Monday, January 26, 2015

A Post Full of Things I Don't Want You to Know, But I've Just Gotta Share Because God Said So

I'm feeling pretty beat-up today. And just guess who's doing the pummeling? (love that word) That's right, no one but me. 

Confession #1: I am a Messy. With a capital M.  As I go about my work today, I'm ashamed to note that my house is dusty, dirty and disorganized. Once in awhile I'll make an effort to whip it into shape, but it always falls back into chaos eventually. This is a life-long issue I've made very little progress on over the years. It was (more-or-less) fine when I was younger and single - I could be as messy as I wanted to be when I lived alone. (And I was - I have a regrettably high tolerance level for dirt and disarray.) But add a family into the mix, and there are issues. Expectations. This has provided me with a steady income of shame.

And then there's yesterday. I led worship for the first time by myself from the piano. I don't know what I was thinking. What appeared a courageous and obedient leap of faith in the moment only seems vain and presumptuous today. In hindsight, I'm so ashamed to think that I made both God and myself look foolish. And no amount of positive feedback to the contrary (of which there was a good amount) is convincing me today. 

To be perfectly honest, I feel like I'm failing at this new life I'm trying to make for myself: our financial situation is still strained, I"m still months away from producing anything of any value, and I'm horribly afraid. I hate feeling like this! But the truth is, in each of these situations, I've done the best I could with what I've got. I need to keep doing that, and let go of the guilt and shame. I guess God wants to deal with shame in me on a whole new level. (Man, I thought we were done with that one! See A Very Happy Anniversary for the back story...) Even in my present state of mind, I'm quite sure that this is not what God has in mind for me. Fear and doubt and guilt and shame are not from Him. 

I had a crazy thought the other day. Someone named Lisa Bevere wrote: "I dare you to stop being afraid of your strengths!" I read it twice before it sunk in, and it made me wonder if I'm as afraid of succeeding as I am of failing. This in-between place in which I find myself is relatively safe - starting the ministry, writing the book, recording the CD, etc... It implies progress without much accountability or expectation. I could probably hang out here in limbo indefinitely, and be perfectly ok with that. 

But what I did yesterday - that was NOT safe! That was terrifying! That was putting my money where my mouth is, that was do or die; allowing for the possibility of judgement, expectations, criticism, even rejection and ridicule...I mean, how often do I do things that terrify me? How often do I take risks? Hardly ever. I hardly ever do things that really challenge me, that really put my faith to the test. That really try my skills and determination and courage and limits. Generally, I'm a chicken, a coward. 

The last really scary thing I did was agreeing to, and going through with, seeing a counselor in an attempt to save our flailing marriage. That was a risk that definitely paid off! But that was months ago. Before that, the only brave/crazy thing I can remember is quitting a job I didn't love to pursue this calling to ministry. But I don't know if a few courageous decisions can make up for a lifetime of apathy and roads not taken. 

Maybe this ties into my whole anti-surprise stance? I prefer the safe, the predictable, the comfortable, the known. I guess most people would admit to that. But why? Why am I so afraid? To take risks? To take chances? Even to have people disagree and disapprove? Why? What am I so afraid of?

Well, I don't know. If you're looking for answers, you've come to the wrong place today :) But at least I know where I am. I guess that's where I start. Instead of living here in limbo-land, I'll keep taking little risky steps into the (great?) unknown. 

And I can do that. I know who God is, I know who He says I am - and I know I can trust Him. I can be fearless and peaceful and joyful and brave. I can be willing to put myself out there, knowing that He'll catch me if (when?) I fall. This is the truth. And the truth can set me free. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Thief of Joy

I'm celebrating a tiny little victory today - extremely minuscule, really, but significant to me. Probably a year or so ago, an invitation to join a particular online community that a certain woman had created kept popping up in my Facebook newsfeed. I noticed that quite a few of my friends were a part of it, so I thought it might be worth checking out. As I explored the site, I experienced an almost immediate, strongly negative response to the material. No great mystery as to why: she was everything I aspired to be! She was a worship leader and speaker, she had written a book, she was a successful blogger, she was a singer/songwriter/musician - and she was younger than me! Consumed by jealousy I would never admit to, I deleted the request. After that, I muttered a little under my breath every time I saw that one of my friends had "liked" one of the posts, but just generally ignored the existence of it and eventually kind of forgot...

It was plain old ugly pride, no doubt about it. And an embarrassing throw-back to my younger days when I took great comfort in being the "best" singer in my little world. (I think we all want to be thought the best at something - anything, really.) Since singing came so easily to me, it was something I was willing to work at - a bit, anyway. And I really wasn't the best - not even in my very small circle of other people who sang...there were a lot of really wonderful vocal talents in my small-town church and school. I just got a good amount of recognition and opportunity, which served to cultivate the split personality I developed quite early on in life. On the outside I appeared capable, confident, intelligent, independent; but inside, the real Joy, was another story entirely. Self-hatred, condemnation, doubt, fear, guilt, anger and shame continually wreaked havoc on my self-esteem.

I've shared extensively about my past issues here in this space, as well as the many victories and miracles and healing I've experienced. But I want to say today that this journey has not been a straight, simple, linear, upward ascent. It seems that every time I make some progress in a particular issue, another one pops up to take its place. Comparison-slash-envy is the monster currently rearing its ugly head in my life. As I take faltering baby steps in response to God's calling, I'm distracted by what others are accomplishing, achieving, creating, producing - and I get discouraged. Now, logic would tell me that this is an unreasonable reaction. Their calling is not mine. Their gifting is not mine. They are not me. This is especially irrational when I compare myself with someone who's been playing the piano or publishing books or writing songs or what have you for years and years - I'm comparing my worst, or at the very least, my beginnings, with their best. Joy, this is not fair to you! Stop it! Right now!

A wise man once said that "comparison is the thief of joy" - Theodore Roosevelt, I think. He was so right! The point here is not how much better or worse my skills or creations or efforts are compared to anyone else. It's not about that at all - it's about me being faithful to what God has called me to do. And that's all. Because what He's called me to is different than the calling He has for you. Kind of takes the pressure off, doesn't it? I don't have to live up to anyone's standards or expectations but His. That thought would be completely daunting and intimidating if I didn't know that when He calls, He also equips. He's giving me everything I need to carry out His plans for me. Plus, He loves me - I'm continually, increasingly overwhelmed by how deep and sweet and satisfying that love is...He really is all I need.


Oh, my teeny, tiny victory? Well, last night I repented of my prideful attitude, took a deep breath and accepted the invitation to join the aforementioned community. And thus discovered a wealth of wisdom and encouragement and common ground - just as I'd feared :) Thankful for yet another source of inspiration and revelation...and for another baby step in the right direction!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Choice is Yours

So one little piano lesson was all it took to undo several years of progress and growth and revert me back to the insecure, self-conscious, ashamed, fearful, defeated person I used to be. Ugh...

Let me back up a little. I've been feeling the urge to take my very basic, just-for-me, piano playing up a notch. I'd like to be able to lead worship on my own if I ever needed to. But I didn't know where to start, so I asked a musician-friend to show me a few things and give me some suggestions that I could work with. So he's playing away, beautifully as always, imparting valuable information about chords and scales and fifths and melody and practice. And though not a word was said at any time to imply such a thing, as I watched his fingers fly gracefully over the keys, I started to feel smaller and smaller (which is saying something). I couldn't imagine ever being able to move from where I was to where I wanted to be, that my inherent laziness and lack of ability would keep me from making any progress and that I was bound to be a huge disappointment to myself and everyone else. I was ready to quit before I even played a note.

My friend left and I sat down at the piano. But, for the life of me, I couldn't convince myself to put my fingers on the keys. I couldn't believe how discouraged I felt. And I couldn't talk myself out of it, either. So, with eyes full of un-shed tears and a heart full of despair, I gave up and went home.

Later, as I tossed and turned on my pillows, waiting for sleep to come and erase, or at least delay, the heaviness I was feeling, I asked God what the heck was going on. How could such a small thing so dramatically alter my perspective and steal my joy? Had I learned nothing over the past months? Where was the peace and gratitude I'd fought so hard to cultivate? Were the changes I hoped I was seeing really so shallow? I started wondering whether any of my current pursuits were going to pan out, or if I was just crazy to think I could write a book, or record a CD, or make a ministry work. Past failures started mocking me, reminding me of all those character traits of which I was so ashamed.Well, clearly those thoughts were doing nothing to improve my frame of mind. So I prayed one of those powerfully simple little prayers (help!). Mercifully, sleep claimed me then and that was that.

God's grace really is amazing, isn't it? I love that verse from the Psalms that says, "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love..." (Ps. 143:8) I woke up the next morning with my perspective restored, my faith renewed and determination rising up in me. I don't know if it's having recently passed the milestone of my fortieth birthday, or the coming of a new year, or something else entirely, but I've been thinking a lot lately about my life and what I'd like it to look like. I've always been a great plan-maker, but my follow-through has been consistently weak (read: non-existent). But something my piano-friend had said in the course of conversation the night before really stuck with me. He was talking about the difference between a musical virtuoso and a regular ol' musician, noting that hardly any truly great music-makers are born; most are made - by the simple (but not easy) discipline of practice, practice, practice. My brain translated this astute observation into the following thought: I get to choose. It's up to me whether I try to get better at piano, it's up to me whether I stick it out when it gets hard, it's up to me how I spend my time. Might seem pretty obvious, but it really changed my perspective about the whole situation, and even about my life, in general. Yes, I firmly believe in depending on God for guidance and wisdom and direction and vision and power and strength and motivation, but the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts, honest-to-goodness, actual work is up to me. I get to choose how hard I work, how much effort I put into something, how I respond to set-backs and discouragement. I get to decide whether I quit or keep going.


Postscript: You may be pleased to know that I did start on the road to improving my piano skills. I sat at the keyboard, I worked on some scales, I tried some new things. I made mistakes, I tried again. And again. I foresee a challenging road ahead of me, but I've caught a glimpse of what could be - if I keep at it. We shall see.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Here's something you may not know about me: I am not a fan of surprises. Actually, that's a bit of an understatement - surprises are probably in my top 5 list of things I strongly dislike. And I'm talking any kind of surprise, good or bad.

For example, I taught myself to read at age 4, and I've been a devour-er of books ever since. And from as far back as I can remember, I always read the last page first. You know how most people get so annoyed if someone "ruins" the end of a book or movie by telling them what happens? That would never be me - I always want to know. This must be a fairly rare phenomenon in human nature, since no one ever believes me when I ask how a movie ends, or what happened in a TV show, or how the plot twists in a book...And the thing is, it never ruins my enjoyment of the book/movie/show - it maybe even enhances it.

Another confession: when I was a kid, I snooped. In fact, I was a champion snooper. I managed to discover my Christmas presents nearly every year. (Don't worry, my Mom already knows - I think she's forgiven me :) ) What a thrill it was to feast my eyes on what was to come! And again, instead of spoiling the surprise of Christmas morning, I think it actually augmented my anticipation of the big day and the delight it would hold for us all.

And a funny story: My dear Mother planned a really great surprise party for my 18th birthday - the traditional pop-out-and-yell-SURPRISE! kind of event. I was totally oblivious to the now-obvious plot to detain me at church while all my guests made their way to my house and concealed themselves and their belongings. The couple whose job it was to keep me away finally delivered me to my house and we went in. (How embarrassing to admit this now - I still can't believe I did this...) Our living room had french doors opening into a hallway that led to stairs going up to the bedrooms. I was walking through this hallway past the living room doors when everyone jumped out and yelled "SURPRISE" with big grins and expressions of gleeful anticipation spread on their unsuspecting faces. And what was my reaction to this generous desire to bring me joy? Well, I just kept on walking like I hadn't even seen or heard them, headed upstairs to my bedroom, and all my friends were left standing there, feeling foolish, I'm sure. (I'm blushing now just writing and awful of me...) It wasn't a planned reaction on my part, it just happened, almost in spite of myself, I think. I came back down to the party only a few minutes later and everything proceeded according to plan, and a good time was had by all. But I think this pretty clearly demonstrates my aversion to surprise.

So there's the history. I tell you all this to illustrate the following point: God is a God of surprises! I've been listening to a lot of teachings from a brilliantly wise and joyful British man named Graham Cooke lately. From among the many, many nuggets of insight I've gleaned from his words, one bit has floated to the surface and demanded closer scrutiny. Mr. Cooke observes that God is a paradox: He is completely consistent in His nature (who He is) but completely unpredictable in His actions (what He does). The trick is learning to live within this paradox.

I've spent most of my life as a Christian (that's almost 34 years now) wondering, fearing, dreading what in the world God was going to do next. I could never experience real peace and joy because I didn't know what God had up His sleeve at any given time, and that made me restless and anxious. I always had this feeling of impending doom hanging over me, that the proverbial ax could drop at any moment. I'm beginning to see now that I didn't trust Him because I didn't really know Him. I didn't understand His nature. Or rather, I had an inaccurate and twisted picture of Who He is. (Oh, how the enemy loves to twist the truth - one of his main and most effective strategies...)

I'm so very grateful for this ever-increasing freedom into which God is leading me, deeper and higher into His love and grace and truth. As I come to understand and experience more and more of Him, I'm finding my aversion to surprise is abating a bit. As He reveals His essential goodness, as I see more and more evidence of it in my life, I'm learning to trust. And it's every bit as wonderful and wonder-filled as He promises it will be.

I remember one good surprise. It was the Christmas of my grade 12 year (incidentally about 2 weeks before the aforementioned surprise birthday party). I don't recall whether or not I had successfully snooped out my gifts that year, maybe I'd given up on the practice by then? No, wait - I think I had ferreted out most of my loot, which made the impending surprise all the more...surprising :)  Nevertheless, we had opened all our presents and were very well satisfied with the haul when Dad "noticed" a good-sized present way in behind the tree, kind of hidden, with a tag indicating it was for my Mother. Then one of them said something like, "Oh wait a minute, I think that's the wrong tag!" and handed it to me. I opened it to find the one thing I'd been longing for but not expecting due to the cost - a ghetto blaster with a CD player (this was 1992, mind you...). I was floored. I cried, they cried, it was beautiful. I felt so loved.

When I consider God's surprises through the lens of His great goodness and unfathomable love for me, maybe I can concede that a surprise isn't such a bad thing, after all.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


I'll be turning forty in a few days. Forty! I've never been one to be particularly bothered by the passing of years, but I find I'm approaching this milestone with mixed emotions. No, not even mixed - I'm not happy about forty.

Here's why: Forty is the only age that I've ever had any expectations about. For some reason, ever since I was a child, I had a picture in my mind of what forty ought to look like. I firmly believed that by forty, I'd have it all figured out - I'd be a real grown-up. That I'd be happy, healthy, successful in all areas. That I'd have that "put-together" look I'd admired and envied in so many women around that age. That I'd be a fantastic wife, an exemplary mother, a committed and disciplined Christian, achieving great things in my vocation of choice and using my spare time for creative and altruistic pursuits, a home-owner, debt-free, responsible, mature...

(You're laughing at me now, especially you more "mature" readers - but that's ok. I'm discovering, just like you have, that these are silly, unrealistic expectations of any age, any life. But I have to admit to some disappointment here. I know, I know - build a bridge and get over it... :) But you know me; I'm all about the process, the journey. For most of my life, I didn't consider my feelings worthy of consideration, so I stuffed them down and bottled them up, and that didn't work out so well for me in the long run. Therefore, I've promised myself that I would be allowed to feel what I feel, without ignoring or rushing past my feelings to the desired solution or conclusion. Thus, this blog - lucky you!)

The truth is, I feel no more than seventeen most of the time, and sometimes only eight - I still don't really think of myself as an adult. Grown-ups are confident, wise, self-assured, respected, knowledgeable, ambitious, experienced, mature, sedate, serious, decisive, with vision and direction and intention...right? I think I was more of an adult at seventeen than I am now, to be honest - I didn't even know that I didn't know! I am sure of less now than I've ever been. I'm starting on a brand new career path, I'm still a renter, I'll certainly never look "put together", and don't even get me started on weight or debt :)  I am not who I hoped I would be. Absolutely nothing has turned out the way I'd envisioned. Failure is the word that comes most readily to mind...

Paints a pretty bleak picture, doesn't it? And it would be bleak, indeed - if this was in fact my reality. Happily, my world view is being transformed! Yes, all the things I said above are absolutely true - but I no longer find my identity and value and worth and joy in my physical, temporal, temporary circumstances. God has made me who I am, and He's helping me be ok with that. He persists in telling me the truth about myself, and I'm starting to believe Him and learning to live in that truth. And while my life hasn't lived up to my expectations of it, it's been infinitely more beautiful and satisfying and rich and deep and full and wild and wonderful than I could ever have asked or imagined! I am stronger than I thought, braver than I dared to hope, more able than I ever dreamed...All through the power of God. All by the grace of God. All in the goodness of God. All for the glory of God.

Ok, so maybe turning forty won't be as traumatic as I feared. As my husband keeps reminding me, "it's just a number". I'll just keep moving forward with a thankful and open heart, ready and willing to follow my dear Father wherever He leads, trusting Him to keep reminding me who I am and, far more importantly, Whose I am. Happy birthday to me :)