Seasons

Just as we experience seasons with the weather, we experience seasons in life. Just as with the weather, some seasons we enjoy more than others. But every season has a purpose.

As this winter and this holiday season set in, I can’t help but think back to where I was last year. Not physically, but mentally. I know I’m different now, and I know God has changed me.

All last year I felt I was in the middle of a hurricane or tornado or some other severe weather pattern. I was on shaky ground. My world had been turned upside down. I was being batted around by negative thoughts and crippling anxiety and depression. I prayed that I could just find shelter and stay huddled until it was all over. Maybe if I closed my eyes, plugged my ears, and screamed it would all go away.

God answered that prayer, but not in the way I anticipated. Nothing changed overnight, and nothing has happened in the way I had specifically asked God for it to happen. But I had prayed to find shelter in the storm, and I did: in Him.

At first, I started with prayers of desperation and heartache. Every prayer was a literal cry for help. In every prayer, I begged. I attempted to bargain with Him–“if You do it this way, I’ll never ask You for anything again.” But as time moved forward, those prayers transformed from “change this” to “change me.” And when I finally admitted–to myself and to Him–that I couldn’t do anything, I gave Him room to move.

And move He did. I have a better sense of identity now. I know more about not only who I am as a person, but also who I am in Christ. I have a better sense of my calling and my passions. I know what I can and can’t do in a variety of circumstances. Above all, I’ve realized I cannot expect another human to fulfill a hole or a longing they could never realistically fill anyway.

What felt like a long, cold, stormy winter has transitioned to what feels more like fall. Yes, I know that’s not the real order of seasons, but that’s the best way I can describe it. I still hope for things. There are good things that I can see, but there are still things I feel are missing. So, maybe then it’s more of a very early, dreary spring than fall.

Don’t be deceived. It took me a long time–about a year!–to get to this point. A year of introspection, of crying, of wanting to sleep it away, of reading, of therapy. And I’m not still not 100% okay, still not perfect, still not exactly where I want to be. I’m still a work in progress.

It’s the most difficult season I’ve had to navigate, but, while I would never wish it on anyone, I can see now that God will use it, and has used it, for a purpose. It’s really the first time I can say that I know God works things for good.

And that’s why today, on this last day of the thankful challenge, I’m going to risk being thankful for something that may be controversial: this season. But being thankful for a thing and being thankful for what it has taught you are different things. I’m not thankful that it happened. What I am thankful for is that God has used it to make me a better person and that He continues to use it to show me, and others, that brokenness doesn’t define you or scare Him.

. . . . . .

What is your favorite season?

Do you need to be thankful for a particular season in your life?

Have you ever been grateful for something out of the ordinary?

Is there a difficult circumstance you’re facing where you need to see God’s goodness? Or did you see His goodness on the other side of a difficult situation?

Who Am I?

We often get asked identifying questions when we meet people, even in the Christian community.

What do you do for a living?

Where do you live?

What church do you go to?

While none of these questions are inherently bad, as they help us get to know a person, we have to be careful to not identify ourselves by our job or our location and instead by who we are in Christ.

This Wednesday, I didn’t publish anything. It wasn’t on accident, but it also wasn’t entirely intentional. Thanks to Tuesday’s small group, I was thinking. I was thinking about who I am and how I define myself and how I want to define myself.

For five years, I identified mainly as a wife. While that isn’t a bad thing, I lost a bit of myself when I failed to see the other parts of me. I’ve always thought I had to identify myself by my job, which is why I sought out “high level” positions–I didn’t think I’d be taken seriously if I didn’t have some sort of title. These things ended up clashing, because it ended up appearing I was choosing a profession over my relationship. When this storm hit, I felt like I had lost every aspect of my identity and I didn’t have anything to fall back on. Who was I?

A failure.

Incompetent.

Worthless.

But as I worked to pull myself out of my depression I realized I had to recreate myself (or go back to the base of who I was, really). And as I invested in my faith and my church, I began to identify myself differently.

Christian.

Loved.

Daughter of the King.

I started investing in myself then, more than I had before, finding out what I am passionate about, what my hobbies are, and how I see the world. When I did that, I saw that the person I had been wasn’t entirely who I really wanted to be. So I began identifying myself in other, new ways.

Writer.

Blogger.

Editor.

Pet parent.

Hufflepuff.

Friend.

Runner.

Beachbody coach.

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Belle & I on a stop along our road trip to Georgia.

All these new ways of identifying myself, from my faith to my external identifiers, have changed me for the better.

I was recently asked how my new job is going, and I gave the most honest answer I could: I have more confidence. It’s not just that I don’t have anxiety about always doing something wrong, though. It’s also that I am more comfortable and confident in who I am and my abilities. The job just made me see that this type of work is what is fulfilling for me and is what God has designed me to do.

So who am I? I don’t have a solid answer for that, but I’m figuring it out. So far, I like what I’ve discovered.

. . . . . .

Who are you? How do you define yourself? What brought you to that definition?

We All Do It Differently

I know that in church we are told that to spend time with God, we must pray and meditate on His Word. While I agree wholeheartedly, I also feel that spending time with God looks different for each of us.

I listen to Christian podcasts on my drive to drop Belle off at daycamp and then to work. (I navigate between Journeywoman and Proverbs 31 Ministries.) I pray in the car and periodically during my day. I am currently reading through The Middle of the Messand taking notes. Every time I go on hikes and weekend adventures with Belle, I find myself thanking the Lord for not only the ability to do those things, but also for the mere existence of Belle. I find myself just speaking with Him, saying “Jesus” over and over again. I find Him in the moments I break down in tears and unexpected peace washes over me. Sometimes I find Him in the tears. Plus, of course, I go to church every Sunday.

I try to do Bible journaling. I try to read my Bible and let it sink in and take notes. More often than not, though, I fail. I go back to the same verses I have read over the past year because of the comfort they provide me as I fight this storm. Sometimes I’ll find a new verse and write it down. Sometimes I find the verse, but I just read it a few times. Sometimes I spend a few seconds reading, sometimes more.

Unfortunately, I’ve allowed life to get in the way of spending time with Him the “right” way, but I know He is present in my every day.

I know He is there because I feel peace in moments I’m a mess on my bedroom floor. I know He is there because I can discern His voice to me in moments I am doubtful, questioning, or in distress. I know He is there because of how I have changed.

My point is this: as Christians, yes, we need to spend time with the Lord. We need to find that quiet, uninterrupted time to be with Him. But it’s okay if those moments don’t look the same for you that they do for others. We are individuals, made uniquely by Him, and He knows how we best communicate with Him. So spend time with God in the way you feel closest to Him.

It doesn’t matter how you spend time with Him. What matters is that you do.

I Want A Refund

Adulting is hard.

If I had known it would be this hard when I was kid, I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up so quickly. I wouldn’t have desired the responsibility and “coolness” that came with being a grown up. If I had really known what awaited after college, I might not have been in such a hurry.

If I had really known what having a full-time job was like, I might have enjoyed my downtime more. I might have gone more places, done more things, on my days off. Now I feel like I have such a limited amount of time to do all the things I want to do. Now I’m tired all the time.

There’s a lot of things that if I could have known the future, I would have done things differently.

If you had told me this season, this hardship, would lead me to a new church, I would have never believed you. If you had told me it would lead me to new friends, I would have laughed (then cried) in your face. If you had told me it would allow me to grow in myself and my faith, I would have never believed you.

And yet…here I am. This season has caused me to do a lot of firsts and a lot of discovery (and re-discovery). That is how I know God is there–because even in this storm, He has blessed me.

If I had really known what all this was going to cost, would it have really changed anything? I don’t know. We can’t live in hypotheticals and unanswerable questions. But I do know this: I may not have known what it would cost, but I think I got more than I thought I would.

So maybe I don’t want a refund after all.

Trust & Intuition

I’ve said before that my dog has taught me plenty of lessons, and she continues to teach me things on every adventure we take together. With our road trip fast approaching, I wanted to get Belle used to her life vest, especially since she’s never worn one before. So I decided to take her to a dog beach.

Belle is what I call “selectively social.” She’s also the type of dog who, if she is not interested in socializing or in befriending another dog, is quick to let that other dog know. In that sense, she is like me. Perhaps that is why we are such a good match. This means, though, that when we go somewhere lots of other dogs are likely to be, I watch her very closely. She never instigates, but she will defend herself.

We have visited this particular dog beach before, before we really delved into training together, so I could safely compare her behavior this time to her behavior last time. And, boy, has it improved! (Score one for me!)

She loves fetching toys–balls, sticks, you name it–and she doesn’t much care if it’s really someone else’s toy. But she gets very possessive of balls and throw toys around other dogs, so I never bring them. (Can you see where this is going?) One dog parent had brought a water throw toy for their dog, and when it was thrown, Belle wanted to tromp after it, even though the other dog had it in and was swimming back. When I called “Belle, no!” she stopped in the waves, and I could see her think. Then she made the decision on her own–to listen to me and return to me. I was impressed to say the least.

Like I said, she is “selectively social,” so when another dog started trotting around after her and trying to instigate who knows what, Belle got grouchy–just a small warning noise–and ran to me. I try to allow her to stand up for herself first and see if the other dog takes the hint, but when this dog just would not stop, Belle turned. I grabbed the leather tab I have on her correction collar just to have control of her, and this other dog circled us. What I found interesting is that, even though I had hold of the collar tab, she didn’t try to pull from me to handle the situation herself, like she would have done a year ago.

She even sat still for photos and listened to her commands. She didn’t go in the water until I said it was okay, and she came back to me when I told her to. It felt like she knew I was keeping an eye out, and she trusted me to handle the environment.

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Belle

. . . . . .

On her leash in public Belle is excellent. She can get particular about people approaching me, so we developed a “say hi” command so she would know it’s okay. A complete stranger approached us as we were walking the downtown area and wanted to pet her. She was hesitant about this person and stood close to me, but when I gave her the command, she lifted her head and allowed this individual to pet her. After a second, she turned her attention back to me, as if to say “I’ve had enough,” so I touched her back to let her know I “heard” her.

The best scene, though, was before we left to head home.

We were sitting outside, enjoying a water and the boat scenery, and a young boy–maybe an early teen–sat on a bench just a short distance from us. From the bit of the conversation I overheard while he was on the phone, he seemed in distress. A couple, who I assumed to be his guardians, approached, and he walked up to them, apologizing for something. As he neared our bench, Belle stood and nudged his hand.

“No,” I told her sharply, embarrassed she had just approached without permission.

“Oh, it’s okay, I like dogs,” the boy said, looking to be worried he got her in trouble.

I placed my hand on her back and said to him, “That’s okay. It’s just for her. She is learning she can’t say hi unless given permission.”

But Belle continued to watch him as he had his conversation with this couple. So I watched her.

“Can I pet her?” the boy asked a few seconds later.

“Sure,” I told him, smiling.

Belle took the opportunity. As he bent down to say hi, she folded herself into him and gave him a gentle head butt. Then she did something she doesn’t do to just any stranger: she licked him. And I don’t mean once. She gave him lots of kisses, and I watched with a smile as he laughed joyously and loved on her.

As we drove home, I thought about her interactions throughout the day and how she has improved since last year. I thought about how she listened so well to me, how she was so attuned to me, and how she just seemed to know when someone needed a little extra love. And I was impressed.

. . . . . .

In all we do, it is clear Belle’s trust in me has grown. Our bond has strengthened through training and everything we do together, so she knows me better. She knows when I need her to be near me, whether it’s because I’m uncomfortable in a particular social setting or because I’m in tears at home. Her attention and obedience to commands has gotten better because she wants to please me, and she knows I love her and want to do what is best for her. Our relationship–and thereby her intuition and attention to me–is built on that trust.

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Like Belle, I have grown and learned a lot in this season. Like Belle, I am not perfect; I am still learning. Like Belle, my relationship with God must be built on trust–trusting that He loves me, that He wants what is best for me, and that He has good plans for me. But I would like to think that, like Belle, I know my master’s voice better now.

 

A Fear of Spiders

A necessary evil of having two (wonderful) kitties is the twice daily cleaning of the litter box.

As I was cleaning the litter box the other day, I came across a huge (uh…to me) spider, and I let out a scream before realizing no one is going to come to destroy the spider for me. I stared at this thing for a solid minute, panicking, trying to think of how to kill it.

In case you can’t tell, I have a huge fear of spiders. I don’t really know why other than that they look really creepy. Or maybe it was the weird story I heard about brown recluse spiders when I was a kid… Either way, I just don’t. Do. Spiders. So when I saw this spider, I just freaked. I instantly started thinking about how long it had been there, had the cats encountered it, had it hurt the cats, was it going to jump on me as I tried to kill it…? (I know, none of those are exactly sane thoughts.)

But it reminded me of how I’ve always begged my husband to kill the spiders. So I did what any writer does–I wrote about it. Specifically, I wrote a poem.

I am by no means over my fear of spiders. I would still rather not encounter them at all. But I’ve realized this is an opportunity to tackle things on my own, including my fears.

Brokenness is Real

…and God is for the broken.

. . . . . .

This was today’s message at church. It seems like a difficult thing to admit, and it is. It is hard to acknowledge that just because we are Christian doesn’t mean life will be perfect or all happiness. It can be even more difficult to believe God is for the broken, especially when we experience brokenness and it feels like God is silent.

The message today was based on Luke 7:11-17—the funeral of a widow’s only child. The pastor gave 3 points that really struck me. (So far, it seems this church has some powerful and meaningful messages for me. Maybe that is God working…)

The first: sometimes life is hard. Like I said, just because we are Christian does not mean life will not be hard. Sometimes our brokenness comes from choices we have made, and sometimes it isn’t our fault at all. We all sometimes walk away from the alignment of God, trying to make choices we think would be better for us or others.

Just this made me realize that my brokenness is a mixture of the choices I made, choices I thought would be better for me and my family, and the choices he has made. As such, I can only take responsibility for my portion of it all. And I do. I acknowledge that perhaps it was not what God had designed for me, perhaps it was out of His will.

But brokenness is not a punishment. And I have spent all this time feeling like it is, feeling like what I am going through is God punishing me for being so stupid. Really, I am punishing myself. I realize now I can only do that for so long.

The second point was that Jesus hurts when we feel brokenness. This seems hard to wrap my head around, but the truth is He loves us, so of course He hurts for us. Luke 7:13 says “His heart went out to her…” He felt genuine compassion for her, He felt for her in the pain she was experiencing.

The third, and final, point was this: Jesus can overcome the pain of our circumstances. In the story in Luke 7, Jesus raises the son. That in itself is a pretty powerful illustration.

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. . . . . .

The pastor chose to read out some stories of brokenness from church team members. The stories were of deep brokenness, and I could feel the pain these people have suffered. Although their names were, of course, not mentioned, I couldn’t help but admire their bravery to not only admit their brokenness but to share it. That’s when I realized something.

I am afraid to admit and share my brokenness to others.

Notice I say “to others.” I willfully admit to myself I am broken—I know it, I feel it every day—but I am afraid to express it to others, even within a church. And the reason is because I have been burned. I am afraid to share because I am afraid of a lack of support. I am afraid of people trying to tell me what to do, of unwanted advice. I am afraid of being told I am being stupid or that I should just move on. I am afraid of judgement. All because it has happened to me before (at least, that is my perception).

And as I came to this realization, I also saw something else: that this brokenness had been coming for some time. The episodes I can now point out as having been depressive or anxious episodes; the feelings of worthlessness, because I felt like he was doing something so much better than me, that I wasn’t making a difference and he was; the loneliness, even when I wasn’t physically alone…I can see now it all pointed to brokenness in me, and it was inevitable for that brokenness to make an outward appearance.

While brokenness isn’t God’s punishment, I want to think He will use it to show me something, to teach me.

I know now I wasn’t supposed to take that job. Yet, God used that experience to point me back in the direction I had veered from. I know I made a mistake, but I think He is providing me an opportunity to take a step back to have a chance to examine my faults and my mistakes and decide who I want and need to be.

. . . . . .

I’ve decided not to give in. I know where my heart is. I know how I feel.

Recently, it feels like God has been silent, but maybe that’s because I’ve refused to open my Bible and pray and admit my brokenness. I can’t expect Him to speak to me if I’m not willing to speak to Him and open up.

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The only way to combat brokenness is to seek God, is to pray. It doesn’t guarantee that life will be perfect. It doesn’t mean that, poof, suddenly all the problems will disappear. What it does mean, though, is I acknowledge that God is on my side and has compassion for me in my brokenness.

I am broken. But I won’t give up.