The Frightening Freedom of Being Known

Do you ever build walls to protect yourself? I occasionally notice that the view has gotten more restricted around me and discover I have erected yet another wall.

Recently, I have begun to realize these walls are rarely to keep dangers out but to keep my true self locked away and unseen. I allow out only those qualities that people seem to like – the one who is good with words, the voice, the cook, the laughing and joyful one, the one who seems to have unwavering trust in God. These parts are accepted and even enjoyed, and so, they are mostly allow to stay outside the walls, (though, even they try to hide at times).

There are aspects of me very few get to see – the one who has a meltdown over fears which may never happen, the one who beats herself up over what she should have said or done differently, the one who forgets God’s promises, (or worse, chooses not to trust them), the one who has been known to sit at home in her pajamas eating junk food when she is struggling or feeling alone, the one who sometimes chooses to immerse herself in stories rather than talk to God about what is troubling her. These parts don’t fit my picture of acceptable behavior for a woman of God who teaches others about finding their identity and purpose, and so, they are hidden.

This may seem obvious to all of you, but I am only recently rediscovering that there is great freedom outside the confines of my self-made prison. The aspects of myself and my life that seem to me to hinder the message God has given me, sometimes make my story more relatable to those who need to hear it. I am not perfect. I have not arrived. I’m still walking the journey of learning to live boldly as the woman God made me to be.

The fear that if we are truly seen and known, we’ll be rejected and left alone is an insidious one. The truth is, I never feel more alone than when I’m locked behind the walls I build to protect me from being left on my own. It may be scary to step outside the confines of our “protective” prison and be known for who we truly are, but there is a freedom found on the outside that is well worth the risk.

We are already fully known and loved by God. He sees beyond our walls, and knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows who we are created to be and how far we still have to go, and He loves us more than we can imagine. His love is all the “wall” we need to protect us from what others think of us. And, while there is a risk some people will reject us if we venture outside, there is also a chance that we will find a place of belonging, a place where we are greeted with the words: “Me too. Let’s walk this path together.”

“Foolish” Wisdom

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27, ESV).

This verse is on my mind today because a number of things in my life seem “foolish” by worldly standards right now. Hoping against hope to see dreams and promises of God fulfilled despite no visible sign that they will ever become reality – no doubt, no back-up plan, just belief and trust. Feeling I should stay silent in a situation where everything in me wants to speak up. Raising money to publish a book that may not sell many copies, and perhaps even choosing a more expensive publishing package than others that are available because I feel like God is directing me that way. Even writing a book about discovering and walking in our God-given identity and purpose seemed foolish because I still struggle so often with that very idea.

All of these things seem crazy – and maybe even downright foolish! – when I look at them with my own perspective. My own “wisdom” tells me to guard my heart and be realistic with my hopes and dreams, to speak up and fight for a valued relationship, and to find the cheapest option available for everything to ensure I’m stewarding my resources well. I suppose that’s the reason God made sure that Proverbs 3:5-6 was included in the scriptures:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV).

I don’t understand God’s thought process. I don’t know exactly how any of these situations will work out. I don’t have a clue why He is leading in the way He is. My job isn’t to understand; it is to hear His voice, trust, and obey. As I seek first His Kingdom and do what I believe He is asking me to do, He will take care of the things that I can’t change or even understand.

Do you have areas in your life where God is asking you to take a step that seems foolish to you and all of those around you? Are you holding back your obedience until you understand His reasoning for such a request? Are the voices around you telling you there must be another way?

Today is a good day to choose God’s kind of foolishness. Decide today that no matter what anyone else thinks, or even what you think, you will take a step of faith. Let’s allow God to use our “foolishness” to show His wisdom today, even when we don’t understand yet!

Perspective

Perspective is an interesting thing. Charles R. Swindoll once said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” How we choose to see the situations we encounter can change our attitudes and actions like little else can.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, I was having a difficult time. Some old lies had crept into my mind again, and I had let them take up residence for a few days. When this happens, I find that the best way for me to deal with them is to burn them. As a verbal processor, I have to get things out of my head, but I don’t want them in my journal or somewhere they can stick around forever. So I write them on loose sheets of paper and reach for the matches. (This is always done in a safe place with water on hand in case the blaze gets out of control.) Once the lies are gone, I invite God to come and replace them with His truth (which goes in my journal).

So this particular morning, after days spent fighting with the rubbish in my mind and heart, I finally got some paper and listed all the things my mind and heart had been believing that I knew to be false. The list was lengthy and covered a wide range of topics about me, about God, about others, and about promises I feel like God has given me for the future. I felt free as I watched the paper burn, and I looked forward to hearing what God would say to replace the junk.

The journal would have to wait though. Almost as soon as the fire was out, I had to leave for a ministry where I volunteer occasionally. Just as I was getting ready to walk out the door, I got a call from someone already at the ministry. She was calling to let me know a man was there looking for me. He was expressing an interest in giving me a gift, and she knew the situation would make me uncomfortable. I thanked her for the call and tried to figure out how to handle the situation that awaited.

As I walked, though, I couldn’t help but laugh. One of the lies I had burned just before the phone call was that I am undesirable and unlovable, that no man will ever choose me or even be interested in me. While I don’t believe God made this guy “like” me or would put me in that situation to prove a point, I could just imagine Him laughing to Himself anyway. That picture of God having a laugh changed my view of the situation. Allowing Him to bring truth – that I could be found attractive – in the most unlikely of ways gave me a new perspective and allowed me to laugh right along with Him.

What uncomfortable situation do you find yourself in today? How might your perspective need to change? How might God use it to speak to you if you allow Him?

For those who are wondering, I was delayed along the way, and the man left mere moments before I arrived!

When “Helping” Doesn’t Help.

I enjoy helping people. I love to listen, share wisdom, and “fix” things for others who are struggling. I am an encourager, and I find satisfaction in bringing life to others with my words and actions.

I am learning, though, that there are times when “helping” doesn’t help. There are times when taking action on behalf of someone else can actually hurt that person, times when they need to be the one to take action. Taking that step for them enables them to remain where they are at instead of growing and walking on their own to the place where God wants to lead them.

We are supposed to love one another, but how often do we take time to realize that doing the loving thing may look different than what we think love is? Sometimes, the loving thing may involve allowing someone to fall without intervening. Perhaps it involves discipline. Maybe it means speaking things that make you uncomfortable. It could mean separating yourself from them for a while. Maybe it simply means being silent for a time.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to love our neighbors – family, friends, significant others – because true love means not “helping” them this time. It goes against my nature to be quiet when I feel someone needs encouragement, but sometimes it isn’t me they need to hear from. If my words keep them from seeking God’s words to them, I’m not doing anyone a favor.

Why is it so hard to stay still or quiet when I think I should be “helping” someone? Unfortunately, I must admit that the answer to that question is often about my own needs. I find my identity in helping others. I know that God has made me to be a conduit of His love to others, and I forget that my worth doesn’t come from how well I carry out that function. I get my eyes firmly fixed on myself and what I can do for others, and I forget to ask God if what I think will help is truly what those people need. Too often, I find my value in being able to “help” someone instead of in being the daughter of the King of Kings.

When my own need to feel valuable drives my “love” and “help” for someone else, I am being the opposite of loving – I am being selfish. The only way to truly love others is to keep our eyes fixed on God and to see ourselves and others through His eyes. He may lead us to encourage others and help them in practical ways, but He may also ask us to pray for them, stay silent, and allow Him to draw them out of their comfort zone.

Is there someone in your life you’ve been “helping”? How can you best love those around you? What might “tough love” look like for those you care about? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

It’s February…

Hello friends. Welcome to February 2016!

I used to really dislike February…. Or at least the first half of it. It seemed a month designed to rub in my face the fact that I was single. All of the ads, displays, flowers, chocolates and other sweets, hearts, and talk of romance coming at me from every side were just reminders that I would get none of those – unless I bought some sweets for myself or my mom gave me some (which often happened).

I know a lot of people still feel that way. They have just survived and recovered from a holiday season filled with parties they had no date for, a million engagement announcements on Facebook, and loads of moments they would love to share with someone special if only there was someone. And then, BAM, Valentine’s Day stuff is everywhere, once again hitting them with the reality that they are alone…

But the fact is, we aren’t alone at all. Romantic love is not the only or even the most important kind of love in life. Jewelers, chocolatiers, and Hallmark may try to make a fortune by selling romance, but what about the friendships we have? All of us have special people in our lives we can celebrate and encourage this month.

Who can you encourage this month? Is there someone who makes your life better? Why not tell them and celebrate your relationship – whatever it is? What about yourself? When was the last time you did something special for you? You’re pretty great, and as nice as it is to have others acknowledge that, sometimes it can mean more just to remind yourself that you are worth being treated to something special.

Yes, I look forward to romance one day. I look forward to the day that someone will choose me, to love me in that way. Until then, though, I want to celebrate the love I already have in my life – the love of family, friends, and most importantly, the One Who is Love itself! I want to love others and remind them that they are special. I want to love myself and recognize that the most important Person in the universe thought I was special enough to give up everything for – and still thinks that.

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating love this month… whatever that looks like in your life today. It’s okay to long for the things we hope are to come, but let’s not miss out on all that we have by lamenting what hasn’t arrived yet!

Trust on Guard?

I’ve been wrestling during the last week. A couple of situations have been on my mind that call for seemingly contradictory responses: guarding and trusting…

* I’ve probably mentioned before that I am working on a book. I believe God has asked me to share my story with others in the hopes that they can learn about God’s designs and intentions in their own lives. As the book gets nearer the point where I am sharing it with people beyond the very safe group that have seen it so far, it gets easier to fear what response it will bring. Within the last few weeks, I have shared it with a couple of people a bit further outside my comfort zone, and even with just those couple of people, the feelings of vulnerability and exposure have grown as I await their responses.

* A close friend is in a situation where she believes God is finally bringing about the fulfillment of her long-held dream for a man to share her life with. She has shared with me (and given me the okay to write) that while she wants to wholeheartedly trust what God is saying, others (and even her own heart) remind her often of the risk of letting her heart get involved… Especially when there isn’t concrete evidence yet that the fulfillment of that dream is imminent or even guaranteed.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts above all else because all that we do flows out of it. And yet we are asked to trust God completely. Trust nearly always involves risk. Synonyms for trust include faith, hope, and confidence. If we are to confidently hope in promises God has spoken, what do we do with those times when that hope opens our hearts to hurt? How can we both guard our hearts and trust simultaneously?

As I wrestled with this last week, I heard about the bombings in Lebanon and then the attacks in Paris. I have friends living in both of those places, called there to share with people the Love that casts out fear – now more important than ever in so many places around the world.

In thinking about my friends in these places, I remembered the years I spent in Afghanistan and the questions of well meaning friends about why I would move to such an obviously dangerous place. My answer was always the same. “The safest place for me to be is the center of God’s will.”

If God calls me to go and care for people in a war-torn country, I trust that He will take care of me. If God calls me to live in a seemingly safe place and care for the “least of these” there, He will take care of me there too. If He calls me to share all that I have with those fleeing the terror of the place they left, He will take care of me. Even if following His lead costs me all that I have, He will still take care of me.

As I thought about the physical danger that God has called some people to face in order to love others in His name, my wrestling ceased. I could, in the words of Psalm 46:10 (NSAB), “cease striving and know that [He] is God. [He] will be exalted among the nations…” The principle holds true for emotional risk as well. If God is calling me to put the depths of my heart on display for others to read, He will take care of it no matter what others choose to think of me when they have read it- whether friends or strangers.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As we submit everything we face to Jesus, no matter how scary it may seem, we can be confident in the hope that Christ gives us. It is His peace that guards our hearts and minds in the midst of any risk He calls us into, as long as we keep our focus on Him.

I don’t know what people will say when they read my story. I don’t know if my friend will see her hopes fulfilled in this relationship. I don’t know if loving and accepting others into my life, my city, or my country will leave an opening for danger to me or those I care about. I don’t know what situations God might be asking you to trust Him in the midst of today.

What I do know, however, is that He is trustworthy. No matter what the outcome is, He can and will work in every circumstance to bring about His best – for His glory and our good. So today, I’m choosing to trust Him and let Him do the guarding of my heart. I will leave all that I have in His care and step into the “dangerous” unknown with Him, trusting “without borders.”

Now, I think it’s time I work on a book…

 

A Weighty Realization

I am once again getting into an exercise routine and trying to eat healthier foods and portions. I have done this numerous times over the last several years, and I am happy to report that I am currently fifty pounds lighter than I was 4 or 5 years ago. While I’m grateful for that number, I’m also aware it could be much higher if I had just stuck with efforts to get healthy years ago. During a walk into town a couple of weeks ago, I believe I may have stumbled across the reason for my years of ups and downs on the scale…

It occurred to me that I have been sabotaging my efforts, and putting off getting maximum results for a rather surprising reason… I was hoping to have a man love me as I am. That sounds awful, but I realized it’s true. I remember a number of times when one person or another would ask me about wearing makeup, putting more effort into fixing my hair more often, or whatever. Often those comments came during conversations about why no guys were ever interested in me, and my response was always something along the lines of, “if he can’t love me the way I look most days, he shouldn’t love me anyway.”

That sounds terrible as I type it now, but it has been my thought process. I have gone through phases of paying attention to my looks and making an effort, but my default priority has always been ease and comfort when getting ready. My recent realization is that a fear has been lurking under the surface that if I lose weight, wear make-up, and do whatever else is supposed to make me look more beautiful, any man who is attracted to me will only love me when I look like that.

Without knowing it, I have been waiting for a guy to pursue me and give me a reason to make that effort. Knowing how hard it has been in the past to lose weight, I have been afraid to have someone fall in love with a skinny version of me and then be worried about any circumstance that might cause weight gain in the future (pregnancy, health issues, etc.)

As I put this into words, I cringe with every keystroke at how silly it sounds. The realization has, however, made a huge difference in me. I realized that first of all, I must get fit for me and no one else. It is not about loving someone else and fearing a loss of their love if I don’t look great one day. It is about loving not only myself, but my family, friends, and even future family enough to take care of my body so that I am able to do life with them for a long time to come.

And so, this time I’m committed to the journey. I know there will be days when I eat more junk than I should, days when my workout loses out to a little extra sleep, etc., but I also know that those days will not be the norm. This time it’s not about looking good, because I’m fairly confident that I already do. 😉 This time it is about being healthy for whatever life brings my way. Feel free to hold me accountable, and ask how this is going in the weeks and months to come.

PS. I’ve worn makeup 3 times this week!