Monday, January 11, 2016

on wholeness, and setting goals from a place of freedom rather than a place of shame

I've spent a fair amount of time around my kitchen table in the past few weeks. It's my makeshift office, where I push aside a pile of transformers, Magna Blocks and Peppermint Pattie wrappers, to make room for a big hot pink binder that holds my trusty goal setting worksheets. Each time I've sat down and jotted down ideas, goals, and prayers for 2016, I have not been able to get someone out of my mind: the girl who was sitting around that same kitchen table this time last year.

I can so clearly picture myself, sitting in our tiny dining room with the same hot pink binder open. I was gung-ho to set goals for 2015, so ready for change and desperate to grow. But for all my desire to plan (and my naturally Type-A personality), most of the pages in that binder were left completely blank. I got about a third of the way through planning and praying, and I quit.

At the time, I thought that I just couldn't get my act together. But I should have been paying more attention to what was happening in my heart every time I tried to plan: anxiety would rise, hope for a new year would get clouded by all of the things I'd done wrong in the last one, and the only words that made it onto the page were crappy attempts at making approval-seeking sound Godly.

What I realize now is that instead of trying to set goals, I was actually trying to fix myself.
I was trying to plan away the shame and disappointment that I had felt from the previous year.

My heart was bruised and pretty darn weary, after two straight years of transition after transition. Several moves as a family, several jobs for my husband, a new baby and a c-section, learning to parent a very strong-willed toddler, helping to plant a church, adjusting to life in our small home in the big city...the list goes on. I was exhausted. And sadly, I'd been serving my church, my online community, and my family with the twisted notion that I was my ministry. What I could offer to God and to others had become how I defined myself and where I found my worth. Yuck.

Sitting at my kitchen table at the start of 2015, I was sopping wet with shame.
I felt like a disappointment to everyone around me, to God, to myself. The productivity monster in me seemed to steal every drop of truth that the Lord was trying to speak to me about being completely loved no matter what I do.

From this side of the timeline, it seems obvious to me that trying to set goals in that state of mind was probably not a good idea. And to be clear, goal setting wasn't the problem - it was how I was approaching it.

I wanted boxes I could check and lists written in colorful Sharpie to heal my shame. But they didn't.

Oh, thank goodness for the grace of God.
What I realize now is that last year, I didn't need another line item on my to-do list; I needed to see a counselor. I needed to give myself permission to step back from achieving, and give myself time to heal. I needed the love of God and the right space to work some things out that had been causing so much anxiety, and a pretty constant train of self-shaming thoughts.

And eventually, that's what I did.
The pages in my binder stayed blank, but what God wrote on my heart in 2015 was eternally more important. I went to counseling for the better part of 6 months. I stepped back from serving in several areas and I lowered the (insane) standards I had for myself. Little by little, I started actually believing what God's Word says about being 100%, completely cherished, just because I live and breathe. (See mom, it's God's fault that I got the word "cherished" tattooed on my forearm!)

This year, I can't tell you how different I feel, as I sit at my kitchen table with that hot pink binder laying open in front of me. And the reason that I'm sharing all of this is that I don't think what I've learned is just for me; I think it is for some of you, too.

I've learned that it's more important to be healthy, and to seek healing, than it is to achieve all of my life goals.

I've learned that my heart being whole is a worthy pursuit.
Even if that means I have to set aside, for a little while, all the dreams and plans that go along with accomplishing good things for God and others.

I've learned that what God wants most from me is to believe Him when he says, "I love you."

I'm also learning that setting goals from a place of freedom is so much better than from a place of shame. 

I've found so much more joy, excitement, and peace as I've planned this year, because I know that my worth is not at stake. I can't wait to dig into my dreams, God's vision, and all the steps that it will take along the way -- because I'm not planning for approval anymore.

I don't know where you're at this January, but if your heart is particularly tender, if your head is swimming with shame, if you're making plans on paper in order to try and calm the chaos in your heart -- maybe sit this year out.

Maybe 2016 won't be the year that you get the most done, but maybe it's the year that you get free.

See a counselor. Seek out wholeness. Get friends and family around you, and pray for the courage to walk down the hard, amazing, totally worth it path of healing.

And then when you're ready, plan your heart out, girl! You can come join me at my kitchen table.
But don't mistake your desire to accomplish good things for God's highest calling on your life. He wants to use you for His glory, but He wants you to be healthy, too. He's a good Father who wants you to deeply know and abide in His love, His approval, and His grace in every single step, in every worthy pursuit. (And this is a post for another time, but from all that I've experienced and from watching those who are a few years ahead of me: living and serving out of wholeness, which often means taking time out for rest and healing, will actually let you serve longer, and with more joy.)

I'm praying for you today, if you're reading this and it rings true. I'm praying for God to give you the courage to invite Him into your heart to do some deep, hard, redemptive work in 2016. Even if that means "sitting out" for a few months. He is so incredibly faithful.

Looking back, I didn't miss out on anything in 2015. At the time, not filling up my notebook with clearly outlined goals and action steps felt like I was giving up - but I was actually clearing the road ahead for God to do what He wanted to do in 2015. And it was one of the most stretching, and most redemptive, years of my life. I may have failed at one thing, but it made me more open to God's healing; so I think it's safe to call 2015 a success.



Thursday, December 10, 2015

what advent is really for, and what i'm learning so far


This is the part where I skip over the fact that this is the 2nd time I've written here since July. 

I'm not sure if you're supposed to start a post about Advent admitting that you weren't actually expecting God to change your heart that much during Advent - but that's where I'm starting.
I mean, I was hopeful that intentionally spending time in God's Word would help prepare my heart for Christmas. But that's kind of where I left it - Advent was "for Christmas." Reading the Bible daily during December is so that you aren't just focused on parties and presents, right?

I guess I overlooked the fact that the Word I was reading was written by the God who says that He wants to do "far more than we ask or imagine." And I'm so, so grateful that this is exactly what He's doing in my heart.

I'm learning that Advent is for so much more than preparing our hearts for a holiday -- it's for actually MEETING WITH JESUS. It's a time to let Him do work in our hearts that changes us, and that lasts way longer than the Christmas tree we purchased for our living room. Advent is an invitation to sit with the living God. To let the awe-inspiring mystery of Emmanuel shift how we think, how we love, and how we worship - in a way that lasts far beyond the month of December.

So we're ten days into this Advent thing, and I am sensing that shift in my heart. I can feel Him gently nudging me to believe Him more, in some areas that feel tender. I can feel my heart softening in places where I've been pretty stubborn. I'm realizing how much more deeply I can BREATHE when I choose to take refuge in Him, instead of in my own thoughts, hurts, and worries. Some of these things feel really fresh, and I'm not quiet ready to unpack them here yet. But nonetheless, God has already done more than I expected He would during this Advent season. And I'm excited for Him to take these truths deep into my heart, that I might learn to really believe them, and live them year-round.

It's still early in the month, if you want to hop into an Advent devotional or Bible reading plan! I'm reading the Naptime Diaries Make Room for Advent Devotional, as well as a free Bible reading plan by John Piper, with my church.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

start with generosity


This is one of those pieces of my life that I haven't quite known how to share on the internet. The two months Brian and I spent in Iraq in early 2009, they are some of the moments I treasure most in my life. What a privilege. What a crazy thing to do. I can't look at that photo, can't write these words without a giant lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, because the people and the memories are still so, so sacred to me.

I think that's why I've never written about in on my blog, never shared it on the world wide webs - it feels so sacred. And I feel so humbled. I recognize that this isn't the most typical story, that it's not what most would expect from this tiny American housewife who doesn't like to drive on the freeway. I SO want this story to be about Jesus, and not about something great I did once. And in light of the recent horror that's been happening in Iraq with ISIS, my words feel small. There's a bigger story going on than just what I learned from a 2-month visit. So all of those feelings - not wanting to exploit the incredible people of Iraq in order to gain accolades for myself, not wanting to tout something "brave" I did  - those things have led me to hold this story close.

Until a few months ago - when I got the opportunity to write a piece for a multi-author book on generosity. The book poses the question "What does it look like to live a life full of purpose? How do we live a meaningful life?" and answers with, "Generosity. Living a life where you're generous with your actions, your words, your tender compassion, your resources, your time." And so 27 other authors and I shared our take on this idea.

It was a lightning-bolt-to-the-chest kind of moment, when I heard the book's prompt; I just knew this was the time to share a bit of this story. I felt this was the right way to share what God showed me about fear, obedience, and following His passionate love - even when it requires us to do something really, really scary. I've never been an adventurous type of gal, and yet somehow I boarded a plane to Iraq, sat in the homes of the most amazing people, heard their stories, played soccer with their sons and daughters, and had my worldview shifted and changed FOREVER.

Through my time in Iraq, I began to learn the joy of being generous with my "yes." To say yes to Jesus, to obey Him, even when I'm incredibly scared at what that "yes" requires - all because His passionate love trumped my fear. Because I knew that the people, their stories, and sharing Jesus with them, was worth every possible unknown.

Today I'm still learning to follow God's love, instead of following my fear. Being generous with my "yes" isn't about going to a war-torn country; it's about letting God's love move your feet, instead of obeying your fear. So today, if you're a mom, or a student, or a neighbor - you can be generous with your yes. In your home, in your neighborhood.

Thanks for letting me share a bit of my story.

You can find the book and download it for free here: Start with Generosity.


Friday, July 10, 2015

finish lines, fresh beginnings, and the beautiful, hard, redemptive gift of walking through life with one person


My husband's 28th birthday is rolling around this coming Saturday. And I realized that this is the 10th birthday of his that I've celebrated with him. (This happens when you meet in high school. Feels kind of crazy that we've known each other for so long!) Out of all of those ten birthdays, I've never been so proud of Brian as I have been for number 28.

27 happened right on the heels of the church we planted having it's inaugural service. 27 came after a year of hard. We had moved states and then moved within Washington several times. We learned how to be a family of four, how to have our family's breadwinner be bi-vocational and work well over 40 hours a week, learned to live in the heart of a bustlin' city, how to seek out friendships...I know for both Brian and I, his 27th birthday felt a little shaky. It felt a bit like a finish line at the end of a marathon, where you can't believe you actually made it and your entire body is throbbing and you feel like throwing up, but still, you made it. Not that I've ever run a marathon. Or run more than three miles. But I assume someone running a marathon feels those things because that's how I feel after my most recent attempt at ab workouts.

By God's grace alone and all to His glory, this year we're rounding the corner to Brian's 28th birthday - and instead of a finish line, it feels like a delivery room. There's the acknowledgment that the work isn't over yet, not by a long shot, but the anticipation is evident and obvious. And there is so much hope. You know that you're not far from seeing what the pain and the hard work will bring, and that brings determination and hope. More on this in a minute. I gotta talk about my man real quick.

I am just so proud of this man of mine. He's about to turn 28, and this year, he worked so hard. He's shown up as a husband and as a Dad, he's rolled with the punches of several job changes and gone after it to provide for our family. He's shown up early on Sunday morning church and then been one of the last to leave along with our lead pastor's family. He's dated me, he's been a friend to his bros, and he's turned down guy's nights so that he can take our boys to ice cream instead. He's done some hard heart work, and he's walked humbly and boldly with the Father. Holy crap, I'm just gonna high five the air right now because I'm so proud of you Brian!

Back to the hope part.
It's a weird, sacred, sometimes freakishly hard, wonderful gift to truly walk alongside of someone else for a long time. I've already gotten to walk alongside my husband for 10 of his birthdays (some before we were married) - and it is a crazy joy to watch what Jesus has done in my husband's life. Maybe this is one of the icing-on-the-cake reasons that God intended us to choose a partner and stick with them for life: we see God's work, through the extremely difficult years where you're barfing at the finish line, and you weep tears of grateful joy together when you've walked through redemptive seasons together, seeing God's goodness played out in your partner's life.

Brian James, I'm so grateful that you're my guy, that you're that partner.
You da man. For reals. Happy 28th birthday, I am OUTRAGEOUSLY proud of you.
Let's go make out.

Friday, May 29, 2015

an apology to my second child, and 6 ways he makes our hearts melt

I started this blog when my Nicholas was 3 months old -- now he's 3 and half! It was "back in the day" when Instagram was not a huge deal, and people blogged a few times a week. So Nicholas had letters written to him, monthly updates, and the whole mommy blogger shebang.

Fast forward three years, and my poor, sweet little second child is pretty much non-existent on this blog. I'm sorry Rainier! You're 13 months old, and you have 5 blog posts about you. FIVE! So it goes with the second kiddo I guess, and with the fact that blogging as frequently as we all used to has become a way of the past.


But, the lack of blogging about you, Rainy Roo, has nothing to do with your status in our family. This Rainier of ours is the cuddly, joyful, big-eyed joy of a little brother and all of us, including Nick, adore him. So to sorta make up for your serious lack of real estate on my blog, here are:

6 Ways that Rainier Makes Our Hearts Melt

1. YOUR EYES. Those BIG, wide, blue eyes of yours have got some magic in them. It is not an exaggeration whatsoever to say that we get stopped in public almost every time we go out, by someone commenting on your eyes. They also happen to melt hearts everywhere, with how expressive they are. Those eyes are going to get you in trouble with the ladies someday, my boy -- and I guess your Dad will have to teach you how to fend the ladies off, because those eyes of his are what got me, too.

2. That raspy voice of yours. You've always had a low little coo, and now your first words are coming out a bit gruff and raspy, and it is stinkin' adorable. As of this month, you YELL "DaDa!," and you growl "Grampa." You're taking your time with "Mama," but that's ok because I know I'm your favorite.

3. Please never stop cuddling, ok? The feeling of your chubby, dimpled hand, softly stroking my chin and grabbing the hair on the nape of my neck as you nurse - I wish I could bottle that up. Your favorite "move" right now when we're holding you is to throw your arms to your sides and nuzzle your head into our necks and just lay there limp. It's funny and sweet, just like you.

4. Your fake cry is ON POINT. It's both hilarious and a little terrifying.

5. The giggles and exciting, stomp-y walk that comes out of you when you see your Daddy. There's nothing else like watching you walk to him when he gets home from work. The raspy babbles come out, your feet pad down our hallway with your arms up in the air, and you cling to him like you'll never let him go.

6. You and Nicholas are thick as thieves, and I pray to the Lord that this never changes. You're happiest when your big brother is in the room and the giggle-filled wrestling matches have begun. It's a JOY to watch you guys love each other!

We love you Rainer Caleb. Watching you become who you are is a gift from God, and we simply cannot imagine our family without you. Thanks Jesus for letting me be this boy's mama.

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