Messy people with real smiles…

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Two kinds of people always smile. One is really brave, while the other lives in misery. The first put on her galoshes and brave girl pants, waded through the mud, and even when she got overwhelmed – chose to keep moving. The second turned her back on the dirty pit, chose to pretend it does not exist and every time life gets difficult, she smells the stench and scurries to cover it up.

And here’s the deal, we all have a dirty muddy pit. We all make mistakes, have been victims of other peoples mistakes, have personality and character flaws, sin patterns, dysfunctional relationship tendencies, misguided coping skills…you name it. Unless we are Jesus, there is and always will be something, and often multiple things, we could get better at – work on – improve – forgive – or even turn away from. However, some of us choose to love ourselves with an agape kind of love while others do not.

So what is agape love? It’s the love Christ has for us. It’s not a feeling or emotion, but rather a verb. It makes a choice to love, even at the cost of inconvenience or discomfort, without expecting anything in return. What does this have to do with embracing our flaws and imperfections? In Mark 12:31 Jesus speaks of agape love by commanding us to love Him and to love others as we love ourselves. Perhaps we find it easy to love Him, maybe we even find it simple to love others, but so many of us have difficulty loving ourselves. And so we choose to embrace the pretty parts while hiding the ugly.

Here’s the deal…how can we love ourselves when we refuse acknowledge that parts of us even exist? The opposite of love is not hate, it is rejection. How often do we choose to reject parts of us that are ugly, misguided, broken, and hurting? ALL THE TIME! We reject these parts of ourselves all the time! We hide them, bury them, smash them, squash them down, tie them to the wall, and do whatever it takes to keep them under wraps – all the while not realizing the damage we are doing. But we can stop. We can choose to apply agape love to ourselves.

We choose to accept ourselves…flaws, imperfections, and all…because it’s what God would have us do. He loves us just as we are. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have sent His One and Only Son to save us while we were yet broken, ashamed, lost, and hurting. He didn’t die for the perfect people, because there are none, He died for you – THE MESSY YOU!

I’ll be the first to admit…trudging through your own mud pit isn’t always fun. Sometimes it’s just plain ugly and dirty. You will see things about yourself that you wish you never saw and maybe even remember things you wish would just go and stay away. But every single thing in that pit is part of what makes you who you are, and God can and will use it for good…but you have to get real about the fact that it exists before you can ever reap those benefits.

Maybe it’s time to retire the fake smile. Who needs it anyways? Trade it in for some work gloves and mud stompin’ boots.

You might be afraid. So was I. But I can assure you…you are not alone. Jesus will walk through it with you, and maybe you can even find a good friend or therapist to help you navigate the especially deep parts.

And you want to know the best part? Before you even reach the other side, God has a gift for you. It’s the best gift in the world.

Your true smile.

The smile that’s says I choose to love myself like God loves me, even when I feel and act unloveable, because I know the truth. I am chosen, whole, and redeemed right here – right now – and nothing can, or ever will, change that.

Silent but deadly…

blog pictureIf you have any boys in your home, you have likely heard the phrase silent but deadly. Yes, it refers to that fart that no one heard, but EVERYONE smelled.

Believe it or not, as fun as it would be, this post is not about anyone’s ability to pass painfully smelly gas in a completely muffled manner. It does have everything to do with a serious subject, sexual abuse and assault…but hopefully the title made you laugh…and we all need to laugh.

But seriously, if there is one area where I have seen silence be brutally – painfully – deadly, it’s sexual assault or abuse. So many carry this wound. Thankfully it doesn’t mark us literally with big red letters, but it colors us in many other ways. The way we trust, process information, forgive, react to hurt and rejection, and handle pain.

I used to think suffering in silence was the lesser of two evils, the other evil being rejection and misunderstanding from others. I would keep it all closed inside rather than risk what someone might think or say. However, the bondage of silence is much more painful than even the most hanous expressions of rejection. Why? Because suffering in silence is the ultimate repudiation – the rejection of self. It is feeling so worthless that your story is not worth telling and what happened to you absolutely and completely did not and should not matter.  It is believing it would kill you if someone were to know your truth and not value it – so instead you disvalue and discount yourself.

Galatians 5:1 tells us it is for freedom that we have been set free, but tonight as you read this how many of you feel trapped? The Bible says freedom is yours, but you have yet to find it.

Maybe you have told your story and you still feel enslaved. Maybe your story is buried and you are terrified of what might happen if you did tell. And here you are, once again looking for the magic formula to healing. I wish I could say I had it. I don’t think there is one. However there is a thread I have seen running throughout my own freedom journey, and that is the power of honesty.

When I am honest about what happened to me, honest about my feelings, honest regarding my thoughts, and honest with myself by setting boundaries, I am set free from shame filled, deadly silence. Might people misunderstand the boundaries I set? Yes. Might they judge and spit on my feelings? Yes. Could they tell me my thoughts are ridiculous? Yes. Will they understand my story? Maybe, but probably not. And do all of these things hurt? Yes. But they hurt far less than a disconnected chained up life devoid of ever sharing internal truth anyone.

It is for freedom that you were set free – not for continued bondage or slavery to silence. Christ died so you could be set free of your own sin and the weight of sins that were committed against you.

Maybe it’s time to break silence and share your story. Maybe it’s time to set boundaries that will help you feel and continue to be safe. Maybe it’s time to realize you are safe and that it’s okay to emotionally connect with another person. Maybe it’s time to break the silence between you and God that exists because you are angry with Him. Get honest in whatever way you feel the Holy Spirit moving you, because silence is deadly, but honesty is a step towards freedom.

 

 

 

 

What to do when you can no longer escape or control yourself out of your pain, worry, or difficulty…

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Because I work with teenagers, I’m used to the eye roll, especially when I suggest deep breathing or any sort of mindfulness exercise. It always makes me laugh because I remember being that age and giving an eye roll that could win an Olympic medal.

I totally get it, breathing and being still and/or mindful  sounds oversimplified. But when we really get to the root of it, focusing on your breath or mindfully noticing your environment and body sensations teaches and embeds feelings of safety at the most basic level.

And we need a place to feel safe, because when we don’t, we often do one of two things…

Try to control (boss everyone around, perform to the highest level, judge, demand, etc.)

or

Try to escape (shop, eat, sleep, use drugs or alcohol, withdraw, act like a doormat, etc.)

These behaviors are okay if used in moderation, and are even necessary at times. If a lion is chasing me, I want and need to escape! If I am in charge of a presentation at work, I likely need to exert some control.

Problems occur when we take either tendency to the extreme or when we begin to see the world as an unsafe place and use these behaviors when they are not necessary or functional.

When these behaviors begin to cause problems, perhaps it is time to stop seeking safety in this way and try to create a healthy safe space within your mind.

How?

By making the choice to realize discomfort is an inevitable part of life. It doesn’t always mean you are unsafe. Sometimes it just means you need to sit with it and realize most emotions, thoughts, feelings, and even relational difficulties may cause discomfort – but they won’t kill you. You can stand them and you can stay safe while experiencing them.

Here’s three quick ideas to help you create a safe place in your mind (and yes some include deep breathing, and you may insert eye roll here, LOL!)

  1. Think of a place so safe no one could hurt you. It doesn’t have to be a realistic place, or it can be, it’s your space. Think of the way it looks, smells, feels, and sounds. You can even draw this space if you want to, or take/find a picture that closely represents this space. This is a safe place you can go anytime you want. It will never disappear because it exists inside of you. Instead of immediately escaping or controlling your pain, try going here first.
  2. Try progressive relaxation. If you don’t know what that is, here is a link. It sounds simple, but remember, you are training yourself to feel safe in your own skin. Try it everyday for a period of at least 2 weeks before you determine if you find it helpful or not. It is a skill that takes time to develop.
  3. My personal new favorite, the breath prayer. Again if you don’t know what that is, click here. Why is this my favorite? Because it allows me not only to find a safe space within myself, but tuck myself deep into the heart and presence of God. Again, it takes practice to develop this skill, but it’s worth it for the sense of calm and peace that emerges.

The thing about habitual escape and control behaviors is they were likely necessary and functional at some point. They kept us safe at a time where we felt very unsafe. But the usefulness may have waned as situations changed. It might be time to find a new way to stay safe and I hope these suggestions help you find a place to start.

 

 

 

a peace vitamin for tough days…

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I’ve seen it over and over. In the moment we feel lost, hopeless, alone, and abandoned, His presence swallows us up like a lion and keeps us safe. It’s with His strength we are able to carry on.

I love what The Message version of Matthew 5:3 says, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

It’s in these moments the story catcher reaches out and says this could go one of two ways…

We can lean into God and accept His sovereignty…or swell and meld with our depravity. Both the former and the latter may equal the same circumstantial outcome, but the difference is our state of heart and mind. One choice breeds peace while the other brews discontent.

What keeps us from choosing the former? For me, it usually boils down to pride. I want to fix this thing on my own, fight my own battle, and only when I pile into a heap of exhaustion do I cry out with urgency for Him to fix me.

So if I could sum my thoughts up and hand them to you like a multivitamin, this is what I would say. When you hit the end of your rope, let go. Because in the free-fall is where you find Him. He will take all of this, whatever your this is, curl His fingers around it and release peace. Not fleeting peace that you seek yourself, but sovereign redemption peace that permeates even the deepest dark places.

Less of you…more of Him…let this be your very life breath for even the most trying and painful of days…

The art of learning to BE still…

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Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Psalm 37:7

Most things we want to get good at, we practice. If we want to be a runner we go to the gym and modify the way we eat to improve our energy level. If we want to be a teacher we go to college and study education. If we want to be a driver we learn about traffic laws, practice driving, and obtain a drivers license.

Being something requires hard work and sacrifice, but we are willing to do it to obtain the end goal.

So what about being still? Could it be that this also requires hard work and practice? Studying, learning, and maybe even sacrificing in order to actually become competent in the skill of stillness.

Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.”

We often read this verse as a nice thought, a good piece of information, maybe a nice suggestion – but how many of us actually decide to put some effort into practicing this skill?

Maybe we try to sit still in prayer for a few minutes but then get bored, fall asleep, or even get so overwhelmed by other racing thoughts and emotions that we can’t handle the stillness – so we give up.

I get it. Being still is tough. It’s a very vulnerable place. The thoughts that enter our minds in quiet places can be weird and even scary sometimes. Emotions can feel overwhelming. But God doesn’t ask us just to be still. He asks that we be still in the center of His presence. That can be even more intimidating. Stillness itself is a vulnerable choice but being vulnerable in the presence of God? Even tougher.

So how do we get there? How do we hone the art of stillness in the presence of God?

If we want to be still we must practice and prepare.

First of all, prepare your heart to look for redemption rather than condemnation. If you are going to sit alone in the presence of God some of your past sins and sorrows are going to pop up, and that is good and to be expected. Just let them. And realize the goal of the Holy Spirit is to help you heal from, release, and repent regarding these things. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.

Second, don’t shame yourself for thoughts and emotions that wander. They are going to wander. It’s not just a possibility. It’s a given. I use something called the breath prayer to keep myself mindful of His Spirit. It works. If you don’t know what breath prayer is, please read the information at this link. Bottom line, don’t beat yourself up for having wandering thoughts in the presence of God, just bring them back and refocus on your time with Him. Bring them back as many times as it takes. You will find they wander less and less as you learn to practice this art of stillness.

Third, recognize that there may be dull spots. You aren’t going to have a deep spiritual feeling of encounter every time you get still in the presence of God.  And that’s ok. You don’t need to. Being still in the presence of God is so much deeper than an emotional experience. At times you will feel deeply connected, and other times you may not. One thing I do to help with this is pray every day that God will increase my passion and desire for Him, so that despite the presence or absence of emotions – I continue to seek more of Him and less of me.

I hope these things help. I cannot begin to explain all the ways in which my relationship with Him has deepened since I started just being still in His presence. And not only greater depth, but a much more profound sense of calm and peace has begun to wash over me – not just in my prayer and still time – but throughout my day.

If we want to learn to be calmed by and in the presence of God, it is something we must practice – daily.

Be still.

trust as floppy spaghetti…

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There’s this relaxation thing I teach kids. It’s called the floppy spaghetti. Basically it’s learning to let the tension out of your body and relax with the goal of easing anxiety.

This morning as I spent time meditating on Psalm 37:4. The Holy Spirit brought floppy spaghetti to mind. I know what your thinking…deep scripture meditation and floppy spaghetti? But God speaks to me in ways I can understand and this totally made sense to me. 

Psalm 37:4 makes me think of trusting in the Lord. But have you ever really thought about what trust looks like? Is it a thought? An emotion? An act? And where does it come from? The mind? The body? The heart?

Thus the floppy spaghetti…

As I began to pray a breath prayer mindful of the word trust my body began to let down. The anxiety literally melted off and I was the floppy noodle in His hands.

Trust is an act of the will combined with a completely vulnerable physical, mental, and emotional state. And it’s not always an easy place to get or go.

Trust is a mind, body, spirit, and Holy Spirit state that affords malleability into the center of His utmost and highest will. It disregards our selfish desires and bends us into to the rhythms of His over and out flowing grace.

He finds the deepest places of our hearts and minds and commands them be still. This place of righteous Holy sanctification and forgiveness melts us…absolutely melts us…to a place where the second half of Psalm 37:4 begins.

The desires of our hearts.

As the noodles of our humanity soften, our desires become more and more like His. Our heart beats in tandem with the Spirit, and grace shapes and molds each desire into who we truly are: sons and daughters of the most high King. In this place our depraved humanity takes a long and much needed rest. 

Floppy spaghetti. May we carry this state throughout our day. The trust state of love-bent-vulnerability where each desire shapes itself further and deeper into Him.

Let the lemons be…

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Making lemons into lemonade. It’s a familiar phrase. Making good from the bad. Taking the rough places in life and finding the lovely. I’m actually pretty good at doing this. But sometimes I find it leaves me feeling invalidated and even frustrated. Why is that?

We usually try to make lemonade two different ways. The first way is by squashing the hurt down and the second way is by giving it a silver lining. Squashing it down can be temporarily effective, but like a ball floating on top of the water, it always pops back up. And giving it a silver lining? We often do this for the sake of others. Maybe we don’t want them to feel bad for us or see us hurt, so we paint on a shiny top layer but the hurt still nags and pulls at our insides.

Maybe you have a whole bowl of lemons on your plate this week, or maybe just one, or maybe you have a pile of past lemons all around you. May I offer you a suggestion of something that is really helping me? Perhaps it’s time to just let the lemons be. Might they cause you to pucker a bit? Yes, but the thing about a pucker is it only lasts for a few moments and then it goes away.

It makes me think of Paul and the thorn in his flesh. He asked God to remove it, but God reminded Him that His power was made perfect in weakness. In order for God to make His power perfect we must choose to acknowledge and accept that our weakness exists. We must be willing to feel it, get real about it, and if it’s going to be around for a while – figure out how to stomach its existence.

But how do we do this? Especially if the thorn involves feelings of loneliness, shame, hurt, abandonment, grief, or trauma.

One way is rather than pushing it away or giving it a silver lining, just give it some distance. When we feel these things they often sit so close to our face that they are blinding. They block out all the other parts of our lives and all that we can focus on is the pain, even when we try our hardest to see around it.

Give it distance the next time you feel it by allowing yourself to slow down, take the time to notice where you feel the emotion or pain in your body, and just sit with it. Imagine holding it in your hand and looking at it. What kinds of things does this emotion say, what does it look like? Often when we do this it becomes less threatening and we realize that we can in fact sit with this lemon – it will not cause us to double over in anguish – and that the sour taste will eventually pass. Will it come up again, yes? But if we just acknowledge it’s presence, it will pass.

Making lemons into lemonade can be helpful, no doubt. But sometimes we just need to let the lemons be.

If I just…I will be healed…and the breath prayer that is changing me…

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If I just finish my degree…I would be healed of all my insecurities.

If I just see one more doctor…I would be healed of this feeling of exhaustion.

If I can just get to the next level in my work…I would be healed of feeling emptiness.

If I could just have a baby…I would be healed of loneliness.

If I could just get past my past…I would be healed of nightmares.

So many of us longing for healing in so many different ways. All seeking the ending of the if I just statement that will bring us what we desire.

A woman in Mark 5 was also seeking such a healing. The Bible tells us she had been under the care of many doctors and was subject to bleeding for twelve years. She spent all she had seeking relief and instead of getting better, she got worse.

Can you imagine her frustration? For 12 years, she went to everyone she could think of for help. She tried everything anyone suggested to ease her troubles. Yet nothing worked. The sense of hopelessness in her heart had to be deep. And yet when she saw Jesus, she thought this…

“If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.” Mark 5:28b

If I just touch Jesus…

I have thought and tried many if I justs when it comes to my own trials and difficulties. Most of them revolving around insecurity, seeking the next accomplishment that if I just complete, I might feel okay about who I am. Yet every accomplishment leaves me feeling more and more empty. Except one thing…seeking to know more and more of Jesus.

He is the one if I just that can actually lead to deep and profound healing.

Recently, I have been introduced to this idea of the breath prayer. It is changing the way I internalize scripture. You can read more about what a breath prayer is by clicking here, and please take the time to read it because this post explains it with such deep and thorough understanding. And then come back because I want to introduce you to a breath prayer that might be helpful for you.

Breath in with a deep breath thinking, If I just touch Jesus…breath out with I will be healed.

As you continue, let the words drop off naturally leading to something like this…

Breath in with the thought Jesus…breath out with I am healed.

Breath this as long as you need to come into a sense of peace in the midst of His presence. I have been practicing this as I go to bed at night and it has led me into such a deep and peaceful sleep.

Will He provide you with healing as a result of this prayer? I believe He will in one way or another. Even if that healing simply and profoundly means coming to a sense of acceptance with the way things are…His power made perfect in weakness.

 

 

To my heart sister that hurts…

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Heart sister that hurts…

That feels ashamed, broken, dirty, and damaged. It’s going to be okay. Not because your pain is going to get wrapped up nicely with a bow and placed on a shelf. But because this pain that you’ve hidden…you don’t have to bear alone.

When you feel it stirring up the first thought is to squash it down. Fearful if you don’t, it will wash over you like that wave you never saw coming. I get it. We all want protection and hurt looks like a bad intruder that needs to be shot upon sight.

If only it were that simple. If one tough blow would make it all go away. Like a selective bout of amnesia that would wipe out the negative and leave the positive. But life isn’t like that. It is dichotomous. The good with the bad. The renewed with the broken. The cleansing breath that comes only after a struggle for air.

And I have been there. So oppressed by darkness that it seems the light will never filter through. It sits upon us like a cold weighted blanket. The discomfort that makes a stomach turn and the little girl inside begin to quiver. She doesn’t know how to let go, walk on, or wiggle free.

If I could say one thing to you, it would be that this healing thing is a process. The part of you that is waiting on a magical moment when the clouds part and the wet spots on the pavement disappear…maybe you are waiting on the wrong thing. Because even when the clouds part, the wet spots often remain.

They are holes dug deep into the fabric of your soul. At first they filled with waters of self-hate and shame…but Jesus…He dips His finger into the puddle and stirs up unconditional love and acceptance.

There’s a special kind of dirty grace water that exists in this space. It’s the combination of a healing father and a little girl who still very much identifies with pain. She is healed but hasn’t forgotten what it is like to be broken. Nor should or will she, because these special places are given stay, that God might use her hand to help set a fellow captive free.

This pain that remains…what would happen if we stopped fighting it and trying to place it on that cold dusty shelf? What if we invited it in to sit for a while…and when I say a while…I mean forever…

It hurts…she hurts…the piece of you that you left out in the cold is hurting.

And doesn’t she deserve to be invited home as well? Doesn’t she deserve to come with you on this journey? Don’t you want her to come no matter how dirty the marks are that mask her teary face?

Let her come. Let the pain come. Let it come with you. It’s mild and meek compared to the strength Christ has provided. That little girl from the past, the remnant of pain that remains, it won’t overtake you.

Sweet sister with a heart that is hurting…let the part of you that is less than perfect in…let her come…let her see that she is loved…that Jesus died for her too…and that this space is safe for her to remain.

 

Steps to help stop overwhelming anxiety…

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Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Anxiety can be a big nasty. A gigantic shadow casting darkness on our lives. At times it seems ever present. We try to pinpoint the source, but it seems impossible.

It’s tough to fight a battle when we have no idea what we are fighting. Especially if we are to glean any wisdom from Philippians 4:6-7. How can we make requests known to God or pray about our anxieties when they just seem like a mishmash of hazardous weight?

I want to give you some quick tools – simple ways to identify and work on anxiety.

The first step is identifying what anxiety feels like in your body. Maybe it’s a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Perhaps you begin to sweat or your heart beats faster. It could be that your mind begins to spiral out of control and you cannot stop your thoughts from racing. Maybe it’s a deep sense of tension in your muscles and your bones. Anxiety can look like so many different things.

The next step is to discover when you are feeling these things. During what situations? Is there a certain time of day? Is it when you are rushed? Faced with a new task? Faced with confrontation? When you are alone? When you are reminded of something from your past? The possibilities are endless and unique to every individual…

Create a list of these situations or circumstances. Grade them one a scale from 1 to 10. 10 being that which causes the most anxiety and 1 being that which causes the least.

If we were to tackle all of these at once it would be overwhelming, so I am going to ask you to select one to work on. For example, the one I have chosen to work on is the anxiety I experience when faced with confrontation.

Next we will identify the thoughts we are having when faced with this situation. For me, when faced with confrontation, my thoughts are that people don’t like me, that I did something wrong, that I must be lazy and I am a failure. Confrontation for me is equated with shame.

How do we identify these thoughts? It takes time and practice. You will need to be a thought detective every time you are faced with the situation or circumstance that is leading to anxiousness. Because here is the thing, it’s rarely the situation itself that is causing you to be anxious, but rather your thoughts about the situation.

If I were to think about confrontation in a different way, that someone is merely trying to make their needs known to me and perhaps they just need to relay information, I would not have the anxious reaction that I do.

Once we identify these thoughts we can work on them by deciding if they are true or untrue. And if they are untrue we can replace them with truth. We can pray and submit our thoughts to scripture. We can ask the Holy Spirit to come in and teach us His perfect peace. For me, I am going to remind myself that God brings correction and confrontation into my life for my benefit, that all of us make mistakes, and that mistakes do not mean I am a bad, wrong, or lazy person.

The word God gives us in Philippians to be anxious for nothing is not so we can choose to numb our worries or try to block them out, because that is practically impossible. The way to be anxious for nothing is by bringing ourselves, including our thoughts and emotions in line with His truth. When we can pinpoint specific situations that make us anxious we can bring them to Him in prayer, evaluate the thoughts behind them, and then turn our hearts to praise.  This is how we discover the peace that guards our hearts and surpasses our skewed understanding.

Try some of these things. See if they work, and then think about sharing in the comments. I would love to read how God is transforming your heart and mind.