One of my favorite book quotes is this one from Tsh Oxenreider in her book At Home In the World. During their month visiting China, she wrote herself this reminder:
“You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things. You won’t be here long. Lean in to the struggles; give thanks for the easy times. Hard doesn’t mean wrong. You’re on the right path.”
Hard doesn’t mean wrong. I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated this phrase to myself in the past year.
We tend to glorify the easy; if something comes naturally we assume it is right. So then with that logic, if something is hard, it must be wrong. I disagree with this on a theological level. It’s sort of like the “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle” pseudo-verse that I still can’t locate anywhere in the Bible. And, from my semi-short life experience, I have already seen numerous ways that He has, in fact, given me more than I could handle. It’s just that He actually holds those things for us, and walks with us in them, and with that we actually can handle them. We just can’t handle them alone. He tells us that life will be hard – in this world you WILL have troubles! So we do ourselves and everyone around us a disservice if we think He won’t let us walk through hard things. Then when those hard things come it just makes us bitter towards Him instead of what it is intended for, which is to invite us to trust Him more.
When you look back on your life, are the things that have shaped you, most impacted you, changed you for the better, were those the things that were easy? When I look back it’s the challenges, the frustrations, the hard relational moments, the stepping into the unknown that changed my life and made me who I am.
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 yes, last week I told you that while New Years resolutions are so good and so helpful, we don’t need a new year in order to make them. What if we sat down in the middle of September and asked ourselves, what needs some tweaking? But here we are, at the “beginning” of our year and so we do, out of habit mostly, ask ourselves what we could change or quit or improve.
I had a conversation with a friend before the holidays that sparked some inspiration for me in this area. We talked about framing our lives and needs and goals in the context of “more or less.” My students had a speaker this fall talk to them similarly about the idea of “adding and subtracting.” I’m practicing asking myself each morning, What do I need more/less of today?
This is good for several reasons. One, when we start goal setting we typically are just saying “more!!” We want to do more, see more, talk more, invest more, on and on and on. The only way we usually say “less” is if we want to quit something entirely, which, let’s be real, is rarely successful. Less cigarettes! Less alcohol! Less Netflix! And then we inevitably binge on any of these things.
Just as there is a no for every yes, there is a less for every more. You don’t want one without the other. It is similar to how we as Christians often approach Lent. We remove something, but we are supposed to fill that “gap” with a more dedicated seeking of relationship with Christ. If all we are concerned with is “less chocolate,” we are wasting our time.
I am in a season of transition. Fall, if you will. Leaves are detaching from the branches and I am feeling a little bare. So many things have changed in my life, some are really beautiful changes, and some are incredibly hard. We think fall is beautiful because the change is slow and dramatic, but then all of a sudden the first snowfall comes and all the leaves are on the ground and the trees are left exposed. Winter comes far too quickly. There is so much change. I don’t like it. Every year I write about how hard fall is, yet I never learn to be ready for it. In these seasons I am hungry for truth and guidance; I am almost desperate for it.
Through this I am learning that Scripture is exactly what we need and rarely what we want. Really. One morning I woke up with a craving for Scripture. I thought, “I’ll read this and it will tell me what I want to hear. It will confirm what I already know (that I am right and everyone else is wrong).” Guess what? It did not do that. It taught me that it should be my glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11) and that those who love purity of heart and gracious speech will have the King as their friend (Proverbs 22:11). Scripture told me that I don’t get to sulk in my anger, that I don’t get to gossip and try and make myself feel better. Scripture called me to a higher standard.
I woke up to what I thought was the sound of the boys who live above me; I started to wonder if maybe they had taken up skateboarding in their bedroom because of this whooshing sound that shook my walls. Turns out it was the wind, whistling and rattling the trees at a surprisingly disruptive volume level. I got out of bed, came and sat on my couch and as I spent some time journaling I also watched the wind pummeling the tree outside my window. I watched as the wind threatened to steal the leaves right off of the branches.
Meanwhile I was processing life as of late and making discoveries with Jesus. I have been reading Love Lives Here by Maria Goff (book recommendation of the week) and she talks about how different she and her husband are. And she says that they have learned to laugh about their differences. I started to think about my own relationships, and how often insecurity and comparison keeps us from just owning our strengths and weaknesses and laughing about our differences. I wrote about how if only we could be confident in who we are and aren’t, then we could deal with our differences and laugh at them and love each other without fear or comparison.
I have been a little overwhelmed with all the scattered, random thoughts in my head. I feel like I have been learning a lot, but can’t really organize it well. I’ve been trying to write something cohesive and it has not been happening. Maybe it is because I’m reading Bird by Bird and Anne Lamott is teaching me about writing SFD’s (“crappy” first drafts – you can infer the actual name). Combined with how my life circumstances have been recently, it just feels like nothing is totally coming together. I am learning how not okay I am with this. I am not okay with messy. I prefer neat and tidy and pretty-packaged everything. I am okay (most of the time) with other people being a mess, but my life? That’s not allowed. Ideally I would never embarrass myself, have it all together, and never be wrong. My home and heart would both be clean, constantly.
But then the Lord whispered to me one night as I tried to fall asleep: What if you started telling people the truth?
You were a rollercoaster! So much has happened and I am incredibly grateful for you. At the beginning I was not so sure; I told people it felt really old, maybe because it was more syllables than any age I’d been before (or will be, for another nine years). Or maybe it is that when you start inching closer to 30 something happens inside you. Like all of a sudden some of those life goals or hopes that you have kept stuffed in the back of your mind start pushing their way to the forefront, and things start to matter a little more than they used to. Each passing year makes me hold my days a little more tenderly, knowing there are (I know it is morbid) less and less left.
But the days were beautiful and full of surprises. When I rolled up to my 27th birthday party in that sassy romper and lipstick I had no idea that a year later I would be living in a different home, have a different job, and have traveled practically around the world.
You are capable of so much more than you know: Another life lesson learned in Uganda.
Throughout my entire life I have struggled with fear. I have always known fear, a close companion that turns out was actually a really crappy friend. But only in the past few years have I really become close friends with Courage. As we know, we cannot focus on the things we don’t want to become (i.e. if you spend your life saying “I don’t want to be like my mom,” you most likely will be just like your mom. It is all you have thought about or pictured.), so we choose courage instead.
Courage has become a constant for me; a discipline, a habit, an everyday teacher. While I was in Uganda, I started keeping a “courage list” because I was conquering so many things, both little and large, that scared me. This list included (but was not limited to):
Traveling to Africa (I’m kind of a nervous flyer…)
Riding a boda (a Ugandan motorcycle taxi type thing)
White water rafting the Nile
Preaching in a Ugandan prison
And each time, I survived. And was stronger and braver for it.