The one about my tired arms

“Hi friend, just praying for you tonight as God brought you to mind. Praying for a new job that abundantly provides for all your needs & uses your gifts with a purpose that makes you excited to get up in the morning & go! Excited to see what it will be!”

The text came at the perfect moment. Nothing particularly had gone wrong that day but I still felt a general malaise. A malaise that had been increasing over the last 2 months. Every afternoon when the moment came to get into my car and make that long commute I could feel the cold fingers of it creeping over my shoulders. Every evening when my writers block seemed to be getting worse and not better I felt its creeping breath on my neck. Every morning when the resumes went out and nothing came back I felt the shadow of it darken my vision. I had gotten so used to the feeling that it was a shock when these words broke through the malaise for one second and I felt my weak spirit lift its head.  Continue reading

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The one where I’m more than enough

Life seems like a series of contradictions lately. It’s as if life teaches me one thing followed immediately by the phrase “but not all the time” or “not in every circumstance.” It can be a little confusing and frustrating.

“Be open; but protect yourself too”

“Love who are you, your personality, you character, your attitudes, but don’t be content to stay exactly the same your whole life”

“Accept criticism even when it comes from places you don’t trust; but know that some criticism you can throw right in the garbage even when it comes from those you do trust.”

“Strive to grow in your faith and in your ability to worship and trust God, but don’t worry when you feel like you’ve been in the same place for months at at time”

“Don’t over think everything, but don’t turn off your instincts”

“Don’t worry about everything, but have a healthy concern that you are making the right choices.”

Back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes it can feel like a tug of war in my mind. I like things to have a simple answer. If something is the right thing to do I want it to ALWAYS be the right thing to do. I’m great with living in the tension as long as it’s not a situation directly affecting me. But the thing is, most of life isn’t a simple yes or no. Most of life is found in the tension. In the moments where I decide what is the right approach. And here’s the best/worst part. Sometimes I’ll choose wrong. And you know what?

That’s okay. I’m not always going to pick the right thing.

I can’t live my life worrying about all the choices I have to make. Because what is that worry really hiding? It’s hiding my need to be perfect. I’m not perfect. I’m going to make a LOT of wrong choices. So what! That’s part of life. The biggest thing I’m learning right now is how to accept my imperfections. Acceptance doesn’t mean I don’t strive to be better; but it means I stop acting like the things I want to work on in myself are always bad in every circumstance. Taking care to make the right choice isn’t always bad. Being cautious with how open I am with others is healthy. Working to became the best version of myself I can be doesn’t mean taking out all the things that make me interesting.

I’m not too much. I’m not too little. I’m me.

And that is more than enough

 

 

The one about confronting the mean

Does anybody take pride in being a mean person? I’m not talking about “I don’t take crap from anyone” “I don’t let anyone push me around and if that makes me mean so be it” kind of mean. I’m talking about the kind of person who dislikes people for no real reason. Who is not just jealous of other’s people success but actively hopes they start not succeeding. A person who smiles a little inside when something goes wrong for a person she doesn’t like. Maybe genuinely evil people take pride in their meanness, but most of us pretend those parts of us don’t exist. We push it down and put a smile on our face and pretend that we are nice. But that doesn’t change anything. The mean is still there. Silently waiting for an opportunity to jump up in front of your face and remind you that sometimes you are really not a nice person.

I had a moment like that today. A moment where the ugliness of my thoughts startled me. Did I really just think that? About another human being? What is wrong with me? It was like a mirror was held up in front of my soul and it was not a pretty sight. It always seems like those moments and thoughts come up right after I’ve decided to pat myself on the back because of how kind I’m being. I went out of my way to help somebody, or give somebody a kind word, I must be a really nice person. Look at how compassionate I am. Look at how good I’m getting at keeping my mouth shut.  And then BAM I’m reminded of how far I really have to go.

I think the trick in confronting my “mean” is to walk the line between self flagellation over my mistakes, and letting myself off the hook too easily. I’m not the first person to indulge the side of myself that can be petty and jealous. We all do it, and we all do it way more than we probably like to admit. But, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s a part of myself I should be proud of or indulge myself in. The next time I start getting on a high horse about my own behavior I hope I remember the capacity I have to make the wrong decision, to hope for the wrong things, to indulge the mean. I am trying not pretend that the mean part of me doesn’t exist or that it is somehow not the “real” me. The same person who cares deeply about people and is very sensitive to the needs to others can also be rude, prideful, and yes mean. This doesn’t make me a bad person. It simply makes me a human being.

So here I am admitting it in the public square that is the blogosphere. My name is Janelle and sometimes, I’m a really mean person. I get jealous and worried that other people are going to outshine me. I think other people have it much easier than me. I dislike people for ridiculous reasons. I hold grudges. I get mad over silly things and I can be very impatient. The good news is I’m not afraid to confront my mean. The better news is that when I confront my mean I’m able to beat it, even if it’s only temporarily. But hey, I’ll take the small wins every time. Give me enough small wins and I’ll look back and see that I’m further than I was a month ago.

I’m not afraid of my mean. That isn’t all I am. I’m also capable of great warmth and compassion. When I love people I love them wholeheartedly, would do anything to help them, and root for good things to happen in their lives. I can be burdened with a need to help those I know have it much worse than me. I get over my ridiculous reasons for not liking someone. I admit that I’m mad about something silly and let my grudge go. When I confront my mean I free myself up to notice the good in myself too. I’m not either/or. I’m both. Today I was a little mean. That’s okay. Tomorrow is going to be different.

How about you? Do you confront the mean in your own life? Have you ever had a thought that startled you in its meanness? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

The one where all will be well

One of the few good things about my long commute to work is how much time I have to listen to things in the car. Usually I pick podcasts because it makes the drive go quicker (I’ve listed some of my favorites here.) But, sometimes I like to put my windows down, my ipod on shuffle and let fate pick my music. Over the past week or so a certain song seems to come up almost every time I’m driving. Around the 5th or 6th time I started really listening to the lyrics and had kind of light bulb going on moment. The song is called All Will Be Well and it’s by The Gabe Dixon Band.  I first heard the song a few years ago when my friend Heather made me a mix of new music. Parks and Recreation, of my favorite TV shows, also used it in a montage last year and it was amazing. But even though I’ve known the song for a few years, this past week in particular it seemed to really stir something in me. I kept listening to it over and over again. The song would end and I would immediately repeat it. Take a listen before you read the rest of what I have to say. Continue reading

The one about God’s “perfect will”

I’m a bit of a control freak. (I know this fact comes as no surprise to those of you who know me.) I like to have things go the way I want them. I plan things to a minute degree. Being a worrier and a control freak often go hand in hand especially in moments where I feel out of control. Learning to let go and not worry so much is something I am constantly working on. I find it’s the hardest to let go during periods of transition. When I’m in a place where I’m making decisions about my life I can feel my blood pressure rising as I start to worry about the inevitable ways I will screw up my choices. There’s one phrase in particular that if I hear it during the times I’ve just described I will lose my mind. I’m talking about the phrase “the perfect will of God.”

Christians love to talk about God’s perfect will. It comes up in prayers. (Lord, we just pray that you will bring about your perfect will.) It comes up when talking about jobs. (Lord, is this job in your perfect will for me?) It comes up in relationships. (Is this person God’s perfect will for me?) For those of us who like to be in control at all times, the idea of a perfect will of God just might be the most stressful thing we have ever dealt with. What if I make a wrong choice? What if I take the wrong job? What if move to the wrong state? What if I marry the wrong person?

What if,

What if,

What if,

I’m in a time of transition in my life. (Ugh, I hate that even typed such a cliche sentence, but it really is true) And sure enough the need to constantly be in control is becoming an issue again. What if I choose the wrong thing and then my whole life is screwed up? When I start to spiral like this I try to remember the most comforting debunking of God’s perfect will I’ve ever heard. During college I had a Bible professor who brought up this very topic. He first asked how many of us had dealt with the pressure of choosing God’s perfect will in the past. After some discussion he used the following illustration to shatter all of our illusions about God’s will.

God’s will is like a playground. When you take a child to a playground you don’t tell them “Okay, you need to swing on the swings for twenty minutes. Then you need to go down the slide eight times. Only after you do those two things can you go on the jungle gym.” No, instead you tell the child, “You can play on anything at this playground for as long as you want, just don’t leave the playground.” That’s just how God is with our life choices. There are certain parameters he sets up like a fence around a playground. But, that fence encompasses a giant space. He looks at his children and he says. “Go play. Go play and have fun.”

How freeing was this analogy for me? I almost did cartwheels out of the classroom that’s how awesome I felt. Now, when I start to feel anxiety creep up when I have to make a big decision I remind myself to just play on the playground. I no longer believe there is a perfect will for my life. I believe there are lots of good choices and whichever one I pick becomes God’s perfect will for me. Are there some choices that might be better than others? Possibly. If your child isn’t that great on the swings and chooses to spend their time there instead of the slide that might not be the best choice. But does it ruin their life? Nope. There’s room for correction. Everything doesn’t have to be set in stone.

So, I’ve got some decisions I have to make soon. The part of me that needs to feel in control is freaked out. But the part of me that is secure in my creator’s love for me reminds the rest of my brain to relax and enjoy this part of my life. Go and play on the playground. It’s going to be a great day.

The one where I can’t think of a clever title

I’m really tired.

I’m tired of Christian Culture

I’m tired of The Church

I’m tired of Evangelicalism

I’m tired of being part of a group that lately seems to only come out against things and not for things

I’m tired of a movement that would punish children because of a ministry’s hiring choices.

I’m tired of a ministry not having the guts to back up their choices

I’m tired of there being no space for “I don’t know”

I’m tired of “culture wars”

I’m tired of the internet

I’m tired of Christians

I’m tired

So incredibly tired.

Please Father, lift me up in your arms. I feel like I can’t walk anymore. The weight of what the world expects of me is too much.

Remind me that you are outside of  Christian Culture

Remind me that you live outside nationalism

Remind me that you are outside of denominations

Remind me that you live in the tension of grace and truth

Remind me that you are everlasting love

Remind me of the people in my life who reject all the notions that make me tired

Remind me of those things while I cry a little in your presence tonight.

Because I’m just so tired

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

The one about ritual

I wanted to talk about Lent. I feel like in the last few years Lent has became much more of a presence in my life. When I was younger up through high school and college the only people in my life who participated in Lent were my Catholic friends. I think that lately there has been a move in the Evangelical community to embrace the rituals of more traditional denominations, and I think it’s great. Growing up in a tradition that greatly emphasized a personal non ritualized relationship with God is something for which I’m truly grateful. But, I do enjoy exercising the part of my spiritual muscles that can be a little weaker. I enjoy praying written out prayers for the specific reason that it helps me not focus purely on my own needs and desires. I like reading Scripture and not waiting for God to tell me something specific, but instead reading something from a church father or mother that illuminates something I never noticed before. So for the past few years I have participated in Lent in some way shape or form.

I always struggle with the question of giving something up. I don’t want to act like Lent is a New Years Resolution watered down. Giving up soda, candy, TV, or social media might be healthy for me, but is that what Lent is really about? I don’t say this to criticize those who do give up those kinds of things. I think those things working in conjunction with the true meaning of Lent can have great value. If I’m giving up social media it’s to spend more time in God’s presence; every time I would normally be on Facebook I pray or read my Bible. Otherwise I’m just giving up a not so great habit and not really focusing on what Lent means. Lent is the time to prepare myself for the wonder that is Easter. To remember what my Savior did on the 40 days leading up to his death and resurrection. So sometimes I remember that time by giving something up. And other times I add something to my life. Either way can help me embrace the Lenten season.

Last month I began praying and thinking about what if anything I was going to do for Lent. I finally landed on some things and I thought I would share them here. This isn’t to bring glory to myself but to maybe help those of you who still aren’t sure if you want to do anything to get some idea. (It’s only the day after Ash Wednesday, plenty of time to start a Lent fast.)

This year I’m not giving anything up. Instead I am adding things. I am adding how much Bible reading I do in my day. I signed up for the Lent For Everyone plan on YouVersion.com. This plan takes readings from NT Wright’s book of the same name and sends them to your phone every morning. I also signed up for Preston Yancey’s amazing Lent project. Using readings found from The Book of Common Prayer, I am already loving this study. There are easy instructions on the website if you’ve never done anything like this before, and the readings are sent to my email every morning. I tend to read the morning part of the Preston Yancey blog followed by NT Wright’s book in the morning right when I wake up. Before I leave for work in the afternoon I read the second part of the Yancey blog, and finish out his post at night before I go to bed. It’s only been 2 days of this, but so far I’m really loving it. I feel like I’m not just starting or ending my day with Jesus, but instead I’m carrying him with me throughout the whole day.

If these ideas don’t appeal to you I would encourage you to check out Rachel Held Evan’s 40 Ideas for Lent 2014 that she just posted yesterday. She gives ideas for online things as well as books and other activities. If you’ve never done Lent before it’s not too late to start! This will be my fourth year doing and each year it becomes more and more special. If you decide to do something leave your plan in the comments! I’m always looking for new ideas. If you have participated in Lent what do you find most special about it? What are you doing this year? Leave your thoughts in the comments.