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?

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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

Worthiness

I recently finished reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I read this book entirely too fast. I tend to do this when I find something especially compelling. Instant gratification is an issue for me, I like shiny, I like new and different. Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher and her book is all about just that: shame and vulnerability and how everyone has experienced these emotions to varying degrees.

It was the aftermath of the read that started to churn some things up in my life; going back over some of the ideas I had missed in the rush to finish the first time. I began to really grasp what Brown was saying and realized how profoundly short I had fallen and how off base I am currently.

I could go on and on about the theories and I could list quote after quote where I found myself saying ‘that’s me!’ How did she know?!

One idea in particular has been turning over in my head and it keeps coming up in conversation… the idea of ‘wholehearted living’ and ‘worthiness.’ It’s the idea that there are people in this world who are able to live their lives fully present, fully content with their current circumstances. They are aware and confident and secure in knowing that they are enough, they belong. They are worthy of love.

Brown interviewed people who she perceived as ‘wholehearted.’ Because I’m an obsessive comparison junkie, I obviously thought to myself – would I be one of the people Brene Brown would have interviewed?

My pride says yes, but I know that the answer is a resounding no. Here’s why:

I am one of the most self-criticizing people I know. I can’t give myself a break, I’m a perfectionist, and I’m terrified of actually being loved or appreciated because I know I will inevitably let people down. I don’t think I can’t be trusted. I have two sides: worthy Rachel and unworthy Rachel. It’s a constant push and pull between the two and sometimes I think to myself: this is never going to end. I’m never going to figure this out. I’m going to be stuck in my never enough-self-absorbed-over-emotional skin for the rest of my life. I don’t think anyone can lead me well, there’s too much going on. I will inevitably self-sabotage and ruin everything in my path.

Freedom is impossible.

Anyone else? Do you ever feel like you know who you want to be but you have no idea how to become that person? Kind of like your brain knows what to do but you can’t actually make yourself do what you want to do?

[I love the reminder in Romans 7:15-20 where Paul explains his experience of this very thing]

Do these comments sound like someone who is living wholeheartedly, who knows they are enough? No.

I write that with tears in my eyes because I know how true it is.

I don’t think I’m worthy, I don’t live wholeheartedly, and the constant push and pull between my two warring sides makes me so shaky and nervous that I can barely function. Ups and downs, as I said in my last post, dictate my life these days.

I thought that by 25, I’d have things more figured out. I’ve found myself on my knees almost daily, apologizing to God for not living a worthy life. I’m just so sorry. I want to serve God with my whole heart, but I get in the way. I tear myself down. I block myself from the blessings of God because I don’t think I deserve anything good.

I hate this, I hate articulating these things, but it’s true.

So, where to go from here? I’m at rock bottom – again.

I remember when I first started following Jesus. I was a sophomore in college. I had gotten myself in to a bad situation and the result caused me to fall in to a deep place of unworthiness. I didn’t feel worthy of my friends and the disconnection from the small handful of people I actually did hurt was so painful that I couldn’t act normal around the people that really did love me – my family, my closest friends, etc. It was the epitome of unworthiness. In the end, it was the disconnection that was the most painful, not the regret for my actions.

I found myself at church one weekend because, what else am I going to do?

Cue Jesus. I don’t remember a lot from that season of life, honestly, I just remember thinking that the only truly safe place I have is Jesus. I knew that my God didn’t judge me; I knew I was forgiven, and I started down a path towards worthiness.

What God revealed to me this week is that I’m right back in that place I was in when I was a sophomore in college. I’m lonely and I feel isolated as a result of my own actions. The perceived disconnection I’ve been feeling from those around me is enough to make me want to scream.

I got one tiny little whisper from God today, as I was journaling:

Keep moving.

I think there are seasons of life that just knock you on your ass. If following Jesus is like being in a race, I’ve fallen. I’m on the ground and I’ve got some wounds, and those wounds are going to take time to heal but I know I have a high tolerance for pain. I can still run with fresh wounds, but it might be more painful than I’m used to for a while.

Just because we go through downright painful and utterly shameful seasons of life as a result of the sin in our lives, that does mean we aren’t still in the race and it doesn’t mean we can’t keep going. I feel like stopping right now, I really do. I’ve been having regular crying meltdowns in my car – the ugly kind. But what I got from God today (and it doesn’t make me feel better yet) is so simple… keep moving. Stop, stopping and melting down. Keep going. I’m still here. I’m still with you. You’re going to be okay. It might be slow going, it might be painful but you’ve got to get up.

I’m not there yet, I’m not living a worthy life, I’m not wholehearted but I’m going to keep moving. I’m going to push through the shame and I’m going to be strong because that’s who I am.

I don’t feel worthy today, but tomorrow is a new day and I’m going to drag myself up, I’m going to get back in the race.

RD

Depleted

Ups and downs, euphoria and despair, joy and sadness, confidence and insecurity – it seems like my life the past month has been a bundle of paradoxes and contrasts.  I’ve found myself having more and more days that slowly dissolve in to private meltdowns. It’s a roller coaster, a really emotional one.  I’m not okay right now, but I will be.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

Let me be specific.  Three weeks ago, I emotionally blew myself to smithereens.

It’s been described to me as a perfect storm, what happened.   It was the terrifying and irresistible temptation that was created when my competing desires aligned with my circumstances.  The thing I thought I wanted, what I’ve thought about, fixated on, prayed for and against at times had been dangling in front of me like a carrot for years.  It was always just out of reach.  But one evening, over beers, that damn figurative carrot came within reach for the first time – really, it was handed to me.

There are things in our lives that are so tempting and lucrative, it’s almost impossible to say no.  I’ll let you fill in the blank with what that might be for you.  What’s the one thing, if it was put in front of you, you’d take it without a second thought?

I said yes to the carrot, I said yes because it was what I thought I wanted.  Honestly, I had eliminated the possibility of the words that were said to me, to ever be said.  For three years, I longed for those words, that realization, I prayed for a switch to flip.  Instead, some time in the past year a switch flipped for me.  I developed the strength and discernment to put my competing desires away, I forgot that they even existed until that box was re-opened.

The weight of me taking what I wanted was so much heavier than I anticipated and the fallout ended up being severe.  Emotionally, my ‘yes’ meant euphoria, panic, sadness, confusion, and rejection… in that order more or less.  Now, my yes sits idle in a corner of my mind.  It doesn’t seem to belong there.  It was never what I wanted, I know that now.  It was the idea that was shrouded in mystery and intrigue.  Competing desires are a scary and powerful thing – purifying our hearts for God is a daily battle.

I said yes to what I thought was a perfect alignment of personal desire and God’s will.  I got exactly what I thought I wanted and it didn’t satisfy in the ways I thought surely it would.  In fact, it ended up damaging the relationships I hold most dear and left me feeling emotionally depleted, insecure, and untrustworthy.

It would be easy for me to say that this was an attack.  I could say it was Satan that manipulated something good, convinced me that I wanted more and that I wasn’t truly content, and leveraged it to blow up my life and my stability.  As a result, I’m shaky on my feet, I’m struggling to trust myself again, I’m disoriented and I don’t feel like I belong in the skin that did what I did.  Satan takes good things and twists them in to bad things through deception.

Here’s the thing.  No plan of the enemy will ever separate me from God, God is still working all the time and the battle is won.  I will praise Him in the midst of difficult circumstances because it is there that I learn and grow.  There is a beauty and strength to be found in shaky seasons.  When I am unstable, I have to lean more on God for my stability.  God is teaching me that He is enough and that I am enough – even when I think I’m terrible and unlovable.

Emotionally, I’m all over the place.  But I have a sense of clarity that I’ve never had before.  I might be shaky on my feet, but my foundation in Jesus is stronger than ever.  I can stand firm in knowing that He is in control, even when I think I am.  Even if this was some twisted and sinister plan, I’m still standing and I’m still going to give God the glory.  He still reigns in my life.  I might feel distant from God right now, but I am trusting that in time and as I continue to seek Him, he will be faithful in renewing my mind and transforming my heart.  I will be a better woman of God for this.

I have to remember where I was before this happened.  I was running towards Jesus with nothing in front of me.  We might get off track, but that doesn’t mean the work that God has done in our lives becomes invalid.  I have to remember that the work God was doing in me before this is still valid, but that is going to take some time (and counseling).

God knows what is best for us; he is a perfect parent, a perfect Father.  He knows our competing desires intimately.  He knows that there are desires in my life that are so strong, they will derail and distract me every time – the only thing that will truly quench the unquenchable thirst in my heart is Him.  The true desire of my heart is Jesus.  I know that the only thing that will ever truly satisfy and the only thing that is guaranteed to deliver every single time is God’s grace.

Next time I see a carrot dangling in front of me, I’m going to take a minute to thank God and give the glory to Him before I make a decision to take it.  There are times when our desires will align with God’s will but to Him be the glory for those moments.  I will choose to surrender first to the will of God and out of the overflow of my full heart will I then take the best course of action.

Don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else.  Where you are right now is God’s place for you.  Live and obey and love and believe right there.  1 Corinthians 7:17 MSG

RD