Sunday, August 18, 2013

The empty world of chasing extraordinary: what I wish I had known at 17.

For about 36 years now, I've been having an identity crisis. That seems crazy to me, but it's true.

I mean I've known, deep down, that I've wrestled with my identity, but I really hadn't concluded that to be my main stumbling block. Or, it would be better to say that I've been running and hiding from facing that very fact.

I've had a few meetings with some ladies about a future project, and those meetings have caused me to really evaluate some serious, deep down issues.

The others thought the meet ups were God ordained in order for a possible venture to take place...but I just showed up because I like the gals and I like to talk about life and God and struggles.

I've come to believe those meetings were ordained because God used them to unlock a piece of my heart.

I've been chasing something for a long time. a very long time.

I never knew quite what it was. Never.

I'd have glimpses, but I didn't want to face what those glimpses were, and honestly, I still didn't know what to do with what I would see in those glimpses.

But after our meetings and me having to seriously articulate where I am and where my heart seems to be right now, it got me digging further than I ever had.

See, for years I've been able to articulate and recognize that I kept thinking I was extraordinary, or better said, I wanted to be extraordinary. I can remember this clearly starting in middle school.

I had this feeling that I could do whatever I set my mind to, that if I worked hard enough, I could figure something out. I thought I would go off, and show the world that I was more than it told me I was.

I would be extraordinary...even though the world told me I was ordinary and my life kept landing in the very ordinary realm, I would show the world I was more than what was being said about me, or really, what I thought about me.

It seems odd that I would have such deep rooted insecurities, because I grew up in a VERY loving home. That's probably one of the reasons (besides my arrogance and insecurity) why I thought I could be extraordinary and had such an independent spirit was because my parents told me that. They loved on me, believed in me, encouraged me, and spurred me on in immeasurable ways.

But, somehow, someway, insecurity haunted me, pursued me. The voices of the world plagued me. The voices inside my head controlled me.

I struggled with my weight, and in the world around me, weight seemed to trump all else, and I let that become a toxic lie inside my own head. I took that on, and I let it rule.

I was this confident, independent, determined soul in non-relational ways, but with people, I was paralyzed by insecurities.

I was rarely, if ever vulnerable with my closest of friends. I didn't know how to be.

I guarded my heart.

I didn't want to feel rejection or stupid or the ever so awful, "you think you could date him?"

So, I kept it in.

And the first person who made me feel beautiful, I latched onto, and even though my insides were sending up red flags, I ignored them.

My insecurities were too powerful.

They superseded common sense, truth, stability, all the love and worth my parents had poured into me, as well as accepting or understanding grace.

How can one be that insecure?

I do not know.

But I was. And I have continued to be.

My insecurities landed me in a land of mess that caused even bigger messes.

And, I truly believe, that for the last 15 years, I have been on a long journey trying to solve this huge hole in my heart.

I've been having an identity crisis.

For 10 of those years, I was in a relationship that both stripped me to the core as well as piled baggage on top of baggage.

For those 10 years, I both lost my identity and became as insecure as one can be, as well as begin the process of truly finding myself and having the roots of my soul start to grow in the firmest foundation of all.

And, 5 years ago, God unlocked a prison I had chosen and set me free from a wilderness that I had wandered into, wandered through, but met Jesus in.

He walked me out, but just because you leave, doesn't mean that wilderness leaves you.

Rejection I had so feared was now added, bitterness and pain, heartache that I had become numb to, confusion, and the loss of the one person who'd hugged me from the time I was born buried me beneath a rubble I had to start sifting through.

God had released me, but my new road didn't give me an identity fact it added new layers to what was in my head.

single mother
not young but not old
not a size 4 or 6
lonely without a mom, a close sibling, a spouse
constantly searching
rarely content


And as all of this played in my head, my search continued, my insecurities pressed in.

This summer, God began unlocking a new gate...well, He's been unlocking it, but it's taken me a long time to see passed the rubble to notice it was open and just waiting for me to walk through it.

A few dreams died this summer, but some new ones sprang up, and in that mix, a few things began to click.

I kept asking myself why I thought I wanted to be extraordinary, why I seem to have to chase extraordinary when life really seems to be about the ordinary.

Life is a day to day, walking out.

My half marathons had taught me that.

The medal moment comes at the end, and it lasts a few minutes, but the race is 3 hours, and that's where the medal is actually earned.

The settling in at mile 4, knowing there's a long ways to go.
The push at mile 8 to get to double digits.
And then at mile 11 to keep fighting for 2 more miles.
To not quit, to keep going in the mundane, the heat, with the same voices in your head, and the legs that are getting tired.

That's when the medal is earned. In those 3 hours...the ones where it is just you and God and the pavement.

The finish line at mile 13 is just a pause. It's the pat on the back, the cheap medal around your neck, and the here's your banana and bagel.

Extraordinary moments, the ones I keep defining as extraordinary, are the pauses, they are the pats on the back, the glimpse of a temporary finish line.

They really aren't what's extraordinary. Extraordinary is created in the time spent in the ordinary.

I kept envisioning this dramatic story of here's your medal and crown and I deem you worthy, and from here on out all of mankind will think you so...and now you can begin life.

I thought life began at the extraordinary moment, at mile 13, so I've spent my life and my imagination on trying to create that moment.

But that's a farce, a manipulation, a right not given.

The medal isn't earned by the one showing up at mile 13, it's earned by the one who started at mile one, and not even really then. It's earned by the one who chose to get up on an ordinary day and hit the pavement, alone, just them, their thoughts, and God.

Big mountain top moments are just temporary finish lines, because the race to get to the mountain top is in the constant, the day to day, the ordinary moments when there isn't a crowd, there aren't people telling you whether or not they feel you are worthy: the extraordinary happens when it's you, the pavement, and God.

The medal isn't earned at a conference or on a wedding day or in the writing of a book.

The medal is earned in the journey, the extraordinary, the REAL extraordinary is found in what this world would call ordinary. It's in the daily walking out, the daily loving and showing up...on mile one and every one after that.

Mary wasn't speaking and writing and marrying and creating this unbelievable story to make her life extraordinary...

She was living, humbly, ordinarily, and The Extraordinary met her there. She loved the Lord, and that was her story. That was enough for her and that was enough for Him.

Ruth's life and what she knew and loved and came from fell, died, and she was left alone.

But she knew God, she knew Truth was worth following.

So she did, and The Extraordinary collided with the one willing to walk a hard road, an ordinary road, and The Extraordinary spoke in that and through that.

I've chased what I thought was extraordinary for a long time, hoping that it would give me an identity, hoping that the story I chased would give me a story.

But all it has done is remind me that I'm ordinary, that I'm excruciatingly insecure, and that I'm pursuing something hoping it would give me an identity instead of me just having one.

I was chasing a farce.

I was left with the indelible "round hole and square peg" metaphor once again.

I was trying to be the "Proverbs 31" woman when in reality, I'm Psalm 31.

I'm not the ideal or the extraordinary. I'm the ordinary: I'm broken, troubled, afflicted, and lost...

I'm in need of Jesus.

For 36 years, I think I've invited Jesus in to fix me, to orchestrate events, in order for me to be extraordinary.

For the first time, I believe I'm coming to a place that I finally say, I'm ordinary, and I just want The Extraordinary to live in me...not to make me anymore than I am, but just to be in me, with me, save me, and change me...not into something extraordinary, but into the me that has a heart full of Jesus.

I'm tired of me trying to be extraordinary, because I suck at it, and all it has ever done is land me in a world of emptiness, in a world I didn't belong in, in a world devoid of me.

This summer proved to me that I have a heart for loving children and I come alive doing that. Giving my time to helping them have an experience with God brings me life, and that praying for my friends and being a mom that's present is pretty darn gratifying.

And that road, one I had said was too ordinary and boring, is actually a pretty great one for me.

I can take off my wonderwoman costume because the only person I was fooling was myself.

I was the one in need of saving.

How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You...You hide them in the secret place of Your presence...Psalm 31

Nearly 5 years ago, in a dark room, weeping, I prayed begging God to right the pendulum, to clear the toxins, to transform my heart, for me to become who He had planned for me to be before I hijacked my own story.

In August 2013, on the phone, weeping to a friend, longing for the voice and love of my mom,
my soul cried out once again,
my heart breathed in,
and this time, enough rubble had cleared to where I could hear the voice I'd been longing to hear:
you, Shelly, are a child of the Light, destined for salvation, walking together with Him,
and Faithful is He who calls you.

The truly extraordinary is when He whispers into your soul, and you finally listen.

And somehow, walking through that gate, took me into a garden my eyes had never seen before.

In Him,

Being ordinary, walking with The Extraordinary

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Nevertheless - One of the greatest words in all of Scripture

I've been trying a new Starbucks that just opened. When I'm headed into the big city for "supplies" it's a good one to stop at: convenient, clean, new.

But, I will say, the baristas still need a few more weeks to get in the groove. Their ability to fill a cup to the brim is leaving much to be desired. I wouldn't care, except for the fact that when one drops $4.49 for a drink, I want my stinkin' cup full. A girl next to me just got a venti iced tea and there is a good 1.5-2 inches left at the top. What?!?!

Yes, that deserves exclamation marks and mayhem upon my blog. Most of my retirement is going towards drinking coffee at Starbucks, so I want to make sure I'm getting my money's worth as I head toward being homeless at age 65.

I finally finished 6 weeks of "teaching commitments" this summer. Between teaching and Boston, I've spent 6 weeks working. I've loved every second of the actual classes and kiddos, but I of course swung the pendulum a bit too far as to how I'm spending all my time this summer.

Between conferences, teaching, and getting ready to go back to school work, I'm basically getting 2.5 weeks of summer off.

Those of you who know me, would not be surprised by this...this lack of balance and a happy medium. Last year I didn't do a thing and spiraled into unhealthy-crazy-idle-boredom world, so I vowed to DO stuff this summer, so I swung the pendulum clear to the other side and will have hardly stopped to have the chance to get bored.

Even though I am a bit tired, rebellious, and drained, I am in a much better place personally at the end of this summer than I was last summer.

Routine, commitments, accountability, and work is what this girl needs. A few 3-4 days break here and there is definitely needed, but large chunks of time with nothing to really get me up and going proves to be time that I don't get up and don't get going.

So, I'm thankful. I'm thankful that I wished to work this summer, to stay busy and productive, and mentally healthy, and God provided the opportunity and the means for all of that to happen.

I haven't gotten to spend as much time with friends and long lost friends I usually catch up with during the summer, which I'm sad about, but the few coffees and dates I've had, have been such a blessing and included some really deep conversations, probing questions, and moments I've seen God moving in my life and prodding me to move in certain directions.

If I had to sum up the years 2012 - 2013, I would say it's been a time of rebellion, disappointment, and realizing I love God mainly for the reason He is the master of the universe and can make things happen in my life.

That's a tough season and realization to wade through.

I spent three years that I felt was ordained by God to be a season of healing and transformation, to be a time that set me up to start anew with the chance to begin my story again. I wanted the chance at my dream of being in love and being married, having the house where I have people over for Sunday Night Church (Jen Hatmaker style), where my son plays basketball outside with all his friends, and I might even have another child or two.

I felt His prodding to keep me on the path of healing for those 3 years, to not look left, to not look right, but keep pressing on, and at the end, I had come to believe my dream would await.

For those 3 years, I would periodically ask myself "what are you going to do when "that" doesn't happen at the end? What are you going to say about God? Are you still going to believe these 3 years were from Him, for Him, for you?"

And as much as I said I would be ok with whatever happened, that I would keep believing God, that He isn't my genie, and what He has for my life is what He has for my life...deep down, my picture of my dream remained, how my story was going to play out was like a filmstrip inside my head.

Year 3 came and went. While those 3 years were amazing, and I don't question a thing about how much God worked in my life and how His faithfulness and goodness saturated me, my son, and all that I was walking through, year 4 didn't have my story playing out in it.

And for the next 1.5 years, I've lived in that place...of what happens when what you thought would happen, didn't and doesn't.

It's made me question how much I make up inside my head...which I know is LOTS, but sometimes there are moments when one talks to God, you feel He is right next to you...holding your hand, bringing things to mind, and even talking back.

I asked myself what I would do if what I thought would happen after I "put in my time" for the 3 years didn't happen, and the reality was/is I got hurt, I questioned, I lived in disappointment, felt rejected and left, I've wondered, I rebelled, and I became cynical and bitter all over again.

I spent weeks not walking through the church door or opening His word, I prayed little except on certain quiet times I needed to rant and beg, I shared my anger with Him, and I grieved.

I grieved because during all of that time being mad at God, I knew what was happening. I knew where I stood. I knew I only "loved" God because He had the power to fulfill the filmstrip occurring in my head.

And realizing that, hurts.

These last 4 months I've spent slowly coming out of that sticky mud and oil you can't shake or wash off.

The moment I would make strides, I'd find myself still stuck.

I'd open my Bible reluctantly, I made sure I was in the pew being spoon fed once more, and I opened up to listening to and following that still, quiet voice inside my head.

Just come. Just sit. Just read. Just spend time with Me.

I resisted for so long because I hated to face the fact that more often than not (than ever) I do things to only get something in return.

Facing this was secretly killing me. It hurt my heart, my pride, my soul that after all these years, all this time with God and His goodness, I was still in this place.

As much as He had changed me, transformed my heart and life, as much as His faithfulness and goodness have saturated every moment of my time even when I hardly acknowledged Him, THIS was still where I stood with my love for Him: “I will follow and love You Lord only if you do this for me.”

And if I could only love God in this way or with these conditions, the One who saved me, who unconditionally loves me, who has gone to hell and back for me, who has walked and carried me out of my own hell, then how much more would I fail to love others here on earth.

How incapable of genuine love was I.

And that's where I've been.

Over these last couple of weeks, I've been spending time in John 21. In verse 23 it says, "therefore this saying went out among the brethren that the disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, 'If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?"

Jesus spoke and the people projected, expanded, added to the story, assumed, and tried to figure out how it would play out.

I believe God and I had a conversation 4.5 years ago. I believe we've had lots through the years. I also believe the ones that are true are the ones that He's continued to prod, encourage, and compel me to keep walking in and through.

But I'm just like the "brethren" in that I can project, assume, add to, and try to resolve how the story will play out.

And that's where the rub is for me and for God. I'm a resolver. My anxious tendencies, my insecurities, my sensitivities leave me in a spot that despises the in between, the journey, the hallways.

I want resolutions. I want ends. I want “and this is how the story goes.”

But that's not how God works.
That's not how faith works.
That's not how trust works.

Faith and trust and God are in the middles, in the journeys, in the walking out, in the "It's not all laid out for you to see".

He's told us the very end of the story, but the in between is a journey of walking with Him, behind Him, trusting that He has great plans for us...His plan is not the filmstrip playing in my head that I control and direct the characters in.

It's not one I manipulate or resolve.

It's one that I show up for; I come, I spend time with Him, and He guides, He prods, He orchestrates, directs and controls for His glory and purposes.

There is lots out there these days about stories and our lives being them and us writing them, and so much of that I have been encouraged and challenged by.

But, at the end of the day, I firmly believe that I can't control or write my story. I tried it once, and that life was one manipulated, disingenuous, inauthentic, shallow and unhealthy...both in what I did, and what I chose.

I believe all I can be is a good character; one willing to go, to walk, to trust.

Abraham had no idea what was before him, but he was the right character for God to use. So was Joseph, Ruth, Esther, Moses, and Mary.

All the stories we read about are not God recreating the filmstrips inside these people’s heads. The Bible is full of stories of how God used and moved people through the unimaginable story He had planned.

God didn’t go with their plans and dreams...He took them even further. He took them to His.

He took their trusting and courageous hearts and willingness to lay themselves at His feet and brought them to places that couldn't have been conceived. He wrote stories so magical and miraculous that they continue to change lives lead people to the cross, to His goodness and sacrifice and love.

Today, 1.5 years into sifting through the garbage of control and manipulation and having the need to have my life resolved, I find myself praying, begging, pleading God to help me set my script down and be willing to follow His.

I don't want to have to write my story, I don't want to manipulate and control and live inauthentically.

I want to love so deeply I can't fathom the well it comes from.

I want to laugh so hard it hurts and shakes crevices inside my soul I didn't know I had.

I want to live life in a way that only God could orchestrate.

And that kind of life takes courage, takes trust, takes living in the unknown, in a journey of faith in God.

It can’t be manufactured or planned. It takes a character willing to show up ready to be directed and guided to places that aren't even known to us.

As I finished reading Psalm 31 today, the last 3 verses are the balm and redemption to my broken and unfaithful heart...

"As for me, I said in my alarm, 'I am cut off from before Your eyes'; NEVERTHELESS You heard the voice of my supplication when I cried to You..." of the greatest words God uses in all of scripture.

It's water to a desperately dry and thirsty soul, to a hurting heart, to the one who is disappointed and ashamed of her reaction to God, for her lack of love for Him.

And Psalm 31 continues with "Be strong and let your heart take courage all you who hope in the Lord."

Be strong and take courage.

Be strong and take courage.

Be strong and take courage...because God works through the "Nevertheless-es".

He is a God who planned for Nevertheless...and that is where the stubborn and hard heart crumbles into a million weeping and grateful pieces.

In Him,