A newfound habit

I never had a semester in grad school when I didn’t cry because of overwhelming stress.  For 3 years, I looked forward to not having deadlines.  I longed to have time to visit with friends and take care of my house and family without the pressure of reading that chapter or responding to that classmate’s post or editing that paper.  I was sure that once I received that beautiful Master’s Degree, I would go back to life as it was intended to be.  Of course, I knew regular life stressors would still pop up from time to time.  But at least I would be able to deal with them without a 10 page paper due, as well!

Fast forward to the present.  It’s been 8 weeks since school started back up and I’m working in a new position.  It’s a great opportunity and I love it.  We got a dog named Bonnie Jean and she is the sweetest thing and we love her.  I’m planning to run my first 10k in over 2 years and I’m so excited to have the time to train for it.  All these new ventures take work but all are worth it.

And yet.

My shoulders have gotten just as tense as they used to.  I worry about missing a run.  I think about troublesome students at home and get anxious thinking about how I’ll ever get through to them.  I find myself overreacting to little things (the dishwasher has to be unloaded AGAIN?!).  Somehow, I’m still stressing out about things and it feels even worse than before.

And so, I’ve come to the unpleasant realization that I’ve made stress a habit.  In high school, I stressed about projects and rehearsals and swim practice and various leadership meetings.  In college, I stressed about papers and rehearsals and needing to exercise and leadership meetings.  In figuring out marriage and grad-school life, I stressed about papers and rehearsals and my running schedule and all kinds of meetings. Now, with one of the most stressful pursuits out of my way, my brain and heart are still finding things to freak out as if they need the unpleasant sensation of racing adrenalin.

I’m thankful to say that I came to this realization just before a much-needed recent church retreat.  The Lord really prepared me going into it and then used the retreat itself to help me understand this new-found habit (addiction, really).  I’m still working through the how’s and why’s, but I’m glad to say that just acknowledging the struggle has eased the stress in a major way!  I’ll share what I learn along the way.  :)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt. 6:25-27)

Fear

At our first staff meeting for my school this year, we had to talk about lockdown drill procedures.  Ever since the Newtown shootings, lockdowns have taken on an entirely different meaning to me.  They make me upset–emotional, nervous, angry.  Spending 45 minutes talking about different scenarios and protocol was not my idea of fun.  In fact, by the end of the meeting I was in a sour mood.  I was on the verge of tears and I was angry.  I was angry that we had to sit through such a taxing meeting.  I was angry that some of the protocol didn’t make sense to me.  I was angry that those dear teachers and students in Connecticut followed the exact same protocol that I’m told to follow.  I was angry that I felt so fearful.  Most of all, I was angry that I even have to imagine living though such a horrific situation.

This anger lingered until the next day.  Then all of a sudden, I realized: we live in this world.  But we are not of this world.  My reactions at that meeting were perfectly reasonable–I’m human.  But I have a greater Power and a greater Love and a greater Comfort to turn to.  If I allow myself to steep in the misery that surrounds us, I forget Him and His promises.

Once the Lord reminded me of His presence in my life, I was able to understand so much more about what He meant when He said,

“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

I have nothing to fear.  The Lord has already faced the worst that I can imagine and He has promised to save me and to comfort me.  Amen and Hallelujah!

Humble Pie

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about how I was going to follow through with discipline and blogging.  It was one of my 28th birthday goals.  I just turned 29.  And since then I’ve only written a handful of posts.  At some point in the past year, the excuses piled up and I gave in.  I’m not happy about it, but I don’t want to dwell on it.

Leigh and I have now both finished our Master’s programs.  We are fired up and ready!  Stay tuned for some regular blogging as we do our best to share where we see Truth in our day to day lives.

Desire Like Dynamite

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For months parking on our street has been a constant annoyance. There is no zoned parking, which means that people park their cars for weeks at a time. Not to mention the cleaning service that leaves at least 4-6 cars on our block, taking spaces I feel ought to belong to us.

“Oh the heart takes what it wants…like dynamite.”

I decided to take action. At the advice of a coworker who assured me this must be against code, I planned to call Arlington police to ticket the cars. I even scheduled a time to call on my calendar. But then I prayed.

“To bend the will you first must change the heart.”

And as is often the case when I pray about a situation instead of acting out of my selfishness, God gave me a different perspective: For the people who own these cars and the women employed by this cleaning service, a $35 parking ticket is several hours worth of work. It’s money they don’t have, or that they’d probably otherwise spend caring for their families.

“Will we choose the noise of our desire, or the hope that makes no sound?”

So I didn’t call. I weighed my frustration and extra steps against God’s call to put others before ourselves and found myself in the wrong. Those extra steps don’t bother me anymore.

“Those who have ears, as the smoke clears, it will see things as they are.
To bend the will you first must change the heart…desire, desire, desire like dynamite.”

sandra-dynamite

Italicized words are lyrics from Sandra McCracken’s song Desire Like Dynamite. You can download 3 songs free from Noisetrade or purchase the whole album. She also shares a description about this song’s meaning here.

Filling up the water pitcher

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[ I’m co-leading a small group for 10 weeks with an amazing woman at Restoration. We’re 2 weeks into group – here’s a snippet from last week.]

When I arrived at L1’s house a little early to help prepare the meal, she was preoccupied in the basement. In the kitchen, I got preoccupied with worries.

“What should I do to help get this ready? Why can’t I think of anything? As a woman shouldn’t I know what to do here?” My brain buzzed with ideas, “Dessert – no, someone’s bringing that later. Stir the soup – no, what if it shouldn’t be stirred? Get out the butter? Salt? Any condiments?” As I looked around frantically I started to get overwhelmed.

So I filled a pitcher with water.

Turns out, that was exactly the right thing to do.

I feel like this when I have conversations about faith, too. So many questions, ideas, scriptures, and book references shoot like arrows through my head. It’s overwhelming and leaves me feeling useless.

But there’s something simple I can always do. 

In John’s telling of Jesus feeding the 5,000 Andrew doubts that a boy’s fish and loaves are worth much, but he brings the boy before Jesus anyway. And that’s all he does. He brings him to Jesus.

I can do that. I may worry that telling a friend Jesus loves them sounds trite in the face of their troubles. Or wonder if they’ll break off all communication if I actual say that Jesus sacrificially died and was raised to life to reconcile us to a loving God. But it’s true.

It’s simply bringing my friends to Jesus, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

 

 

 

Systems

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In a recent sermon at our church, David talked about how broken people get by in life by managing their lives.  They create systems that cover up or justify their brokenness.  For some reason, this terminology really struck me.  Maybe because it’s just such a perfect description of myself.

I will begrudgingly admit to being a bit of a control freak from time to time.  When I heard “manage and create systems” though, I felt like I had no choice but to own up to the words.  At first it sounds a lot better than “control freak.”  Who wouldn’t prefer to be called a manager rather than a freak?  In the end though, it doesn’t really matter what you call it–the point is that we all avoid our own brokenness and try to hide it from others, especially God (see Leigh’s latest post for more on this!).

So I got to thinking….what are some of my systems? What do I do to shape others opinions of me?  What do I do to look right before the Lord?  Here’s what I’ve gotten so far:

  • Avoidance.  I will avoid talking about something (in as laid-back and chill of a way as possible) to make myself look better.  I figured out early on in life that if you don’t say anything, most of the time people will assume that you’re going along with them.  They will also often assume the positive rather than the negative about others (good ol’ self-esteem at work).  I thought this was very useful in middle and high school–it allowed others to think that, yes, Elizabeth does all the same stuff that we do, even though I didn’t and sometimes didn’t even know what they were talking about.  If only I’d realized that if I hadn’t tried so hard to fit in, I could have shared how the Lord was working in my life!  I even almost finished this post by saying, “I’m still working on figuring out my systems…what are some of yours?” to give you an idea of how much of a habit this is!
  • Complaining.  I complain to gain sympathy.  I complain to get attention.  I complain to look better.  Man…what a stupid idea!  Who likes a complainer??  And I’m just realizing this right now, this moment…Lord, we’ve got a long, long way to go.
  • Talking to friends.  Maybe it’s because I’m a girl or maybe it’s because I’m me, but when almost anything of note happens I tend to call on my friendships to get through it.  I’ve known for several years that this was probably not a good habit and I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better, but I don’t think I really have.  You might think that it’s not really a problem but it is.  Have you ever noticed that once you tell someone in great detail about something that happened that you don’t really want to talk about it again and again?  The problem with going to a friend first, at least for me, is that then I don’t really feel the need to bring the subject before the Lord.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t confide in friends–I know that God gives us friendships to build us up.  But I really think that I need to work on trusting the Lord with my stories first.

At the risk of boring you to tears, I’ll stop.  I’m sure there are more systems (I’m a little scared to keep thinking about it!).  I hope that the analogy works for someone like it did for me!

Everything in its Right Place

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Everything in its right place
Radiohead

Everything
Everything
Everything
In its right place
In its right place
In its right place
Right place

There’s something comforting about these repetitive lyrics. Something that sets my mind at ease. Something that orders the chaos. I really like order.

I recently moved and set up my new room: new paint, furniture, curtains, and new places for everything. Well, almost everything. You see, I have a life-long hidden pleasure, no matter where I live I maintain it: a junk drawer.

You fellow type As, and perhaps more orderly type Bs, know what I’m talking about. It’s the place where I put the things that don’t fit. The tidbits I’d be ashamed to display but aren’t sentimental enough for a keepsake box. The projects I’ve always meant to tackle but never get around to completing. Receipts I haven’t reconciled, the trumpet mouthpiece no one would buy from Craigslist, old sermon notes I want to meditate on someday.

The junk drawer is both a place of guilt (I really should do something about it) and of great relief (at least it’s out of sight!)

I have a mental junk drawer, too. A place in my thoughts where I leave the things I don’t want to deal with, don’t want to be reminded of, certainly don’t want to pray about. The old hurt I don’t want to forgive, the difficult decision I want to avoid, the sin I enjoyed and don’t want to repent of.

And yet it is in these very places where God’s grace meets me. It is before these things I want to keep locked in the dark that Jesus reminds me of the freedom that exists in the light. He doesn’t want me to come to him with folded sweaters and neat prayers that look nice and mean nothing. “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

So I’m learning to bring God my broken parts. And to trust that in his mercy he will set everything in its right place.


(Original by Radiohead, but I prefer the Sonos cover here.)

3 Ways I Know I’m Growing Up…

First of all, you should know that I’m 28 years old.  Just newly 28, but still…28.  It’s only been in this past year or so though that I’ve started to notice that in subtle ways, I’ve started to feel like a real grown-up.  {Let’s leave the whole, “Aren’t you a teacher of young children?” out of it. Thanks. :P }

Do any of these sound familiar?

1.  “It just doesn’t take that long.”  This is something that my mom said to me on a very regular basis in regards to any number of household duties.  Specifically though, I used to really dread loading and unloading the dishwasher.  When I was 16, I was convinced that this task would take me foreeeeeeverrrrrrrr.  When I was 23 living in an apartment with 2 roommates, I only did it out of fear of upsetting them (but I still felt like it was slightly ruining my day).  Only recently have I realized that it takes literally 5 minutes and you won’t remember that you did it after one hour.  Maybe living with a broken dishwasher for 2 months earlier this year had something to do with admitting this truth…

2.  I can motivate myself by remembering how I’ll feel after I complete something. For example, I take pleasure in cleaning my house because I know how much it will be worth it when friends stop by unannounced.  I can convince myself to go for that run or finish that workout because I know how proud and relieved I will feel afterward.  Maybe some people figure this one out when they’re 15, but it took a little longer for me!

3.  I’m excited about waking up insanely early.  This school year, Anthony leaves the house at 6:30am.  This means that I now usually wake up at 6am.  If you had told me during my first year of teaching that I was essentially going to be forced to wake up at 6am every morning, I would have cried.  So much.  But now?  Now I’m thankful for the kick in the pants that helps me plan my day in a way that leaves more room for my husband and friends and family.

Now here’s a scary thought…if I feel like such a grown-up now, how will I feel in another 28 years?!  :P

Quantifying my faith

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As I was running this past Saturday morning, I reflected on how proud I was of myself for the improvements I’ve made in running over the summer.  I can run for 30 minutes straight fairly comfortably (okay, maybe with a 1 minute break of walking thrown in.  But I’m really getting there!).  More than that, I’ve learned that I actually enjoy it!  My major goal with running this summer was to fall in love with it.  Too often over the past few years, I’ve burned myself out with running because I pushed myself too much, too soon.  So instead, whenever I started to beat myself up because I wasn’t running fast enough or because I didn’t get as far as I wanted to, I reminded myself that I was doing this to get comfortable and truly fall in love with running.  Speed and distance will come later (hopefully!).

As I basked in my own praise though, I suddenly came to a sad but true confession.  I have put way more time and effort into my running goals this summer than I have into my personal relationship with Christ.  I’ve been willing to spend upwards of an hour 3 times a week with running.  I’ve made running appointments for myself on my calendar and I have followed through with them.  For goodness’ sake, I made my goal to fall in LOVE with running!  When was the last time I set a goal to fall further in love with Christ?

Of course, as soon as possible faults came to mind, excuses sinfulness rose to the challenge of self-defense.  My left-brained-ness sinfulness said it was only natural for me to be successful with something to quantifiable.  My responsibilities pride took too much time out of my day to allow time for the Lord.  My travel schedule selfishness had caused me to not have a consistent schedule.  On and on and on.

The simple fact is that even if running is more easily quantified through pace goals, distance goals, consistency goals, etc., my end goal was to change the way that I feel about it.  And I have started to accomplish that feeling.  I’m not upset with this–I truly feel like I’m overcoming a pretty large hurtle.  I recognize that it’s by God’s grace that I’ve been able to do that.  What I am upset about though is that I never stopped to make a similar “goal” for how I spend time with the Lord.  I somehow thought that it’s not holy to set goals with the Lord.  And maybe it’s not the best way to approach it.  But when I realize the progress I’ve made with running, I have to question what kind of growth I could make in my faith by putting it into similar simple, measurable terms.  If that’s what it takes to make me consistent for a little while, maybe that’s what I need.  I’m not proud of such weakness, but I’m grateful that it’s been brought to my attention.

Seeking a prayerful life

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This might be the greatest cliche of all time, but I’m gonna say it anyway–The Lord works in mysterious ways.  Earlier this week, I was struck pretty randomly with the thought that I really want to know more about the whole “pray without ceasing” thing.  I pondered this thought for a few more moments, agreed with myself, and moved on (does anyone else ever agree with themselves?  no?  just me?  le sigh.).

A few days later and I haven’t really gone back to that whole prayer thought (see previous post about discipline.  again, le sigh).  While driving, I started zipping through radio stations trying to find something I could sing along to.  As I skipped through my presets, I listened to the Christian radio station, family-friendly WGTS…91.9.  (Now that jingle is stuck in your head! You’re welcome.)  In the split second that I stopped, I heard the word “prayer.”  I kept listening and it turned out to be Max Lucado talking about a different way to think of prayer.  I’ve tried to find this quote but alas, the interwebs proved too vast.  The general idea though was to stop thinking of prayer as a separate activity in your day and instead to think of it as an acknowledgement of God’s presence throughout your day.  I was a little dumbstruck to be honest and immediately thought, “Wow, Lord….a random quote on the radio station?”  But, refer to the first sentence in this post.  As I’ve continued to think about the whole thing, I’ve come to the realizations that 1) that random initial thought and random flipping through the radio stations are not random and 2) this is the kind of thing that the Lord wants me to share on this blog and this time I decided to listen!

Just a few quotes that I’ll be ruminating on with my new Max Lucado-insprired lenses:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.”  –1 Thess. 5: 16-19

“We are always in the presence of God…There is never a non-sacred moment.” –Max Lucado

“Prayer means keeping company with God who is already present.” –Phillip Yancey