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.
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.
I have been trying to come up with a creative introduction to this but have not had any luck, so we’re diving right into the deep end.
I’ve been thinking and learning a lot about the power of our words. I have been learning that they all are either contributing goodness to the world, or they are like little knives or poofs of poison being released into the atmosphere. What if we could see, tangibly, the character of our words as they left our lips? They are either adding life or bringing death. What if we viewed them as having an impact — like second hand smoke, or the smell of clean laundry? What if we understood the weight of them, the urgency of their potential?
When we wield our words with little thought or concern for their potential impact, we are like a blind man swinging a sword in a crowd. We have no idea what potential hurt we may inflict. And, I am realizing, it all comes back to our view of ourselves.
Here is a theory: If I do not believe that I matter, I most definitely will not believe my words matter. And when I do not believe my words matter, I can cause all kinds of harm.
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.
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.
Remember the PBS kids show Arthur? I have this distinct memory of one episode where he has a really bad day, and so he literally goes back to bed to start again. When I was on a mission trip to the Czech Republic the summer after high school, I did that one day when it felt like everything was going wrong. After lunch I went back up to my bed, got cozy under the covers, and pretended I was starting fresh.
Sometimes we just really need a restart. I have been praying for a new way, in a lot of areas of my life. It was a rough past few months and I know that it cannot continue the same way. There was, and is, always so much beauty in the mess, but there are some things that really need to be made new. I was ready for a new beginning this January.
I love that the Lord gives us new years and new days so that we can give ourselves permission to start again. It is such a picture of our humanness, our small ways of thinking. I mean, think about it, starting a new year is really just turning the calendar from one day to the next, the same way we always do. But He knows us full well; He knows that we need new beginnings. He didn’t have to do that. Even though New Years is a façade of newness; He gives us permission to start again. He invites us into resurrection. What a kind God He is.
Thursday I woke up feeling tired and low energy, and it only got worse as the day went on. Late afternoon came and I found myself shivering under a heated blanket and knew that I was in for the worst. The stomach flu is unlike any other sickness; it is life consuming and utterly terrible. I honestly can only think of like one or two people in the world that I would wish it on. Thursday I woke up feeling tired and low energy, and it only got worse as the day went on. Late afternoon came and I found myself shivering under a heated blanket and knew that I was in for the worst. The stomach flu is unlike any other sickness; it is life consuming and utterly terrible. I honestly can only think of, like, one or two people in the world that I would wish it on.
I knew that the following days would be absolutely miserable and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing requires mental toughness like the flu. And there is nothing to make it more obvious that you are single and live alone than being stuck in bed without the things you need because there is no one there to do that for you (thank you, sweet Jesus, for my precious neighbor ladies who brought me the necessities, those darling angel college students).
But these are not the lessons that I want to share. It may seem silly, and hopefully it doesn’t leave you feeling nauseous yourself, but I felt like I found some valuable takeaways from my time in darkness…