Tag Archives: choices

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

Standard

DSC09435God will not love me more if I obey Him. He will not love me less if I don’t. He loves me, every piece of me, completely, unwaveringly. I cannot change that.

In middle school, I told a friend that God couldn’t go with them where they were going. That was a blatant lie, and telling it is one of my biggest regrets, even after they’ve forgiven me. I believed what I said; I believed it about them and about myself. But it was a lie. He would leave ninety nine to find one that was lost.

I have been afraid of where He wants to take me. Sometimes because I’m nervous, but sometimes because no part of me wants to go there. It might make me a little angry, but more than anything it makes me confused and hesitant; it has made me scared to go to Him fully open. But then He told me:

“If you decide not to follow me where I want to take you, I will follow you where you want to go. It’s you and me. I’m not going to leave you.”

If God responded to our disobedience, to our no’s, by leaving us? It would not be love anymore. Love gives, and love allows choice. “Obey me and I’ll stay, refuse and I’ll leave” is not love– it is manipulation.

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

God does not give or remove His love or His presence in our lives based on our submission to Him.

Here’s the thing about submission: if it is forced, it isn’t submission– it’s control. In order for me to submit myself to Him, there has to be the option not to. Submission is a choice, and by giving us that choice, God also submits Himself to us. He wouldn’t ask us to love Him in ways He Himself does not love. Love is sacrifice, is generosity. And He embodies that. He is love.

He never forces me to do anything. He knows what is best for me and He has shown Himself trustworthy, so submission is something I get to do out of deep love for Him and out of that trust– not out of fear or duty. But I could always choose not to submit, because love does not force anyone to do anything; love is given, it doesn’t take. And because I see His love in the fact that He lets me choose, it is easier for me to choose to submit. I want to. He loved me first; I love Him in return. We both give, we both receive. No one has to take.

He has always said that He doesn’t want our sacrifice if He doesn’t have our hearts. Because sacrifice without love is theft; it is one-sided, duty-driven, an attempt at control. Love is given; it cannot be demanded. He doesn’t want what we have to give: He wants us. He wants to be genuinely loved by us, willingly, affectionately.

Because that’s the way He loves us.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   -Psalm 23:6

On The Work of My Brain & My Heart

Standard

clothes-4-4-13“I think I need to work on this,” I said, pointing to my temples. “Maybe if I get back into the habit of working on this, this,” I now pointed to the left side of my chest, “will start healing a bit, too.”

My head and my heart need work. They always do; I’m a human being living through the process, and that’s totally okay. It’s just that, especially lately, they haven’t been doing as well as I’d like them to. After I said those things to myself about my brain and my heart, the Lord chimed in on the conversation.

“It’s the opposite,” He said simply.

I was frozen in the realization of those words for a minute. Physically speaking, if the heart isn’t doing it’s job, the rest of the body can’t do it’s job very well (or even for much longer), either. The brain is wildly important, but it needs the heart to give it life in order to keep working. The heart is what it all comes down to.

I had told myself that if I could just take control of my thinking, I would feel a lot better and would start being a healthy spirit again. I viewed my brain as the primary problem. And yes, so much of the battle is in my thinking and I have a lot of power there.

But have it backwards if I think my brain is in charge of the state of my heart.

Have I been focusing so much on making my brain healthy and taking control of it, that I’ve made it my master, in a way? I’m naturally an emotional person, and have learned that often I have to tell my feelings the truth. But maybe I’ve been so cautious about making sure I tell my heart the truth that I’ve undermined all the good my heart does.

No, my heart doesn’t always have a grasp on reality. But it isn’t stupid. It has grown and learned; it listens, even if it doesn’t retain things for too long and needs to be reminded often. My intuition, my empathy, even my general everyday emotions– they all come from my heart, and they’re important. They make me a better person… make me a person at all. I need them. The darkest time of my life was when I didn’t have them.

I think I’ve forgotten what a gift it is to have a heart.

If my heart is healthy, the rest of me is going to be much healthier than if my heart wasn’t doing well. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life,” the Lord says. If I want to take care of the rest of me, I have to make sure my heart is being cared for. I can’t let my brain do all the work, when my heart is what gives my brain its life in the first place. 

The brain is not superior to the heart; research tells us that they send signals to each other, and that the heart sends more than the brain does. I’m realizing the same is true spiritually, too. If my heart isn’t well, my thinking and my behavior will suffer. In order for me to live in the best quality of life I can, I need a healthy heart. I need to give it credit for the good it does and allow it to do those things.

I’m going to take care of my heart. And I believe the best way to do that is to give it to Him to care for, and submit to the work He wants to do. He is the only heart-changer, and I can trust Him to do it. He’s been doing it since there were human hearts to change.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” said a man who lived in the B.C. 1000s. That man had made a terrible choice, and his heart was in an unhealthy state. But when he sought a new heart from God, God didn’t turn away in disgust; God restored him, and gave him blessing after blessing throughout his life, even through the other bad choices he made and continual heart-healing he needed. Our healing, our good, is His desire. Whatever my heart might look like, it’s one that belongs to someone He loves and is committed to.

He’s the caretaker in here (I’m pointing to my chest).

And maybe when work happens in this, this (I’m pointing to my head) will start healing a bit, too.

 

When It’s Not What You Pictured: On Hamsters & Hope

Standard

I’ve wanted a hamster for a long time. I grew up with hamsters in my home and they were such sweet little delights… but two years is not much time to spend with something you love so much. Their lifespan began to hurt me a bit more each time I experienced another loss. Eventually, I decided I didn’t want to go through those losses anymore. I stopped getting hamsters and for the most part shut them out of my mind.

But this year, my desire started peeking out at me again. Hamsters are so precious, and every time they crossed my mind I wanted one in my life. Yet I still couldn’t escape the knowledge that I’d have such a short time with my new friend… that I’d be left with a guaranteed heartbreak every two years. It scared me.

I used to think I was terrible at hope because I can be so cynical, but I’m learning that’s not true. I’m actually proficient in hoping for things. The thing I’m truly not good at is rejoicing in hope. That’s the hard part.

I hope for things all the time, but rarely am I joyful about it; usually, I am deeply afraid. Over the course of time, I have walled myself up and begun approaching opportunities and ideas with an already defeated attitude. It has led me to keep myself from even trying to purse the things I want.

I’ve been trained to see the obstacles and trials in front of me as reasons not to continue, instead of reasons to believe what comes with them must be worth fighting for.

I’ve also been taught that I can’t have such high hopes if I don’t want to be crushed. I became so hurt by disappointment and lost hopes that I tried to stop hoping altogether. I tried to be satisfied with everything, even if it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Soon, I started believing nothing would be what I wanted it to be. And it terrified me.

I remember calling a friend a few months ago and lamenting to her because I wanted so badly to be somewhere else in life, but knew the key to a truly happy life was contentment in all circumstances, and I just could not find the balance between those two places. She told me: “I think a little restlessness is healthy. If we were fully content with every element of our lives, we’d never grow or move into the better things laid out for us. Not that you should be ungrateful or impatient. But I think it’s okay that you want something new.” I ruminated over her words and found comfort in them. I realized that contentment does not mean you don’t ever want anything; it means you are grateful for what you have and are not demanding for more, as if you are owed anything. I can be content and grateful for my circumstances, even as I seek to enter different ones.

One of the biggest parts of hope is believing for the good in things. It is focusing on what could go right rather than what could go wrong, choosing to feed joy and love instead of cynicism and fear.

So when my birthday began approaching this year and my mom asked me what I wanted… I brought up hamsters.

A month later, my mom approached me the evening of my birthday with a little container in her hands. I could hear the faint scratching coming from inside it, and looked through the hole-poked plastic lid to see an incredibly tiny, fuzzy, nervous little friend.

I fell head-over-heels for him the minute we met.

dsc07855

My first impression of him was spot-on: fragile and gentle, super soft– and incredibly anxious. I’d imagined I would get to hold him in my hands all the time, but that didn’t seem possible, especially after he jumped out on my first attempt and I had to rush to rescue him. I was so scared. What if I couldn’t take care of him as well as someone else could?

What if our brief time together wasn’t going to be a joy, like I hoped it would be?

The next few days, I researched training/taming techniques for nervous hamsters and began practicing them. It’s been about a month now since he came into my life; he still doesn’t want to be held much, but wow

He is such a light to me.

I love watching him burrow in his bedding; glimpsing him stretch after he wakes up from a nap; seeing him pull food out of his stuffed cheeks and start nibbling on it; giggling when he climbs the cage’s walls to the top level instead of taking the tubes; saying hello to him when he walks over to where I’m watching him and places his paws on the cage bars; murmuring nicknames and affection to him when he’s awake and just chilling in the corner; tricking him out of his cage with a treat in a mug and letting him explore the house in his ball. I absolutely adore my little guy.

I came so close to never opening myself up to him. To letting all of these things that make my life brighter and bring me deep joy pass me by, because I was afraid to get hurt by disappointment. I can tell you now:

Whatever hurt I might feel in the future is worth the absolute delight I get to live in right now.

He isn’t what I pictured. But he is still what I hoped for.

I named him Jonas, after the character of Jonas Blake in the third Anne of Green Gables book. Jonas Blake and Philippa Gordon feared loving each other because they were so different; they didn’t know how their worlds could come together. But they decided having each other was worth whatever struggles came along.

It wasn’t what they ever pictured for themselves… but it ended up being what they’d been scared to hope for.

Maybe that’s the way things happen.

And maybe we’ll get to see it for ourselves.

Maybe hope is worth the risk.

How I’m Replacing My Anxiety: On Power, Positivity, & Choices

Standard

dsc05066When I picked up a dingy little book at a yard sale for a few cents, it was simply because the title seemed interesting to me: “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.”

I was struggling with questions about anxiety and how big a role it played in my life, so much so that it was nearly all I could think about every day. I knew nothing about this book, but I’d reached a point where I was willing to hear out anyone who might be able help me figure out what I could do about what I was facing.

During the time I read the book, not only did I receive deep convictions from its words, but I also had an open conversation with a counselor friend of mine about anxiety and its presence in me. These things paired together, following God’s revelation to me about the peace He’s made for me to walk in, have helped me find a grip on my peace and led me in the process of beating my fear.

If you struggle with anxiety, I want to share what I took away from “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway” by Dr. Susan Jeffers with you. I know every experience is a bit different and not everything works the same in everyone. If these things end up not doing for you what they do for me, nothing is wrong with you; you are working hard and doing an incredible job, finding the best weapons and strategies for your own battle. Do not let shame lie to you, and do not give up. This is just my experience, and if you end up being able to share in it, it would be cruel of me to keep what I’ve learned from you.

Not everything I learned from the book is completely related to anxiety, but all of it has been transformative for me. These were my four main takeaways:

1) Fear is based on the lie, “I can’t handle it.”

When I become obsessive and fearful about something in my life, no matter how big or small, there is one common belief that fuels the anxiety: I believe that if the bad thing I’m anticipating happens, it will be too much for me and will overcome me. Usually I am not even aware that I believe this, but the presence of the fear reveals it about me.

A few months ago, I was overwhelmingly anxious about visiting my old stomping grounds. I didn’t want it to be a painful experience, and I’d had panic attacks the last few times I’d been there. But I asked myself: what would happen if my fears were true, and it was painful and I did have a panic attack? I’d have a few difficult hours in my day– and then I’d go home. It might take me a few days to recover, but I’d recover. Was that devastating enough to keep me away? Despite the anxiety I still hosted, I decided to go– and it ended up bringing a lot of healing for the bitterness I’d been hosting toward that place. I did have a panic attack, but afterward I had a lot of good moments, too. I’m glad I didn’t let fear keep me from them.

Two years ago, I was terrified to drop out of college, because I didn’t want to be occupation-less, lose relationships, or be looked down upon for it. But what happened when I did drop out… and I did become occupation-less, lose relationships, and get looked down upon? I cried. I was hurt. I grieved. I wrestled with armfuls of questions, for months. Then I made my peace with it, and realized I was healthier emotionally than I’d ever been before. I became grateful for the opportunity to live a life more true to what I was made for. My fears might have become reality, but it didn’t ruin me; in the long run, it healed me. I survived it and found treasure along the way. I needed things to happen the way they did.

When I accept my fears at face value, they seem giant and domineering. But when I look deep enough into them, I can see how small they are against the backdrop of everything else life holds. I can see that no matter what happens, positive or negative, it won’t be the end of me. I have experienced deeply painful, terribly oppressive times, lasting moments and lasting years– and I am still here. I’m actually the happiest I’ve ever been. What we’re scared of does happen sometimes. But we survive. We learn and we keep walking. Nothing is final or too much for us.

Nothing can come for us that is bigger than He who is for us.

2) We can hold fear from two positions: pain, or power.

How you view your circumstances is known as your locus of control, and there are two possible versions of it: an external one or an internal one. If your locus of control is external, it means that you believe life happens to you and there’s nothing you can do to alter your circumstances. However, if your locus of control is internal, it means that you believe you have the power to use what you have in your given circumstances to create the life you want.

I refused to consider this concept when I first learned about it. My locus of control was completely external; I believed I was stuck where I was in life, which was a terribly harrowing belief to have, because it was eating me alive to stay in my circumstances. When I was told I could change my situation if I wanted to, I immediately shut the idea out, because I didn’t believe I was capable of doing that. But multiple people from multiple areas of my life all began unknowingly asking me the same thing: “Have you ever thought about doing something else?”

And my answer, when I finally gave one, was: “…no. Is that possible?”

Once I opened myself up to the idea of making my own changes, once I realized I had power over myself– God showed me how to use it. He didn’t leave me floundering by myself, nor did He become angry at me like I feared. It turned out that He was the one who made me powerful in the first place. Using that power was not, in fact, a rebellion against Him, but rather a submission to Him and His design for me.

It took months for me to say yes to my new direction, and even longer to tell anyone about it and begin acting on it. But I did. I started making changes. I left old things and started pursuing new ones. It was still hard, but a different kind of hard than before; this was the kind I knew was going to birth good things.

I’m not stuck anymore. I know that, at any time, if what I’m doing is not good for me, I can change it and do something else. I have the power to do that.

When we’re in any situation, we are making a choice to stay there. We can choose not to stay there anymore if we want to. I used to constantly say, “I can’t do that because this thing is preventing me.” But the truth is that there is truly nothing I can’t do.

If I wanted to move to Los Angeles today, I could. I don’t have money, transportation, or a place to stay, but I could pack a suitcase and get on a bus, and once I arrived I could find a shelter somewhere. Would it be the wisest thing for me to do? Probably not. So I choose not to do it. But I don’t get to say that I can’t do it.

If I want something badly enough, I have ability to go get it. It is just that sometimes the payoffs of not doing it at this point in time might outweigh having it right now. That’s okay! It teaches me patience and trust. Life is largely about the process; waiting times are not times we have to despise or rush to escape. Sometimes it’s the right time to make a change; other times, it’s the right time to wait it out for a while. But we are never stuck. Once we understand that, we are living from a much more productive and positive place.

I think a lot of us grew up viewing power and control as negative things. I have known and been affected by controlling people my entire life, so I know it’s easy to have those negative connotations. But do you know why controlling, manipulative people do what they do? They feel powerless. The reason they are seeking to control you is that they see power in you and want to benefit from it; they don’t believe they can do what they want to do themselves, so they use other people. Controlling people have an external locus of control.

A healthy sense of power is so different from that. When you believe you are powerful, you believe in your ability to do what you want to do, not to make someone else do it. A truly powerful person is someone who knows they are in control of their own actions and attitudes, and exercises that control in order to make good choices and love well.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit; it’s something He gives us and wants to see in our lives. It is not simply the ability to keep yourself from bad choices, like we seem to teach all the time– it’s also using your power to make really good ones. When you use your power well, you are demonstrating spiritual growth.

This all affects our relationships with fear and anxiety because if you believe in your power, you will start using it. With an internal locus of control, you know that your circumstances don’t control you– you control you. Whatever fear is living in you, you know you are bigger than it and that you can combat it. You do not allow yourself to become a victim of anxiety, but rather a master over it. You might have anxiety, but it is you that owns it, not the other way around.

When I am afraid, I have a choice. I can choose to succumb to it and let it lead me, or I can choose to ride the wave out and get through it. Fear still exists for me, but it doesn’t have to win out over me.

It’s a cliché now, but it’s still true: when you learn you are powerful, you begin to realize you also carry responsibility. You realize you can’t blame others for your happiness (or lack thereof) anymore, because you are in control of your experience. No one can be responsible for your quality of life except for you.

There’s an important distinction between your experiences in life and your experiences of life. Things happen to us that we had no hand in. We don’t get to choose where we grew up, or what programs accept us, or who falls in love with us. But we do get to choose how we let those things affect us. Bitterness? Despondency? Entitlement? Those are responses. And while we may not be able to choose our initial feelings and it’s important for us to recognize them, we one hundred percent control what we decide to feed and sit in versus what we decide to let go of and move past. We have control over how we choose to live; we have the power to look at everything through a hopeful lens instead of a victimized one.

I have found that when I take responsibility for my feelings and my mindset along with my behavior, it is easier for me to be kind to others and to love my enemies. I can’t get mad at someone for not giving me something I have the ability to give myself. It doesn’t mean I’m condoning their negative behavior; it just means I’m not letting it change my positive behavior.

3) Being positive is not being in denial, it’s being perceptive.

Many of us have been told that when we look for the positive, we are not aware of the reality of the situation and are being oblivious to what’s going on. But let’s take a minute to think about this: what makes it so that a positive mindset is less realistic than a negative one? Both are perspectives, ways of viewing reality. And the way you view reality determines how you treat it. So if we choose a negative mindset in the name of being realistic, what we are really doing is determining to have a negative reality.

Choosing a positive mindset is not being unrealistic– it is choosing to have the best experience possible in reality. When we view life through a positive lens, we don’t need denial, because we can see possibilities for ways to make things better, and we are more likely to act on those possibilities because we believe they can make a difference.

Positivity is not weak, it is empowering.

It can be wildly hard to get rid of a negative mindset when you’ve been hosting one your whole life, or when you are in environments that are full of the kind of talk that fuels one. Perseverance matters so much in this. Our subconscious’  believe what they are told; if they are fed insecurities, lies, and thoughts of helplessness, and they aren’t also being fed a greater measure of affirmations, truths, and motivation, they will continue to operate out of destructive patterns.

We have to out-talk our negativity. When you feel insecure, name strengths and good traits you possess and point out to yourself how you’re doing a good job; when someone tells you something that is against your God-given identity, reaffirm your identity and what it means for you; when you start to feel helpless, tell yourself that you are powerful and remind yourself of all your options. Be kind to yourself. Be active and relentless about it, and have people in your life who echo these kinds of healing words to you. Let love, not fear, have the final word in you.

4) When it comes to making decisions, there is no loss, only gain.

I am the queen of indecisiveness. If there are multiple options, I pretty much go into paralysis until it’s narrowed down to two, at which point I will toss the two options every possible way they can be turned, then make a very hesitant choice. I will proceed to doubt my choice for weeks. What a fun cycle, eh?

But making decisions is actually a lot less complicated and dire than I’ve believed it to be. No matter which option I choose, the truth is that there is not a losing decision. On any path I walk, there is a wealth of lessons, experiences, and treasures for me to find. I think often we fear making a bad choice because we don’t want to miss out on something good. But what if we had a different perspective when making a decision? What if we focused on what the different options have to give instead of what we’d potentially lose? When we do that, we are no longer looking for the least costly option, but instead for the most rewarding one. It is much more productive to function this way.

And if you end up being unsatisfied with your decision? You can still make a different one! It is okay to make mistakes. No matter how many zigzags you make on your path, you’ll still be able to get to where you’re going. We gain lessons and experiences from everything we go through. God’s business is redemption; nothing is wasted. And He knows what you’re going to choose before you choose it, so you can rest in knowing it’s all part of something bigger, something that will always work out for your good.

——-

Phew! There is so much to unpack in these concepts, so much we can reap from them. I encourage you to keep ruminating on them. And, if you’d like, I so recommend reading “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.” The last two chapters are a bit out there and I admit I only skimmed them because they were more opinion-based, but the rest of the book was such a transformative tool in my life.

Anxiety doesn’t own me anymore. I am better equipped to face it than I knew I could be. All of this is my story; I’m not going to present it as the cure or the never-failing balm for anxiety. But I wanted to share my experience and the tools I’ve found useful, if there’s any chance you might be helped by it, too. I am rooting for you and fully believe in a breakthrough for you, however in comes into your life. Thank you for being interested in how in came into mine.

On Identity & Never Fitting Quite Right

Standard

DSC04999I am both and I am neither.

If there’s an extreme to reach, I can’t. If there’s a side to pick, I can’t. If there’s an ultimatum to meet, I can’t. I’ve looked into both; God has met me in both. I just cannot make myself believe that He only lives in one aspect of everything. I believe He is bigger than I have room to understand.

I was raised around conservative Christians. I grew up and found myself relating to liberal spirituality in some ways, too. I still don’t fit comfortably in any camp. The Bible is my firm foundation and I follow Jesus in relationship, so the latter believe I am religious and closed-minded; I talk about spiritual life on a grand scale and I practice tolerance, so the former believe I am loose and heretical. I don’t fit. I don’t think I am any of the things they think I am; I hope I’m not. I hope you don’t think I am, either. I think I’m just a person just trying to figure things out the best I can. We all are, aren’t we?

It scares me sometimes. Because when you realize no human being has it fully figured out, you don’t quite know who you can go to with your questions anymore. I can talk to someone about something and have such a deep connection with them– then we’ll take the conversation a step further. And we’ll reach a place where the connection ends, where we don’t see things the same way anymore. And I’ll feel alone again.

I realize I will ever fit into any of the categories offered to me.

I’m reading 1 Corinthians. Paul is speaking to the church there, and he mentions that the Jews were demanding signs while the Greeks were seeking wisdom. Two groups wanted two different things to answer their questions, to supply what they felt they needed. Paul then says:

“Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In Jesus, both groups were met. Because of Jesus, they were no longer two groups, because everything each person was seeking was found in Him.

He was the deciding factor of their identity. Of their unity.

When we base our identity on what others say, on groups we can belong to, on categories to sort ourselves into– we are basing our identity on something other than Christ. And when we do that, division enters in as a natural result.

In the same chapter, Paul brings up how the church is experiencing conflict because different people in it claim to follow different apostles. His response is simple:

“Is Christ divided?”

When we follow teachings and ideologies, it’s easy to be divided, because there are so many options to choose from. But when we follow Jesus? There’s only His person. And we can shape ideas to serve us, but we cannot mold a person to fit us. When we follow someone, we serve them. We learn from them. We learn the truth about them because we are with them and we seek to know them.

I’m not choosing an extreme. I’m not picking a side. I’m not selecting a category I might fit into. I can’t.

I’m seeking Jesus. Because He is the answer I’m looking for. Always.

And… I’m loving you. Whatever you might have chosen to identify with. Because the answers you want are in Him, too. It binds us together as family.

And everyone has a place in this family.

[Listen]

On The Lifestyle of Forgiveness

Standard

flower walk, pear treeA random, harmless little event caused me to run somewhere I could be alone and shake with tears. I didn’t understand why.

I began writing to my counselor-friend about what happened, asking her questions the same time I asked them of myself. By the time I hit send on that e-mail, I understood why that small moment broke me apart: I had been wounded by similar means as a child. I’d blocked it out, but I remembered now. And it felt like large hands were squeezing life from my heart.

She e-mailed back, said I was on the right track. She also suggested that a good next step would be to list “what the locusts had eaten” so I could recognize the restoration– and that I should write a forgiveness letter and burn it. I wrote the list almost immediately, but the letter… I told myself I’d write it soon. “Soon” became over a month and a half later.

I didn’t even plan on writing it when I did. But a song came on that day, one that made tears spill out when I tried to sing along. It made me think of the person who hurt me. I began to write, teardrops splashing on the page. And when I was done… I loved.

Before I wrote the letter, I knew I might not feel my forgiveness toward them, that forgiveness was a choice instead of a feeling, so I’d resolved to be okay with however I felt. I didn’t think I’d feel the forgiveness. But I did. I did feel it. And it had wings.

I loved what the letter had done for me, and when I remembered I was supposed to burn it, I didn’t want to. But two days later, when I tried to read it again… something in me just couldn’t. The forgiveness was completed, it was all done. So I burned the letter. It crumbled slowly and blew away to nothing.

It was finished.

Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished” when He died for the forgiveness of humanity. After forgiving someone who might never be different, but whom I choose to love still… it started to mean something more to me. He wasn’t just saying, “There, you’re forgiven, I did what I had to do.” When Jesus said it was finished, He was saying, “We don’t have revisit it. I forgave you. It’s done. I just love you.”

Two months later, when the same person hurt me in the same way as before, I had to forgive them again.

And I didn’t want to.

I’d forgiven them for the past, for the thing that I thought was over. But could I forgive them for something they were still doing? Something they might never stop doing? I felt anger envelop me like a heavy cloak, because I knew I didn’t deserve what they did.

But the bitterness was eating me up inside. No matter what they did to me, I still loved them in my depths. I was hurting every single day, but I didn’t realize it wasn’t entirely because I was unjustly treated… it was mostly because I didn’t want to be bitter at someone I loved.

It took time to make the choice to forgive a second time. But when I finally did, it was like I had been given permission walk again. I hadn’t been aware of how confined and constrained the bitterness had made me. This time, I didn’t feel forgiving. But I possessed love. So I forgave anyway.

I didn’t forgive them because they deserved it; I forgave them because I didn’t deserve it, either.

I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. But I also didn’t deserve to let my bitterness eat me from the inside because of it. I forgave them because of love, but I also forgave them to begin the healing process for myself.

My Father forgave me when I didn’t deserve it. No one here gets what they deserve– we all get grace. That is how my Father’s family does things. And I love this a whole lot better than the way others have been doing things.

I am learning this person has influenced me in so many ways, over such a length of time, that forgiveness is something that must be a daily practice for me. I often find myself using a flawed thought process they taught me, or believing a lie they unknowingly told me, or maneuvering an obstacle they placed in front of me. And when that happens, I stop everything for a moment and make a strong-willed statement inside myself: “I forgive you for ______.” I name it. I forgive them for it. And I begin walking forward, away from it. Every day, I do this. And when the anger begins to bubble up, making a specific statement of forgiveness changes me.

It reminds me we’re all just doing the best we can. And there’s grace for all of us.

On Cinderella, Choices, & Saying “Thank You”

Standard

I woke up to quiet. I’ve been restless inside myself, begging for quiet mornings. This morning I got one. If only for a few minutes, I got one.

And I didn’t say thank you.

I had a small breakfast and dressed in comfy clothes. I carried my laptop under one arm, books and journals under the other, as I made the short trip to the living room. There, I listened to music I love; I laughed and read stories; I had a satisfying lunch.

And I didn’t say thank you. Because I didn’t see why I needed to.

I decided to go out into the yard, to find a secluded place I could read. The sun was out but not blazing, a soft whisper of summertime’s end. I was looking for the right spot, but along that journey… I began taking photos. Of the bushes my neighbors have tried to destroy only to see them flourish more; of the overgrown trees and plants that don’t allow me to visit the pond anymore but somehow hold an air of mystery now; of my cat, who sat calmly next to her favorite hiding place; of the single apple fallen from the tree. I just kept taking them.

And I wondered if this was a way of saying thank you.

I know that gratitude holds power. I know it does. But it’s hard to do. It’s hard when I don’t want to be where I am, when all I can think about is leaving because everything I want to do is not here. Ann calls it the hard eucharisto, the painful thanksgiving. She knows it well. I know I have no excuse for my stubbornness. Yet I persist in it. Secretly, even to myself, I think I pray for patience and for trust. Because Ann also says my lack of thanksgiving is evidence of my mistrust in who He is. And I know she’s right. I know that I am angry at Him because of where I am.

I watched Cinderella this evening, the version that came out this year. I was charmed by the imagery. I remembered one of my best friends telling me how much it had meant to her, what the movie taught her. And I awaited being able to see what she spoke of.

I didn’t think it would teach me something different, something of my own.joyous cinderella

Ella was gracious, gentle, loving. Her mother’s words lived with her: “Have courage, and be kind.” She did everything by these words, told them to herself more than daily. They were her guard rails, to help her carry on when she grew weary and to guide her choices, big and small. I kept seeing her live them out, kept hearing her whisper them to herself, and I eventually thought: “I wish I had a simple set of words like this to help me remember, to shape my habits and my heart.”

Then I remembered that I do have that.

He told me, “Just be with me. I’ll teach you love, to love me and others and yourself.”

I’m almost crying. Oh, I need to learn love. And only He can teach me.

He is to be my guard rails. He and His love are to carry me when I’m weary and to guide my steps– if I allow Him to be the central piece of where I am. Allow Him to teach me love. Because He loves me enough to allow me to say no. He doesn’t have to do any of this for me; He does not owe it to me and I am not deserving of it. But He’s the one who knows love. And love does things like this. Love is grace-filled. Love is a continual giving. Saying yes to Him and His consistent presence with me is an acceptance of grace, of His gifts to me.

It’s saying thank you. Something I need to learn. Something He teaches in His love lessons.

Ella’s circumstances did not determine if she would live in her mother’s words or not. She chose to. Every day, she chose to serve others. She chose to be gentle and humble, yet strong, in all her interactions. She chose to find magic in the things around her. She chose hope. She chose forgiveness. She chose to be genuine, even if it made her different from those around her. Sometimes things became too heavy, yes. But her faithfulness served her. She kept choosing to have courage and to be kind, no matter the darkness and hopelessness she lived in. And it was that faith and steadfastness that brought her out, brought her into love and safety and opportunity to live.Cinderella wedding

My circumstances don’t matter– my choices do. My choice to be with Him, my choice to thank Him for all His gifts to me… my choice to learn love from Him. I can do that every single day, no matter where I am or what’s happening to me. I can be faithful in that. And I can see the grace here, and I can have hope for somewhere new someday.

And I can say thank you for all of it. Because He’s in all of it.