Sunday, July 24, 2016

8 Days of Solitude and Why Everyone Should Do It At Least Once

There was no music playing in my head, or words that came to mind as I drove the 2.5 hours that it took to get to my destination, except that the next 8 days were going to have to change my life.  What I didn't know on that drive, but I would soon found out was that completely removing myself from all outside influences created something in me that I had never felt before.  The next 8 days would literally transform the way I viewed my present, past, and the way I see my future.  Join me, on the journey. 

Isn't it true that we are so bombarded with information on a daily basis that we lose sight of who we are?  I think some people are able to balance the information that they give themselves, and the information that they allow others to give them, and how it affects their very soul.  They don't get stuck on putting their value and worth in what others say because they don't need to.  Some of us though, I feel like the sensitive souls of the world, we take things to heart.  Maybe too much so.  Nevertheless I had found myself in a place of hurt, pain, anger, sadness, and wanting to make my heart a little more hard, and a little less vulnerable. 

When you take away all forms of communication with the outside world, do you know what you get?  God.  He smacks himself right down in the middle of your thoughts, in the middle of your distractions, and says, "Here I am, are you sure you want to hear what I have to say?" 

Ofcourse I do, God.  Ofcourse.  But the more aware I got of God's voice, the more aware I was that some things He was telling me, or leading me to were not going to be what I wanted.  In fact they were going to be hard, they were going to be letting go of some pretty big baggage, and they were going to have to truly be dealt with before growth could take place. 

So I started praying, and journaling.  Sometimes I think we put too much thought into praying having to be a certain way, or done at a certain time.  When really all it is, well it is talking to him.  In my case writing to Him because I am just a much better written communicator.  I can write a million times better with my feelings then I can when I looking you face to face.  It is a gift in many ways, and not in others.  So in my journaling I am finding myself praying, Adoring...Thanking, Confessing, and Supplication.  I have been praying this way since college.  I can't even remember what Bible study first drew me to this act of prayerful worship, but I have literally used it ever since. 

You know what I realized.....I had an issue with pride.  My insecurities, my inability to see my worth.  It actually wasn't about being unworthy.  It was about being prideful in my unworthiness.  Using my insecurities to create this need for me to play the victim, or feel less than someone else.  When that is really not at all what it means to humble ourselves and pray, is it?  It doesn't mean that I come before Him feeling like nothing.  It doesn't mean that I allow my story to be that I am nothing.  Humbling myself means that I see the awe of who God is.  That I recognize just how much greater He is than me.  That it is without a doubt amazing that He wants to listen to me, recognize me, and answer me.  That's what my issue with pride was/is.  Not that I don't see my sin and things I need to work on, because I do.  But almost that I had forgotten to revere God.  I had forgotten that He is to be lifted high, to be worshiped, adored and praised.  How had I forgotten that?  Isn't that supposed to be the ONE thing that we get right?  The ONE thing that I as a believer understand to be true?  But for some reason it had been lost in between the comings and goings, the emotional conversations, and broken relationships, somehow I had lost the truth that God is above all and in control of all, yet He still listens and understands me.  I had forgotten how to understand the balance between reverence and love. 

That led me to grasp the fact that because I had lost my reverence for God, prayer to Him has been fleeting and at times almost non-existent.  Sure I will go stints where I journal, then I will lose touch or find something else to occupy my time, like Netflix or film festivals.  Literally anything else that helps to distract me from the reality that I am not giving Him my full attention, that He is not my first love.  I came to understand this a little more deeply on a walk I took my first evening.  The trails were awesome, completely perfect for a solitude retreat.  Not too much ruggedness, but just enough so that you had to actually watch where you were going.  The minute I stepped onto the trail I kept running in to cobwebs.  Literally every 2 feet I felt like my face would plant itself into another one.  Ugh.  It was utterly disgusting!  Yet I just had to keep going.  But now I realize that I was focusing more on not running into the cobwebs, and getting the ones that were already stuck on me off, then I was in actually focusing on the reason I had taken the walk in the first place.  Finally....I found it!   A stick that would be perfect.  I would sweep the stick through the path before I walked.  Yay!  Relief at last. 

Here's the connection.  The path is my life.  I walk it everyday, things happen along my life that are hard, messy, and distracting.  A lot like the cobwebs.  I get caught up in those things.  I let them run my life, I let them change my mood, I even sometimes let them keep me from giving my everything to a person or cause.  But the stick, that is prayer.  You know what happens when you pray?  When you pray without ceasing?  It clears the cobwebs away.  It makes the path more clear.  It doesn't take them away completely, they are still there, but it makes the walk easier, and you are free to focus on the steps you have to take, instead of pulling the problems off of you as you go.  It allows something else to be in control.  It struck me that for quite a while now I have been living my life pulling the cobwebs off as I go. I have not been fervently on my knees praying for what I want in life.  Maybe I had thought that God stopped listening to me, maybe I thought my requests were too silly, or maybe I just didn't feel like making the time to ask.  What I realized is that all of those excuses have created chaos inside of my heart and life. Praying is what clears the cobwebs, prayer is what keeps us going. 

The more you focus on prayer, the more God speaks to you.  In 8 days I heard more from God, then I have heard for the past 5.  I became vulnerable before Him.  I talked to Him constantly, understanding Him, revering Him, and knowing Him more.  God became my first love again, and I wondered why I had ever walked away. 

The thing is that I know why in some ways.  I know the minute I started choosing to distance myself from God.  It was the minute I decided that I knew what I needed more than He did.  The minute I decided that if He wasn't going to answer my prayers, I was just going to do things on my own.  That it didn't matter who I dated, what I did in my spare time, or if I even acknowledged Him, because He wasn't doing what I needed Him to do. He was failing me and I was tired of it. 

At the time I didn't know that this is what I was thinking and feeling.  I am not even sure up until last week I had any idea that I had actually pushed myself away from God.  But I know that in the midst of my solitude I figured out that the reason I felt so lousy about who I am, isn't because of my sin, or my insecurities...really it was because I had stopped finding my worth in Him.  I had started to listen to all those little lies and stories that I make up as I go through my day.  Stories that have nothing to do with worth, and everything to do with rejection and pain.  Stories that would make your heart bleed if I told you some of the lies I was allowing myself to believe.  I think it is so easy to get caught up in those stories.  I think that we have a continuous dialogue going on inside our heads and hearts that bring up all of those past mistakes and sins that cause us to doubt that there is even a loving creator.  Because you see, if you push yourself away from people, eventually they will give up and walk away. 

Haven't we all done that at one time or another?  Haven't we been pushed so far away, that we just don't feel like making the effort to keep trying.  But guess what?  God never tires of trying.  He just doesn't.  He is a God of love, grace, and mercy.  He is a God of redemption, and so many different ways of loving us back to Him that we can't even comprehend all of the ways that He will lead us to His gracious arms.  So in pushing God away, I really wasn't doing anything, but allowing Him to show His love in an even greater way. 

Because our God, He isn't in the giving up business.  He loves His people.  He cares for them, and He chases after them.  Because although He is a God to be revered, and put on a pedestal, He is also a God that meets us exactly where we need Him to, and listens to us with open ears.  He also, believe it or not answers us, always. 

That's the part I have the hardest time with.  The fact that He ALWAYS listens and He ALWAYS answers.  My doubt causes me to not expect Him to answer.  My human mind cannot grasp how He hears and answers everyone's needs everywhere.  I don't get it.  Because I myself do a lousy job of it.  I tell people I will pray for them, and then I go to bed without even bowing my head.  I ask people if there is anything that I can do to help them, and then I am too busy to be there when they need me.  I tell someone that I want to talk to them, and then I don't answer the phone when they call.  These are all my human flaws.  Things that I do because I am not perfect, and I do not do things the way a perfect God does.  I can't place my human flaws on a flawless God.  It doesn't work that way.  He is bigger than that.  He is everything I am not and more. 

I have tried to put into words some of what I have felt, and thought through my 8 days away from people.  I think in some ways I have captured it beautifully, and in others I haven't captured it enough.  But I will say that I think there is so much to be said about getting away from the world, picking up the Bible and a few books and relearning who we are in Christ, what we believe to be true, and how we can live in the world as an awe-inspired worthy because of Jesus human being.  So, if you need a place to go for 8 days or more, or less of solitude...let me know!  A lot of my prayer journey took place journaling, but there were two books that were phenomenal for me: 

Prayer by Timothy Keller and
War Room, The Battle Plan for Prayer by Stephen Kendrick and Alex Kendrick

Meanwhile here are my take-aways, and some quotes from the books I read....

#1  God can do anything...prayer does work!

#2  God needs to be my first love, prayer with Him my top priority. 

#3  I can no longer try to live in the world, but not in the world.  I have to cope with pain and loss from a God-perspective, not a world-perspective. 

#4  Being authentic, sometimes means loss.

#5  My focus should be on God.  I can no longer live for pleasing others, and all the agendas and deadlines that have nothing to do with Him.

#6  In every situation/circumstance, I need to go to God first! 

#7  When I don't pray, life gets way more complicated than it needs to be.  Prayer is vital to my story!

#8  Set goals, live by them.  (prayer, exercise, business, God's people, no pride)

#9  It matters that I love well. 

#10  Don't neglect people, or leave them behind.  Meet them where they are. 

#11  God brings unexpected things to our path, so that we learn to rely on Him and trust Him more. 

#12  Being vulnerable, and authentic is worth every amount of hurt and pain, because it brings so much more growth and love. 

#13  Failure isn't the worst thing I can do, not growing from failure is the worst thing. 

#14  Everyone is truly doing the best they can.  (Rising Strong, by Brene Brown)

Some of the books and quotes from my 8 days....

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

"When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling." 

"The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, But our wholeness even our wholeheartedness actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences including the falls." 

"Choosing to write our own story means getting uncomfortable, it's choosing courage over comfort." 

"And just so we don't miss it in this long list of all the ways we can numb ourselves, there's always staying busy, living so hard and fast that the truths of our lives can't catch up with us." 

"When we decide to own our stories and live our truth; we bring our light to the darkness." 

"We make up hidden stories that tell us who is against us and who is with us.  Whom we can trust and who is not to be trusted.  Conspiracy thinking is all about fear based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty." 

There are so many more!  Love this book! 

What I wrote in my journal during my reading of this book...

There will be times when I feel left out, someone chooses someone else over me, they think I am too much emotionally or otherwise.  In those moments I choose to still be vulnerable, raw, and authentic.  In those moments I choose the hurt and pain over pride, and I love anyways.  I give anyways.  That is Rising Strong to me.  

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

"What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing.  And a man couldn't harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them.  He had to care about his crew.  It wasn't just the rowing but his crewmates  that he had to give himself up to, even if it meant getting his feelings hurt."

"There was a straightforward reason for what was happening.  The boys in the Clipper had been winnowed down by punishing competition, and in the winnowing a kind of common character had issued forth, they were all skilled, they were all tough, there were all fiercely determined, but they were also good-hearted.  Every one of them had come from humble origins or been humbled by the ravages of the hard times in which they had grown up.  Each in his own way, they had all learned that nothing could be taken for granted in life, that for all their strength and good looks, and youth, forces were at work in the world that were greater than they.  The challenges they had faced together taught them humility- the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole- and humility was the common gateway through which they were able to now come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before."  

This book taught me so much about strength, perseverance, but mostly community and love. 

The End of Your Life Book Club  by Will Schwalbe

"And yet we constantly interrupt ourselves.  We do it when we check our emails incessantly- or won't simply let a phone go to voicemail when we're doing something we enjoy- or when we don't think a thought through, but allow our minds to fix on temporary concerns or desires." 

"But modern life itself is an interruption machine:  phone calls, emails, texts, news, television, and our own restless minds.  The greatest gifts you can give anyone is your undivided attention, yet I'd been constantly dividing mine.  No one was getting it, not even me." 

"She felt whatever emotions she felt, but feelings was never a useful substitute for doing, and she never let the former get int he way of the latter.  If anything she used her emotions to motivate her and help her concentrate.  The emphasis for her was always on doing what needed to be done." 

This book took me through my whole array of emotions, and led me to a deeper desire to complete all that has been given for me to do.  To fulfill my deepest heart desires.  But to also get away from my phone a lot more! 

There is so much more in my heart to say, yet I feel it is time to close.  8 days away from the world, sure can do wonders.  But the thing is that really a lifetime with a Savior, can change things too. 

My last quote....

"To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable."      -C.S. Lewis

So I say that the greatest take away I have is to love.  To love through the messy, broken, crazy world that we live in.  To keep loving despite all the wretched things that we encounter, because one day you will realize that all the love you have been brings you greater joy and satisfaction than anything else that you could imagine. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Why I need to Unplug...

The past month has been pretty rough, emotionally and even physically.  There have been many changes in my life.  Some of them for the good, and others for growth and stretching of my faith.  Sometimes when I think back to this month I can't even wrap my mind around everything that has happened.  In the blink of an eye one of my friendships completely changed.  In the blink of an eye I watched a friend lose a family member.  In the blink of an eye I watched another friend's life change.  In the blink of an eye I witnessed what true verbal abuse, and hatred can be.  In another blink of an eye I realized how fragile health and life is.  In another blink of an eye I saw what prejudice, and racism can do to our communities. 

These things were rough.  They made me question myself, question my God, and question my role in my community.  They made me an emotional wreck.  Mostly because watching people that I love get hurt, or choose to walk away pretty much breaks my heart.  I can't actually change anyone.  I can't make someone want to be around me or understand how I feel.  I can't take away the pain from someone else, or help them make better choices. I can't control anything, sometimes I don't even feel like I can control myself. 

I feel trapped in the chaotic world that we live in most of the time.  I feel judged most of the time.  Because my opinion or my feelings aren't understood by others, and so that means that people feel the need to judge me.  I feel trapped in the world of constant information.  I am bombarded on a daily basis with news feeds from over 5 social media apps.  They are all screaming, "Look at me, follow me, see what this person has to say today."  With each of those apps I find that I lose a little more of who I am, a little more of what I know to be true about myself, and my focus becomes less on God and more on living up to the standards that others have for me. 

So, I find myself in a place where I have to find that voice inside of me again.  I have to still the images, and voices that are screaming for my attention.  I have to take myself out of the social media world, and just be silent and still.  I have to take time to just be.  For it is in the moments of silence and rest, I am going to find the truth of who I am.  The truth of who I was created to be, and the truth of what changes I need to make in my life in order to be the best version of myself I can be! 

I wish that hurt, pain, sickness, and sorrow weren't a part of this world.  I wish that broken friendships and relationships weren't a part of this world.  I wish that we could always tell people exactly how we are feeling, and they would feel exactly the same way, or they at least would understand.  I wish that we would only have strong feelings for those who feel them back. 

Mostly though I wish that people weren't just in our life for seasons.  I hate it, I hate it with every fiber of my being.  I wish that we could just always work through the messiness of the broken people we are, and understand each other.  I wish we didn't have to try to prove anything to others.  I wish that we didn't have to put these people above other people because to the world they are more popular, prettier, or wealthier.  I wish that we could for once truly just look inside of people's hearts, and see who they really are. 

These are the things I wish.  These are the reasons I need to unplug, to work through these things.  I want to see people with love-colored glasses.  I want to see people with the forgiveness that Jesus does.  But how do I do that in a broken-fallen world?  How do I do that when people are going to fail right and left, when I am going to fail right and left?  How do I stay humble, and kind yet not back down when someone needs truth in love?  How do I grasp how fragile life is, when I feel like I can't wrap my mind around it?  How do I not take health, and people for granted?  How do I live a life that is full of love, when sometimes all I want to do is tell someone exactly what they are doing wrong?  How do I plant myself in community, when all I want to do is run away because it is a lot less hurtful that way? 

These are my questions....these are good enough reasons to unplug and focus on Him. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Loving with Boundaries...

Today as I listened to the sermon I sat in church pondering the events that have transpired in my life over the past couple of weeks.  It is still really hard for me to know what it means to love people where they are, without letting them completely destroy me.  

Even though I think we are totally called to love others, no matter what, I do think that we are also called to set boundaries.  We are called to not let people walk all over us.  We are called to not allow toxic, or just plain mean people to change who we are, and what we are about.  

I spend a lot of my days wondering what people think and allowing people to do things even when I don't like them, because I don't want to hurt their feelings, or I think that they will leave me if they know the truth behind who I am and what I'm about.  I have spent many days of my life hiding behind this mask, because my sensitive heart gets hurt more easily then some, and I am looked down on because of it.  

The past week has shown me that I can love and still have boundaries.  I can love, and still give of my heart without it being hardened.  I would much rather have a soft, sensitive heart, then be hardened by the world, and evil in it.  

I don't always understand choices that people make.  I get left out of a lot of things, but at the end of the day all that matters is that I choose love.  I will never be the girl that dances with every guy on the dance floor.  I will never be the girl that can step up to a table full of people I don't know and have instant connection. That isn't who I am.  My acceptance and trust comes with time, conversation, and grace.  

I've had to examine myself in the last week, and ask myself if I have made the right choices by putting up the boundaries that I have.  In the end I have to know that I did the right thing.  In the end I have to live life to its fullest.  I may not always love completely and in the right way, but I do love.  I put others first, and I try my very best not to judge.  

One thing I think that I have learned is that love means no expectations.  I wish that I felt differently but the truth is that I think my disappointment comes from expecting too much from people.  Expecting them to understand where I am coming from.  Expecting them to not leave me out of things.  Expecting them to want to love me for who I authentically am, instead of who they would like for me to be.  

So, can I love with boundaries but not expectations?  I honestly don't know.  Weren't we created for expectation? But if we will always fail at those expectations, then what is the point of putting them on each other?  Weren't we created for boundaries? Isn't that how we let someone know that they have hurt us?  Without boundaries people can't break down the walls that have been created, can they?  

In a perfect world we wouldn't need either of these things.  We would just treat people with love and respect and there would be no room for hurt or betrayal.  We wouldn't choose one person over another just because they have a more beautiful face, or they can satisfy a temporary need.  We wouldn't have to give up one friendship in order to gain another.  

The world isn't perfect, it is messy and hard.  Because of that imperfection we have to figure out how to love with boundaries and expectations...don't we?