Faith

What is Ministry?

Posted by on Oct 23, 2013 in Faith | 0 comments

What is Ministry?

I used to do a lot of “ministry.” You know, churchy stuff. Like donating canned goods when church had a food drive, or contributing Christmas gifts when church collected them for needy families. Like serving as an Altar Captain at church (Don’t ask. Just know it was legit ministry). Like planning, designing, and presenting large scale projects for certain ministry departments within church.

Then a lot of things changed in my life and it seemed God lifted me out of every place of service all at once. I had my first baby and it appeared that He cleared the way for me to devote the bulk of my attention to my little family. My ministry opportunities at church thinned out, my work commitments even came to a close. I found myself at home with a baby feeling like I wasn’t doing much of any importance at all. I knew in my head that nurturing new life was the most important job of all, but in all of the mundane tasks of motherhood I often missed the things I used to do that had tangible results. This feeling of being and doing nothing earth shattering hung over me for a couple of years.

Until God told me one day that I actually do still have a ministry outside of my ministry to my family. I didn’t recognize it as such because the ministry he gave me for this season is pretty exclusively behind-the-scenes and it’s not at all churchy. It consists simply of seeing the people right in front of me who have needs and reaching out to love them in whichever way He guides me.

Take a meal to a friend with health issues? I can do that! Invite a new neighbor struggling with some personal problems over for coffee? I can do that too! Reach out to someone new in town to include her with my friends? The more the merrier! Buy groceries for a family going through a tough financial time? Okay! Pray with an elderly neighbor recently diagnosed with cancer? Done! Get Bug and Bear in the kitchen to help me cook and bake and take more meals to more people? Sure, cooking with my kids is fun!

“This. Is. Ministry.” said my God who is all about loving people in hands-on, relational ways.

Then my ideas about “ministry” were further overhauled. He showed me that every person I come in contact with is someone to love in service to Him. The checker at Wal Mart. The other mom swinging her child alongside mine at the park. The lovely young woman who watches my kids when I work. I started praying that the people Husband and I both need to employ in our small businesses would be people who needed a family to invest in them. He brought people for us to invest in and bless, and oh how they blessed us right back. People who “minister” often show up in the most unlikely packages, not as ministers at all but as those who need something from us that requires us to grow in a certain area.

All of my ideas of “church” and “ministry” got a makeover that I think made them more attractive. Church is not meeting with other people like yourself within the safe walls of a beautiful building. Church is going out in the ugly messed up world and really seeing people, loving people, serving people – all people, not just church people (this is even in the Bible, I promise). Ministry is not just joining in your church sponsored initiatives. Ministry is taking the initiative to go to the hurting people who you come in contact with on a daily basis and offer hope, encouragement, help, and friendship. I am not saying it’s not important to meet in a church or support your church’s ministries. I am saying it is important to remember to look around you when you leave the church building and notice all of the people in your life who may not go to your church but need you to be The Church just the same.

 

 

Your Story has Power

Posted by on Apr 9, 2013 in Faith, Mental Health | 2 comments

Your Story has Power

Exactly one year ago today, I walked right out of my comfort zone and stepped into the blogosphere. I never really wanted to blog as I tend towards introversion, privacy, internalization, and solitude, all qualities that seem diametrically opposed to sharing personal stories publicly. The idea of casting the story net of my life out over the vast sea of the Internet for anyone and everyone to see made me feel a bit seasick. Nonetheless, in spite of my reluctance, I felt God inviting me to share my story in a more public way, and I accepted.

When I decided to start telling my story, I was struggling with horrendous circumstances, and I realized that all of the stories I had ever heard about overcoming came after the fact. They were told in retrospect, from the vantage point of the finish line where the entire marathon of a trial could be clearly viewed, from start to completion, with the knowledge of how all of the details ultimately worked together for good . They sounded simple, easy, and actually quite fun. Mine felt nothing like that. And I felt God speak to my heart , “All of those stories felt nothing like that in the middle either. It’s just that most people don’t share their story in the middle when they’re suffering and have no idea how it will end. Would you have the faith to show people your middle? Will you let your life serve as an example of how messy the middle can be, and how I protect you all the way through the middle as I take you to a better place? Would you be willing to be honest and vulnerable about the process?”

As I pondered those questions and my anxiety over answering, “Yes,” I picked up a book and read this:

“It is important that we remember our history with God. What is your history? Meditate on it. Record the miracles you see… I just want to put this one tool in your hand. If you will use it, you will stay encouraged every day of your life, and you will have an important key for the renewing of your mind. The tool is the testimony. Let everything be tied to a reminder of God’s supernatural interventions. Your God history needs to become a string of monuments that become reference points for the rest of your life.” Bill Johnson

So, in faith, I started to share, focusing on the testimony, the miracles. And in the process, sharing taught me and transformed me. Sharing my story saved me so many times from depression, shame, isolation, and fear. Over and over, releasing bits of my life and experience released tremendous power in my circumstances…

Power to heal, as putting my story into words helped me to make sense of it, to see the blessing in it, to feel some sense of control over writing my own ending. Because I had choices about my ending, regardless of my outcome. In the end, was I to be the character who gave up, let my family down, withdrew, and withered away? Or could I be the protagonist you root for in your favorite novel who fights, who grows in strength and courage, who overcomes? Ted Haggard’s wife, Gayle, says that in the wake of her husband’s public fall from a prominent ministry position, in her anguish, she asked herself, “Who am I going to be in this story?” Writing my story gave me the power to choose who I would be as it all unfolded, which absolutely crushed despair and terror, and healed me of the hurt and fear found in certain chapters.

Power to fight, as sharing my testimony of God’s presence in the midst of my trials released His power in my circumstances. Showing up to tell my story on the days I felt I was falling apart released something strong. It got in the face of my troubles and said, “I’m still here. I’m not backing down. In fact, I’m getting stronger every day.”

Power to connect, as being vulnerable staved off isolation and brought new depth in relationships. As I shared, other people seemed to feel safter sharing too. People started to reach out, to show me their reality, to let me in on their struggles, to say, “Me too.”

Power to overcome, as I purposed to find joy in the little things instead of allowing anxiety and depression to drag me into their abyss. In November 2011, within one week, I received two of the most frightening pieces of news I have ever heard in my life. In the aftermath, I struggled with fear, no, terror, and depression – but through blurry vision I could still make out the shadow of my little girls and I knew I couldn’t entertain these feelings and care for them adequately, I would have to choose. I made a choice to stay strong for my girls, and the only way I knew to do that from one moment to the next was to focus on the little happy things that showed up each day instead of the giant dark cloud lurking overhead. I decided that if I wrote about these simple things each day – cooking, playing, praying, exercising – along with the bigger picture testimony, I would stay accountable to keep my focus there, and maybe even encourage myself or someone else in the process. I found that no matter how small the source of joy, focusing on it made my problems smaller, and that maintaining gratitude and perspective magically generated peace and joy, in spite of my circumstances.

We all have a story, and in a world where most work overtime to stay covered, it can feel so naked to share. But your story has power, and the benefits of opening your book for others to read far outweigh the risks of feeling exposed.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brene Brown

~

The Art of Receiving

Posted by on Apr 7, 2013 in Faith, Mental Health | 0 comments

The Art of Receiving

From as early as I can remember, my Dad told me often that I was a “giver.” Because he obviously valued this quality, I did too. Because he was a giver and I wanted to be like him, I cultivated this quality of giving in my life. I still operate in large part as a giver, but I’ve also learned how to receive. For a person who loves to give, this is not nearly as simple as it may seem.

Over my life, I’ve given a lot for a lot of right reasons. But I also now realize that, at times, I’ve given with an underlying motive or attitude that wasn’t exactly right. All of this started to make its way into my awareness when I went through a season of receiving.

Rather unexpectedly and rather suddenly, Husband and I went from a being in a position to give to a position of having nothing to offer. Not only did we have nothing to offer, we found ourselves in a place of desperate need. We had friends and family who loved us, but something kept us from asking for help or even accepting it when offered. For me, that something was pride. I wasn’t a taker, I was a giver. And if I were to be completely honest, there was something outside of my positive motives of love and grace and generosity and a genuine desire to help that moved me to give – it felt good to have enough to be a giver, to not know the helplessness, hurt, and desperation wrapped up in my own needs.

At some point in the course of our five year downward spiral in which our circumstances went from bad to worse, we had no choice but to accept support from and lean on those closest to us. Some of our most trusted friends turned their backs on us and let us down. That was a hard and hurtful thing to deal with, but what was much, much harder and more hurtful for me was accepting help. I struggled to receive gifts instead of give them.

When my angel of a friend silently slipped in my purse an envelope full of cash that equalled the exact amount we lacked to make a full house payment that month, I wanted to say no and give it back. It hurt me to take it, but we needed it. I knew God was giving me what I prayed for through my friend – I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t tell her we needed it, she prayed for me and somehow heard the exact amount and gave it freely. It hurt to take it, but it blessed me. I learned that God works through His willing people to answer our prayers, and that to receive the answer to prayer I must be willing to receive from other people.

When my talented and accomplished childhood friend came to my aid with unique help only he could offer, I felt guilty and embarrassed to accept. But I had to. I felt obsessed with paying him back or reciprocating in some way, but I wasn’t in a position to. It was hard to let him help, but his help protected my entire family. I learned that God often sends His help through people who have skills, talents, abilities, and resources that I simply do not.

When family members helped us with some financial needs, my discomfort with taking became unbearable. I prayed and begged God to provide through a different means.  His response: “This is my provision for you right now. Take it and be grateful. I need you to learn how to receive.” My thinking started to change as I realized that I needed a shift in my understanding to grasp the balance between giving and receiving.

By the time my dear friend gave me a gift card to buy some needed items for our family, I didn’t feel hurt or guilty or embarrassed to accept, I just felt grateful. I felt humbled.

And that’s when it finally hit me. Receiving is an act of humility. Receiving says I can’t do everything by myself, other people have unique gifts that they are called to give, we need each other in real back and forth relationship.  Giving and receiving are inseparable – if one act becomes dominant while the other stagnates, things get out of balance. A giver who doesn’t receive can grow prideful, isolated, and self-reliant. A receiver who doesn’t give can become entitled, powerless, and self-centered.

The humility of receiving set this truth firmly in my heart: nothing I have is mine to give or keep anyway. Because so many people gave us so much, my thinking shifted from the subtle unconscious belief that I could control what I thought I needed to keep or what was extra to give to the idea that nothing I have is really mine. It illuminated for me the truth that everything I have comes from God and it is His to distribute. When I give now, it is with deep gratitude for all I’ve been given and all I have to give, and humble awareness of what it feels like to be deeply in need.

The Giant Palm

Posted by on Apr 1, 2013 in Faith | 0 comments

The Giant Palm

To the left is a picture of my hand, so close to my face that it seems enormous and I can see nothing past it.

Below is a picture of the world beyond my hand, when I lower it and look farther. There’s a lot going on here, so much I was missing when I could only see my own giant palm, so close to my eyeballs that even that was blurry. Try it and see how your perspective changes, how your focus adjusts. I see people. I see life. I see nuances, subtleties, mysteries, unknowns. I see diversity wrapped up in God’s creation.

Lately I notice a lot of giant-palm gazing at the expense of looking a little farther out in the distance. Looking so hard at one very small part, so up close and in your face that it blocks out any and every other thing, to the neglect of seeing the world beyond. Specific issues become the giant-palm-all-I-can-see heart of the matter, and people rage and fight and judge and hate, all while staring so hard at a hand for Pete’s sake. Put the hand down. Look beyond.

So what I see when I look up from my palm gazing and focus on the bigger picture, is the world. And let me tell you, there’s a lot to take in. People are dying out there. They’re starving, hurting, suffering, lost, abused, confused, alone, desperate. Dying. And we are turning a blind eye and missing what truly matters, instead becoming hyper-focused on issues over people.

” ‘You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.’ [Matthew 23:24] This is a humorous picture which must have raised a laugh, of a man carefully straining his wine through gauze to avoid swallowing a microscopic insect and yet cheerfully swallowing a camel. It is the picture of a man who has completely lost his sense of proportion.” (Barclay)

Like so much of the gospels, the entirety of Matthew 23 is aimed at the “blind guides,” the legalistic hypocrites who were so focused on the outward behavior of those around them (gnat) that they failed to look inside themselves and see the enormity of their own sin (camel). When we focus on one specific issue or behavior in someone else’s life at the expense of examining our own insides to see how we’re responding to the real issue at hand – the call to love, to serve, to go to a dying world and offer hope – we have completely lost our sense of proportion.

I don’t have all the answers and I don’t always know how to love, give, and serve in a dying world like I want to. But I know God is love and if I choose Him, then I choose love too. I am humbly aware of how He chooses to love me even when my outward behavior is ugly, even when my insides are messy. I remember how He pursued me when I didn’t truly know Him, and that it looked nothing like beating me over the head with religious rules, exposing me publicly, refusing to build a relationship with me, or calling me names – it looked like love. I can only believe that this is how we’re meant to approach the world around us.

“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do.” Ephesians 1:18 (The Message Bible)

Rising Again

Posted by on Mar 1, 2013 in Faith | 8 comments

Rising Again

“Good things happen to people who do good.”

I smiled outwardly but winced inwardly as the words rolled casually off her lips. The conversation had nothing to do with me and she was in no way speaking about me, but I felt the familiar sense of condemnation as it hit me again – people believe this. Christian people, it seems, more than any other people.

Because of my own experience, I had a very different perspective on her statement. I had done a lot of good and had a lot of bad things happen. I had wrestled with God on the question of “Why?” for so long that I finally had my own answer on the inside: Shit happens. It just does sometimes. We don’t always know exactly why. And we are often far less powerful to keep it at bay than we wish to imagine. Can God pull us out of the pile and make something good come from all that’s gone wrong, with His power at work in our lives can we overcome and come out better for it? Definitely. But that process is much messier than most people will tell you.

I felt at peace with all of that. But I still struggled with the opinions of others. With the seemingly endless advice about how I may have brought trouble on myself and family and how I could put an end to it if I just prayed right/did right/gave right/talked right/forgave right/etc/etc/etc., I sensed the judgement of others. With the realization that my church, where I had given a lot, served a  lot, and formed a lot of significant relationships for years, would rather distance itself from my family’s needs than get a little messy with us, I was feeling pretty sensitive to any sentiment suggesting the converse of “good things happen to people who do good,” which is “bad things happen to people who do bad.”

“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.” Proverbs 24:16

Make no mistake, the goodness in people is not measured by the volume of good things that happen to them. Surely we’ve all met wonderful people diagnosed with cancer, betrayed by a loved one, weathering a financial storm, experiencing devastating loss. I’m exhausted of a theology that says we can control our lives if we do certain things or behave a certain way. I’m worn out on all the lies that thinking produces – that if something bad happens we’ve done something bad, that if others are struggling they have failed to live righteously, that God’s ability to work in our lives has more to do with our works than His Grace. I do not believe that good things always happen to people who do good. I believe that God things always happen to people who seek God, and that God things sometimes look more like rising again in the wake of life’s inevitable falls and risks, better, stronger, braver, than it looks like never experiencing difficulty in the first place.

“To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.” Leo Buscaglia

Over the past several years, my eyes have opened to an entire breed of people that at one time I did not know existed: Risk Takers. Courageous souls who are willing to take a stand for what they believe in, sacrifice their comfort to do something significant, speak with boldness in defense of those who can not speak for themselves, love passionately with abandon, and all of this with no regard for fear of failure, rejection, or criticism. I think that as a result of some of the rising again I’ve had to do after taking some painful falls, I’ve become more like these people, and for that I am grateful, for that I would not trade a moment of my own hardship. Here is what I’ve learned about these special people, these Risk Takers: Sometimes the people most passionate for God and others, the people most committed to doing good, no, great things, are the ones who take the biggest risks. From a selfless desire to serve and love comes passion, courage, surrender, willingness to lose everything. And sometimes people who take big risks experience great losses.

We have just got to stop heaping condemnation and unsolicited advice on people who are hurting. We must stop telling them what they did wrong and how they can do right better. We need to throw out the idea that we can know someone else’s heart based solely on what we see in their circumstances, and worse yet, that we can control our own circumstances by thinking we’re better than those people going through hard things. There really is no formula to explain why good or bad things happen, and by trying to apply one using our limited human understanding, we do grave injustice to the mystery of God and to the people around us.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt

 


Holy Ever After

Posted by on Feb 19, 2013 in Faith, Marriage & Family | 0 comments

Holy Ever After

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to travel alone (alone!) to Hawaii for my dear friend’s wedding. Did I mention I was alone? It’s the first time I’ve travelled anywhere alone since I had children. It was wonderful, refreshing, and a brand of fun with girlfriends that I had kind of forgotten existed.

The wedding was absolutely beautiful in every way. The bride and groom exchanged vows overlooking the Pacific Ocean with strands of tropical flowers floating in the trees above them. The scenery was breathtaking, and so was the ceremony. Their hometown pastor traveled a long way to marry the bride and groom, and his wedding sermon was thought provoking and meaningful.  With great grace and honesty, this pastor shared the real story, that marriage includes ups and downs, heartache mixed in with the happiness, and that there was divine purpose in all of this. He said (my paraphrase, he was much more eloquent) that once you get married, your spouse will contribute more to your holiness than any other person ever will again in your life. That struck me as such depth of truth and wisdom that I seriously pondered it as I watched the bride and groom take communion and wash each others feet out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was one of the most profound perspectives on marriage that I have ever heard.

Websters defines holiness as “the state of being exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.” Yeah, so that’s not what I’m talking about here. I don’t think marriage makes one perfect in goodness and righteousness, at least mine hasn’t yet. Another definition is “having a divine quality.” That’s what I think marriage has the ability to do, create in us a divine quality by moving us closer to God as we confront and cast off our selfishness, character flaws, and wounds. A synonym is sanctification – “the state of growing in divine grace.” Yes. Marriage presents an opportunity for growing in divine grace.

I am not the same person I was when I got married. Standing at the edge of the ocean in the gentle Hawaiian breeze, watching my amazingly together friend make this big commitment, I was reminded that when I did the same thing eight years ago I was pretty much a mess. Why did Husband choose me in all of my messiness all those years ago? I remembered he once mentioned that something he loved about me was that my heart was tender towards God. I think part of what he must have meant was that he saw in me a willingness and desire to grow, learn, and mature that ran deeper than my flaws and weaknesses. Our marriage has been an ongoing process of growing in divine grace. Sanctification. We have both been willing to be changed. We have both been willing to be humbled. We have both been willing to become less selfish.

Six weeks before Husband and I exchanged our vows, my dad died. I had great difficulty following this life event and my difficulties manifested in our marriage, causing great strain. Husband could have left. People would have understood. But he stayed. Not only did he stay, he never once mentioned the thought of leaving. I even asked at times if he wanted to and his answer was always the same – “We’re in this together. I’m not going anywhere.” Divine grace.

Years later Husband lost his business, income, and status. He had great difficulty following this life event and his difficulties manifested in our marriage, causing great strain. I could have left. People would have understood. But I stayed. By the grace of God alone, when I could sense his question of “Will you leave?” I somehow knew to look at him and say “If I had nothing but you, our baby, and our two crazy dogs, I would be happy. I’m not going anywhere.” Divine grace.

Marriage offers an opportunity like no other to grow in divine grace – to exchange selfishness for love, haughtiness for humility, shame for a fresh view of ourselves through a lover’s eyes, fear for strength to push through the greatest challenges. I always hope when I write about marriage that people I know who are divorced feel no condemnation. Marriage takes such work, commitment, respect, and forgiveness from both people that I find it rather miraculous that anyone’s marriage can endure. My marriage is not perfect by any means. But it has been a sanctifying force for me. I can see that it has been for Husband too. That wedding sermon helped me understand why and I wished I had heard it sooner. If someone had described marriage to me before I made my own vows as a process that would not only add to my happiness but also to my holiness, my sanctification, my growth in divine grace, then I think I would have viewed each struggle and conflict along the way very differently. I would have purposed more to have a heart malleable enough to change and a willingness to let marriage grow and stretch me instead of expecting it to be continual bliss. I would have welcomed all that comes with the process of Holy Ever After as an indispensable part of my Happily Ever After.

 

 

Happy New Year

Posted by on Jan 2, 2013 in Faith, Marriage & Family, Mental Health | 6 comments

Happy New Year

At the start of every new year, I take some time to fast and pray, to shake off all the dust from the past year, to get fresh vision for the new year. As I seek direction for what I should fast and for how long, I usually sense God asking me to set aside something that I’ve unknowingly and unintentionally started to turn to for comfort or security that’s not Him.

A few years ago as I was preparing for my fast, I felt Him asking me to give up arguing and complaining for the entire month of January. Kind of incredulous, I checked back several times. Arguing and complaining? Is that it? I thought for sure He’d pull out the big guns – chocolate, coffee, dinner, wine. Nope. Just arguing and complaining. For one month. That’s it.

On January 1, I set about my fast with a spring in my step and deep gratitude that I could still enjoy my morning coffee and evening dessert. This was going to be sooooo easy. I wasn’t much of an arguer and complainer to begin with, right?

Wrong. Of course, it turned out to be the most difficult fast I’ve ever done. I could hardly keep myself from feasting at a table of arguing and complaining for three square meals a day and snacks in between. I felt like I was starving without it. Wasting away.

During this time, God revealed to me how much arguing and complaining I was doing in my marriage. He showed me that the problem wasn’t just that I was arguing and complaining, but that my arguing and complaining had become tools I used to defend and protect myself. They were bad and unsuccessful ways to cover up and manage a lot of hurt and resentment I held in my heart towards Husband. Because I was not handling this emotion in the right ways, I was acting it out in all the wrong ways.

God used my month long fast from arguing and complaining to show me the truth underlying my actions, to help me clean out my unexpressed emotion, and to begin healing my heart. He gently redirected me to pour out my concerns about my marriage to Him so that He could help me, rather than erecting impenetrable walls of defensiveness, rudeness, and hardness towards Husband because I did not know how else to help myself.

At the end of the month, I felt impressed to tell Husband about my fast, to apologize for all of my arguing and complaining, and then to talk to him about my hurts and anger. In that order specifically. Honestly, I can’t remember exactly what the outcome of that conversation was. I imagine that it was great in some ways and hard in some ways, that it brought some resolution but left some conflict to be worked through at a future time. What I do remember vividly, though, is that my heart felt cleaned out of bitterness and resentment afterwards. I did not need to argue and complain to protect myself any longer, I needed to focus on keeping my heart healthy regardless of what Husband or my marriage made me feel in the course of a day. I remember with great clarity that, following this experience, something changed and shifted in me and my marriage for the better, and it has remained better since.

As I was preparing to ring in 2013 with a time of quiet reflection, this story popped into my head and I wanted to share it. I do not think this is an uncommon pattern in marriage. Changing this way of relating in my own marriage freed me up in so many ways and left me feeling better about myself, my life, and my family.

I plan to spend this next month of January as I usually do, and this year that includes taking a break from social media and blogging. Happy New Year! I’ll see you in February ~ Celia

 

Merry Christmas

Posted by on Dec 24, 2012 in Faith | 0 comments

Merry Christmas

Several weekends ago, our little family was driving down a rough mountain dirt road, dust flying everywhere, when we passed a woman carrying a toddler on her back. As you might imagine, it’s not the kind of road that sees a lot of pedestrian traffic, especially a lone woman wearing a small child. This road is isolated from anything resembling civilization and extremely rugged. It was an odd sight, so Husband rolled down his window to ask the woman if she was okay. As she turned her head to answer, “Yes,” we were stunned to see how young she appeared. She assured us she was fine, so Husband rolled up his window and started to drive away, but we were both concerned and I just couldn’t bear to leave her there all alone. I jumped out of the car and called out as I walked towards her, “I don’t want to bother you but I just want to make sure you’re okay – what are you doing out here?” She told a story that seemed innocent enough, but something still seemed off and I didn’t want to leave her, so she accepted a ride to where she was going, admitting it would be helpful. She squeezed in the front seat of our car with her daughter on her lap and I squished myself into the very back of our SUV. We chatted as we drove, got to know her a little, and I, still feeling concerned about her, prayed silently on the way. We drove for miles to get to her destination. On a rough, one lane, downhill, isolated, mountain road. She really needed our help – walking this path shouldering the weight of a toddler with no  help at all would have been absolutely back breaking for her.

This experience, really just a blip in the course of a very busy day, stayed with me and left me thinking. It served as a metaphor to me for the primary lesson I learned about helping people over this past year:

You have to look. You have to be willing to be inconvenienced to see people and their needs. Sometimes, you have to be insistent that you’re not leaving someone who’s obviously struggling alone on their rough road, even though they don’t know what help to ask of you. Just ride with them and be a presence. Just pray.

This Christmas, I am talking to my girls about why we celebrate Christmas, explaining to them that Christmas is the time that we celebrate Jesus’s birthday. In our family, Bug, Husband, and Bear celebrate their birthdays all in a row, starting mid-November and wrapping up mid-December, so my girls are well aware of the concept of birthday celebrations, birth stories, and reflecting on the excitement that they created when they came into this world. Because of all of the birthday celebrations we have just enjoyed, they have an understanding of what celebrating a birth is all about that translates easily to understanding Christmas as a birthday party. Of course, they want to celebrate Jesus, to get him a present for His birthday, so this has given us many opportunities to teach them that Jesus tells us that whatever we do for others is a gift to Him. He tells us that anything we give to bless or help another person, we are actually giving to Him. I am reminded as we give Jesus our gifts this Christmas that this is our calling all year long, not just at Christmas, to celebrate Jesus’s birth, to give him gifts by investing in and giving to the people around us.

To all of my friends and family, you are loved and appreciated more than you know and I am grateful for the gift that you are in my life. I don’t know everyone who reads what I write here, but I can see that the readers have increased by hundreds since I started – to everyone who takes the time to read, thank you, your presence here is a gift to me. Merry Christmas to all of you. I hope and pray that this holiday season finds you in great joy and peace.

With much love,

Celia

Thanksgiving

Posted by on Nov 22, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Faith, Marriage & Family, Mental Health | 0 comments

Thanksgiving

The past year has easily been the hardest year of my life. When it started, I thought I would crumble under the weight of it. As it progressed, though, the strangest thing happened. I found joy in the little things. I realized that life goes on, and I had a choice – I could crumble, or I could rise above. All it took was one glance at my babies, my little girls full of wonder and excitement over absolutely everything in the world, and the choice was clear.

Years ago I made a habit of writing down ten things that made me happy at the end of each day.  It changed my perspective. I found myself looking for the positive in my life, job, and relationships instead of noticing the negative because taking note of good things throughout the day made my list easier to construct at night. That simple task changed my heart.  I learned that circumstances really have very little to do with how we feel and perceive life. The choice we make of where to place our focus affects the condition of our hearts, and our heart condition has everything to do with the level of joy and gratitude we experience.

“God sometimes brings joy into distress to give us comfort.” Beth Moore

This Thanksgiving I’m so incredibly grateful for all of the joy that has brought comfort in the midst of distress.  The happiness I’ve found in the mundane of the day to day – my family, my marriage, my children, my crazy dogs, my wonderful friends, the beautiful scenery surrounding our new home, the simple things like cooking and driving and running and praying.  I’m grateful that this year has taught me gratitude as a lifestyle and cultivated an attitude of joy in my life.

 

 

The Good Enough Person

Posted by on Nov 13, 2012 in Faith, Mental Health | 4 comments

The Good Enough Person

I’ve noticed a nasty bug going around lately. I’m managing to stay healthy even though I’ve been exposed, but I’ve had a terrible bout of it before that seemed nearly impossible to overcome.  Worse than the flu, it drained my energy and enthusiasm for life.  Worse than food poisoning, it poisoned me on the inside so that I had trouble keeping anything good down when I needed it. Like any contagious illness or infectious disease, it left me more isolated and alone than I wished.  Perfectionism. Unlike a physical illness, it was hard to diagnose, treat, and make a full recovery because I didn’t even recognize that the symptoms were pointing to a greater underlying illness.

I see perfectionism running rampant, destroying quality of life and relationships while people continue under its unmanageable burden unaware. Perfectionism is easy to identify, really, and it’s everywhere if you start looking.  The symptoms are control, judgement, unforgiveness, bitterness, high demands and expectations, blame (of self or others),  fault finding, criticism, and of course, appearing perfect. Despite the appearance of perfection, it stinks underneath, and I’m tired of it.  I think other people must be, too.  Recently I posted The Good Enough Mother and it was by far the most popular thing I’ve ever written on this blog.  I wondered why, because I thought it was okay but it was by far not my favorite thing I’ve ever written. I think it got so much attention because it gave mothers, who are expected to present so perfectly so constantly, permission to just stop it already, to just accept their imperfections as a beautiful, important even, facet of their mothering.  I think it relieves people to hear mothers say publicly that they’re not perfect and that it’s okay to throw that pressure right off and move on – all the better if the imperfect mother is a child therapist who should know better!

So here’s the next installment: I’m not a perfect mother and I’m not a perfect person. I’m not a perfect spouse or cook or friend or Christian or therapist or anything.  Neither are you. We’re not perfect people, and we’re not meant to be – we are meant to be imperfect people connected to a perfect God.  And that is where our medicine comes from to cure the malady of perfectionism – it’s a heavy dose of grace.  Grace first and foremost received for ourselves every day from a God Who loves unconditionally and forgives freely. Then grace given to all of those imperfect messes around us, which incidentally, happens to be everyone. Grace is easy to give when received – it overflows out of your heart to cover over the mistakes and imperfections of those around you.  Whatever is in your heart will overflow and make its way out.  In that way, the ugliest thing about perfectionism is that the pressure we put on ourselves to be a certain way overflows out of us to magnify the mistakes and imperfections of others. It is absolutely destructive to self and relationship.

Can we collectively agree to kick not just the Perfect Mother to the curb, but also the facade of being able to achieve perfection in any part of our personalities or lives? To throw the choking, life-sucking pressure of perfectionism right off of ourselves and move on? Instead, we could give ourselves permission to just stop it already, to just accept our imperfections as beautiful, important even, facets of our personalities. Truly, when submitted to God in humility and shared with others in transparency, our weaknesses and blemishes become what draw people to us, what exude grace and acceptance, what encourage people who are struggling. Growth and change are important pursuits, but the pursuit of perfection steals joy, vulnerability, and peace. The pursuit of God and grace transforms you effortlessly into someone better while relieving the pressure on yourself and the people around you to perform with perfection.

 

 

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