Fighting for Joy

I have a really bad memory, truly. I remember being at church during my sophomore year of college after a year and half long hiatus. It was a time when I was meeting new people and learning to stand firm in this new identity as a true Jesus-following human. This girl came up to me and immediately asked if I was in fact, myself. I quickly said yes and got that horrible feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you know someone remembers you and you have no idea who they are.

She introduced herself as Kira and shared with me that she thinks I played soccer with her on a team in elementary school. After racking my brain, I found a sliver of a memory and realized that she was my long lost friend Kira from the fifth grade! Kira is now one of my greatest allies and she seriously has a memory like an elephant (is that the right metaphor?) She remembers the most specific and obscure memories and rehashes them often, as I look on, completely dumbfounded. I love Kira for this.

So I have this terrible memory. I don’t remember a lot, it’s pretty insane. Especially when I’m put on the spot, I have a really hard time thinking of memories that apply to different things.  The paranoid side of my brain says that maybe I’m hiding some deep-seeded issue, like I don’t store memories for fear that rehashing them will cause me pain because I secretly think I am in some way lacking in my current life.  Like I said, paranoid.  It is funny though, how I’ve retained a lot of bad memories and I have to dig to bring up the really good ones.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about a memory that I have retained and it’s so trivial! I have this vivid memory of lying in my bed; I was probably a freshman in high school in that phase of life where self-awareness hits like a ton of bricks. I remember earlier that week I had caught wind of a party where lots of girls were going to be, lots of popular girls, lots of boys that I liked, and it was a party with all of the people that I was kind-of-almost-sort of friends with. It’s that group in high school you’re never really sure you’re a part of, I probably could have been if I wasn’t so insecure and fearful, but I held back so as to not annoy or overwhelm (thanks middle child syndrome).

It was a weekend night I remember, and I was just lying in my bed crying and looking out the window and thinking about how much fun everyone was having without me. I hadn’t been formally invited and I was too afraid to take the plunge and just show up, even though it was unlikely anyone would really care. As I lay there, I though to myself – this is exhausting. I’m miserable. I think I was probably one of the most self-aware high school freshmen ever, but I knew in that moment what this comparison game was costing me. It was stealing my joy.

So I had this ‘come to Jesus’ moment alone in my bed, crying, and I made a vow to myself, which I remember clear as day. I made a promise that I was going to choose joy. It’s so cliché and I really do hate hackneyed phrases, but that became my mantra: choose joy.

Years later, I’m finding myself back in that place where I’m having to ‘choose joy’. On those days when I’m driving alone in my car and my eyes feel heavy and I don’t want to do anything and my pride keeps me from reaching out, I begin my mantra but now it’s just simply ‘joy’. I say it to myself over and over.

For years, I think I tried to find joy in people and I tried to convince myself out of feeling sadness. Why would I feel sad when my family is wonderful? Why would I feel lonely when I have an incredible community looking to me for direction? Why would I feel hopeless when I have made so much progress in just a few short years?

Depression can’t answer those questions in a productive way; they bounce off like rubber. Joy needs to be sourced from something deeper and more sustainable. It needs to come from a fountain that doesn’t run out and where we don’t need to fear rejection, somewhere abundant and alive.

Back in high school, and for so many years after, I tried to trick my way in to having joy. I tried to fill up my life with friends and stuff and hobbies to manipulate my way out of feeling sad and lonely. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to see just how useless that effort really is and how much closer joy is than I ever thought.

This new source of joy is emerging and it’s so simple, yet profound. It’s this realization that I am likable and worthy and enough, not because of what I’ve accomplished or who I am but because of who I let Jesus be for me.  I let him be my savior. I’m not saying that depression can be solved with a mantra and the awareness of salvation; I think it can be deeper, chemical even and meds are very helpful. I’ve seen meds save the lives of people I love deeply.

All I’m saying is this: the source of my joy has shifted and it’s helping. It’s getting easier to pull myself out of the droopy eyes, no motivation, suffocating, hopeless dark places that I find myself in.

Today I went for a run and my goal was to run seven miles. I got turned around at 3.2 miles out, due to a closed bridge. This is the literal worst because it means I have to backtrack in order to hit my goal on the way back to my car. I had to turn around to cover more distance three different times and audibly groaned each time. That’s what it feels like to battle these dark pitfalls.

I have to let out an audible groan and go deep inside my soul to dig out that feeling I know is there: I am likable, I am enough, I am good.  Jesus saved me, he set me free.

It is for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

-RD

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Five Minute Meetings

A few weeks ago, I was pulled in to a five-minute meeting.  An e-mail popped up on my computer and the subject line read ‘Can I see you for five minutes?’ – no body.  I’ve learned by now that five minute meetings mean a bomb is about to be dropped.

I remember when I first started working here; I was so intimidated by everything and everyone that I just kept quiet. I chained myself to my desk because honestly, moving about gave me anxiety.

After over two years, the scum of insecurity has all but disappeared and I’ve gained credibility and respect. I’ve gained a lot with other people, but more so with myself. I’ve shaken off so much of the quivering that used to consume me. It still rears its head every so often but I have more good days than bad now. I can speak up, I have opinions, I can lead, I’m still a people pleaser at heart but I’m learning to make the tough choices between what is right and what is popular.

I got a promotion, then another and finally gained a coveted title.  Things felt stable for the first time in months, I was comfortable, I felt valued and trusted, excited even for things to come in my new position.

Then I was pulled in to a five-minute meeting.

It was an offer for a different position, a structural demotion, honestly. A job that would guarantee that life, as I knew it would surely get more complicated.

I like sparkly and new and my gut said go for it… it’s, well, gutsy!

Thus, I was thrust back in to conflict mode. Honestly, if you want to make me crazy just present me with two excellent choices that would guarantee drastically different results. I will dissolve almost instantaneously in to a ball of anxiety and self-absorption.

Two good choices is my worst-case scenario.

But a decision had to be made and quickly I made it, because that’s what I do, I rush important decisions.

I took it.

And my life changed in that moment, I chose to walk down a path that looked so different than the one I was on before. This is where my calling will be tested, because I can’t navigate this path coasting on ability. No, this is where I will have to depend on God.

This path might be lonelier; it sure feels like that so far. It feels like I’m giving up a lot. But it also feels like God is teaching me something, like he is getting ready to speak but he needs to get me alone first.  More on that at a different time.

I may have been crazy to leave something so good and so fitting for something nearly impossible, but life is much too short to waste your time with the safe decisions. God can and will teach me in this season just like he has faithfully done in others.  God still is actively at work in my life.

The path might be rockier and more exhausting, and it might feel like I’m hiking alone sometimes but I am going to keep fixing my eyes on Jesus.

The loneliness feels like a heavy burden to bear, almost too heavy to keep moving forward but God is there and he is still speaking. I am trudging and confused, tired, swirling, but I am still standing.

For now, all I can hope for is that I can catch a much-needed respite from these five-minute meetings.

RD

How do you know you didn’t just dodge a bullet?

A friend asked me that today, a new question in contrast to what I’ve been receiving lately.  There have been a lot of suggestions and plenty of advice but there hasn’t been a lot of what that question was, something I hadn’t heard before.

He went on… What if God has something right around the corner?  How do you know that He’s not preparing you for something else?  Something better?

I’ve been stuck in the pain and intensity of it all.  It’s hard to have perspective when some nights all you’ve got is loneliness in the form of Netflix and flavorless popcorn.

Feeling lonely is really just a symptom of deep fear I’ve been harboring and I think loneliness might be something I’ve made up.  It’s me letting my boredom lead to disgust with myself and my circumstances.  It’s me being so unhappy with myself that when I get super alone, all I can see and feel is my frustration and discontentment at my inability to be perfectly tied together.

I am afraid.

I am so afraid that I lie about being as scared as I am, because if I’m honest and I confess my deepest fears out loud then I have to own that they’re a part of me.  But that’s what God is asking me to do: confess.

Maybe I’m addicted to this fear, and I hold it tightly because it’s too scary to let it go.  It’s too unstable and uncertain.  If I let it go and I’m not controlled by it anymore then what do I have left?

If I let it go and confess and God really does take the fear away, then I’m really not going to get what I want.

Fears can be a security blanket because they are something we can control.  We make friends with fear because it’s something we understand.  Fear is a lot easier to look in the face than freedom.  In my head, fear has colors that I can comprehend.  It causes us to manipulate and stifle ourselves; it makes us stagnant.

Freedom on the other hand has the ability to unleash parts of ourselves that we don’t even know yet.  Freedom causes us to do crazy things, it makes us dare to turn off the perceptions that others have of us.  It’s doesn’t make them go away, but it frees us up to let go.  Freedom gives us the miraculous ability to be merciful when we should be infuriated, to love when we’re justifiably angry, and it takes us out of the way to pave the way for God to come in.

Freedom makes me care less and want God more.

It’s scary to let go because it propels us in to uncharted waters.

I’m afraid to let go because I’m afraid this is the death sentence for what I want to happen.  Confessing is me giving up any shred of hope that this would ever happen for me.  I’m taking the dog out back and straight up shooting it in the face.

The fear that consumes me is this:

I’m going to end up alone.

Sitting with that fear is uncomfortable and embarrassing.  It makes me realize how I’ve put all my eggs in the basket of my relationships with a select few people.

If it’s not that person, then it’s no one echoes in my ears constantly.

I believe that God is faithful.  He has proven that to me time and time again.  I know I can trust Him because I know He’s always working.  He is working when I don’t see it and because of my faith in Jesus, I know that He is with me.

So there it is, my confession.  I’m terrified that I’m going to end up alone and I’m addicted to my fear of it.

When my friend asked me those questions, I genuinely hadn’t considered the possibility of something else.  It opened my eyes to something revolutionary.  God is stitching together a story that can’t be manipulated or controlled by me no matter how hard I try to manipulate and control.

I don’t have to wonder if there’s something better around the corner, I can know that there is.  What if I didn’t have to be afraid of being alone because it’s not going to happen?

God is stitching together a story and that story is going to be beautiful.  It’s my beautiful story and I’m going to choose to cling to it.  His story is my hope, and my fears don’t have nearly as much power as I think they do.

RD

The Paradox

“Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation. Be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12

The book of Romans was written to be an example of the comprehensive theology of Paul. That’s why I love Romans, you get a little bit of everything. When I don’t know where to start, I go to Romans. When I need a shareable or highly applicable verse, I know I can rely on Romans to deliver.

So I wasn’t surprised when reading today that I stumbled across Romans 12:12, one of the many gems. It struck me. At first, I just thought to myself: that’s a Facebook status verse right there.  Reading it again, I thought to myself: yeah, I’m pretty good at that.

I rejoice in the hope I have in Christ. I’m patient in times of trouble. I pray everyday. Yeah, I’ve got this. Facebook post justified.

But then I thought a little more…

What would the fruit of this verse be in my life and what would happen in me if I was truly obedient to this command? Mediating on that thought, this is what came to me:

Freedom.

Peace.

Understanding.

If I were truly rejoicing in hope, I would have freedom from the things of this world. They wouldn’t define me.

If I were patient in tribulation, I’d have peace about my circumstances.

If I were constant in prayer, I’d certainly have peace and freedom but I’d also have a better understanding of what I’ve been through and why I had to go through it.

Let’s be real here.

There are days when I know in my heart that I am free from this world, but is that a common feeling? Not so much, at least not lately. I’m still burdened by the same things and even though I’m feeling lighter, there are still gremlins looming in the shadows. Emotional dependence on others, insecurities about my body, and a crippling fear of failure to name a few – I am still a slave to my flesh much of the time.

Peace. I’ll just laugh at that one.   You know when you’re watching a movie you’ve seen before and you know how it’s going to end?  It’s really painful to watch every time, but you almost think maybe it will end differently? Like in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for example, when Cedric dies. Every time I read it I want it to end differently, but it never does. Cedric dies every time and I want a different outcome! He didn’t have to die, did he? It just seems so unnecessary. Sorry, Harry Potter super fan over here, I can’t help myself… What I’m trying to say is that we’ve all found ourselves in situations where we want a different outcome. We play things over in our heads hoping for a different ending, but it never comes. You wake up and your wallet is still missing, your car is still wrecked, and you’re still really, really angry. I don’t have perfect peace, not even close.

And lastly, understanding, but specifically understanding that comes as a result of being constant in prayer. I don’t know about constant, but I have been praying a lot lately. It is a battle. I really have to fight for the motivation to take a moment and to get quiet before the Lord. It’s hard, especially in this day and age where there are so many distractions. But that’s no excuse. How do we expect to understand anything if we’re not talking to God? I’d be lying if I said I haven’t fallen short here as well.

I’m not a perfect embodiment of this verse and I confess my shortcomings openly, but I would be conveying false humility if I stopped there. I’ve been doing some work lately, some really hard work, and the fruit is starting to emerge in my life.

I’ve been obedient to God’s call in my life to do my best to follow Him, fix my eyes on Him, and to not turn away. I’ve been fighting distraction like it’s my job. I’ve finally been listening to the still, small voice saying come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

See, Jesus says something different than the gremlins in my head. Jesus says I’m worth it. Jesus says that I actually can be an embodiment of Romans 12:12… but only with Him.  My flesh says don’t be free, stay chained to your burdens, you can’t overcome them! It says that I can’t have peace. It says that I’ll never understand.   And you know what? That is the truth. I can’t do this. It’s too much. What the world offers me is too painful and it will crush me.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” 1 John 3:1

I embody Romans 12:12 because I belong to Jesus. I know his love and that has wrecked me for the better. 1 John 3:1 says that when you know the love of God, you are not only called a Son of God, but you are a Son of God. It also calls our attention to the paradoxical nature of the teachings of Jesus.   God’s love is paradoxical and he calls us to live the same way. God calls us to live lives that don’t make sense to the non-believer.

The rest of this passage in Romans says more of the same:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all.” Romans 12:14-18

I can’t embody this, but God can through me. I’m not doing it perfectly, but I am working hard to try to do it better. I’m not going to cheat you with just a story of how I’ve failed in living out these verses. I will boast in the work that God is doing in my heart. It’s painful and exhausting, but like Luke 18:27 says: What is impossible with man is possible with God.

The beauty in all of this and what I’ve really been starting to grasp is that when I walk in obedience, I’m forced in to a trusting relationship with God. When I’m in a trusting relationship with God, I can superfluously embody this passage in Romans.

With God, I can live the paradox, living by my own flesh will only get me more bondage.

RD

Little Worlds

Germany is really freaking cool. From the Biergartens, to the cobblestoned alleyways, to the whimsical architecture and lush, green countryside, Germany cast a spell on me. Thinking back to the trip that was almost three weeks ago, it seems like it didn’t even really happen.

How could you not fall in love with this place?
How could you not fall in love with this place?

Did I really lead a team of young adults by myself halfway across the world? Did my team really look up to me? Did I really lead well?

I can tell you without an ounce of doubt in my voice that the answer to those questions is a resounding YES.

I did well, and I say that unashamedly.

The past year has been like drinking from a fire hose when it comes to leadership. I have been trying to figure out what it means to be a good leader and this is where I’ve landed so far… I’m a natural leader, but I’m young and I still have a lot to learn from those around me. There is so much knowledge to be gleaned from the older, wiser, and more qualified people around me.  Leadership requires a healthy balance of humility and confidence.  It also requires a constant building up of those around you, those who are seeking and learning.  Good leaders make those who follow them as great or greater than they are and they rejoice in that.

Look around, who are the leaders? Who challenges you? Get around those people and start asking questions.

Okay, tirade over. Let’s fast forward to where I’m at now that I’m back from my trip.

I returned from Germany feeling pretty good about myself, honestly. I had trusted God, He had shown up, He gave me a taste of what I’m capable of when I’m truly walking with Him. It was amazing. I walked in to work on Monday (the first day of my new leadership position) with my head held high.

Confident.

Strong.

Worthy.

That’s how I felt… for about 24 hours.   The voices quickly started creeping back in. You can’t do anything good. All that affirmation in Germany was bullshit. Those people don’t like you. The comparison voices started gaining volume – she’s better, he’s better, they’re better. You know what perfection looks like and you’ll never get there. Everyone is obnoxious, isolate yourself, no one understand you.

Just give up and give in to who you really are.

Those voices get LOUD fast when you get really away, take a breath and then come back to the crazy-business of your daily life. The peace and freedom of being somewhere totally different with completely different people made coming back a lot harder this time. The contrast between who I was in Germany and who I am in my day-to-day life in Colorado was stark. Coming back, I knew how bogged down I really was. So I started asking myself, why and how did I let this happen?

I think I let my world get really small.

I let it get small enough that my security and stability hung in the balance of a few relationships. If one thing was to go wrong there, then everything was wrong. It was the same people, the same places, and the same hedonistic lifestyle every day. It was monotonous and comfortable and I loved every minute of it.

Comfort can be a dangerous thing when mixed with monotony for me, it breeds boredom.  It’s a delicate balance, but if I’m not careful my boredom can breed laziness which in turn causes a lack of contentment.  Before I know it, that lack of contentent means a lack of fulfillment and worthiness in my God.  My little world brought me there.

But God doesn’t call us to live in the little worlds we create for ourselves.  It’s impossible to sustain it if we’re truly following Him.

God is always calling us out.  He calls us to move, to serve Him, to do work for His Kingdom. We are missing out if we allow ourselves to construct our little worlds.   God has more, so much more in store for us.

God is beginning to speak in my life in really big, scary, awesome ways.

He’s saying – trust me. No really, Rachel, go there – I will be with you.

He’s saying – be angry, it’s okay. Come to me with your anger and your baggage and I will not only give you grace when you need to feel it, but I will be faithful in helping you unpack the heavy pack you’ve carrying around.

He’s saying – I am breaking things apart for you right now, but I will heal, I will bind up those gaping wounds that are crippling you right now.

God was always saying these things to me, but what’s changing is me. I’m starting to really believe this stuff;  and when you believe in something, you’re naturally more motivated to take action. You start to move.

I’m starting to move. 

I’m praying bigger prayers and taking steps forward where I really don’t know the outcome.  It’s scary, it’s big, and it’s exactly what I think God wants for me – and maybe for you.

God is blowing my world up right now (with some help from me).  I’m in pieces, but all the crap I used to use to bind myself together is also in pieces. I’m unstable because the little world I had created doesn’t exist anymore. As good as it felt, I’m glad it’s over and I never want to go back.

I think when we allow God to work on that level in our lives, it forces us to let our worlds get big.  It creates space to dream and create and move.

My prayer is this: that God would bind up my heart free from the crap I’ve used to hold it together for far too long.  I pray that he makes my world big again.

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal. He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you.” Job 5:17-19

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

What part of your world is little?  What parts does God need to help you to let go of?  Can you ask Him to help you do it?

Drop the mic & go find Sarah.

Hannah, your words are my fight song. Thank you.

hannah brencher.

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“What were you like at 20?”

Her text came through this morning in the middle of my writing hours.

I had to pause. Walk away from the computer. Find a space on the floor where, if you sit in just the right spot, the sunlight will flood through the window and cover your knees like a soft, thin blanket.

I honestly haven’t given much thought to who I was at 20 years old. That was seven years ago. I was a junior in college.

I responded to her text with a bunch of scenarios:

When I was 20, I had my first internship with the city’s newspaper. I wore high heels and strut around the campus center like I was really important— an absolute boss.

When I was 20, I was enamored with a boy who would read me Walt Whitman poetry at 2am and then take me for walks…

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Poor in Spirit

Traveling has a way of re-aligning us. Looking back on the past five years of my life, travel has been laced throughout and re-alignment has come as a result of so many of the experiences I’ve had.

After going to Afghanistan the first time, I changed my college major. Changing my major led me to pursue a summer program in South Africa. I quickly learned that I could handle much more than I ever thought possible – I wondered how far God would push me and what he would ask me to do next.

Another trip to Afghanistan eventually happened, trips to Seattle and the east coast, layovers in Europe, and as my cross-cultural experience grew so did my love for Jesus. I matured in my faith and learned of the abundance of God. With each experience came new understanding of God and his provision for me.

My faith boiled down to this: God will show me where to go and what to do, He gives me direction, He will take care of me.

Moving to Kenya was the next big step, yet another example of God showing me clearly where to go and what to do. I faithfully followed the call despite the adversity it presented. Uganda and Tanzania came next, along with London. A near death experience there, a new adventure there, it was everything risky and life changing and amazing and hard. My time in East Africa was everything you probably imagine it was, equal parts challenging and spectacular.

Six months later I found myself back in the Untied States, unemployed and lonely… but changed. Kenya showed me that I am strong and smart. I came back with enough confidence to muster up the courage to accept the job I have had for the past two years. With that job came another trip to Uganda and a trip to South Sudan. Growth, learning, and re-direction all came in the ways I needed at just the right time. God is so faithful.

Today, I sit on a plane heading to Germany on yet another trip.

I’ve done this enough times now to know that God has a way of revealing more of himself to me when I’m traveling. I need it this week more than ever. Honestly, I boarded this plane feeling more lost and swirly that I have in years. The worthiness battle is raging, big life change is looming, my friendships are evolving as each day passes (or at least I feel that way).

This trip feels heavier than the others… probably as a result of the season I’m currently in, where I feel as though I’m dragging a giant ball and chain behind me. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I’m still running wounded.   I’m still in pain from the trauma of this past month. I want to be fine but I’m just not yet.

I feel immature – still.

I feel crazy – still.

I feel untrustworthy – still.

I feel unlovable – still.

I’m still depleted and emotionally drained but I’ve gotten to a place where I can say I am thankful. Baby steps. I am processing, albeit slowly.

In my daily bible study, one of the women said something that I thought was so wise:

 “When we become a Christian, it sometimes gets harder because the darkest parts of us are exposed – our motives come to the surface.”

Ugh, so true. God is revealing to me what my dark places are. He’s forcing me to live there for a while and I am so immeasurably thankful for it. There is a beauty in brokenness that is only explained through relationship with Jesus. I’m learning to find the beauty in the midst of pain and function there, and still be worthy.

This week is big for me. I start a new job the Monday I return. There are so many other factors that play in to me saying what I am about to say but I believe the timing of this trip was divine.

As I forge ahead in to my dark places and become friendly with my flaws, I am going to come before God with an attitude of thankfulness. I am going to pray this week earnestly for the refreshment I have learned to expect when I see God working in a new context.

I will end with the verse that has guided me in preparation for this week:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:3

I am at the end of my rope and I am at the end of myself. My dark places will consume everything in their path and they will blow up my life and the lives of those I love if I choose to live my life apart from Jesus. So this week, my prayer is for God to once again show me what it means to truly be poor in Spirit.

RD