Thursday, September 18, 2014

What If...

I had barely hit the send button on the invites to my book project when I felt completely overwhelmed by emotion.

I found myself going to the kitchen and getting a slice of pizza and then a bowl of ice cream. Comfort foods, I guess.  We can learn so much about ourselves if we are conscious and observe the way we respond in situations and how we handle emotions.  In this case, turning to food for comfort. Yay! Another "issue" to be aware of.  I'm always happy when I discover those.  (italics is my sarcasm font)

I took my ice cream and went and sat outside on the porch swing in the warm September sun.  I wanted to cry.  Mostly because I am afraid.  Very afraid.

I've observed this...I may think that I don't have fears until I actually am in a situation where I have to face them.

You can talk for years about how you are not afraid of the dark if you always make sure to stay inside after dark with all the lights in the house turned on.  But you step outside that front door and actually face the darkness, you'll find those fears coming right to the surface.

Of what am I afraid, you might ask?

Here are some fears that I can verbalize in relation to this project I am embarking upon.

What if no one responds to my invite?  (This one was obviously an unnecessary fear and I was overhwhelmed and grateful for the response that I received from people yesterday. Thank you!)

What if the interviews are awkward and I ask all the wrong questions and people don't open up?

What if I fail at this whole thing and it just flops and nothing comes of it?  The biggest fear in this is that I will let myself down and confirm my fears that I am not meant for anything out of the ordinary.

What if I don't have the skills needed to pull this thing together?

What if I get into an interview and there is a lot of emotion and I say the wrong thing or come across as insensitive?

What if this project causes me to look into things in my own life that I'm not ready to deal with?

Something (God) prompted me to study the words "What If".  Could they spell something else backwards? (Not anything that made sense.)  But when I looked more closely, the words "what if", when re-arranged, spell "Faith" (with a leftover w - just to mess with my OCD tendencies).  Who knew??

That's the trade off I need to make.  Let go of all the "what if's" and have Faith.  I have no idea what all that looks like but I know that what it doesn't look like is certainty. 

Or, how about turning those "What if's" into positives instead of negatives?

What if someone's life is helped or healed in some way through sharing their story, maybe for the first time?

What if the book is published one day and it impacts even one life or helps one person to realize they are not alone?

What if this is the beginning of a great part of my journey and process towards wholeness and healing?

What if God is in all of this in a bigger way than I can imagine?

What if one other person is inspired to step out and pursue a dream that they've had in their heart?

What If versus Faith.   Like so very many things in life, its just a matter of perspective!
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Here Goes Something...

I'm literally sitting here praying as I start to write "God, if you want me to do this, you're going to have to give me the words to say, because I feel scared and vulnerable and unqualified."


So...deep breath...here goes.


Have you ever had one of those ideas that hits you like a lightening bolt?  It's not the sort of idea where you think "Hey, maybe I should visit Florida someday."  No, it's more of a "this idea is not your own so you better sit up and listen" kind of thing.  Call it God or call it fate or intuition, but this happened to me about two months ago and this is what I want to tell you about.


I was sitting on my bed, watching Oprah interview someone who I am sure was saying something profound, although I can't recall what it was.


I was simultaneously reading a Facebook message from a friend, because I suck at doing one thing at a time. The message I was reading was a peek into the life of someone I have come to know in the last year.  It struck me that people often want to tell their stories but don't know how to share or how to write.  They are scared or sometimes even unable to find the words to express what is going on deep within. So their stories often stay inside of them, wanting air to breathe and to be given life outside of their own minds.


It hit me with incredible force that for all of the things that I am not good at and all of the insecurities that I carry around with me, there are some things that I am gifted with.


1)  I love to write.  Historically, at least.  As any of my blog followers would know, its been quite a while that I've been in a writing funk and I've written barely a word for the past year and a half.  So yeah, I'm a little rusty.  But friends and family have often told me that I have a gift for writing, so I am choosing to believe that.  Comparison is the thief of joy, we've all heard that saying. But comparison is also the thief of creativity and inspiration and daring, because there is always going to be someone better.  So I love to write. I'll never be the best but I have my own style and flavor, and maybe that's as good as it gets.


2)  I have a profound interest in the lives and stories of other people.  Nothing makes me come alive more than a great conversation where someone lets me in to their life to hear about their heartache and passion and fears and struggle and joy and success and pain.  Whatever their story is to tell, I want to hear it, I want to learn from it, and I want to empathize or rejoice with them.  I am fascinated by what makes people who they are.


3)  People seem to find me easy to talk to.  I will fairly often have someone say to me "I usually don't tell this to anyone, but..." or "I've never told anyone this before..."  I don't know for sure why this is, but I accept it and am grateful for it.




And here is where I feel extremely scared and vulnerable and all of the voices in my head say "This will never work. You're not good enough."  What do you think you have to offer?" and these voices are what has kept me from doing what I am doing now for the last two months.


But fueled by passion and Brene Brown's talk on "Daring Greatly" and a healthy dose of "she's just crazy enough to try this", this is the idea I want to put out there.


I want to write a book.  And I want you all to be part of it.  I want to tell my story and your stories.


I have a title in mind.  It is "Not that Different".  And the subtitle might be something like "How the holes in your soul let the light into mine."


Because connection and vulnerability are vital to all of us.  How many times have you finally opened up to someone about something you felt shame or guilt about and found out that you're not the only one?  And how healing is that to you?  I want to be a part of breaking down those barriers and maybe in my own small way, helping people to see that they aren't alone. They are not that different.  We're all connected and we all bleed red.  Secrecy and silence and judgment are the breeding ground for shame and for keeping us stuck in places we really don't want to be.


The stories and experiences of others have been so helpful to me over the years. I am always looking for threads and similarities and wondering how some people survive and even thrive while others struggle and struggle.  I look around and see people who are in similar circumstances but one has learned from their experience and moved on to become a better person while someone else is stuck there, maybe living in bitterness or anger.  I am a firm believer in the fact that I can learn something from every person that I come in contact with. 


Here's an even more vulnerable piece of this story, for me.  I want to hear your stories because I want to heal.  I've been in a place for the last two years where I have felt unhappy and alone.  Not always and to greater or lesser degrees, but I've been through the roughest spot of my life, by far. I've had to admit that I've dealt with depression.  I've had to face my feelings about myself and my worth, about my marriage, and about my many issues and weaknesses.  I've been "that girl" who has a heaviness about her and who needs counseling and who isn't even close to "figuring it out."  I'm learning to love myself and my process and to show myself grace and compassion.  And part of that process, for me, is the willingness to own my story and to tell it without shame. 


So here is the question I am posing to my friends, acquaintances, or even to strangers...Would you be willing to sit down with me and share your story?  I can't promise it won't be at all awkward, but I'll try to keep that to a minimum.  I will have some questions I can ask to get the conversation going. Anything you share will be kept in utmost confidence.  If and when there ever is a book, your story may be part of that, but I wouldn't use your real name or details that would reveal who you are if you're not ok with that.


This interview part of the process for the dream that I have to write this book is very exciting to me. The book may or may not ever happen.  That feels like a long way off to me and there are so many obstacles to overcome to ever get there.  But you've got to start somewhere.  And fear of the unknowns and the what if's is usually what keeps me from ever starting something that feels so unattainable to me.  I'm not exactly a "reach for the stars" kind of girl.  I'm more of a "if you don't have a 3-step plan of how you are going to accomplish it, don't even try" kind of girl. 


But I have faith that because of how this idea came to me, if it is supposed to happen, it will. But I've got to do my part and put myself out there...in Faith.


If you want to be part of this project and would be willing to sit down with me for an interview (or, if you are not from my home area, you would like to do a phone interview) please message me or comment on here and let me know.   I would appreciate it a lot!


As they say...here goes nothing!  Or maybe we'll get a chance to re-write that into "Here goes something!"


Peace out.
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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

{The Sweater}

Pain needs to be felt and experienced and walked through. Pain is a great teacher, but you can't sit in that classroom forever.

One day, unknowingly, I picked up the pieces of my pain and started knitting myself a sweater with the many fragments that were lying around.  It felt good to put them to use and get them organized into something that I could make sense of.  A sweater.

Not just a bunch of useless pieces of yarn lying around.  See, they do have a purpose!

After years of working on that sweater, it seemed too valuable to throw away or put aside. So I picked it up and turned it over in my hands and felt it's fabric.  I decided to wear it.  Just try it on for size and see if it suited me. 

It felt comfortable and cozy and it kept me warm and insulated from new and unexpected chills that I might experience.  No thank you, I don't need another sweater, I've got this one. 

Pain became who I was and how I experienced life and it even defined me as a person.  Who wants to be cold and feel alone?  Wouldn't you rather be wrapped up in a cozy layer of warmth that you spent years knitting...specifically for you and your needs?  Plus, it served as a barrier whenever someone wanted to get close enough to feel skin on skin.  I would pull the sweater tighter around me and hug myself and felt safe.


I couldn't give the sweater away. It would be ill fitting on anyone else.  I couldn't sell it.  No one would pay anything for it because, truth be told, I'm not that good at knitting. This was my first try. Yet to me, it was beautiful.  Everyone knew me as the girl with the hand knit sweater.

Who would I be if I quit wearing it?  How would people recognize me?  More importantly, how would I recognize MYSELF when I looked in the mirror?  I realized that I hadn't looked into my own eyes in ages.  When I would pass a mirror and glance at myself, I only saw the sweater. 

And then one day, I happened to look up and the sky wasn't completely grey anymore.  I saw a bit of blue peeking through.  A few months later, I stepped outside and was shocked to see that there was quite a bit of blue up there and I thought I maybe even saw a ray of sunshine trying to peek through the clouds.  I guess I hadn't looked up in a while.

In the same way that fall had imperceptibly turned into the long hard winter so many years before, spring was turning into summer.  The days were getting warmer.  The grass was turning green.

There came a day, not too terribly long ago, when I walked outside, my sweater wrapped loosely around me. 

And then I realized...the sun is too warm!  The day is too bright!  This sweater has no purpose anymore.  I took it off.  Nothing terrible happened. In fact, I felt better. Lighter.  More hopeful.

I didn't throw it away.  But I might.  I'm afraid the nights will still be cold and I might need it. But I'm thinking maybe I could find some sort of a light jacket that I am not so attached to.  Maybe I'll just snuggle with my kids or with my husband when I get cold.  Maybe I'll use a blanket temporarily. 

For now, its in the back of my closet.  Sometimes when I go in there for a pair of sandals or shorts I take a look at it.  Its been such a part of my life.  I stop and run my fingers over it. I feel its soft and worn yarn.  I smile a sad smile and shake my head. 

And then I step out into the sunshine and look up at the blue sky.  And I find that I feel fine.  No, more than fine.  I feel something almost like joy.
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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hope

Years ago, Emily Dickinson wrote a poem that went like this:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
 
 
I can relate.  I especially love the part about the tune without the words because I feel like often hope is unable to be expressed, or, if you were to try, some part of it would be lost.
 
Back in July of last year, God gave me this verse to hang on to and for quite a while, it felt like the only ray of hope I had.
 
It was Isaiah 43:19.   "Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
 
I don't know about you, but I don't think I've ever seen a river in a desert.  At least, if there is one, its a miracle.  And I just kept thinking "If He can do that, He must be able to, somehow, someway, heal my heart and deal with my issues."
 
I have never in my life had so much to say but no words to say it.  When I try to explain what I have been going through, I just falter and stumble and can't get the words together in a way that makes sense to even myself, much less anyone else.
 
It feels lonely.  I feel misunderstood a lot.  But I am thinking that may be part of the hope.  I don't need to be understood, because HE gets me. And there is peace in that.
 
I am learning that all of those things that I had been told all my life:
 
"God is good"
"Just trust Him"
"He is our only Hope"
"Jesus cares"
 
They are true.
 
I just needed a different door to open to those truths so that I could see them in a new light and make them start to make sense to me.  Sometimes we block love in ways that we don't have the tools to understand until we face the fears that are keeping the blocks in place.
 
One of the most profound thing I have read in the last while is this:
 
"The miracle we want is most often a change in our perception."  We need to pray "God, I am willing to see this situation differently."  All He needs is a willing heart and He can take care of the rest.
 
I've changed so much that some days I don't even recognize myself.  Even the title of my blog "An Extrovert Expounds" -- strikes me as ironic because I'm not even sure I am still an extrovert and I haven't "expounded" on anything in a long time.
 
To go through a valley so deep and wide that it feels like when you come out on the other side, people don't even recognize you or who you've become, is one of the strangest experiences I have had in my lifetime thus far.
 
But underneath it is all the beginnings of this deep settled-ness and peace.  Around the edges of the lonely there is a ray of sunshine.  Against the backdrop of the shadows there is a hint of dawn. And that feels like hope to me.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When You have Nothing to Give

I haven't written a blog post in almost 6 months.

Well, I tried once back in July and honestly, what came out when I sat down to write was so desperate and sad and raw that I couldn't bring myself to let the rest of the world see that much pain and vulnerability.

I have gone through the toughest year of my life.  I shouldn't even use past tense here because really, I could say that I am still going through the toughest year of my life.  Except that soon it will be more than a year.

I don't know how to sum up, for the curious or concerned reader, what all has gone on with me.

You could call it an identity crises.  You could call it losing my way.  You could call it "the emotional oblivion of my twenties catching up to me."  Either way, what I have gone through and am going through stripped me of a lot of things that I cared about. 

I wanted to share this for those of you who have a friend who might be going through something similar. I want to tell you, from my perspective, what a friend who is going through a really rough time might need from you.

You see, I've always been that friend who puts lot of effort into a relationship.  I value my friends greatly. I make sure to call. To message. To let my friends know what they mean to me.  That's how I roll and that's what my friends are used to when they think of me.

But this past year has brought me to a place where I simply just did.not.have.the.energy to invest in my girlfriend relationships. It bothered me. I didn't know how to handle it.  I felt like a bad friend. I tried to keep up, but I cannot describe it any differently than that I was simply stripped of the energy needed to maintain friendships in the way that I have always thought they should be maintained and cared for.

I can see good in it.  I think throughout my life I have relied too much on my friends, going to them instead of to my own spirit or to God.  Seeking out answers from my friends when those answers were actually somewhere deep inside of me.  I just needed to dig for them and trust that I knew the way.

I know I hurt some friends in this process. I know there were some that did not understand why I had changed so much.  Heck, I didn't understand it, so how could I explain it to them.  Others had been in my shoes at one time or another in life and understood that this is a season and I'll eventually come through it.  Not unchanged, necessarily, but maybe finding a balance in my relationships that is somewhere nearer to healthy.

The following is what I want to say to you, if you currently or some day in the future find yourself in this kind of a situation with a friend.  I am speaking from my own experience and I recognize that everyone is different, so be sensitive to that, but this is what I wanted from my friends in this past year.


*Don't give up on me.  I'm still me and I'll come through this eventually.

*Don't take my lack of engagement personally!!  It is not meant that way at all and I just feel guilty if you take it that way.

*Give me space to not talk about things if I don't want to.  Let me sit with my pain but let me know that you are there for me if/when I do want to talk.

*Send me a message to say you miss me.  Write me a card.  Even if I seem wooden in my responses to that, it means the world to me.

*Pray for me.  Lots.

*Be secure enough in our friendship that you will be able to trust that it will return to something resembling normal one day.  Continue to engage with me as you can. But know also that I will understand if my lack of engagement changes the dynamics of our relationship a bit.

*Don't be afraid of my struggles when I do want to talk.  Don't let the depths of my struggle and the craziness that is going on in my head make you run away.  I need you! 

*Allow me to grow and change, just as I hope I allow you to grow and change.  Try to understand, if you can.  Your acceptance of my issues is a balm to my soul.

*Love me unconditionally.  You loving me even when I have nothing to give means the world to me. But do it in a way that feels authentic to you. 


I know this may sound self-centered, but I don't mean it that way.  This is just some advice from a girl whose been there and wants to help others who may have a friend in this kind of need.

Who knows?  Maybe she'll come through all of the difficulties and be a person who knows how to love more fully.  Maybe she'll be a better friend in the end.  Maybe she'll be there for you when the tables are turned.

And maybe not.  But you'll know that you loved her well through it all.


PS -- I could list names and specifics of things that friends have said and done and how they have been there for me in this season of my life.  I am so grateful for that!! Whether giving a listening ear and just walking with me through all of this, sending me a card or a message, just plain showing grace and understanding, it all matters and I will not forget your loyalty and love! 
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

You don't know what you don't know...

Last week I read the following story that someone had posted on Facebook.  Maybe you saw it too. Maybe you had a completely different reaction than I did.  But the idea for writing this post has been swirling around in my head ever since.
 
Here is the article I read --
 
 
Dear Mom On the iPhone,

I see you over there on the bench, messing on your iPhone. It feels good to relax a little while your kids have fun in the sunshine, doesn’t it? You are doing a great job with your kids, you work hard, you teach the
m manners, have them do their chores.

But Mom, let me tell you what you don’t see right now…..

Your little girl is spinning round and round, making her dress twirl. She is such a little beauty queen already, the sun shining behind her long hair. She keeps glancing your way to see if you are watching her.

You aren’t.
Photo: Dear Mom On the iPhone,

I see you over there on the bench, messing on your iPhone. It feels good to relax a little while your kids have fun in the sunshine, doesn’t it? You are doing a great job with your kids, you work hard, you teach them manners, have them do their chores.

But Mom, let me tell you what you don’t see right now…..

Your little girl is spinning round and round, making her dress twirl. She is such a little beauty queen already, the sun shining behind her long hair. She keeps glancing your way to see if you are watching her.

You aren’t.

Your little boy keeps shouting, “Mom, MOM watch this!” I see you acknowledge him, barely glancing his way.

He sees that too. His shoulders slump, but only for a moment, as he finds the next cool thing to do.

Now you are pushing your baby in the swing. She loves it! Cooing and smiling with every push. You don’t see her though, do you? Your head is bent, your eyes on your phone as you absently push her swing.

Talk to her. Tell her about the clouds, Mommy. The Creator who made them. Tickle her tummy when she comes near you and enjoy that baby belly laugh that leaves far too quickly.

Put your eyes back on your prize…Your kids.

Show them that they are the priority. Wherever you are, be ALL there. I am not saying it’s not ok to check in on your phone, but it’s a time-sucker: User Beware!

Play time at the park will be over before you know it.

The childhood of your children will be gone before you know it.

They won’t always want to come to the park with you, Mommy. They won’t always spin and twirl to make their new dress swish, they won’t always call out, “WATCH ME!”

There will come a point when they stop trying, stop calling your name, stop bothering to interrupt your phone time.

Because they know…

You’ve shown them, during all of these moments, that the phone is more important than they are. They see you looking at it at while waiting to pick up brother from school, during playtime, at the dinner table, at bedtime…..

I know that’s not true, Mommy.

I know your heart says differently.

But your kids can’t hear your words, Mommy. Your actions are screaming way too loudly.

May our eyes rest upon those we love, first and foremost, and may everything else fall away in the wonderful, noisy, sticky-fingered glory of it all. ♥

Your little boy keeps shouting, “Mom, MOM watch this!” I see you acknowledge him, barely glancing his way.

He sees that too. His shoulders slump, but only for a moment, as he finds the next cool thing to do.

Now you are pushing your baby in the swing. She loves it! Cooing and smiling with every push. You don’t see her though, do you? Your head is bent, your eyes on your phone as you absently push her swing.

Talk to her. Tell her about the clouds, Mommy. The Creator who made them. Tickle her tummy when she comes near you and enjoy that baby belly laugh that leaves far too quickly.

Put your eyes back on your prize…Your kids.

Show them that they are the priority. Wherever you are, be ALL there. I am not saying it’s not ok to check in on your phone, but it’s a time-sucker: User Beware!

Play time at the park will be over before you know it.

The childhood of your children will be gone before you know it.

They won’t always want to come to the park with you, Mommy. They won’t always spin and twirl to make their new dress swish, they won’t always call out, “WATCH ME!”

There will come a point when they stop trying, stop calling your name, stop bothering to interrupt your phone time.

Because they know…

You’ve shown them, during all of these moments, that the phone is more important than they are. They see you looking at it at while waiting to pick up brother from school, during playtime, at the dinner table, at bedtime…..

I know that’s not true, Mommy.

I know your heart says differently.

But your kids can’t hear your words, Mommy. Your actions are screaming way too loudly.

May our eyes rest upon those we love, first and foremost, and may everything else fall away in the wonderful, noisy, sticky-fingered glory of it all.
 
(End of article)
 
 
I read this and my reaction was anger and frustration.  And some other emotions that I couldn't initially identify.  (Just to be clear...nothing at all against the friend who posted this on her Facebook, this has nothing to do with her.)
 
Here's the thing:  You don't know what you don't know.
 
Maybe this Mom just spent the morning baking cookies with her kids and her phone was not even turned on.
 
Maybe she's going through a really rough time in her life and she is busy texting a friend, who is her lifeline right now.
 
Maybe just this morning she contemplated getting in her car, dropping her kids off with her Mother, and just driving.  Not knowing where she is going or when she will be back.  Just leaving.  And inside, she pulled herself together, grabbed her three kids and her phone, and took them to the park.  She said to herself "If I can just make it through today..."
 
Maybe, just maybe, she knows what I know.  That kids will NEVER get tired of your attention even if you give it to them all of the time.  They will want more.  And more. And they will suck you dry.  Maybe she believes that it is OK for kids to have to entertain themselves sometimes.  Honestly, I think its cool that she even TOOK them to the park.  She could have sat inside and watched TV all day.
 
Maybe she's struggling as a Mom and God only knows that if she HAD to be present with her kids every moment of every day, she wouldn't be able to do it.  She would literally have to run away.  That she feels this pressure on her chest all the time...and elephant of guilt and "should have's" and "I'm not enoughs."
 
Yes, our children are growing up.  No, they won't always want us to take them to the park.  But that's how life is.  Things change.  Children grow up.  And its a good thing.  You can't keep them in a time warp.
 
I get the idea of enjoying moments with your children.  I think it is important!  I know that I will one day look back and say "Wow! Weren't those the days?"  But I think that right now a lot of times.  But that doesn't mean that I am always fully present to watch every little stunt my boys do or see every twirly-dance my daughter does.
 
They need me, yes.  They need my love and attention and acceptance.  I am important in their lives. 
 
But I am not their whole world. And they aren't mine.   I have a life of my own too.  And its OK if I want to live it. 
 
And if that includes taking them to a park and then sitting there and reading a book or chatting with a girlfriend or being on my phone while they play, then don't try to make me feel guilty about it.  They're fine.  They're totally fine. 
 
Maybe this feeling of anger and frustration and "I don't know if I can breathe" comes from a place in my life right now where I feel suffocated by the needs of those around me.  I feel like I've hit a wall and I need to do some things for me.  I don't want to resent my children.  I am so happy they are in my life and I was the one who chose to be a Mother.  I know that! 
 
But I need some space.  I need some breathing room.  I need to stop worrying about how every decision might impact their fragile physche.  I need to be able to frickin' be on my phone while they play at the park. 
 
Because without that balance and without feeding my own soul and without setting boundaries, I can't even be a Mom.
 
I think I am just sick and tired of the pressure.  All the time.  I just want to live.  I want to enjoy the moments that I get and the ones that slip by...well, so what? 
 
I realize that this might seem controversial.  I know this article that I copied here was meant to be written in a sweet and caring and non-judgmental way.  But am I the only one who still feels the judgment?  Subtle as it may be.  We are assuming a lot of negative things about this Mom. And we don't even know her!! 
 
I feel naked and vulnerable in writing this post.  But it has been in my head ever since last Friday and I can't get it out.  So here is my bumbling attempt to express myself. 
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Thursday, March 28, 2013

{Ask and you shall receive}

The weekend before last I attended a women's conference with a few friends.

I had signed up months ago and the time came, so I went.

I honestly was not in a very good place in my heart.  I felt cold towards God, discouraged and cynical.

In fact, all of those sweet Christian ladies in one place was almost too much for me.  The hugging and the smiles and the kind words were just a bit much for this girl who was more in a place of saying "Screw it all" than singing Halelujah.

I made fun of the main speaker and sat when we were supposed to stand during praise and worship. I refused to wear my name tag because I hate them.

But God knew what He was doing when He put it in my mind to commit to attending this conference so many months ago.  He has such a heart of persistant love for me.  For you too.

My heart started to soften by noon on Friday and God started speaking to me through what I was hearing in the workshops.

The class on Friday afternoon is what really hit me.  It was actually titled "4 Messages Children of Any Age Need to Hear" and I almost didn't sign up for it but something drew me to it.

What it was really all about is our identity in Christ and how God's love for us is not affected by our performance.  They talked about how, when we read the Bible, we should be asking more about "What should I be learning about WHO I AM" than thinking "What should I do?" 

This was such a balm to my soul because I struggle so much with feeling like God's love for me is based on my performance. And then I get very discouraged cuz I mess up SO much. And then I feel like God is disappointed with me.  It follows that then I withdraw from Him because I feel like He is displeased. Next thing I know, I am feeling discouraged and cynical.

The workshop leader also shared a story that impacted me in a huge way.  She said that in one of her really discouraging times, she was talking to a friend about how she felt.  She told her friend that she felt like she was sitting in the thick muck in the bottom of a pond, and she could barely see, through the murky water, the light shining from up above.  She thought to herself "If I would just have the spiritual energy and faith to swim to the surface, then maybe I could get close enough to the light to see it clearly."  And her friend, with so much grace and wisdom, said to her "What if Jesus was IN the muck WITH you??"  This so described how I often feel.  I have this notion in my head that I need to somehow get to a certain place before Jesus will reach out to meet me. 

He's in the muck WITH me??  How can that be?  How can He, the God of all creation and the Savior of the world, stand to be that close to the ugliness that is my soul?  It brings tears to my eyes even now to think of that truth. 

I sat there in the second to top row of the auditorium by myself.  I was just trying to hold back the tears. And I felt God whisper to me that I should go and talk to the lady who led the session and share with her my story.  I didn't want to, because I felt very emotional and I knew I would cry and I hate to cry in front of others.  Tears are cleansing. I know that.  But I am so used to holding my emotions in and keeping everything under control and I feel very vulnerable when I cry.

But I said "Ok, God.  I'll talk with her."  I sat there and waited until she was finished talking to someone else.  I felt kind of foolish, just hanging around.  But I waited anyway.

I walked up to her and I just said "Can you tell me more about how you got from that place of discouragement to where you are now?"  And then I started to cry.  Ugly, red faced crying.  And I couldn't stop.  She was so kind to me. So gentle.  So full of love and wisdom and grace. 

She told me that I have to remember that it is a journey.  I need to know that even sometimes when I can't see any progress being made, every time I make the choice to continue to persue my relationship with Jesus, there IS progress.  She asked me if I knew what faith it took just to continue to pursue God even when He seems far away?  No.  I didn't know that.  I didn't see that.  All I could see was where I was in relation to where I wished I would be.

And then she asked me if I knew of anything that was blocking me from going deeper in my understanding of God's love for me.  I said I couldn't think of anything, but that I would pray about it.

We finished talking and I went into the next session but this was the prayer that was on my heart and my lips.

"God.  Just show me if there is anything at all that is blocking me from understanding more of Your perfect love for me.  Help me to be willing to accept whatever you might show me."

I just prayed that prayer over and over during the course of the next day.  I felt desperate for an answer. But I had no idea when/if it would come.  I just wanted to trust Him that He knew what I could handle and when.

I spent the next day at the conference and then drove home part way with a friend.  We had a great time talking about what we had learned and about life and struggles.

The last hour I had to drive alone and instead of turning on music, as I would normally do, I just started talking to God.  Just a raw and honest and real conversation with Him about everything I was feeling and thinking.

I know this might sound weird, but it was almost like God just took over my words and they just poured out of me with such honesty and clarity and emotion that I knew it wasn't just me.  I just talked and cried and prayed and listened.

And God answered my prayer.  In the midst of that pouring out of my heart before God, He showed me something that was blocking His flow of love through me.  I had been unaware of it.

You know how sometimes you have something so painful and hard in your life and you ask God to heal it or take it away?  And you wait and you wait and you beg God and you pray and you might even fast. But nothing changes.  The struggle is still there. The temptation is still strong.

And you beat your head against the wall and you say "Why, God??  Why?  Why won't you take this away from me? I'm not asking for anything that is wrong. In fact, it seems to be a good thing.  Don't you love me?"

God showed me so clearly that I had allowed resentment and anger towards Him to creep into my heart because of an unanswered prayer that I had prayed for years.  He showed me that I had shut down my heart to trusting in His goodness because how could He, being a good God, not answer a good prayer that came from the depths of my soul?

Then He, so lovingly and kindly, showed me something else.  He showed me that the reason He could never answer that prayer completely is because I would never completely let go.  Its like He is just there waiting for me to completely release the struggle to Him and say "Whatever you want, God." Without expectation.  Just Let Go. 

I cried some more and I repented of the bitterness and distrust in God's goodness that I had let come into my heart.  I thanked Him for answering my prayer and for giving me a heart that could see the answer.  I thanked Him for knowing me so well and knowing what would speak to my heart in such a powerful way. 

And I knew that this was just another brick in the wall of trust in God.  It was also a reminder to me of how many, many times my own self  is what gets in the way of God doing His work in me.  Yet I continue to try to struggle and kick and fight for what I want and what I believe should happen, sometimes even under the guise of thinking I know what God wants for me.

He just wants me to surrender and trust Him.  That's what He wants.  So simple yet so very hard.
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