Showing up

I want to be the kind of person who shows up.

But there are a lot of reasons why I don’t.

So as I sit here and think about how I go about being the kind of person who shows up, I can think of two main reasons why I bring less-than-my-whole-self into so many situations.

The first problem is that I don’t always know how to show up.

I like the idea of showing up.  I like the idea of bringing my whole, real, and vulnerable self, of being fully present, of engaging unreservedly, and of fighting fiercely for my convictions.

But I don’t always know how to do those things.  Or I don’t know what it looks like to be fully present in certain situations.  I can think of a small handful of people I know who do this consistently well, and anytime I’m around those people it is a breath of fresh air.

Two of the authors I’ve been reading lately who inspire me in this area are Brene Brown and Shauna Niequist.  If you haven’t heard of them, you really should look them up on Amazon and order one of their books (I’d recommend starting with The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown and Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist).  Brene Brown is going to give you more of a researched, thought-out approach of what it looks like to bring your whole self into situations, but she does so in a way that is engaging with great stories and illustrations from her own journey of how she has grown in this process.  Shauna is a great storyteller who invites you into her life and has this engaging, charming, honest way of writing about the simple moments in life that makes me want to learn how to engage with life and the people around me the way that she does.

I see someone show up when our group of friends is sitting around in my living room, or around the dinner table, and someone takes that first risk of inviting us in to something really hard she is walking through and she invites us to be present with her in the journey.

I see someone show up when I’m in staff meetings and rather than keep with the status quo, someone takes a risk to share an idea, to question the way things have always been done, to put their heart and their passion out on the table and see what others have to say about it.

I think I showed up a few weeks ago when I was having dinner with my dad.  He had come down to visit, and we went up to the mountain lake of Big Bear for some father-daughter time—the first time we’ve ever spent that much one-on-one time together.  We found ourselves at a great little restaurant called the Peppercorn Grille, and as we talked I started opening up to my dad about some things in my life I’d never really shared openly with him.  I still remember that moment when I knew I could either steer the conversation away, or I could press in and take the risk of inviting my dad into some places in my heart I usually kept tucked away.  And I remember feeling incredibly vulnerable and afraid of not being well received as I thought about which direction to go, but thought it was time to take a risk and open up.  And I encountered understanding and love, and had the privilege of having my dad speak some words into my life that I desperately needed to hear.

As I try to think more about what it means and what it looks like to show up, though, I don’t think it is as simple as just being willing to share openly.  I think there are plenty of people in the world who are looking for anyone and everyone to emotionally vomit on, and they’ll talk to anyone who will listen.

I was walking up to my office one day when I passed a woman on the sidewalk.  I politely asked her how her day was going, expecting a quick passing conversation.  Instead, this perfect stranger started telling me all about her litany of medical problems she was having and how she was feeling about all of them.  PERFECT STRANGER.  As I was hearing all about her ear infection and overproduction of ear wax, among other things, I slowly started to back away and probably made a not so gracious exit with an excuse of needing to get to my next appointment.

Just because this woman was willing to share openly about what was going on in her life, does that mean she was showing up?  Was that true vulnerability, bringing her authentic self to the situation, or was that something else?

As I said, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it means or looks like to show up.  But as I navigate learning how to do this in my own life, I’m starting to think showing up might be more about offering yourself to others, not needing something from others.  It’s knowing that there is strength in vulnerability, and that when you show up you are bringing your best self, your whole self, to the table and you know that you have something to offer.  I don’t think showing up is about needing or demanding from others.  I don’t think showing up is about over-sharing and emotionally vomiting all over other people.  I think showing up feels like discernment and wisdom, strength and authenticity, but also risk and vulnerability.

People can be vocal without showing up.  People who act out of their insecurities, or ask others to take care of their problems, or talk about everything wrong that has happened to them doesn’t feel like showing up.  People who invite others to see their brokenness and don’t ask others to fix them or carry their burdens, but rather just be present with them—because that’s what you do with the people you love—that feels more like showing up.  People who share their authentic, messy, broken, yet real, passionate, and beautiful self because they know that might be just what is needed to open up a situation and bring true connection—that feels more like showing up.

People who show up have convictions and are willing to fight for them.

People who show up don’t let fear guide their decisions or actions.

People who show up don’t worry about how others will receive them.

People who show up know they have something to offer.

People who show up choose to risk vulnerability.

I’m pretty sure the feeling that comes right before showing up is fear and a crazy sense of vulnerability, and the showing up happens when we decide to not care and say what needs to be said or do what needs to be done anyway.

This brings up the second reason I don’t show up.

Fear.

Showing up is hard.  Risking vulnerability is hard.  Putting my real and vulnerable self out there is hard.

If I fail, I can’t say it’s because I didn’t really try.  I did try.  I gave it everything I had.  Too often I’ll hold back because then I can tell myself that my failure doesn’t really reflect on my ability, and I can convince myself that if I really wanted to I could have done it.

Showing up risks failure on a much deeper level, a level with no excuses left other than realizing I wasn’t enough.  I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid that very situation.

Showing up comes with a cost, and I think that’s where wisdom and discernment come into play for knowing if the risk is worth it.  I don’t think we are always supposed to show up.  Bringing our whole selves into every situation of every day would be exhausting and probably feel a little bit like trying too hard.

But not showing up at all, that, I think, has to do with letting our lives be ruled by fear.

What helps me more than anything to step into this area of my life is to realize that I’m not going down this road alone.

I am deeply grateful for the community I live in that is learning how to do this with me, and for the people who are giving me so much grace for the bumps and awkward moments I’m hitting along the way.

But even more than that, I’m thankful for a God who shows up.

The root meaning of the word confidence is “with faith” (con is with and fid is faith).  With faith.  Someone with confidence is someone with faith.  And I think an essential component I’ve found to be able to show up is the confidence to step into those moments knowing that I am not alone.

I believe in a God who shows up.  I believe Jesus Christ is one of the best examples you will ever find of someone who unreservedly put himself on display and offered himself up to the world, knowing that many would reject him.

And I believe God continues to show up today.  I believe God is with us, every second of every day, and that He will never leave or abandon us.  So that fear of being left alone out in the cold, or showing up and being rejected, isn’t as scary anymore when I realize I’ll never really be alone.

And as I think about the excitement of serving alongside a God who is at work in this world, whose Spirit is doing incredible things, bringing hope and freedom and light to the dark and broken places in our world and also in the hearts of people, I want to show up too.  I want to join in with God in the work of bringing hope to the hopeless and light to the darkness in our world.  I know that my half-hearted effort will have little to no impact, but I think that if God is at work and he invites us to show up with him, bringing our whole selves and our whole effort to bear on the situation in front of us, then I think we get to start seeing real change happen in the world and in the lives of people around us.

It doesn’t mean I’m still not afraid.  It doesn’t make showing up any easier to do.  But it does help me find the strength, the confidence, the faith, to press forward and move into those uncomfortable situations rather than running for safety.

Today, I have faith that my God will show up.  So today I will show up too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  What does showing up look like for you?  What are stories of when you have seen other people show up?  Let me know below!

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Faith, Doubt, and My First Car Accident

I can still vividly recall my first car accident.  Especially the part where I totaled my mom’s car.

I was 17, driving my mom’s forest green Dodge Neon to soccer practice.  I had just pulled up to a stop sign in the neighborhood by my high school, waiting and watching the cross traffic, ready to turn left and hoping to not be late to practice.  I saw the oncoming car slow down to make a right turn onto the street I was waiting on, and then I saw that same car lose control, skid straight towards me, and slam into the front of my mom’s car (thankfully no one was hurt—but the damage to the car was extensive enough to declare it totaled.  Yep, that’s right.  I totaled a car by sitting at a stop sign.  What did YOU do when you were a teenage driver?).

After the dust settled and I was back on my way to practice, my hands shook as they gripped the steering wheel.  For the next few weeks, whenever I sat at a stop sign, I eyed every car driving by as a potential wrecking ball bound for impact.

Before that accident, I had never questioned the safety of sitting at a stop sign.  It took a few weeks of safe driving experiences to finally move out of that stage when I suspected any oncoming vehicle of devious means, but eventually life as a teenage driver went back to as safe as could be expected.

It’s been 14 years since that accident.  Thankfully since then my driving safety has suffered little more than two slight accidents where I was rear ended.  Even with those, I experienced some minor PTSD for the next few weeks of irrationally bracing myself when I slowed down, expecting the car behind me to barrel into my bumper.

As I think about life, specifically in regards to faith and doubt, it helps me to think about how I react to car accidents.

I’m going through life thinking everything is fine and then – WHAM – something happens that completely knocks me off base.  Sometimes it is something unexpected, or sometimes it is something expected that fails to deliver and becomes a major disappointment.  Either way, my regular pattern of life gets hammered by a brutal reality check.

Over the course of my life I’ve driven countless hours in a car, and I almost never suffer anxiety about getting rear ended.  In my day-to-day experience of the world, drivers stop when they are supposed to stop.  It’s not until that regular pattern gets disrupted and I have a reason to question my experience, based on this new data of actually getting rear ended, that I’ll experience some sweaty palms and heart palpitations when I get behind the wheel for the next week or so.  But then, after a few weeks of reassuring normalcy that cars indeed will not crash into me on a regular basis, my anxiety subsides and I go back to my normal driving routine.

Let’s think about this now in the context of faith and doubt.  We all have the things in life that we place our faith in.  By the way, I like to define faith as trust in what we have reason to believe is true.  Based on our understanding and experience of the world and this life as we know it, we choose to place our trust and order our lives according to that which we believe to be true.  Faith, I think, is more of a choice about how to order our lives, what we choose to acknowledge as trustworthy, and how we make decisions in line with what we believe, and less of a feeling.

What I’ve observed in my own experience is that I’ll be going through life as usual, with no reason to question or doubt the things I’ve placed my faith in.  Then — WHAM! — the rug gets pulled out from under me.  Tragedy strikes, hopes are crushed, life hasn’t turned out how I thought it would, someone I trust hurts me, or some other life experience happens that makes me question if my way of thinking about the world, and how I’ve trusted certain things to be true, can really be trusted after all.

The question we’re faced with in these moments, as doubt creeps in and we wonder if we can really continue trusting those things we have set our faith in, is how much we let these unexpected moments define our experience of life.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m a much more fickle person than you.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that if we’re honest with what we really think, we all have moments of serious doubt at times.

What, then, are we to make of the tension that exists between faith and doubt?

While I think there is much to be unpacked in that question, I want to focus on one aspect of the relationship between faith and doubt that I’ve been thinking about more lately.  And it’s this:

Doubt is seasonal.

I think it is normal, natural, and actually healthy for our faith to go through seasons of doubt.

For faith to remain vibrant, and for us to not settle into ruts and do things simply for the sake of doing things, we have to constantly remember why we chose to orient our life and follow certain paths to begin with.  Seasons of doubt make us question what we really believe, and out of that is a healthy process of seeking the truth and either reaffirming that which we previously believed in with a renewed faith, or refining our faith and shedding false belief that hindered us from being growing people.

When I was driving during the weeks following a car accident, I questioned the safety of the drivers around me.  Generally speaking, I have faith in the rules of the road, and faith that the other drivers on the road will be following the same set of rules as I am.  I have faith when I’m driving down the freeway that the car next to me will stay in his lane and not drift into mine.  I have faith that cars will stop at red lights and go at green lights.  I have faith that cars will drive on the right side of the road.  We literally could not function as a society and drive our individual vehicles to and from work, soccer practice, dinner parties, and the grocery store if we did not all have faith that other drivers were following the same set of driving rules.   So it’s no wonder that when someone breaks one of the rules, resulting in an accident, that our faith in the safety of driving is shaken.  We panic.  We reevaluate how safe driving really is.  We question if we can trust what we previously trusted.  We wonder if there’s something we could have done differently to prevent the situation.

Maybe my response to these feelings of doubt is to look into buying a safer car.  Maybe I realize I’m not as aware of the other cars around me as I should be.  Maybe I realize my own guilt of being a distracted driver and resolve to change that.  Whatever my response, this disruption of my normal assumed safety is a good cause for self-examination and re-evaluation of what I’ve previously trusted.

However, just because I’ve been in an accident, it doesn’t mean I give up driving all together.  It reminds me that there really are no guarantees of safety in this world and that at any moment things can come crashing in and disrupt my day-to-day routine and experience of life.

Just because my faith has been shaken, just because I’m experiencing doubt, just because I’m questioning God, it doesn’t mean I give up my faith all together.  It reminds me that I live in a very fallen, very broken, very messy world and there really are no guarantees of safety.  It reminds me that at any moment things can completely fall apart, and there literally is nothing I can do to prevent it.

But just because I have doubts, it doesn’t mean I throw away my faith all together.

I’ve found over and over again that in these seasons of doubt, if I run away from God and stop trusting Him altogether, if I run away from my community of faith, I wind up running away from the very answers I’m looking for.

I’m not saying faith should be blind.  I’m not saying that we should just ignore hard questions and pretend everything is ok.  I’m actually a huge advocate of intellectual honesty in our faith.  I’m saying we should give God the benefit of the doubt in these situations and rather than running away, we should lean in even more.

Yes, ask hard questions.  Yes, be honest about how you’re feeling.  But do so as you press into God.  So the rug got pulled out from under you?  Do you think you’ll find the answers you’re looking for apart from God?

In my own experience, I’ve found that even though it’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings, entering into my doubt and not running from my fears has helped bring resolution sooner and grown my faith in significant ways.  Sometimes it hurts like hell, and often things get worse before they get better, but running away from my doubts and questions has never helped at all.

This is one of those sticky, messy areas of faith.  It’s the real life, dirty, gritty, blood-sweat-and-tears part of faith.  The part where I’m very aware of my humanity.  The part where I do a lot of yelling and cussing and crying in my conversations with God.  But it’s also the part where the dark corners of my heart, the places where the hope and love of the gospel haven’t penetrated to yet, get brought to the table and some real breakthroughs happen.  It’s where the most real growth and change happen.

I wish I had more answers.  I wish I could tell you that bad things won’t happen.  But the truth is, sometimes life can really screw with you.  Hard things happen, and we are left with lots of questions.  The point of all this is to say that when you find yourself with those hard questions, that you can take them to God and see what He does with them.  Don’t hide the questions.  Don’t feel guilty about asking them.

I wish I could tell you I know the answers to some of those hard questions.  I wish you had answers for some of mine.  All I know is that every time I hit one of these seasons, God is right there in the thick of it with me.  And the more I’ve learned to lean INTO him rather that away from him, it’s turned out a little bit better.

Remember that it’s a season.  Eventually, after an accident, you get back to a place where you can be on the road without being driven by fear.  Eventually, after a crisis, your faith will stop expecting the worst to happen.  I know that if you’re in a crisis of faith right now, it might not feel like it.  That’s ok.  This is where community is such a beautiful thing because where your faith is weak I can lend you some of mine.

Lean into God.  Lean into your community of faith.  Bring your questions, your heart, your honest self to the table.  Don’t let your fear drive you.  Lean in.  I know you can.

Follow Me

Two words have been resounding in my mind and my heart these past few months.  

2 simple words.  

1 incredible invitation.  

FOLLOW ME.

Follow me and find your true self.

Follow me and find what you were made for.

Follow me and find wisdom for how life is meant to be lived.

We were made for a purpose.  Every human life is a masterpiece created by God to accomplish great things.  When we choose to live life according to our own ways, we disconnect ourselves from God and His purposes for our life.  Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father, to fix the broken relationship caused by our selfish ways, and show us a new way to live.

If we choose to follow Jesus, we are invited and caught up into a greater story of how life is meant to be.  We learn from the Creator of life Himself how this span of years we are given here on earth was originally intended to be. 

We were made to know and be known by God.  We were made to live in healthy relationships with those around us.  Sin and brokenness have marred this life we were created for, but Jesus has made a way for us to get back to the relationship and the life we were intended for.  He paid the price we couldn’t pay for ourselves, dying on our behalf so that we could live for Him!  It’s not just about going to Heaven, but following a new way of life during our time here on earth—living differently TODAY because of the new life we have found in Jesus.

It’s the kind of life that has no regrets.

It’s the kind of life that has confidence in making good decisions.

It’s the kind of life that is abounding with purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.

It’s the kind of life that is invested in healthy relationships with the people we love.

Jesus taught and modeled a new way to live.  It’s a life of freedom, selflessness, joy, and adventure.

Maybe you’re new to who Jesus is, or maybe you’ve grown up hearing a lot about who He is but still haven’t quite figured out how and why it matters in your own life.  Or maybe you’ve identified yourself as a “Christian” but you are still choosing to live life your own way.

Jesus invites you to follow Him.  Follow His Way of life.  I invite and encourage you to find out what this means.

The more I’ve taken steps to live this life that Jesus has called us to, the more I’ve found it is the BEST life possible.  He really is the one who designed it, after all, so it makes sense that He would have the best advice on how it is meant to be lived.

He’s invited you into an incredible adventure and a new way of life…

Will you follow Him?

 

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full -John 10:10

 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do -Ephesians 2:10

new shoes

It’s a Rainbow™ sandals kind of day.

 

When I turned 30, I made a vow that I would never wear my Rainbows to work.  It was a while after a conversation with someone about how the shorts and tank tops that looked like I was ready to go to the beach, that were the perfect uniform for working in youth ministries, wouldn’t cut it anymore now that I was working with adults.  And so in a valiant effort to be a grown up, I swore off wearing my Rainbows to work. 

 

By the way, if you don’t live in Southern California, you might not know yet that Rainbow sandals are the most perfect pair of flip flops you can wear.  And if you live in Orange County, or you’ve ever come to visit me in Orange County, you know that the Rainbow Factory Outlet in San Clemente is a magical place where the most comfortable leather flip flops in every style and color imaginable are available for your browsing and purchasing pleasure.  I’ve hiked in Rainbows.  I’ve worn them all day and walked miles without ever having a problem.  I’ve found putting them on after a long day of wearing my grown up shoes is one of the greatest simple pleasures in life.  And days like today, when I just don’t quite want to put on my grown up shoes, I’ll still wear my Rainbows to the office. 

 

Last night I wanted to go shopping for a new pair of shoes.  These new shoes were going to be purple, and probably wedges, with something fun and strappy, and going to match this great new dress I bought recently.  They were going to be the kind of shoes I would get lots of compliments on, and that would give me a little extra bounce in my step when I wore them. 

 

But last night I was also exhausted.  It was the kind of day where I got home from work and fell on the couch and couldn’t move or think or do anything even remotely like being a human for at least half an hour.  I was waiting for my roommate to get home and we were going to go shopping together.  Less because we really needed to go shopping and more because we wanted to do something other than spend another night sitting around at home.  And so I thought this would be a great time to go look for those perfect purple grown-up knock-em-dead shoes I’d been wanting.

 

But as I laid there on the couch, feeling exhausted, there was this gentle nudging in the back of my mind that prompted me to ask if new shoes would actually make my day, my life, my current situation any better.

 

Sometimes, when I am not dating anyone, I think I am not dating anyone because I don’t have the cutest pair of shoes.  Because the girl I know who always has the cutest shoes seems to always be dating someone.  And there’s a party this weekend, and if I have a great pair of shoes then maybe somehow this will be an even greater party.  And there’s a wedding coming up at the end of the month, and if I have a knock-em-dead pair of shoes to wear at the wedding, maybe the wedding will be the kind of wedding that I’ll tell stories about to my grandkids someday. 

 

It’s the kind of thinking that when I say it out loud, or write it out, is embarrassingly ridiculous.  But it’s also the kind of thinking that goes on underneath the surface all too often. 

 

We feel dissatisfied with something in life, and somehow we attach our hope or where we look for happiness to something silly.  Like a new pair of shoes.  And we look forward to finding the perfect pair of strappy-but-also-comfortable, not-too-pink-but-just-that-perfect-shade-of-violet, and not-too-tall-but-still-tall-enough-to-stand-out  pair of wedges.

 

The problem, though, is that if I’m feeling dissatisfied, new shoes won’t really bring any substantial satisfaction into my life.  And perhaps one of the very reasons I find myself dissatisfied is because I’m still the kind of person who thinks that new shoes will make me happier, or make my life better in some way.

 

I can say that I know new shoes won’t make me happy.  I can even think I know better.  I’ve got all sorts of Bible answers and raised-in-church things that I’ve memorized I can bring up to show how much I know better.  But at the end of the day, deep down, there’s a part of me that still deeply believes that buying shiny new things will make me happy, and make me feel better. 

 

And I’m so thankful that God, in His infinite grace, wisdom, and patience with my absurd silliness about things like wanting new shoes, helped me start thinking just a little bit differently last night.  It’s taken years, but over time I’ve started catching myself before, while still in the thinking process, about how new shoes don’t actually provide what I’m looking for.  And in His goodness and desire for me to find what really does make my life better, God is starting to show me more and more the kinds of things in life that do give deeper meaning and satisfaction to my life.

 

Last night, as my roommate and I decided what we wanted to do, we realized that if we hurried we could catch the sunset at the beach.  And not just any beach, but my roommate’s favorite beach that somehow I had never been to.  And if we really hurried, we could pick up some In-N-Out on the way and eat dinner as we sat on the beach watching the sunset.

 

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And so last night, as we drove down to Laguna Beach to catch the sunset at the Montage, stopping at the In-N-Out drive thru to get fries with special sauce, we talked about life and ministry and it was one of those moments where God used my roommate, the sunset, the conversation, and the beautiful location to meet me where I was at in life and bring a deeper measure of peace to my restless and wandering heart.

 

For a lot of reasons, life has been really full lately.  I love my job.  I find so much fulfillment in what I’m doing right now with my role at church.  I am so thankful for the friendships and relationships and people that I am privileged to walk through life with.  And yet in the midst of that, it is a season that feels like it is taking everything I have to give, and it’s still not enough.  There’s always another project.  Another deadline.  Another crisis.  Another event.  Another conversation.  Another email or text message.  Another demand on my time, or resources, or energy.  Life has become more and more full of the to-do’s, and I’m taking less and less time to do things like watch sunsets and dip fries in special sauce.

 

As we talked, we sat on a bench positioned perfectly on top of a cliff to give us a breathtaking view of the sun sinking down below Catalina island, framed by palm tree silhouettes on a backdrop of pink and orange and golden wispy clouds, with waves splashing in the cove below. 

 

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As we drove back through the canyon, stars coming out along the stretch of Highway 133 where light pollution is kept at bay by the rolling hills, I realized how thankful I was for sunsets and meaningful conversations and friendships with people like my roommate, and how moments like those bring a peace and satisfaction so much more so than any new pair of shoes ever could.

 

Life has been busy.  I’ve been in to-do list mode, and go-mode, and productivity mode.  It’s a try-and-cross-things-off-the-list-only-to-add-two-more kind of time for me right now.  And when life gets that way, it’s easy to think that life is all about appearances and what I can get done.  It’s when I start to think that a great new pair of shoes, and looking and acting a certain way, will get me far in life. 

 

And I’m so thankful that God interrupted my plans last night.  I needed to slow down.  I needed to be reminded that all these things I was doing were simply a means, and not the end.  Ministry and to-do lists are sometimes all that I see on my horizon, and it’s in those moments when my horizon is nothing but to-do lists and stressful problems that things like buying a new pair of shoes seems like a good way to get away from my problems for just a little bit and somehow make things better.  It’s in those moments when I forget that all these things I do that keep me busy are a means to an end, and not actually what life is really about. 

 

Seeing life change happen, seeing God break through, seeing people more deeply understand how loved they are by God—these are the things that matter.  I want a horizon filled with meaningful conversations, and moments to talk with the people I love and trust about what God is doing in our lives, where we’re struggling, and how God is meeting us in those places of hardship.  I want a horizon filled with sunsets and slowing down and celebrating the beautiful and simple things in life.  I want a horizon filled with the hope of a God who took on flesh and intervened in human history, and who today continues to interrupt our self-focused lives and give us a picture of how much greater of a life He has invited us to be a part of. 

 

And so today at work, as I sit at my desk in my not-so-grown-up shoes, I’m going to keep working on my to-do list.  But today feels different than yesterday.  Today feels more hopeful.  My to-do list is not as stressful, but rather a little bit more exciting because I see how all these things are a part of something bigger God is up to.

 

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celebrate or compare

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m scrolling through my Facebook news feed.

Another buzzfeed article.

More funny youtube videos.

Happy birthday wishes to a friend.

Some political thing going on that everyone has an opinion on.

Yep, another engagement.  That’s 4 so far this month.

Oh…. looks like my friends went hiking yesterday.  Wow, looks like they had fun.  Weird…I wasn’t included…

I wasn’t included.

Sometimes through social media.  Sometimes because you hear the stories a few days later.  But always that nagging thought, “I wasn’t included”

I remember a season of my life a few years ago when that “I wasn’t included” feeling was particularly acute.

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Life was in transition.  I had just celebrated the marriages of a few close friends, and a few more close friends had graduated and moved away.  In the span of a summer, it felt like my social circle completely dissipated.  There were a few people I had met recently, and was hoping to get to know them better.  And while we would spend time together occasionally, I remember feeling like I kept seeing pictures on Facebook or hearing about the fun things they were doing that I hadn’t been included in.

Over time, new friendships solidified.  And rather than feeling left out, I decided to get ideas from the fun things I saw people doing on Facebook and start planning my own fun adventures.

I wish I could say I never get that feeling of being left out when I scroll through Facebook.  But the truth is, I see people who I think are really great all having fun without me and there’s always that initial realization that I wasn’t included.  However, what I CAN say is that while there might be that momentary twinge of jealousy, I’ve learned that I have a choice in how I respond.

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When I hear about things I wasn’t included in, I have a choice.  I can compare, and start feeling lesser-than.  Left out.  Excluded.  I can wallow in self-pity and insecurity.

Or I can celebrate.  I can celebrate that people I care about are having fun.  I can be excited for the ways I see community forming.  I can be inspired by fun new ideas I hope to try myself someday.  I can be happy for my friends because I know they had a great time.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of the difference between comparison and celebration for a while.  One of the verses that came to mind was the phrase “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”  I’ll be honest….I’m much better at remembering phrases than where things are actually found.  So I had to look it up, and I wasn’t surprised at all when I found myself in Romans 12.

Romans 12 is one of the great passages in the Bible about what it looks like to live as a unified community.  In the midst of encouraging the community of followers of Jesus in Rome to use their gifts to serve as a unified body, love one another, live in harmony, contribute towards the needs of others, and not seek vengeance, Paul instructs them to also “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

When I hear that good things are happening in the lives of others, I want to be the kind of person who celebrates, not compares!  And on the flip side of that, when I hear that hard things are happening in the lives of others, I want to be the kind of person who enters into their pain and is present with them so they know they are not alone.

I definitely get that there is a basic human need to be loved and feel included.  I’m not trying to invalidate that need.  I’ve struggled myself with being hurt in this area.  What I’m trying to get at is that there are some healthy, life-giving ways to go about trying to get that need met, and there are some really unhelpful if not destructive ways to engage with this need.  Seeing other people having fun brings that need to the surface and makes us aware of it.  And once you are aware of it, you always have a choice about how you will respond.

I have a few scattered thoughts about this struggle, and things that have been helpful in my own journey as I work towards learning to celebrate the good things in the lives of others instead of comparing.

START AT THE BOTTOM

In any conversation about our needs, we have to start at the bottom and work our way up.  Underneath all of this, we find the basic human need to be loved.  And much in the same way that thousands of counselors and psychologists have counselled millions of married couples that no spouse will ever meet all your needs, I would add that no friend or group of friends can fill your need to be loved.  There’s one person who can do that for you, and He is always going to be there for you.  There’s one person who can give you value, worth, and identity, and He has already bestowed these richly.  There’s one person who has invited you to be a part of His family, and always has open arms for you.  There’s one person who is always ready and willing to listen to what is going on in your life, and eager to spend time with you.

Ask yourself this question:  “Am I looking to people to give me something that only God can give me?”

I know this is hard.  I know that sometimes God feels really far away, and people are flesh and blood right in front of you and sometimes all you want is that physical presence of being with people who care for you.  Some days, no matter how deeply rooted you are in the love of Christ, this will still be hard.  Until we’re on the other side of death, we live in a world marked by unfulfilled desires.

And so I’m not trying to be harsh when I say this, but sometimes we need to be reminded of some truths.  Like your life is not simply about getting your needs met.  As followers of Jesus, we’re called to die to ourselves.  I’m pretty sure this includes dying to my needs.

Jesus exhorts us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).  And the amazing thing that happens as we orient our lives around God and his kingdom, and not around ourselves, is that we find our needs getting met in deeper and more profound ways than we ever could have by trying to meet them on our own.

We have to build our lives on the foundation of who God is, what Jesus Christ has done for us, and how the Holy Spirit is actively at work in our lives today.  Yes, there will still be days when we feel lonely or left out.  Yes, it still sucks sometimes.  But the more deeply I have understood the love that God has for me, how God is present with me in all things, and how God has granted me worth and identity far beyond anything I could have ever achieved on my own, I find myself needing less and less from people.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS PERSONAL

About a year ago, I had the privilege of hearing Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church down in San Diego and author of several books, speak at a conference.  He gave one illustration that I have continually referred back to.  In fact, it helped me move past some of the hurt from my past when it felt like people weren’t making room for me in their lives.

He instructed us to think about the base plate of Legos that you used to play with when you were a kid.

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Let’s say that for the typical person, there are 64 available connectors.  That’s actually pretty high, but go with it for the sake of the illustration.  As people go through life, Legos, or relationships, start getting stacked on these connectors.  At some point, people reach maximum capacity.  There is simply no more room to keep adding Legos.

Sometimes you’ll meet someone and want to be friends with them.  But the problem is, their Lego base is full.  No more available connectors.  It’s not personal.  They probably even think that you’re a fabulous person and they wish they had a place for you to put your Lego.  So rather than walking away with hurt feelings, we need to understand that some people simply are already at relational capacity.

This freed me up in so many ways to stop feeling hurt or left out by people who didn’t include me.  It didn’t have to be that I wasn’t fun enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough.  So instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with me, I simply started looking to invest relationally with people who seemed to have the space and capacity for new relationships.  Rather than getting frustrated by trying to connect with people who were unavailable, I looked for other people like myself:  people who had room in their lives, their schedules, and their hearts to build new friendships.

Sometimes there’s only 5 seats in the car, so only 5 people can go.  Or 4 tickets left.  Or a max of 8 people to keep a dinner party as a small and intimate gathering.  There’s only so many connectors, and so much room for Legos to fit.  It’s not always personal.

COMPARISON KILLS COMMUNITY

You’ve heard it said that comparison is the thief of joy, and you’ve probably experienced just how true this saying is.  But I would add that comparison is the killer of community.

When we constantly compare ourselves to others, we put the focus all on ourselves and how we are feeling.  We only consider our own apparent needs, and not those of the others in the community.  We compare, and we try to put our needs above the needs of others.

Comparing is all about me.  Celebrating is all about seeing the good in others and rejoicing on their behalf.

Comparing demands that anything that is done for one be done for all.  Celebrating sees that community is happening and that’s something to be excited about.

Comparing can lead to others hiding the good things going on in their life because they don’t want to provoke jealousy or hurt.  Celebrating puts the good things on display and encourages more of the same to keep spreading.

I learned a valuable lesson from my dad in this area.  My dad loves to give good gifts to his children, and there have been years when I’ve been incredibly blessed by what my dad gave me for Christmas, or my birthday.  But there were other years when one of my siblings got the “best gift.”  I learned that it was no good comparing because it was up to my dad who he wanted to bless, and I learned to be excited for my family member.  And if I did complain that it was unfair, I was reminded that my dad didn’t have to give us anything at all!

When someone chooses to do something nice for someone else, or bless them with a great gift, or plan a special time with them, it has no bearing whatsoever on you!  It’s not about you!

GIVING IS BETTER THAN RECEIVING

Instead of asking who will include you, start asking yourself who you can include.  Instead of demanding others be a better friend to you, start being a better friend to others.  And don’t just reach out to the people who already look like they have a lot of friends.

We all want someone to reach out and include us.  But who are we reaching out to and including?  If we all sit around waiting for someone to initiate, nothing ever happens.  Rather than seek out the people who are already connected and try to make them include you next time, look around and ask who you could possibly invest in and spend time with.

You saw people having a fun weekend in LA?  Great!  Find someone who didn’t go either, and invite them to plan a trip with you.  Ask your friends who did go what their favorite spot was, and be sure stop by and check it out.

CONNECT TO INDIVIDUALS, NOT  A GROUP

So there’s a fun group of people that you want to be included in.  You know how to be connected to a group?  By being connected to individuals.

This is a hard question, and I’m sorry if I’m being harsh.  But too often I myself, or I see in others, a desire to be included in a group.  But why?  Do we even know the people in the group well?  I don’t want to just be included in a group for the sake of being in a group.  I want to be with people I care about, and who care about me.

It’s easy to want to attach to a group.  It can provide a false sense of security and belonging.  But at the end of the day, a group doesn’t care for you.  A group doesn’t include you.  A group doesn’t call you.  People do that.

Start trying to connect more and invest relationally with individuals.  Build healthy relationships with individuals.  Call people individually and ask how their week is going.  It’s not about the group.  It’s about the people.  Invest in the people, and see what starts to happen.

BE CAREFUL OF SOCIAL MEDIA

There’s studies and statistics out there enough to justify another 5 posts, and this is already getting way too long.  But social media fuels comparison, and it’s making people miserable.  So if you struggle with comparing yourself to others, it might be good to take a break from social media.  Delete it from your phone.  Take a week off from checking it.  Do what you need to do to get to a better place, and then re-evaluate what place it should have in your life.

 

I struggle with this.  So much.  Please believe me when I say that these are all things I am still learning, and the process is slow and painful.  But more and more, I know I have a choice.  When I realize I was left out of something, when I feel excluded, I can choose one of two ways to respond.

I can compare, wallow, and feel sorry for myself.

Or I can celebrate, and reach out and ask who I need to include as well.

This has only been about the individual response.  The role of community and our responsibility to reach out and include others is an entirely different topic.  But you and I don’t have control over what other people choose to do or not.  We do have control over how we will respond when we feel left out.  We can have it push us closer to God and talk to him about these feelings that are surfacing, drive us to him more to look to get our needs met in Him, and celebrate on behalf of our friends.  Or we can compare and drive a wedge right into the heart of community.

You always have a choice.

 

in the midst of chaos

The good thing about jet lag was I woke up plenty early to see the sunrise.

It was the third morning of our trip to Israel and our last morning staying by the Dead Sea.  Not wanting to miss this last opportunity, my roommate and I slipped out of our hotel room and slowly strolled down the street and across the sand.  Two other friends had also woken up early and were already sitting on the beach.

None of us morning people, and all before our morning coffee, not many words were spoken and we all sat in silence reflecting as we watched the sun rise over the Dead Sea.

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As I sat, I read part of Psalm 89:

I will sing of the lovingkindness of the LORD forever;

To all generations I will make known your faithfulness with my mouth.

The heavens will praise your wonders, O LORD;

Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones

As I read and prayed in the serenity of a sunrise, reflecting on God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness that I have seen in my own life, and as more vacationers slipped into the water for a relaxing morning swim in the Dead Sea, my mind wandered to the land around me.

One of the most  common questions I received about my trip was about the safety of going to Israel.  Before I left, people asked if I was worried, or if I would be safe.  Since returning, people have asked if I felt safe while I was there.  I understand (and appreciate) the concern people had over visiting Israel!  

Even as I sat on the shore of the Dead Sea, water quietly rippling up onto the sand, and spa-goers peacefully floating and soaking in the minerals in the water, I looked across the water to the mountains that marked the country of Jordan.  Jordan has become home to millions of Palestinian and now Syrian refugees as they flee the civil unrest going on in Syria.  Traveling north less than 100 miles along the Dead Sea is the West Bank, one of the Palestinian controlled areas of Israel.

And yet the sun kept rising steadily.  Water kept rippling quietly on the shore.  Spa-goers kept floating peacefully.

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In a country that has been torn apart by war, surrounded by political instability, I sat on the shore watching the sunrise and soaking in the peacefulness of the moment.

In this world of ours, we see see truly incredible beauty, peace, and goodness existing right alongside unspeakable evil, sin, and brokenness.

There is terrible woundedness, and yet glorious redemption.

To live in a fallen world is to live in this tension of brokenness and redemption.  Evil and love.  Conflict and peace.

This is true for the world, and it’s also true for the human heart.  What exists as a macrocosm for humanity as a whole exists as a microcosm in our individual lives.  

We’re broken but we’re redeemed.  We sinful but we’re forgiven.  We’re proud and selfish but we’re capable of great love and mercy.

In your life, you might have a day, a week, or a month where it feels like everything is falling apart.  And yet in the midst of the chaos of your life, there are also moments of peace, beauty, and goodness. 

You are never all broken.  Your life is never all bad.

Even in the midst of conflict, evil, sin, and brokenness, beauty is breaking through.

Beauty will always break through.

Peace can always be found.

Hope is always available.

And so as people who have found hope, peace, forgiveness, and love in Jesus Christ, we need to proclaim this to the world.

Creation continues to proclaim the goodness of God.  Sunrises and sunsets.  Water washing on the shore.  Nature continues doing what it was made to do, and in doing so reminds us of the One who created all things.

How much more so do the people of God need to continue to proclaim to a world that suffers deeply that we have found hope.  That we have found peace.  That no matter how bleak the situation seems, there is still a God who deeply loves them and offers them a second chance.

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