles of my house. One is actually within about 50 yards from one that has been in our area for several years. I keep thinking about those self-storage facilities as such a reflection of our culture and environment now. If you turn on your television, you can see it in shows such as Hoarders and Storage Wars. We want all the stuff and we want it for ourselves.
It’s even more apparent within us. We store up knowledge (not a bad thing), emotions, feelings and even Christ. We self-store thinking that if we keep it to ourselves, we are better off. If we store up the blessings and giftings from God that we are doing this life the right way because it’s how it plays out in our culture.
But we are so wrong…
What we define as treasures, they reflect where our hearts are. And what we do with those treasures, those gifts and blessings, well they also tell us where our hearts are. Time is a treasure to some…but how are we spending it? Money is a treasure to others….but how are you spending it? What about your gifts and talents? Are they being spent or stored up?
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)
For a long season I stored up my own treasure, in my own self-storage unit you could say. I pulled it away and packed it up thinking that was what I should be doing. Packing away treasure that I defined instead of spending it for what it was made to be spent on. When I took the time to break down and really examine these verses in Matthew 6, I found that my treasure is worth pulling out of storage because it has a better return on investment in heaven than by storing it away. My heart is with the treasure I spend for His glory and good…not the one I pack away in self-storage and keep for myself. It does no one any good to hoard my time, my talents…these treasures I have been gifted, especially me, but most importantly the God who gave them to me.
What today do you need to unpack from self-storage? What do you define as treasures of your life-where your heart is invested by time or money or your talents? How are you storing them up? Where are you investing your treasure, here on earth or in heaven?
There have been multiple times I have written this post out over the years and deleted it. Or it’s been left as a draft. I have walked away thinking “What would people say if I posted that?” I worried over reactions and conversations that would have to be had if I wrote this post. Earlier this week it again came to the forefront of my mind when I was sitting with a coworker waiting for our to-go order as the news broke about Kate Spade’s suicide. Then this morning as news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide broke.
For a large chunk of my 20s I struggled with recognizing I was unwell. I allowed my mental wellness to become so toxic and unhealthy because I thought it was natural. I thought it would just be present with me and frankly, it sunk me into a depression I hid very well. 99.5% of the people who know me do not know that I gave serious thought to suicide. That I lived in a very dark place for a very long time. When you are struggling mentally, you find ways to hide it from those closest to you. Even now, my family wasn’t aware until they read this. I have confided in two or three people about this outside of a counselor up until now. I sought out help because I knew there was a path I was on that would lead me eventually to my death if I didn’t.
In our culture, and especially in the Christian culture, mental illness and suicide aren’t spoken about regularly or even comfortably. It has a shame shield wrapped around it, furthering the illness and deepening the depths of darkness one can find themselves in. Even telling someone you are seeing a therapist or counselor is met with embarrassment for many. Over the years I have walked the line of shame in seeking help rather than live in the depression that would kill me. It took me voicing my fears of shame and embarrassment to my counselor about even sitting there to hear the truth we all need.
It is okay to seek help when you aren’t okay. It is not okay to stay in the realm of fear.
We go to annual checkups with our doctors, we don’t dare skip our annual exam at the gyno (even though we dread it ladies), and we ensure if we need new glasses or contacts we are beating down the door to our optometrist. When we have an unknown rash or a blood test comes wonky, we go in for more testing, for follow ups, for consultations. We will seek out everything that can help us, except when it comes to our brains. We won’t ask for prayer on it, we won’t share about our struggles with our closest confidantes because fear has told us that it’s not okay to be not okay.
If you are struggling in the depths, know you are not alone. No matter what fear is telling you, it’s a lie. A downright ugly lie meant to steal and destroy you. I beg you to not let it. Reach out, confide in one person. It’s scary and unknown, but it sure beats the alternative. There is no shame in calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or looking for a counselor. If you are a believer, ask a pastor for a reference or who they have on staff as a counselor. I went online-as it can be both good and bad-and sought out a counselor in my area that was also thankfully on my insurance at the time. But there are low-cost options I promise you that are good and beneficial.
Some days I still wrestle with mental wellness, and those are days I find myself pulling out the notes from my sessions, quieting the chaos that wants to drag me under, and confiding in someone. Speaking directly at the lie of fear and saying “Not today.” But it is difficult to know this battle will wage on continuously. That I won’t find a cure for the struggles I have mentally on this side of life. But there’s a hope I can rest in, to know that the lies and the shame and the fears aren’t mine to battle and win. They were long ago put to death by the hope of my salvation, Christ Himself. Some days I forget that, when the struggle seems suffocating and burdensome, when it is within an inch or a minute of swallowing me whole. Some days it takes speaking my fear out to another person, to a counselor, to hear myself voice what is locked within me to see there’s someone to listen, to not judge but to be present and realize I am not alone in it. That it is a lie. And to ultimately be the truth of my life, to speak His Truth that I am valued, loved and never, ever alone.
If you haven’t struggled with mental illness, I am sure you are a friend or family member, coworker or pastor to someone who is currently living in mental unwellness. Be the one to ask “are you okay?” Be the one to simply offer to sit and listen. Be the one to not let them be alone in it. Just be with them.
Recently I have heard this song played more and more on the radio and it’s meant so much to me even this week as the fears and lies creep in when you see people defined as successful and “having it all” are committing suicide. Maybe you need to hear it, sing it, believe it for yourself today.
For a while now I have been quite enamored with the semicolon. It is stronger than a comma, but weaker than a period. It separates major sentence elements. It is more than a pause; it is a continuation of a thought relative to the sentence.
The semicolon has one definition though that I love. I read it several months ago and it has just stuck.
The author could have ended the sentence right there, but they chose to continue the story.
When I read David’s words in the familiar Psalm 23, I gave pause to the first line where David states: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Because those two lines could have been separated into different lines. But they weren’t. David’s thoughts were a continuation. Because the Lord is our Shepherd, we have no need for anything else. He leads us, restores us, comforts us, anoints us, gives us rest, brings us calm.
But for me, well I often I don’t see those two thoughts as connected. Instead I like to put emphasis on the second half as more of a directive rather than a proclamation. I do not have wants, I try to convince my soul and face my sin instead of leaning fully into the Lord being my Shepherd. To His leading and guidance that then causes my wants to be fully met by Him and not anything else.
The story continues beyond the acknowledgement of the Lord as our Shepherd. It points to our needs, our desires being found and met in Him. It means all that flows after, even in Psalm 23, is His. It comes from Him and is provided by Him. We merely have to pause and see the continuation of the story and acknowledge how it begins-with Him.
It’s closing in on 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning. April in Tennessee has decided to be a snowy/rainy/wind-chill freezing kind of thing. It resembles more February than it does spring time in bloom. I haven’t showered and I have consumed two very large cups of coffee and one slice of toast. I am in my favorite winter pajamas.
I was thinking about how my singleness looks, about the contrast of life with my friends who text me photos of their kiddos or the friends I see posting about their babies sleeping through the night or husbands whisking them off to fun birthday weekend surprises. There are days, moments, times where I get that sinking jealous feeling of it all. I love seeing their lives, but there’s a small ache within of coveting, of wondering and of doubt that it will happen for me too.
But then there are moments like these, where I find the freedoms of my life to be quite nice. Where there aren’t plans for the day, or worries over planning around nap times. Singleness looks different for each person living it, just like marriage and parenting and pretty much every single thing about living life. One thing is sure though, is that this life and the time we are given for it is a gift.
This morning as I was choosing my time in the Bible I found the words of Paul to a fellow believer to be something I needed reminding of as well. Timothy was around my age as well, called to minister at the church at Ephesus at the time we read Paul’s words to him in 1 Timothy. And some of the people had taken to legalism in the church, things that were good and created by God were being used as a form of legalistic religion instead by the church to set themselves apart as more holy or more devout.
Paul works through identifying the issue and encouraging Timothy in the fourth chapter of his letter. There nestled in between how to treat church members and the mystery of godliness is a small paragraph on ministry, and this phrase: “Do not neglect the gift that is in you…” It reminded me that I too neglect the spiritual gifts given me by God, those that are specifically designed just for me by the Creator of the universe. He knew I would be the only one that could use them in such a way for His kingdom and His purpose in such a time as this.
He knew that the still-in-her-pajamas, unshowered single gal on a Saturday morning would use the gift given her for Him in the way He designed her to use it. Just as He did the friends who are married, who are parents, who are divorced, who are single too. He has given gifts that reside in each of us that I often forget and neglect, letting doubt fuel the misuse or nonuse of the gifts, letting the words of others cause my gifts to look like obligations or ones I wish I could return. But then I remember the words of James just a few pages over from Paul’s letter to Timothy:
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”