A Little Self Perspective; A Little Bit of Faith

I have found a surprising amount of truth in this little book as of late (pictured: My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers). It was given to me about four years ago and I rejected it outright; completely refusing to read it but still unable to get rid of it. This devotional meant a lot to the person who gave it to me, so I couldn’t bring myself to donate it when it came time to eliminate some of my books. It’s managed to stay through yearly donations, no matter how much I did not want to read this dang book.

I think I rejected it so much equally because I don’t talk to the person who gave me the book anymore and because the book seems so…fluffy? I can’t stand when Christians speak/write in “Christian-ese,” or like they’re not real people. You know – using outdated words they read in the Bible that no one actually uses nowadays. Not only is it completely unnecessary and impossible to relate to, I find it distracting from the message they are trying to convey. It also comes across as a little high and mighty, and that in turn comes across to me as putting religion over actual faith…which is a big no-no. Anyway, from the one time I tried to read this book that’s the impression I got and, I’ll admit, I was way too quick to judge it.

It wasn’t until August of this year when my boyfriend and I were doing a Bible study together and, on a whim, I decided to take it off my bookshelf and put it with the rest of the study books I had laid out for us. Surprisingly, it was the first book he picked up. Rolling my eyes immediately – which, thankfully, he didn’t catch – he began to read from the page with the current date (August 26th).

Lo and behold, that devotion was centered around his all-time favorite verse: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you…” (John 14:27). He has mentioned this verse countless times since we started dating – call it a coincidence or not, but I thought that was pretty crazy. So, I thought, alright I’ll give it this one shot. 

Man it was hard to read. No, not because the devotion read like what I had been expecting, but because it was exactly what I needed to hear.

To put things in context, this past year has been a year of learning how to manage stress and to worry less. I’ve slowly been returning to myself, but at the time of reading that passage I was a complete mess of worry and stress. I underlined the question “Have you left no stone of your faith unturned, yet still not found any well of peace, joy, or comfort?” because that was how I felt to a tee. I wanted to cry, it was so accurate. I felt the farthest from God I think I have felt since I was saved, and no matter what I tried to accomplish I was failing left and right. Failure after failure left me with faith that meant nothing to me anymore because even though I still wanted others to know about God, I wasn’t so sure that He actually had my back.

I think the best response to my attitude at the time can be answered with a line from the same passage: “But if you only try to worry your way out of the problem, you destroy His effectiveness in you, and you deserve whatever you get.” Sounds harsh, I know. I felt the same way, especially considering the fact that before I read it myself it was my boyfriend who read it to me. Hearing “you deserve what you get” from a loved one isn’t in any way easy, but there is a lot of truth in the statement because if I was not willing to let go of worry I couldn’t expect to receive any help…the basis of faith in God is exactly that: faith. Worry is the opposite of faith – of trust.

I’m not going to claim that I never worry or stress out about anything. Obviously that would be ridiculous; I’m still me. I’m still a human with a natural inclination to fear inevitably failing again. However, I’ve learned to be more aware of it and catch myself when I get caught up in anxiety.

Jesus doesn’t make you perfect – you’re still going to be human and flawed – that’s how it works – but He does help you out when you ask for it and have a little faith to go along with it. He’s there to prep you for the next life and make the best/most use of this one. While there is better yet to come, this life doesn’t exist solely to be difficult all the time. Some things happen that are completely out of our own control, but most of our problems can be helped with a little change in our attitudes. As difficult of a reality as that is to face, it’s a reality nonetheless and a lesson I am still learning.

Anyway, I completely forgot about that story until I opened the devotional to that particular page and thought it was worth sharing. God is great, self perspective is good, and life doesn’t have to be filled with constant worry. That is all.

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Trying (to find peace)

I’ve been tired for a while.

The past year has felt like saying “I’m trying” on repeat. And that’s exactly what I have been doing – still trying to curb my rising stress levels, still trying to go wherever God leads me, still trying to make progress in my life, still trying to improve myself so I can be better for those around me, still trying to find a healthy balance between being constantly focused on what lies ahead and living for what is right now.

Still, I’m trying.

One of my biggest fears, for example, is the potential need for my dream of being an author to be altered. The older I get, the more that seems to become a reality. When I was younger I’d sit quietly at lunch listening intently to other kids tell stories and prattle on about their daily adventures, and later while they ran around on the playground getting their energy out, I was alone regaining mine – writing down their stories and making them my own – playing fantasy games like they did, just a bit more quietly. Writing has always felt both like home and an adventure, and in more recent years, it makes me feel close to God. It’s the one thing that I don’t feel the need to be the very best at, because it just feels good to do it; but in doing so, I also improve. So, with this intense passion for writing I have developed from the moment I could string sentences together comes an intense dread for compromise. For settling. For giving it up because life may one day get too much in the way. Yes I will always be a writer, but I may not get the opportunity to write in the way I always hoped I could, and that saddens me. Even though I’m aware God has a plan regardless of what happens (as long as I keep putting in the necessary effort and listening to His guidance) what will be will be and I will make it through, the idea still keeps me awake some nights. I’m human; I falter, but I’m improving. I’m trying.

There’s so much to stress out about; to make me want to hide from the world and hope it stops nagging me. But I have a Music Appreciation test tomorrow and pages of notes still yet to take, I have a job to go to in the morning, a book to finish writing at some point, and laundry to fold. So much laundry. The world isn’t going to ever stop nagging me to do a thousand things at once and pulling me in every possible direction. It won’t stop giving you or I reasons to feel inadequate or scared or stressed or, more likely, some annoying combination of all of those and more. The world will throw problems at you left and right. Some bigger than others, of course, but it’s the daily stressors that sneak up on you – building up until you feel like you’re going to burst. (Luke 21:34)

But God’s just looking at you, probably stroking his beard, tapping his foot, whistling as He waits; wondering when you’ll finally realize you’re going to be fine. He’s got this. Even if you have no idea what’s going on, thank goodness He always does. (John 14:27)

Believe me, I have to remind myself of this about ten times a day and I still have my moments where I question it entirely. A million questions starting with “…but,” pop in my head daily, and yet I’m still okay. I’ve made it this far and every situation I didn’t think I would get through, I did. “Just calm down and stop overthinking” is a phrase I use mentally about everyday. The only way that phrase has any weight, the only way it ever works, is when I combine it with prayer – when I direct it to God. Life just seems easier to handle when I pray everyday, and that’s no coincidence. The only time I truly feel at ease is when I prayer journal, which I’ve been getting back to doing at least once a day. You can’t expect anything from God if you don’t ask, you can’t expect answers if you don’t listen, and you can’t expect change if you can’t handle honesty. “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” (Max Lucado)

So my point is that life is stressful and uncertain and there is a lot to worry about, but you don’t have to let that hinder you. You don’t have to be held back by fear of the unknown, because God knows what lies ahead. Talk to Him about it and then build some true faith. What will happen will happen and you can choose to make the best of it by talking to God and being open to what He has to say.

I’m going to wrap this up with a story about a woman I visited in a nursing home today, because she inspired this entire post:

One of my closest friends and I decided we wanted to start scrapbooking, which she ended up mentioning to her grandmother. A week later, we were on our way to visit her so she could lend us some of her supplies. I tagged along, unsure of what to expect and wondering why someone I’ve never met would be kind enough to lend me things that are precious to her. But we get there and I’m greeted by an older woman with a kind smile and upbeat attitude, and I instantly feel at ease around her. She giddily shows us around the building while leading us to the small apartment-style room she and her husband share. When she opens her door, it isn’t the size of the space that I notice right away, but the fact that she made it feel warm and inviting. I didn’t notice the hospital curtain until the end of my visit, because all I initially saw was an inviting couch, photos of family members on most of the walls, and an overflowing crafting table. She talked endlessly about family and friends, but what struck me the most was the fact that she was open about her hesitation with living there. She did not want to move to this place. She’d given up her car, her home, and her friends to live in an assisted living home in which she can’t even cook for herself and her husband. It took her a long time to adjust to the environment. Though she hadn’t pointed it out herself, it was obvious that she was in the best shape, both physically and mentally, out of probably anyone else in the facility. She didn’t feel like she belonged there. She was depressed for a while, and still goes through some “weepy days” as she put it, but she said all this with a smile because she was learning to make the best of it. She put her crafting abilities to use and holds weekly card-making classes, she charges a couple dollars for her pre-made cards (as she pulled out a hundred cards she had made to show us what she can do), and she is lobbying to hold a craft fair so all the ladies in this community can have the opportunity to sell what they make as well. Her crafting classes have gone so well that she has gone from using her own supplies to the staff saying “buy what you need and we will reimburse you.” She proudly told us, “I found my niche,” and she went on to tell us that she believes she was put there to be a caretaker of sorts. To be a ray of sunshine to these people. She took her less-than-ideal situation, made it a God opportunity, and through it she found an overwhelming sense of peace.

She gave me hope that I hadn’t realized I needed until today.

She ended our visit with a piece of advice: “I’ve seen the top of a mountain, and the while the mountain itself is just rock and ice, the view is amazing – like nothing you’ve ever seen before. But it is in the valleys that the wildflowers and grass grow. Both are equally important.” (James 1:2-4)

 

 

 

 

 

Adolescence

It’s mid-June in the suffocating heat of a typical Florida evening. Mosquitos are swarming in my periphery as I sit cross-legged on a white spray-painted metal chair. Its 1950’s floral design is typical of my mother’s decorating style – beautiful, but just uncomfortable enough so you aren’t tempted to sit still for too long. Always temporary. The arms dig into my thighs, but I don’t move them.

Chloe is tending to our mother’s lush but quickly browning garden; watering the plants she cannot take care of while stuck in the bulky cast that has snaked itself halfway up her calf, tangled around her like a wild vine on an otherwise pristine home. Watching her wheel herself around, frustrated at her personal freedom having been stripped from her, reminds me of a caged animal. And an almost-trainwreck; that single breath of a moment when things aren’t the worst they can be, adrenaline and sadness running through you because there’s nothing you can do except watch and wait. Except, instead of an oncoming train, it’s an oncoming surgery and a piece of metal stuck in her foot. You can’t really feel empathy until you see someone you love look like their world has come to a halt and try to adapt in spite of it.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law is in the side yard running after the puppy he and my sister share. Their black-and-white dog is small, lanky, and he reminds me of an awkward teenager when he walks, but he’s charming. His short snout makes him sound like a pig when he breathes, and he loves to be cradled like a child. I often jokingly call him my nephew, maybe partly because I’d like to have a kid around that isn’t entirely dependent on me for survival just yet. But mostly just because I like his company. It’s harder for any of us to act anything but happy around him, and that’s become more of a rarity lately.

Chase’s laugh is carried toward me with a warm seabreeze that feels like home, and I feel at ease for the first time in a while. Not like my typical quasi-adult self who’s trying to politely fit in and find some place to hide out until a better opportunity makes me move in another direction, but like I’m six years old again. I look at the clear blue open sky and suddenly I’m riding my bike – a light blue Schwinn with a wicker basket and flowers stuck on the side. I’m trying to keep up with my brother and his bright red speed bike as my neighbor yells to me, “He went that way!” Thanking him, my tires skid on the smooth asphalt as I make a sharp left turn. Alex is in the distance and the only thing I can think about is making it to the end of the street before he turns around. Trying to play catch-up.

I am not six anymore. I have jury duty tomorrow and I often think about things like marriage and apartments and the names of the children I plan on having. I worry about money and how in the world I can make a career out of the things I have been passionate about since I was actually six. I am not six, but I can pretend to be for a few more minutes.