Some snapshots of how we celebrated the Christmas season this year.
It’s been raining.
For a PacNW girl at heart, it shouldn’t phase me. Living in a sprawling city of 3+million people, linked by shaky infrastructure, unfinished roads, and nonexistent drainage systems, I start to panic.
Okay. Maybe panic is a little too strong of a word, but any sort of precipitation can make things go crazy. Our house leaks. Streets flood. Stores close. Potholes become small lakes (that you have no idea how deep they are and just hope your car can make it out of them). The power goes out. Life is disrupted.
We spent a few hours yesterday morning without power, starting with screaming kids around 6:30 AM because the white noise shut off in their room, waking them up to pitch black darkness because the night light was off, causing them to commence said screaming. We scrambled to find flashlights and iPods with white noise apps, and they settled down to rest a little longer before breakfast. As I hurried to and fro in the dim light of the morning, I found myself grumbling about the rain and how inconvenient it is for our life. Why can’t it just stay sunny? We live in one of the most temperate climates on earth, after all. Who needs rain when there’s an ocean of water right next door? (my complaining is obviously very unscientific. ha!)
Finally, the kids were quiet. I settled back on my workout mat to go through the final motions of my morning routine. My mind began to calm and through the mental chatter, this thought suddenly rang loud and clear:
“What causes the most disruption in your life can often bring the greatest growth.”
It may not rain a lot where we live. Technically, we are less than an inch per year away of living in the actual desert (then things you learn in homeschool…). When the rain does come, everything comes to life. After a storm passes, suddenly tiny green sprouts cover what used to be dry, dusty, empty plots of land. The hills in the distance look like they’ve been sprinkled with green confetti. Flowers bloom. Plants stand taller. Everything seems cleaner, brighter, and fresher. All because of a little bit of inconvenient, disrupting rain.
That thought stayed in my head all day as we drove throughout the city and experienced first hand the challenges this wet stuff hands out when it decides to dump all over us. I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps my life, with it’s ups and downs and twists and turns, could also be a place of significant growth because of (not in spite of) that very same principle. Do I complain when my day is derailed and plans change? Or do I shift my perspective enough to see the growth that is coming after the storm?
Besides, rain means puddles and puddles mean jumping and any day can be made better by a good stomp through the mud.
Thank to this lady and her wonderful inspiration, here are some of my reflections on the 2016 year as we come to its end.
1. What really worked? Choosing to wake up early and devoting my mornings to self care. After reading this book, my outlook on those bleary hours (often before sunrise) completely changed. I could use that time to do the things I want to do that often are pushed aside during the rest of the day. And those things? They are what get me through those days where everything gets pushed aside. I don’t always jump out of bed when my alarm rings, but more often than not I welcome the early start to my day. I know I have at least 90 minutes to think, read, write, work, and care for my body and soul. I wrote more about my mornings here and here and I’ve truly come to cherish and protect them.
2. What felt hard? Realizing how much unforgiveness and bitterness I was holding on to because of a handful of painfully wounding situations in my past. One of the biggest revelations for me this year was that forgiveness and apologies often do not go hand in hand. Forgiveness is my responsibility, whether the other person decides to apologize or not. Also, forgiveness should not be wielded as a weapon to make someone apologize. It is a free gift, that should start at the moment of wounding. I would often get stuck in a never ending cycle of rejection-bitterness-self pity-defensiveness-stonewalling-rejection and didn’t know how to break loose. How could I escape that victim loop when I didn’t even choose to be there in the first place? When I finally realized that my bitterness and unforgiveness was keeping me there then I knew I could make a change. The original rejection hurt and may have triggered the start of the cycle, but something I was choosing to continue to do was keeping me there. I could choose to repent of my bitterness and unforgiveness. I may not be able to choose how others treat me or even the consequences of their actions, but I can always choose my response.
3. What will I take with me? Reading. Books have been my refuge, my reset button, my resource for any and everything I want to learn. They will carry me into next year and beyond.
4. What will I leave behind? I would love to leave behind some of the negative mental loops that I allow to pollute my thoughts. Because of the unforgiveness I’ve lived with for so long, I’ve trained myself to respond to situations based on what happened before, not on what will most likely happen now (and it makes it even worse that the people who are here now weren’t even around then, yet they get all my emotional ick and spew from way back when) . Thus, if something triggers a hurtful memory or emotion, I engage in autopilot and start acting like it’s all gonna play out just like it did that one time…it’s not pretty. This year has given me some significant victory out of that pattern, and it would be so freeing to begin the new year leaving as much of it as I can behind.
“If you don’t have faith in your partner, you take the stance that he or she should change so that you can maximize your own payoffs. Likewise, your partner wants to change your behavior for his or her own selfish reasons. When distrust abounds, neither of you includes the other’s well-being in your calculations.
“Turn this description of distrust around, and you have my definition of its opposite. Trust…is the specific state that exists when you are both willing to change your own behavior to benefit your partner. The more trust exists in a relationship, the more you look out for each other…it doesn’t mean that [you] always put the other’s needs ahead of your own – that is unlikely to be healthy. But it does mean that [your] happiness will be interconnected.”
excerpt from What Makes Love Last? by John Gottman, Ph.D.
“‘Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.'”
I’ve grown up in enough Christian circles to hear the words “leader” and “servant” linked together almost inextricably. Yet on the brink of a new era in the politics of the United States of America, reading this verse today brought me to a halt.
Disclaimer – I do not involve myself in politics. Nor am I “for” a particular party or policy. I don’t care for debates and stay far away from political banter. I recently ended up leading a time of prayer for the elections based solely on the fact that (and I quote) I “don’t know anything about politics.” This post is not in any way a subliminal message or passive aggressive expectations for the future. It’s simply my thoughts as unpacked in the midst of change.
Elected officials can also be called public servants. The idea behind that title is, of course, the idea that they serve the purposes of the people who gave them the position which they hold. Delegated authority, in other words.
Jesus tells His disciples that to serve is to lead. He takes it a step further by saying devote yourself to others to the point of disregarding your own interests is how influence is earned in His kingdom. The context of the story is a seemingly trivial battle over position and thrones and places of honor. Although I’m far from an expert on Biblical history and culture, it seems that a promise of authority was something to be desired. Heck, a mom was asking on behalf of her grown sons. Red flags all around.
The two transcendent moments of leadership in all of history were – and will always be – the cradle and the cross. From heaven’s throne room to a farmyard stable. From the promise of political power to a criminal’s death. “Disregarding your own interests” indeed.
I don’t really have a point to make in writing these words. In revisiting these shockingly contrary statements of truth, I’m in awe once again at the example and life of Jesus. In the same breath, I’m desperate for Him in my life, because power and prestige seem a lot easier to handle then humility and disregard. I may find myself looking at appointed leaders and criticizing their lack of servant leadership. All it takes is one glance in the mirror to realize that we may be more alike then I first thought.
Over the past two weeks, two houses on our street have been broken into during the night. One of those houses was our neighbors. The ones we share a fence, wall, and sidewalk with. The robbers took their television and laptop. At the other house, they were scared off by the residents before anything was taken.
Fear. That slippery, sticky, constricting force that squeezes into the cracks labeled “What if?” in my heart and mind, expanding with each pounding heartbeat and ragged breath. The flickering images that flash through my thoughts like an old movie reel, playing out possible scenarios that might happen. Our possessions are just stuff and our house is just a place. Yet the violation of the norms and boundaries of society – especially when it happens right outside my front door – rattles something loose deep inside me that causes me to tremble at my core.
I checked on the kids last night. Twice.
I woke up to way too many bumps in the night.
In the freshness of the morning light, my heart is skipping a beat quicker, anxiety rising to the surface to pull me back down to its depth.
My Bible fell open to the well-worn pages of chapter 8 of the book of Romans. I’ve been stuck on this passage for the past two weeks, unable to untangle myself from the paradigm shifting truth-bombs Paul drops in every sentence. Today, it was this:
…nothing can ever separate us from God’s love…neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow…
How can God’s love coexist with fear? “Perfect love casts out all fear,” right? If I’m afraid or fearful or anxious or worried or uncertain or, or, or…then that means I’ve said yes to fear and no to love and there’s no way I can have one with the other. Like polar opposites – no matter how hard I try to push them into the same space, the opposing force is so strong that eventually only one will win out.
Yet this verse says fear can not separate me from God’s love. Well, then. That changes my entire theology just a smidgen.
At its core, fear is a lie. It’s based on what has or what could happen. If something is happening to me then it’s no longer fear. It crosses the line from fear to something tangible and concrete like abuse, pain, violation, loss, or some other form of actual damage. Fear thrives on the unknown.
The good news? God is all knowing. There is no fear in Him because He is omniscient. When I choose to fear, it doesn’t change who God is. It’s not like God sees a warning sign of “FEAR” blinking in bright neon lights and says, “Whoah, hold on there. Yeah…I’m gonna have to ask you to turn off that fear before we go any further here.”
The enemy tries to trick me into believing that the punishment of fear is still coming my way. The terror, the doubt, the unhinging feeling of drifting into the unknown, sinking in worry. The anger towards God and blaming of whoever I can get to first – myself, others, or anyone else within my reach.
…God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving us His Son as a sacrifice for our sins…
Sin has no control over me.
That’s why it can never separate me from God. Because Jesus took that separation, once and for all, and suffered it on the cross for me. Fear hawks its wares like the roadside vender, waving and yelling and bargaining, promising it’s worth whatever I’m willing to hand over. Here’s the catch, though, – the price has already been paid. Not for fear, but towards love.
…nothing will be ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I still battle with fear. Even after we spent the evening installing a security system on our doors and windows, I felt my heart do a flip-flop as I settled into bed last night. Fear is a relentless one, for sure. My Savior?
Even more so.