Release to receive 31 day challenge

OK my friends, are you ready to go on a little journey with me? It won’t be easy. We’re going to have to give up some things. But I think the reward will be so worth it.

Here’s the deal. I’ve  been reading Lysa TerKeurst’s new book The Best Yes, which is all about filtering through the endless demands of life and listening to God in order to discern what to say “yes” to. Last night while reading I had a bit of an “ah-ha” moment. Lysa wrote about how in order to receive the best things — the things God truly wants for us — sometimes we have to release the unhealthy things we’re holding on to.

Think about that room or closet in your house. You know the one. That room you don’t allow visitors to see? It’s crammed full of stuff you’re holding on to that you probably don’t use, but you’re sure you will need some day. Maybe it even has boxes that haven’t been unpacked since your last move. That room or closet totally bothers you because you can’t use it properly, nor can you find anything that’s in there when you actually need it. Yet, you put off cleaning it out and getting rid of things because it’s easier to just hold on to it. So instead you are missing out on being able to use that room or closet for something better.

My messy closet
My scary closet prior to a recent cleaning. Amazing how when my closet is in order it filters into other parts of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, a cluttered room is pretty prosaic and commonplace. But I bet you have more significant areas of your life that are begging to be released of something so you can receive the blessings God has in store for you. I know I have a few.

So, here’s what I’m doing. Tomorrow starts a new month so it’s the perfect opportunity to start initiating some change. I have identified two areas of my life where I need to release in order to receive. Both of which, I believe, are contributing to my constant fatigue.

The first thing I’m going to release is evening TV. Every night it’s the same story. I finally get the kids in bed and collapse on the couch about 9 or 9:30 p.m. The TV comes on so I can try to decompress from the day. But instead of just watching for an hour and then getting to bed at a decent time I end up staying up way too late because one show never seems like enough or I am too busy multi-tasking and lose track of time.  And when you start your work-day at 6 a.m., going to bed at midnight is not a healthy habit. Inevitably I’m tired the next day, which can make me cranky, short-tempered, and unmotivated.

The second thing I’m going to release is late-night snacking. A regular companion of the evening TV is the late-night snacking, usually on something  unhealthy. Not only does this work to sabotage my healthy eating goals, it also interrupts my sleep and/or makes me feel bad in the morning.

So starting tomorrow, and for every day in October I plan to find a better way to spend my evenings. Instead of TV I’ll read, talk to my husband, work on my blog, or even clean out a closet or two! And if I crave something to eat I’ll have a piece of fruit or green smoothie instead.

Romans 12:2

I don’t know yet what will happen by releasing these bad habits. But I am open to receiving whatever good things God has in store for me.  And I have a feeling that by the time October 31 rolls around I will be feeling a bit more rested and restored. Of course, I’ll keep you updated along the way.

So who wants to join me? Are there things in your life you could release in order to make room to receive God’s blessings? I encourage you to pray about what areas of your life could use some release. If you do decide to join me and feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear from you!

 

My biggest fear

This past Sunday and again last night in our Bible study, the topic was fear. I’ve never felt embarrassed to admit that I am afraid of a lot of things. From the mundane like heights and snakes, to the irrational like swallowing a spider in my sleep (I don’t care what Snopes says about this, ever since I read that made-up statistic I am afraid of spiders crawling in my mouth).

I regularly share with my friends and husband my fears and worries about this whole parenting gig. Fearful that  I’m too strict, not strict enough. That I keep them too sheltered, that I give them too much freedom. And mostly, that in the end I really have very little control over their life decisions.

I have even written or spoken publicly about some of my real-life moments of fear, like the canoe trip I took this summer with my family, or following God’s calling to write, and even being molested as a child.

I talk about my fears because it helps me face the irrational ones, process the past, and glean a little perspective.  I do it to help others know they’re not alone and because it provides a sense of camaraderie.

But, there is one fear I never talk about, not even with my best friend or husband. My deepest fear that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. The one that I’m embarrassed to admit. Afraid to say out loud to people, lest they confirm it’s true.

My biggest fear is not being loved.

Maybe a more accurate way of putting it is that I’m afraid of not being loved enough. That I love people in my life more than they love me. I don’t know how long I’ve had this fear, but I know it started when I was a child. I’ve been through enough counseling in my life to be able to identify some of the events of my childhood that probably contributed to the start of this fear. I’ve also been through enough counseling to know that it’s an irrational and unhealthy fear! But for me, it’s real.

afraid of not being loved

The worst part is that I know that this fear has actually created situations that have almost led to a self-fulfilling prophesy. I recall once planning a girl’s weekend with a group of close friends and in the weeks before it was scheduled to take place several friends either backed out or said they weren’t sure they could make it. My immediate first thought was “this friendship must mean more to me than it does to them. I knew it! I knew they didn’t really care that much about me. They just agreed to go on this trip because I pushed it.” Then I sent a rather unkind email to my friends letting them know just what I thought of their behavior. Ouch! Not a great way to strengthen a friendship in love. Thank goodness these friends do in fact love me, forgave my little rant, and we’ve had several girls’ weekends since that incident.

I’m ashamed to admit that I have been jealous of my friends’ other friendships. Worried over un-returned phone calls or emails. Replayed conversations in my head, over and over again. Been hurt by invitations that weren’t extended. And actually gotten myself so worked up I didn’t attend social functions because I was sure no one there would want to talk to me. All because I have this nagging voice in my head that tells me I am not loved. Not loved enough. Not lovable.

Then 9 years ago my marriage almost ended. It sent me down a dark rabbit hole of fear. While I was brave enough to make it known to my husband what I needed in order to save our marriage, inside I was terrified that I was not enough, not worth the hard work and effort. That I loved him more than he loved me. I struggled between wanting him to love me (and prove it) and pushing him away because I was sure in the end he’d leave anyway, so better get it over with now rather than drag things out a few more years. It was such a desperate time filled with fear and anxiety. In my brokenness I did the only thing I could do and went to my heavenly Father. I curled up in His lap like a little child, sobbing, begging for guidance and answers, and for it all to be over with already.

And God, He is so merciful. He held me and comforted me. He calmed my fears, changed my perspective when needed, gave me strength, and sometimes, just helped me fall asleep, knowing that a new day can bring with it hope.

It was during this point in my life that I really started to get a hold of this fear. Or at least I learned that when I feel afraid of not being loved, or when I start to feel the anxiety that I’m not loveable or loved “enough”, I need to turn to the source of ultimate L-O-V-E. Because, really, could there be anyone more in love with us than the Lord (said in my best Chandler Bing voice)?

And we have it in writing!

I mentioned the book of Isaiah in my post last week, and how it reads like a passionate love letter from God to His people. In the book of John Jesus tells us just how much God loves us, foretelling His death as the ultimate sacrifice of love.

In Romans chapter 8, there is my favorite verse of all time. A reminder that we are loved beyond all means, above all failures and obstacles. I especially love this translation from the Living Bible: “For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.” (verses 38-39)

And then, there is 1 John chapter 4. I only just discovered this verse when studying the word this week, but oh my! I’m pretty sure this was written just for me. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (verses 16 and 18)

1 John 4:.16

Um, yeah. So there you have it.

Thankfully, some things do get better with age. While I still struggle from time to time with this deeply rooted fear of not being loved, it has slowly eroded over the last several years. It rears its ugly head less often than before and is replaced with confidence that God loves me. Not just in a “yeah, you’re alright, but most days you’re not my favorite child” kind of way. But in a desperately seeking, all-consuming, nothing can stop it kind of way.

If He can love me like that, how can I possibly be afraid of not being loved enough? And this is how I face my deepest fear.

I don’t belong here

When I was 13 years old I was molested by my then-step-father. There are really no words to adequately describe the fear I felt that night. While my short-term memory fails me every day, I can still remember that night in vivid detail. What I remember most are the thoughts going through my head “How do I get out of this? How can I get away without making him angry? I should not be here. I don’t belong here.”

Somehow, God gave me the courage and fortitude to make an excuse and get away from the situation. I consider myself one of the fortunate ones because unlike many of the 1 in 3 adolescent girls who are victims of childhood sexual assault, I was not a repeat victim.

The next morning I had to call my mom, who was away on a business trip, to tell her about what had happened. I think I knew deep-down that she wasn’t going to believe me, but knowing it didn’t make it any easier to hear.

It was not just my mom who didn’t believe me. Many immediate family members also could not accept what had happened. I felt like the family outcast. In their eyes I was confused, at best, and at worst, a liar. I felt like I didn’t belong any more.

I moved in with my dad and step-mom immediately. They worked hard to incorporate me into their lives, to make me feel at-home and loved. But the reality was that in the span of one week I had lost my identity as part of one family, one household, and was suddenly placed in a new house, new town, new state. I had left behind my sister, my friends, even my furniture. Everything was new and unfamiliar. To my 13-year-old self I felt like it was all a bad dream and I was just waiting to wake up and realize none of it had happened. I felt like I didn’t belong in this new reality, this new life.

I was enrolled in a new school a few days later, only weeks before my 8th grade year began. The school was huge and intimidating. I knew no one. I remember walking through the cafeteria on the first day, looking across the sea of unfamiliar faces, trying to figure out where I should sit. I felt the lump in my throat and willed the tears back down. I didn’t belong.

Because I had already completed one year of confirmation class, my dad and step-mom signed me up for my second year at a local Lutheran church (one they didn’t attend). I walked up the unfamiliar sidewalk to the never-before-entered red doors. Why was I here? This church was not home. I didn’t belong here.

Then I walked through the doors and a man with a white collar came up to me. “You must be Jelise.” He knew my name. He was expecting me.

“It’s so nice to meet you,” he said. “Come, let me show you the way to the classroom and introduce you to everyone.”

Isaiah 43:1

I don’t belong. Three small little words to represent such powerful emotion.

Whether you went through foster care as a child, moved to a new town where you didn’t know anyone, landed in jail, landed in divorce court, moved countries, schools, houses, or families, I would wager a guess that every single person reading this blog has felt like they didn’t belong at some point in their life. The reality is the world can often seem unfamiliar, cold and scary. We can feel abandoned, judged, or just different.

But there is One who calls us by name. Who knows us and loves us for who we are, who He created us to be. He is with us always, and when we are with Him we not only belong, we are His beloved.

I love the book of Isaiah because it is essentially a passionate love letter from God to His people. Over and over He tells us that He is with us; He knows us and we belong to Him.

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1-2 (NLT)

That night, in that unfamiliar church, a seed was planted.  I didn’t know it at the time, but that church and Pastor, those other kids in that confirmation class, they would be a huge part in helping me heal and start to feel like I belonged somewhere. God was using them to call me by name — figuratively and literally. It was a pivotal moment in developing a life-long relationship with Christ. And through my relationship with Christ I learned to forgive. With time and counseling, I was able to heal from the events of that night. I made friends at my new school. I was loved and cared for by my dad and step-mom and they became home. And eventually my relationship with my mom was healed and made new.

Just like that Pastor who called me by name all those years ago, God has already called each of us by name; He calls us every day. When we feel like we don’t belong in the earthly world, let us remember that we always belong to our Heavenly Father. We are wanted. We are loved.

There is no happily-ever-after in this world, but there can be joy rising up out of the ashes. Through Christ all things are indeed possible.

 

#I’mTired

This has not been an easy week. In fact, it’s been an up-at-5:30-go-all-day-collapse-into-bed-around-midnight-dog-tired kind of week. The day job has been stressful. The extra-curricular activity shuttling of children started in full-gear. There were spelling tests and math quizzes to help study for, PTO meetings to prepare for, committee meetings to attend, volunteer events to plan, piles of laundry to fold, the suitcase to finish unpacking from that business trip I took 4 weeks ago, etc.

It’s Friday night and I’m exhausted. This is not a new feeling for me. I’m pretty sure the last time I felt rested was in 2002. But this Friday, instead of wanting to break down into tears of exhaustion or hide under my covers, I actually have a smile and feel at peace. And I know the reason is because this week I have made time to spend in the Word and prayer every single day.  And every day God, in His undeniable ways, met me where I was and I either read a devotion, heard a song, or found a bit of scripture that spoke directly to what I was struggling with that day. I know after 37 years I shouldn’t be surprised that He does that, but it still amazes me.

This past Sunday the message at church was about being tired. Not just physically, although that’s a big part of my life, but being mentally drained and spiritually depleted, as well. The sermon could have literally been written for me, as it described my life to a tee. Every week I talk to my step-mom on the phone and she always asks me the same question, “how are you?” and I always answer the same way, “tired, stressed…you know, the usual.”

The worst part is I keep kidding myself that if I can just “get past this one thing,” “finish this one project,” etc. then things will return to “normal” — whatever that is. First it was getting through the infancy of my first-born. Then it was getting through being pregnant with twins, and then the first year of having infant twins and a toddler (not much I remember about their first 6 months). Then it was, changing my job, ending my commute, finishing grad school…you get the picture. But there always seems to be one. more. thing.

What really stuck with me after Sunday’s message was the idea of margin. Like a piece of paper, we all have a margin in our life that needs to be reserved and protected. As a marketing person who has taken a design class or two, I know how important white space and margin are. You fill up a piece of paper with too much text and images and it looks terrible! Not only that, but your core message is going to get lost in the midst of the chaos and clutter.

I can keep waiting for this phase or that one to end. But as long as I keep adding things that spill into the margins of my life I will stay in this same, exhausted place, where often the core message of my soul is lost in the chaos and clutter. Intellectually I know this, but for some reason I continue to struggle with actually doing it. For years I have beaten-up and berated myself, thinking:
“Why can’t you get this figured out?”

“How hard is it to say ‘no’ or take care of yourself.”

“No one’s going to do it for you.”

But listening to the core teaching verse this Sunday I finally realized I don’t have to –nor can I– do this alone.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

If I want to find rest. If I want to eliminate excess and lighten my burdens. If I seek healing and restoration then I must start with Jesus. For He is “my strength and my fortress, my refuge.”

Matthew 11:28

When I don’t know what to let go of, He will show me the way.

When I feel depleted, His Word will fill my soul.

When I forget how to care for myself, He will remind me what is needed.

While I may not have been able to let go of much of the worldly things I had on my “to-do list” this week, I was able to spend time every day looking to God for guidance and wisdom.

I’m a work in progress. I know with time, practice and dependence on the Heavenly Father I will learn how to maintain margin.

The beauty in the swamp

[Author’s note: This post was inspired by the featured photo of Manchac Swamp in Frenier, LA taken by Kathy Ballon, which was the winner in our Facebook photo contest.]

There I was sitting around a dinner table in South Africa with four of my colleagues trying to explain the show “Swamp People“. While a lot of American television makes its way to the South African airwaves, somehow “Swamp People” is not one of them and none of my colleagues had ever heard of it before. After 5 minutes I had all of them in that place of side-splitting, tear-inducing laughter at my description of this show that my dear husband, a Louisiana native, watches faithfully every week.

I think it was the title “Swamp People” that really did them in. I mean after-all, that title does conjure up images of slimy, scary bog monsters that come to life and roam the shore instilling fear in everyone who lives nearby. Of course, if you are familiar with the show you know it’s actually about the men and women who make their living hunting alligator — a unique sub-culture of modern Louisiana who live off the bayou and eat food like turtle soup, alligator gumbo, and boiled crawfish. They catch alligators using giant hooks baited with rotting chicken and every episode I am sure someone is going to get eaten by an angry gator. They have a very distinct accent that is as thick as their red beans and rice and use words rooted in their French-Acadian history that the rest of the U.S. population have never heard uttered. I often joke to my husband that people from the bayous of Louisiana are the only ones that speak English but still need subtitles so people can understand what they’re saying. (And lest anyone think I’m too unkind, let me set the record straight that my childhood roots include living in a mobile home in West Virginia, so believe me I get plenty of ribbing for that.)

While I like to kid and tease my husband mercilessly about the show and the kinship he feels for these alligator hunters, I know that the show is successful because those of us who didn’t grow up in that lifestyle are in awe of the bravery and brass of these people that hang out in the swamp all day. The swamp that is full of alligators, snakes, snapping turtles, giant rodents called nutria, mosquitoes and other creatures I would prefer not to spend any length of time with. The fact is, even if you don’t immediately think of a scary B-horror movie creature, when you think of the swamp you probably don’t think of a place you’d like to oh, let’s say, vacation.

But, I have been to Louisiana and toured the swamps. The truth is the swamps are also places of serene beauty where there are more shades of green than even Pantone could imagine. Where Spanish moss dangles from 200 year-old cypress trees and floating bouquets of water lilies greet you as you float down the still, quiet canals. This photo below was taken at Manchac Swamp in Frenier, LA by my mother-in-law. It’s simply stunning. Nothing about this picture says scary-death-trap to me!

Manchac Swamp in Frenier, LA
Photo by: Kathy Ballon

And this is how much of life is. We have certain places, situations, or even words that we identify as intimidating, scary, dangerous, lonely, painful or despairing. But when we look at them in a different light we are often surprised by the hope, beauty, joy, comfort, and blessing they turn out to be. My husband and I found ourselves in one such situation earlier this year when he unexpectedly lost his job.

Unemployed.

It’s a word that conjures up all kinds of unpleasant visions and is ripe with worry. Even though my husband had been unhappy at his job, the unplanned departure left us uncertain of what the future would hold. As much as we tried to stay positive and trust that the Lord would provide, as the days moved into weeks, and then into months, our faith was tested and concern evolved into uneasiness, which evolved into distress. Yet, God was with us at every step of the way. We were provided for — both financially and spiritually. Friends and family rallied around us. My husband was able to use this time to give back, volunteering in our community, to spend time with our kids as they finished the school-year, and to support me as I finished my graduate school capstone. Even in the midst of the fear and stress, we saw the beauty of these gifts.

My husband ended up finding a job in his field, near our home, working for a great company. He absolutely loves this job! He is respected and appreciated by coworkers and has opportunities for education and career advancement he didn’t have at his last job. He will tell you, without hesitation, that losing his prior job was the best thing that could have happened to him.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

For as much as unemployment can be a place of discouragement, loneliness, and anxiety, it can also be a place of fresh-starts, opportunity, and hope. Because there is nothing we have to face in this world that is bigger than God. Nothing that He won’t use for our good. When we think we are in the dark, dangerous swamps of life, God can reveal to us the beauty and serenity of His purpose for our lives.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

What are the swamps of your life? Where have you seen beauty and blessing instead of fear and danger?

Romans 8:38-39