Thursday, November 25, 2010

Breakthrough! (Where do I go from here?)

Wow, blogs sure can be a terrific source of guilt!  Yes, it's been awhile and no I don't have any really good excuses and you can bet that it sure will happen again! :)  But while the blogging has paused, the growth continues and I'm excited to share with those of you who happen upon this little corner of cyberspace. 

I was talking with my husband the other night while driving home from Halifax (wow, was it good to be in a "real" mall again, even though we will forever be spoiled, mall-wise, from living so close to West Edmonton Mall for so many years...) and amid our many topics of conversation, I had a breakthrough!  I realized that all my life, I've actually set myself up for failure.  As I think back over the choices I've made, they've all been based on what was easiest, what would involve the least amount of hard work and obstacles to overcome, the path of least resistance.  In other words, almost every choice I've made, big or small, has been based on fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of judgement, fear of caring, of making an effort and failing anyway...  I had a really strong tendency, growing up, to only do that which I was naturally good at, and to quit at the first sign of looming obstacle or of possible failure.  The most poignant example of this is my choice of college major.  From as far back as I can remember, I was interested in psychology.  I loved counselling, and did a lot of it in Jr. High and High School.  But as university approached, I heard rumors that a certain required class - Statistics - was hard.  That, and only that, was the reason I didn't major in psych.  Instead I majored in English, one of the few  "disciplines" that is almost entirely subjective!  I didn't care about it, I didn't have any plans as to what I would do with it, no calling or lofty ambitions...  I chose English because it was easy for me, writing good papers came quite naturally, I liked to read (not that I actually read many of the "required" texts), and there was NO MATH!  As I'm writing this, I'm just shaking my head.  What was I thinking?!  (Just a note: no disrespect meant to the many English majors out there - I admire you tremendously for your passion and creativity!) 

It's the same in relationships - I've almost always surrounded myself with people who are easy to be around, likable, friendly, accepting, emotionally stable (more or less)...  I would run screaming (silently) from any relationship that might pose a threat, ie. that would require effort and/or authenticity. And I wouldn't even consider entering into a friendship with anyone who might be different in any major way from myself.  And that worked just great for awhile.  I had lots of good friends while growing up, in school and college.  I was as close as was comfortable for me (though I realize now that there were some who wanted/needed to go deeper that I deliberately kept a distance - I sincerely apologize; I get it now!)  But where does that leave me now?  With no really close friendships, nobody to hang out with, nobody to call, nobody to pray for/with, nobody to go deeper with...(I exclude my husband and family here; this blog is just about me!)   I'm not writing this to illicit your sympathy or pity, but to tell it like it is, to warn you about the dangers of living by fear and not faith, to encourage you (and me!) to live authentically, to love without fear, to let people know the real you. 

So when I say I've been setting myself up for failure, I guess I mean ultimate failure.  In the short term, only pursuing that at which you naturally excel produces much perceived success.  But it's not the abundant life I'm looking for.  I'm not sure what to do with this new insight into myself, but I want it to be a turning point, a catalyst for change.  But I'm still fearful.  What if people don't like the real me?  What if I pursue what I really care about and end up a dismal failure?  "But God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-discipline!" (2 Tim. 1:7, NIV + KJV)  I don't want to live in fear!  There's a Newsboys song the chorus of which I've kind of taken as my new motto:
"Dance like no one is looking;
Sing like no one will hear;
Love like you've never hurt before
Live like there's nothing to fear!"

If any of this strikes a chord with you, please let me know!  I've appreciated so much all the feedback I've received from so many on similar journeys, and I've been so encouraged!  Let's get real, People!  Let's be the real people of God who live life in community and find hope and courage and healing together, and who reach out to a world that needs exactly that!  May you know real joy today!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Long?

Ugh, this journey sure is frustrating at times! Grrrr... When will I ever get it?  When will I be able to remember and apply the truths I'm learning about who I am?  It's been a rough few days, of the "rock-bottom" variety...  I get into such an irritating cycle (I hope it isn't as irritating to read as to be in!) which goes something like this:  I mess up in some way, taking a step (or 10) backwards instead of ahead, something that's totally counter-productive to my goals.  Then I get angry and punish myself by forbidding self-forgiveness and forcing myself to be gloomy and depressed.  And then, instead of getting back up on my horse and trying again, I do even more of the same, the same self-destructive stuff I was punishing myself for in the first place!  Arghhhh!  Sometimes it's a couple of days, sometimes a couple of weeks before I decide yet again to surrender to my Father's love and forgiveness, to try and see myself as He does.  I love the beginning of the third chapter of First John: "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!"  And what right do I have to condemn and punish one of God's children, even if it's me?! None whatsoever!  Say it with me, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!" (Rom. 8:1) 

I understand that this road will not always be smooth, will occasionally be scattered with leftover Halloween candy and scoops of ice cream.  I accept that there will be setbacks, relapses into my old patterns of thinking.  But I don't have to like it!  But I do have to like me.  It's so difficult to separate the behaviours from the person, whether it's myself or someone else.  But I find I have a lot more grace for other people's mistakes than my own...  May God grant me (and you!) the eyes to see myself as He sees, the grace to forgive myself as He forgives, the heart to love myself as He loves.  May you know real joy today!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mediocre Joy

Wanna know what I've discovered? (Well, here it comes anyway!)  It is way easier to love yourself when you're on the right track, when you're doing your best, when you're on your way to achieving whatever goal you may have set for yourself.  It's much harder to love yourself when you fall short of your goal, when you don't give one hundred percent, when you settle for mediocrity instead of excellence, when you totally lose it and hit the ice cream, hard...  :)  I've had some ups and downs so far this week, and have struggled through it all to see myself as God sees me.  His love for me does not change!  Once, about a year ago, I was looking at myself in the mirror, a rare few moments of silence and solitude. (Especially rare and treasured in the bathroom, as you moms of littles can testify!)  Suffice it to say that I was not particularly pleased with what I saw.  But God spoke to me in the steamy silence of that place.  He said, "Joy, I will never love you more or less than I do right now, even if you never lose another pound, even if you never try to lose another pound...".  It touched me profoundly; I, who had always based my worth on how well I was doing, on how hard I was trying.  God loves me in my broken places, my personal worsts, my days where I just want to crawl back into bed and try again tomorrow.  Do I dare adopt such a view of myself?  Will I give myself licence to slide as a result?  On some days and at some times, yes!  I AM NOT PERFECT!!!  The sooner I come to terms with this, the sooner I learn to accept Joy on her on days as well as her off days, the sooner I can love myself not in spite of but because of my imperfections, the closer I will be to (the) real joy! 

There, that's better!  Thanks for listening, Friend!  I don't know if I warned you before this, but (the) real joy will not always be pretty, positive, upbeat...  The real Joy is determined to be REAL!  (But, oh it's hard sometimes...)  May you be wide-awake to the incredible blessings God is constantly pouring out on all His children, including YOU! (Yes, you!)  May you know real joy today!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Joy ride!

Last week, I did something just for me!  Like, for the first time ever! (Ok, maybe not ever, but it's been a long time...)  I hopped in the car and drove to my favourite place in the entire world - Cavendish, PEI!  Just me, all by myself, nobody else...get the picture? :)  I rented a little cottage for 2 nights, thus procuring for myself one glorious day of doing exactly what I wanted to do!  And what did I want to do?  I spent the entire day outside, first at the beach, then on the hiking trails, then returned to the beach for sunset and moonrise.  In the evenings, I ate pizza, read Anne of Green Gables, watched Evan Almighty and Dan in Real Life, and went to bed early.  Did I mention that it was glorious? 

I decided/discovered a few things on my little retreat: 1) it's absolutely ok for me to take a break when I need to; 2) not every break needs to include deep soul searching or fasting or extended times of wrestling in prayer, sometimes it's ok to just do something fun; 3) God speaks volumes through the wind and the waves, the trees and the stars; 4) I hope Heaven is just like PEI in October... :)

My old habit was to feel intensely guilty and worried the entire time I was away, thus negating the whole purpose of any break I may have allowed myself to take.  You know, I have lived almost my whole life feeling as if the proverbial ax were about to drop; as if at any moment, I'd get into "trouble" of some sort and be sent to the principal's office to face the music. (Oh dear, what a terrible mix of metaphors - apologies to my English cronies!)  It's a terrible way to exist - it sucks the joy out of everything!  I'm not going to live like that anymore!  God made a couple of promises (more than a couple, really, but a couple that really fit here) and I intend to believe that they apply to me! ('Cause they do!)  The first is the promise of abundant life, life to the full (John 10:10, KJV, NIV).  This is the reason He came, says Jesus!  The reason He came...  There are other reasons, obviously (forgiveness of sin, promise of eternal life, defeating of death and hell, to name a few), but Jesus ranks this right up there with His other reasons for coming! I want to live this abundant life, this life to the full!  And God wants me to live it - it's part of His plan for me! The other is in Romans, and it's my new mantra: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1 - my favourite chapter in the whole Bible, by the way...)  No condemnation!  How freeing is that?  Especially for one who was constantly condemning herself, so much so that she didn't even realize that's what she was doing...

I think one of the first steps toward loving ourselves is knowing we are free to do so, free from all the guilt and shame and fear and deception of the past, free from the lies Satan feeds us about ourselves, so subtly that we fail to see them for what they are and believe them for truth.  One of my goals over the next weeks and months is to identify every one of those lies and replace them with the Truth.  Today, I'm loving this journey - it certainly has its' ups and downs!  And may I say "thanks" to all those who have taken the time to read, and especially to those who have followed and commented and sent messages.  Your support is already overwhelming!  Looking forward to the next step in the journey!  May you know real joy today!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

(the) Real Joy

Welcome to my new blog!  I must admit, this is not a blog that I'm very anxious to write - at this point, it's an act of obedience.  I have a story to share, a journey really, and it occurred to me that others may be in need of embarking upon a similar journey.  I share the story of my journey for 2 reasons: 1) to be real, authentic, genuine and 2) to encourage anyone who might be where I am/was. 

I'm not really sure how the world sees me.  Or how my family/friends see me.  Or how strangers see me.  Until very recently, this has consumed me, this wondering how people see me.  I was desperate to present to the world a certain kind of life.  A life in which I had it all together, in which everything was good.  Essentially, a living lie, because everything was not good.  (Man, this is a hard post to write, harder than I thought it would be...)  While doing my very best for years to appear cheerful, happy, positive, upbeat, I was hiding the truth.  And here it is, in print, for the whole world to see (or the few who trickle in to read this blog, anyway...):  I hated myself.  Hated isn't a strong enough word. Loathed, detested, despised...that's more like it.  And I was actively seeking to destroy myself, sabotage myself, through the consumption of food. 

I'm not sure how to communicate just what it means to me to have made this confession, to know that people I know will read it...  All my life, I have avoided this kind of honesty, soul-level revelation.  It has seriously affected my ability to enter into meaningful relationships.  Because, I think, it is impossible to really love other people if you don't love yourself.  Having been raised as a good Baptist girl, it was somehow, very unobtrusively, ingrained into my thinking from an early age that to focus on oneself was wrong, selfish, indulgent.  And I somehow translated that into believing that to think positively about oneself was also wrong, selfish, indulgent.  And so that's the way I lived - trying hard to be/appear perfect while hating myself for failing so consistently.  And that's where the eating came in; I started eating to quiet those condemning voices in my head.  Soon I was turning to food for every event, every emotion.  If I was sick, I ate.  If I was tired, I ate.  If I was lonely, I ate.  If I was sad, I ate.  If I was angry, I ate.  And if I was happy or celebrating, I would eat then, too!  Food has been my drug.  (Ugh, how I hate to admit that!) 

There, the gory details from the past...  Now, to the present!  It all started with the simple little verse, "Love your neighbour as yourself".  How in the world can I truly love my neighbour when I hate myself so deeply?  Simple answer: I can't.  And since, according to Jesus, this is the second most important commandment, I'd better figure out a way to really love myself so that I can love my neighbour.  Now, I've been a follower of Christ since I was six years old, I know my Bible, I know what it says about God loving me and sending Jesus to die for me, etc...  And I believed all that, I really did!  But for some strange reason, I could never really believe that it applied to me.  But it has recently come to my attention that to continue to hate myself when I know what God says about me is the equivalent to calling God either crazy or a liar.  And I really don't want to do that.  So I'm starting on this journey of discovering (the) real j/Joy.  And learning to love her, accept her, let her be who she is meant to be...  I (sort of) hope you'll join me - I want to let people see the real me.  Or I want to want to, at least...Hey, it's a start! 

I'd love to hear from you, about where you are on this journey, what has helped, what has hindered, whatever you'd care to share.  Feel free to comment below, or you can reach me at thejoyofthelord(at)hotmail(dot)com.  May you know real joy today!