As we drove to the airport a few weeks ago, a friend reminded me of Brené Brown’s important theory that maybe, just maybe, people are doing the best they can. It came up in regards to road rage, but we talked about it in relation to working moms (Brené’s example), our students, and more. So often we believe that people could be doing better (and they probably could be), but the point is that in that moment, on that day, in the midst of their circumstances, they are truly doing the best they can.
In another conversation with a different friend, we talked about the idea of thinking generously about people. Similar concepts, both that stuck with me. For example, when I am not invited to something, I can assume that they did it maliciously or intentionally, or I can make a generous assumption and creatively come up with a different idea: maybe they assumed I was also busy, maybe I had communicated that I wasn’t available or interested, maybe it was a spontaneous situation that I was not there for. One of these choices creates jealousy and anger, one invites grace.
I recently did an activity with my team where we practiced giving ourselves permission. I shared that we are trained our whole lives to ask for permission for basically anything and everything. Nothing in life really teaches us that we can give ourselves permission. There is always someone else, an authority, that we look to for permission. But sometimes, you are the only person who can actually grant yourself permission for something you need. And choosing to give it can be an act of self-compassion. So I gave them sticky notes and told them to write down on them a few things they want to give themselves permission to do or be or experience.
A few weeks ago I was on a mini road trip back from a wedding, and my friend asked, “what’s your favorite place and why?” What seems like a normal question actually launched me into some real processing of my past year. As we talked through places that have meant a lot to us, I realized how many memories I have that are defined by spaces. Specific spaces where I spent important moments in my life. I told them about the bench on a mountain in Canada where I sat with a high school friend for hours, and the Nile river in Uganda, where I symbolically (and actually) conquered a lot of fears. I thought about the fire pit in my parent’s backyard where many important conversations have taken place and how I always enjoy finding myself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I told them how much I love bridges because they are a picture of connection.
This year, my first year as a resident director, taught me a lot of things. And I’m finally getting around to processing them (welcome to the next few weeks of the blog). The first thing is this very idea, the power of spaces. My job deals with very tangible, specific spaces. I oversee people’s living spaces for a whole school year. Their health — physical, mental, relational, spiritual — in many ways is dependent on the health of these spaces.
What I am learning: in a world filled with constant change, to choose to stay can be a brave choice. While we celebrate new things, we need to recognize what it takes to stay. Moving to a new city, staying where we are; starting a new job, staying where we are; ending a relationship or choosing to fight for it — it is all brave.
We glorify change, and obviously those big life decisions are incredibly courageous and important. I have made them in those seasons and have learned and grown in exponential ways. But right now I am learning how much courage it actually takes to stay when that is what we are asked or invited to do.
I woke up one morning and it suddenly felt like spring in my heart and soul. If you’ve been reading along this year, you’ll know it has felt like a hard, deep winter. The reality is that spring does always come, which is such a sweet promise. There is also the reality that after every winter new and different flowers may grow and bloom, and some that were there last spring may not be there this year.
And yet. The wildflower garden of life is full of beauty. Filled to the brim with the loveliest of people and experiences. As I wade through it slowly, palms stretched open, running my fingers through each petal, each branch, I experience the beauty through every sense. The sun hits it in that way that makes everything shine and as the wind blows through it shimmers and looks like the branches are doing the wave. I breathe in the scent and breathe out contentment. It is there that Jesus meets me, in my Mary Magdalene moment, where He reminds me that He is in fact so alive and He is the Creator and Author of all this beauty. And in the wildflower garden of life, space sometimes has to be made so new things can grow. And maybe this season one flower looks best paired with another type, different than what bloomed fragrant last year. There is so much grace and peace in the midst of the wildflowers.
I decided to give up distraction for Lent. (Queue laughter). I had just started to notice how often I was distracting myself with social media, TV, food, or anything else to keep from engaging in how I was actually feeling. I came home one day and said basically out loud to myself, “I just need something mindless.” I caught myself mid-remote and thought, this cannot be helpful.
So I am trying to give up distraction. This is in no way measurable or practical, but it is real. When I sense myself going to something because I want to tune out, I choose not to do that thing. This looks like sitting in silence doing “nothing” a lot of the time. It means choosing to do something productive over doing something lazy. You know me, I’m all about self-care, but sometimes binge watching a show you’ve already seen all the way through three times is not actually caring for yourself at all.
Instead I’m eating breakfast. Without my phone. And I am cleaning my kitchen while listening to worship music instead of being a couch potato. I am looking out the car window instead of scrolling social media.
Here is what I am learning. When we choose not to be numb, we feel a whole lot more. (DUH.) But really. When I deliberately choose to feel whatever I am feeling rather than stuff it down and pretend to be fine while eating a whole bag of M&M’s (ok fine I still ate the M&M’s), I realize how much I actually feel. So yes, this Lent practice is actually quite hard and sometimes painful.
So last week we were doing simple adding and subtracting, this week we are moving on to geometry. Just kidding, let’s leave the math to the math people. Really what we are doing here today is talking about my word for the year. I know, it is already essentially February and you have already chosen yours and you have already heard everyone else’s but give a girl some grace, ok?
The truth is that this word came to me months ago, in the middle of the semester and in the middle of my mess. I felt like the Lord was opening my eyes to the amount of dishonesty flying around my life, whether it was my own or the dishonesty of others around me. I became aware of how often we all are telling lies, either through blatant untruths or by leaving out any kind of detail of our choosing. Often we think we are protecting the people around us by withholding information. I have started praying for the Lord to give me, essentially, a better BS radar – that I would be able to hear people and know whether or not they were telling me the truth.
Here is the thing. We live so much of our lives thinking that lying will make things easier. We lie to our parents when we are in high school. We lie to our professors when we are in college. We lie to our friends about all kinds of things – we think by lying that we can make people like us more, or protect our image, or get invited to more things. We live a lot of our lives in the darkness where the devil whispers, just tell half the truth. Or, just leave out that one minor detail, it’ll never matter.
Everybody loves a good fixer upper story. The cultural obsession with Chip and Joanna shows us how much we love a successful renovation. We love to see the before and after, the way old can be renewed. Homes, rooms, hearts, all need a renovation every once in a while.
I entered into this new season of a different job expecting a lot of changes, but unaware of the complete renovation my life would face. And we know, a renovation most of the time is not a bad thing – in fact, it is probably necessary. We see in interior design the way we can get stuck with old decorations, wall colors, furniture set-ups. We get comfortable with the way things are. But sometimes we need a shake-up! Which, of course, is very fun to watch when it is some random person’s home on HGTV. When it is our own lives and hearts, it is often more painful and uncomfortable than we would like.
Renovation in our lives isn’t just a benefit or unintended consequence of following Christ, it is an absolute guarantee. It is a necessity. If we are seeking Christlikeness in our lives, we really should not even be surprised by it. Of course we would need a complete overhaul.
I’ve realized I love Instagram more than Jesus.
I journaled this prayer a few weeks ago:
How do we retrain our brains to not be satisfied and fed by red notifications, but by the Presence of God?
To not hunger for the sound of a text message but for the sound of His Voice?
To not seek the approval of people but to know that we are His Beloved?
To dive into the Scriptures rather than swiping when we have a free moment?
We can look back and see – when have there ever been enough likes to make us feel loved? When have we heard from enough people to solidify our worth? When has a person’s approval ever made us feel wholly, fully good enough? When has scrolling ever made our hearts rest easy? Never.
I want to provide a place of encouragement, a place where we can bring our hurting and sadness and heartache and feel held. Where we can bear each other’s burdens, and hold each other’s lies up to the light of Truth. This is a space for speaking well of one another.
So, dear friend, this is the blessing, the “speaking well,” that I have for you today: