Thoughts on Depression (hello, I am back)

Talking about what it’s like to come out of depression feels…harder in a way than talking about depression does. Let me explain. When you are depressed, you can just say that you’re not ok. We’ve sort of come to a place as a society to accept those sorts of statements, and we know what to say to someone. We are constantly getting better at accepting the role of therapy in our lives and we know that “it does get better” (and truly, it does, I promise).

The thing I’ve learned, though, is that healing is not linear (and oh, how I wish it was). Coming out of depression is starting to feel better and then realizing all the messes that you have around you because you weren’t taking care of them when you were taking care of you. Your house is probably a disaster. Your personal hygiene routines might need to be reset. Your physical body may not resemble what you thought it used to.

Oh, and the world? It kept going. Many of your friends are no longer as close as they used to be. Unreturned calls and texts, cancelled plans, and not talking divide those relationships you used to hold dear. You still hold dear. But to reach out and try to fix it still feels overwhelming.

Because it’s not linear. You don’t just get better. You start getting better. You are constantly learning new things about yourself and dealing with things that set you off. You are learning that some weekends will just destroy you – and your coping mechanisms won’t work perfectly 100% of the time.  Sadness is still a hue part of who you are and you wonder if people want to walk along side that as you keep trying to get better, even if you do slide backwards sometimes.

Meanwhile you are still sorting out everything you’ve worked through. New revelations about why you do things certain ways and trying to fix them (and being very aware when you still haven’t). Dealing with things that trigger overwhelming feelings – triggers you didn’t know you had. And you still have a pile of things to sift through. Thoughts, feelings, ideas … how has this impacted your faith? Your perception and understanding of yourself? How you express yourself?

And it is lonely.

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

– Genesis 28:16 (ESV)

In this passage from Genesis, Jacob has had a dream about how his descendants will cover the earth. He awakes and knows that even though he couldn’t see it when he went to sleep, the LORD was present. He then builds an Ebenezer – a pillar of stones as a marker of where the LORD had spoken to him.

God hasn’t given me a special dream to show me why I have had to work through all of these things – why I am still feeling like I will never fully be whole. And yet I know that He is in this place. He is between the lines of my journals as I write out my thoughts. He is in the space between my ragged sobs on the darker nights. He is in the gentle words and hugs of dear friends holding me up.

I have been writing this post for weeks. I just couldn’t get it to come together. I think it’s because I wanted to be fully healed and done before I wrote it. I thought my pile of rocks (i.e. special blog post on the internet) couldn’t be built until I was done. But Jacob’s story wasn’t done after he built the alter at Bethel. And I want to remember this time – and I want to be able to look back and see the things I’m learning. That’s truly what this blog is for me – a record of where I’ve been. I’ve been so afraid to write anything for the last 2 or so years…but I’m back (I hope). It’s nice to see you again.

Ordinary Worship

It is 1am and I cannot sleep.

I don’t know if that’s a sentiment you can share – I’ve definitely been up this late on purpose before. But tonight I did not want to stay up until 1am. Far from it – in fact I’m hoping to wake up at 5am…

Tonight I can’t sleep because my mind is everywhere. Lately I’ve been trying to read or scroll through the internet until I get so tired I pass out – but that’s been taking longer and longer to happen and so here I am. 1am. Deciding that if I’m going to be awake I might as well try and write out some of my thoughts instead of letting them swirl in my head. I also took bread dough out of the fridge so now I’m committed to letting it finish proofing and then baking it. I’ve watched 6 seasons of the Great British Baking Show and if I’ve learned anything from Paul Hollywood it’s that you can’t renege on proofing your bread dough.

Tonight I am drifting between two topics: of grief and of worship. The former is due to the recent passing of my grandfather and the latter is similarly related but also just because I have been thinking about the next season of leading worship at church.

Part of why I’m sitting here is that I am of the mind that worship is much more than singing songs and playing instruments on a Sunday morning (or at any other church/parachurch meeting/alone/etc. I’m pretty sure I’m right because Paul backs me up in Romans 12:1.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Now, if you’re like me, you were probably super thrown off by the ESV translation of  λογικὴν λατρεία to “spiritual worship” – but no fear; they have a footnote that says it can also be translated to “rational service”. Why they picked spiritual worship I don’t know, since rational service is a much more direct translation (or reasonable worship), but if I took an exegesis class I might have a better idea.

Anyway, point being that by physically committing our lives and bodies to God we are worshiping him.

Now I’m going to back up one more step and get a quick dictionary definition of worship, because I think in the church the word “worship” is one of those weird words where we throw it around all the time but we never really define it very well/when put in the spot we can’t say what it really is (or maybe that’s just me?). So worship, according to my Google search is “to show reverence or adoration.”

We can easily see how singing praise songs shows reverence and/or adoration to God. That’s kind of what singing about/to someone IS. Going back to Paul & Romans, though, we see that we are to also show reverence and adoration by offering our lives to his service. A living sacrifice is a little bit of a weird oxymoron since a sacrifice is generally something that you kill. But God doesn’t ask us to kill our livestock, offspring, or selves for him. He asks us to live – and by living I’m pretty sure He’s just talking about doing our daily ordinary things in a way that shows him reverence and adoration.

I honestly don’t think either the ordinary or the extra-ordinary lend themselves perfectly to being able to “live for God.” In some ways the ordinary is easier – we can get into rhythms and routines that can easily be tailored to revere God. However, the ordinary is also very, well, ordinary. It can get boring and monotonous and become easy to forget to do the simple things as acts of worship – or just seem a bit pointless (brushing my teeth as worship does sound a little out there).

In contrast, sometimes extra-ordinary things are really easy to use as acts of worship. Weddings and births and other exciting things can easily lead to choices and actions as we consciously behave in reasonable worshipful ways. After all, it’s usually easier to adore someone who gives you a good thing. However, sometimes we just…forget. So caught up in the moment and the things that we forget who and what we’re actually living for. And then there is the opposite end of extra-ordinary, which can be equally as difficult or easy. Being worshipful in loss, hardship, and grief? I mean … it can be easy to rest in God’s peace but getting there and laying down your burdens can be so, so hard.

A friend recently asked me if I thought that leading worship the day after my grandpa passed away made my worship that morning more or less genuine. What followed was an extremely brief conversation that I wish had been longer. It’s got me thinking a lot about how worship is more than songs, and how if you are claiming to worship God, you ought to be committing to worship in happy and upsetting moments. You are committing to walk your entire life with Him and worship throughout all of it.

Romans 12 can say “therefore” because Paul just spent 11 chapters talking about how we are saved by Jesus and how this works with and fulfills “the law” so we can be saved by faith. So we are therefore, in response to this, choosing to give our bodies and lives (this is me performing my own exegesis – that by “body” they are talking about more than just the flesh I inhabit, but that it extends to the actions and things I do in this body) and that in doing so we are saying that regardless of what happens, we are choosing to turn to look at God. Choosing to seek him and his face despite our circumstances – in both the extra-ordinary and the ordinary.

And so this brings me to my now 2am thoughts: if worship is an outpouring based off of what God has done in our lives, then ordinary times ought to find us in a perpetual state of worship. Similarly, extra-ordinary moments, whether happy or sad, ought to lead us to deeper moments of worship. That worship might look like exuberant singing, but it might look like broken hallelujahs or silent sitting. Whatever it looks like, it is choosing to show reverence and adoration as we walk and wrestle through our thoughts and feelings.

It is now 3:30am. I don’t know when I will sleep, but I know that I can rest a little easier knowing that as I walk through each moment I am still seeking the face of God and resting on the sure hope of the promises being fulfilled one day. I am working out what it means to be a living sacrifice – and I’m trying my best to live my ordinary (and extra-ordinary) worship. And that’s good enough for 3:30am – and every other ordinary moment that will come.

Good Bones

WordPress nicely reminded me that I started this blog 7 years ago. Well, May 31 2012 was my first post – so a little over 7 years ago. When I started blogging, I had no information on here that identified me aside from the blog name – and only a few people in the world would have known to link that back to me. I would post things and privately send the link to a few friends so they could read what I had written. Fast forward to a year ago when I took a full plunge and updated my site, bought a domain, made a Facebook page, and decided I would wholly embrace being identified through this blog.

Upon this moment of reflecting on 7 years of blogging regularly (and also not-so-regularly — how do people have time or energy to post all the time???), I took a moment to go back and re-read some of my earliest posts. Reading my old thoughts is something else. I posted on here and other places during some really really high points in my spiritual walk, but also some really low ones. Each post is a little snapshot of where I was and what I was learning at the time. My style has changed over the years, as has my jargon, but also – most interestingly – my faith has morphed over the years.

There’s a song that’s been stuck in my head the week or so – the chorus in particular (which is always how it is???)

When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter
Yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter
Let it rain ’cause you and I remain the same
When there ain’t a crack in the foundation
Baby, I know any storm we’re facing
Will blow right over while we stay put
The house don’t fall when the bones are good
– The Bones, Maren Morris

The song is written about her relationship with her husband, but as the words and melodic riff cycle through my head for the umpteenth day in a row, I started thinking about how they also remind me of a very familiar passage of scripture:

 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
– Matthew 7:24-27

I say my faith has morphed over the years – and I mean that in the best way possible. Originally I was anonymous on this blog because I was afraid of backlash or people getting mad/judging me based on what I was writing. part of growing in my faith was learning not to be ashamed of the seasons I go through – and there have been SEASONS.

As I re-read my old posts, though, I am also reminded of the constancy that is Christ. Sometimes as I walk through highs and lows I am presently aware of how He is still there, other times I have not been able to see Him, feel Him, or understand where He possibly could be, but I know that He is. My faith and thoughts on faith have changed as I grow, stretch and am stretched, and face various things in my life, but the weathering of the storm comes down to the fact that the base is there. As I test and explore things, the “home base” that I come back to remains the same.

My life  sometimes feels like paint is peeling, glass is shattering, and rain is leaking in everywhere…but the foundation is firm. God is clearly remodeling – much to my chagrin – but I know that with the little bit of faith I have, it will be ok. After all – the bones are good.

The Habit of Busyness

How many times have you heard someone say we live in a culture of busyness? It sounds so good to hear. And we all nod in agreement saying, “You betcha! We sure do!” And if it’s in a Sunday morning message, it’s usually followed by a well thought out sermon or statement that encourages us to maybe not be so busy.

I don’t know about you but I usually … don’t change anything after those moments. I think part of it is that it requires way more thought than I want to give in the moment, but I think another part of it is because I don’t want to admit that I’ve bought into the busyness culture – that being busy is almost a status symbol, that I too have many things on the go (not that I’m free most evenings – doesn’t that mean I “don’t have a life”?), and that it’s just soooo hard to make time for the things that matter when I have all this other stuff to do. Well, maybe I should say things that I CLAIM matter, but I’ll come back to that in a sec. First off, I want to dive into habits for a bit.

Habit (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

1: a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior (her habit of taking a morning walk)
2a: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary (got up early from force of habit)
b: ADDICTION (a drug habit)
c: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance (the daily bowel habit)

Habits can be consciously created, but they typically refer to things that we subconsciously repeat over and over again. In the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, habit formations are explained as our subconscious response to different triggers. Duhigg invites the reader to examine their habits, and consider what is causing the action, and what the result of that action is (or rather, why that action is what the response is). For example, I have a bad habit of hitting the snooze button in the morning. The trigger is being tired when alarm goes off, and the habit is to hit the snooze….because I really want the extra sleep! To break that habit, I have to consciously make sure A. go to sleep at the right time so I don’t get woken up really tired by my alarm, and B. make a conscious effort to get up/out of bed the first time the alarm goes off instead of letting myself sleep in too late (and avoiding the mad rush to get out the door….which happens way too often…)

Our habits and what we spend time on point to what we care about. For example, I care about eating a healthy lunch every week, so every Sunday afternoon/evening without fail I will make time to meal prep. In fact, I value this so much that I eliminated the habit of putting off packing a lunch the night before/the morning of, because I knew that that habit was not working for me and often led to me either not eating, not eating well, or spending too much money on food.

Single decisions are easy. It’s when we fall into the habits that lead us to busyness that things start to get … sticky. We habitually look for things to do, things to fill our time with. And we very much value being able to say that we are doing things. And if we do have time to do things, we say that we “have no life” – why else would you *gasp* be free on Friday night AND Saturday night 3 weeks in a row?

I would argue that business has become a habit for a lot of us. We have “acquired this mode of behavior” where we sometimes involuntarily reject the idea of having nothing to do. We have settled into the norm of always being on the go, seeing the world and our lives through the window as we drive by (and bemoaning the fact that our lives are this fast train that we just can’t stop – a la John Mayer).

However, being “busy” isn’t necessarily bad! We can and should be doing things instead of sitting around doing absolutely nothing. But if having an open evening during the week is a problem for you and you feel like you have to always keep moving, doing things, and seeing people, then maybe it’s too much. Maybe you have fallen into the habit of busyness. The settled or regular tendency to fill all of your time with things. And it’s hard to give up. That feeling of adrenaline and accomplishment when you bounce from engagement to engagement and at the end can tell people you’re tired because you did x, y, AND z today (or is that just me?).

And this isn’t to say that different seasons of our lives are just crazier than others – sometimes different things just make for busier days! I’m talking about our choices to take on more and do more, for whatever reason, despite the current life-stage you find yourself in. Any life stage can be hectic and busy for different reasons – it’s the habits we form regardless of how we find ourselves that I’m more interested in.

So back to when I said “what I claim matter”. I believe that we make time for what we truly value. Sometimes it’s easy to blame our circumstance on not having enough time in the day, but I think God gave us 24 hours to be just enough for us. And if 24 hours isn’t enough, maybe we are doing too many things and expecting too much from the time allotted for us. Maybe the pace of life we are seeking isn’t the pace of life we ought to have.

In school I would use this example – if you have homework, church Sunday morning, and a few options for other things to do on the weekend, and you choose to leave all of your homework for Sunday morning, then you are basically saying that you value all those other things above going to church. Once is one thing – but if you habitually make that decision, perhaps your value is not really meeting with other believers routinely to worship corporately. It’s having fun with your friends and doing well in school.

We want to be transformed by the constant renewal of our minds (Romans 12) – and yet we do not (and least I do not!) find ourselves routinely in a space where we can be renewed. Being too busy means that we miss out on what God is doing around us, it doesn’t leave space for the spirit to work in our lives, and it makes it so we have a lot harder of a time responding to the calls God places on our lives.

If I am a disciple of Christ and I want my life to be shaped around Him, and the things I do are a living worship – an overflow of what wells up in me as a response to his love – then the things I am participating in, saying, and filling my time with ought to point towards what I value, that being my regenerated and continually sanctified – transformed – life.

If we value shaping our lives around Christ and seeing his transformative work, then our out to show that we value that by out time commitments and our activities. How many times have you tried to plan to meet up with someone only to find that neither of your schedules line up for the next two months? How many times have you responded to an invitation with “sorry, we’re already busy that day!” or, to a request for action, “I don’t have time to do that!”? What do those things point to as our values? Sometimes they’re good things! But those good things can get in the way of greater things.

If we expect to see transformation and change in our life, then maybe we ought to have space to do that. If I want to get to know Jesus and become more like him, then I need to spend time getting to know him. And taking the time to shape my life to be more like his.

In a forest, new life begins when old life dies. Sometimes I think that’s the way we have to view our spiritual growth and development as well. There is no way for us to possibly get to do everything we want. As the saying goes – you can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want ( or as I like to say, I can choose to eat all the cake all the time or have abs – I really can’t have both!)

Simply, if we want to see the transformative work of God in our lives, we need to sacrifice space and time for him to do that. If you don’t have time to see that happen, what are you doing that you don’t need to be doing? Where can you simplify and breathe more? Where can you say “no” so you can say “yes” to something more?

It isn’t going to be easy – taking inventory of our lives rarely is. But I’m sure it will be worth it.

Living Redeemed pt III

If you’re new-ish around here, you can check out my original post on “living redeemed” from 2016 here, and my follow up post from 2017 here.

Anyway…onto my *new* thoughts about living redeemed. In my previous posts I tended to emphasize more on the living part — going out and doing things, making actions while considering God’s role in them, making life choices while considering how they might bring God the most glory etc. However, I feel like in the midst of doing those things I forgot to ponder the meaning of redemption. Or rather, I lost sight of the fact that doing these things was meant to come out of a “redeemed attitude,” not in an effort to redeem my actions myself.

I am not a very good goal setter — often I will look to others to get inspiration or ideas and feed off of their creativity. However, once I know what a goal is or an achievable end is, figuring out the means to get there is a piece of cake. I can do the things, I like doing the things. I’ll give you a list of all the things to do with itemized sub tasks and due dates, if you’d like.

But this isn’t about “doing things” – this is about the place from which I begin to do the things. Let’s bring this back to 2016 and recap what “redeemed” is defined as (or rather the present transitive verb, “redeem”, as defined by our good friends, Merriam-Webster.

  1. a: to buy back (repurchase)
    b: to get or win back
  2. to free from what distress or harms: such as
    a: to free from captivity by payment of ransom
    b: to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental
    c: to release from blame or debt (clear)
    d: to free from the consequences of sin
  3. to change for the better (reform)
  4. repair, restore
  5. a: to free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby
    b(1): to remove the obligation of by payment the U.S. Treasury redeems savings bonds on demand
    (2): to exchange for something of value redeem trading stamps
    c: to make good (fulfill)
  6. a: to atone for (expiate), redeem an error
    b(1): to offset the bad effect of
    (2): to make worthwhile (retrieve)

A key piece in all aspects of “redemption” is that there is a purchasing or paying back of something. By rights, then, there must be something that needs to be bought back, brought back to good standing, repaid, etc. This is easy to apply when we consider objects or more extreme situations of depravity. It is more difficult to apply when we pause to consider out own lives – particularly when we haven’t run into any extreme difficulties or situations which we overtly need redemption from.

To accept redemption, we first have to accept that we were once in good standing, and that we then fell from that good standing. So, if we once were in a good financial state, and then ended up with a loan, we could be redeemed from that loan by paying it off/having it forgiven. Similarly, when we sin against another person, we can redeem/atone for that error and seek reconciliation with the person we sinned against by offering our condolences and (often) by offering to make things right/change/fix something that requires effort from us. Further, we can be redeemed out of a situation in which we are enslaved/indebted to someone by repaying our debt or being freed/purchased out of slavery. Again … I end up using more extreme examples because we just don’t see our regular lives as ones in need of redemption.

So. If I want to live my life redeemed, I need to accept the fact that it needed to be redeemed. I know I can often forget that my life needs redemption especially at the start of a new year – with resolutions & intentions & goals for the year, I am striving to make a part of my life I know needs “work” by changing my habits and/or adding new ones. Which is totally fine. I can redeem my own healthy eating habits. I don’t think realizing we need to exercise or have a better budget means that we have understood our need for redemption. More often than not those are things we can probably fix on our own…but that doesn’t mean that the reasons we need to fix them are not a way to lead us there, and sometimes it is the combination of the big and the little things that lead us to a point of realizing we need to be saved from where we are.

Also, we tend to fall into a headspace in which we are not “bad” people, and we are able to rely on our own self-righteousness for justification. I don’t participate in

sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; … dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like,”
(Galatians 5: parts of 19, 20, and 21)

then I am CLEARLY fine. And yet…I can’t skip the words in the ellipsis

“hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition,”
(the rest of Galatians 5:20)

because those ones….some of those ones I do. I cannot selectively look at my sins and decide that because I don’t do “the big ones” I am totally fine. Besides, if I look at the list of the fruits of the spirit (vs the fruits of the flesh listed above),

love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control,
(Galatians 5:22)

can I honestly say that I am exuding these things without restraint? Any non-display indicates, again, my failings and falling short. If I really see the sorry state of affairs that so many areas of my life are in, and honestly look at my own abilities as the human being that I am, then I will never be able to fully redeem my own self.

And if you’re saying “I can save myself” – I get it. I TOTALLY get it. It is sometimes SO much easier to say that we are in control of our lives and that we want to do what we want and if it ends badly, we’ll own that too. It was our own making and we will accept the fall. Some of the stuff that we’re not supposed to do FEELS good and is FUN. And sometimes it doesn’t lead to overt negative impacts on our lives – and if it does, we’re fine to accept them. And it is a lot nicer and comforting sometimes to feel like we can rely on our good deeds to get us somewhere than to have to place trust in someone/something we cannot see.

But in the end, if we are relying on ourselves for things, I think we eventually have to accept that we cannot reverse ALL the things in our lives. At some point, if we truly understand the weight of any sin

For the wages of sin is death

Not “the wage of 500 sins when not outweighted by good”

Our self-righteousness (MY self-righteousness) gets in the way of us being able to accept the pure and simple fact that Jesus came to save us from our sins. Right here. Right now. Redemption and renewal IN our current lives — not just so that we might get to go to heaven with him. N.T. Wright puts is nicely in his book The Day the Repemption Began:

 

They [the Jews in this period] were hoping, longing, and praying for what the prophets had sketched, what the Psalms had sung, what the ancient promises to the patriarchs had held out in prospect: not rescue from the present world, but rescue and renewal within the present world” (page 113)

When I take stock of my life — truly take stock of where I am, what I’ve done, and the ways that I have failed – I know that I need to be saved from myself.

However, I have ALREADY been redeemed from those things. I have already been saved from my weaknesses, my falling shorts, my missing the marks, my times I am selfish, the times I do not act in love, when I don’t treat others as the image-bearers they are, when I do not honour my God above all else.

Already done. Paid for. Wiped away.

To say we are forgiven is to say that the errs we have done are no longer counted against us — to say we are redeemed is to go further and to say that we have been bought back with a price, not just having our debts cast aside for nothing in return. And if I am redeemed already,  then I can move forward into action from a place of knowing that I am already enough, saved, and worthy. It is then much easier, as I continue to fail, to grant myself grace every day to be better than I was the day before. It is from here that I can extend the same mercy to myself, to forgive myself, and to strive to be more like Christ not because I need to to prove myself to him, but because I am moved with thankfulness and want to better reflect what he has done for me to the world. Moving into a redeemed mindset and carrying less of the worry, weight, and fear of failing on myself.

It is not that we do not strive to be better, nor is it that we are striving to be better so that God might like us again – we strive for better-ness because we have already been set free and we are free to take steps towards becoming all that God has designed us to be. It isn’t easy, nor is it always simple … but it is so much easier when we know that we are starting from a clean spot every day, every hour, every moment. Yes, I have failed, but YES, I am redeemed!

Forgiveness

Generally speaking, I have a really hard time holding a grudge. I mean this in that I can’t seem to harbour negative feelings towards someone for very long. I’ve definitely tried, but I always find myself back in a neutral emotional space after a little it. Sometimes it isn’t even much more than a minute.

Sounds like a great trait, I know. Who doesn’t like someone who can’t be mad?

The downside is that in larger issues that out to require seeking reconciliation as well as forgiving, I can find it hard to find the motivation because I just … don’t feel the anger/upset/unresolved feelings anymore. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of my bursts of emotion, you know that within 5 minutes my caps lock rage is gone and I’m overly agreeable and possibly regret the all caps message I sent 2 minutes ago (Yea, I usually can’t even verbalize it).

But this post isn’t about my 2 second rages and my inability to hold a grudge. It’s about how recently, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that forgiveness, sometimes, when the hurt is deep enough, takes a long time to give. Particularly when the one you need to forgive is yourself.

This fall I started learning about the difference between guilt and shame. Essentially that guilt is feeling bad about an action you’ve done, but shame is feeling as though you are a bad person because of what you’ve done. I don’t think I had ever separated those feelings/concepts in my entire life! I’m definitely a bit of a perfectionist (ok fine a big one), and not doing well at something or not meeting someone’s expectations/feeling like I’ve fallen short really, really cuts me deeply. I hadn’t realized it but I felt this way every time someone asked me questions (sometimes even jokingly) like “Why do you still live with your parents? Can’t you just move out?” or “Why are you doing it that way?” or “Isn’t crossfit bad for you and expensive? Why don’t you do something else?” or “Why are you eating that way? It’s so complicated – are you sure it’s healthy to eat that much protein AND that many carbs?” or “Ew, you listen to country music?”…missing deadlines that I would set arbitrarily for myself, feeling like I was never going to reach the goals I had for myself, and feeling like I was failing at being “healthy” and “fit” (that’s a whole other rant). Which is ridiculous because half those things aren’t even worthy of guilt! And then in situations of conflict or miscommunication, I would take the entirety of the blame internally, and instead of feeling bad about the action, I just assumed it was something wrong with the way I was.

Every stumble felt like a faceplant, every slight detour felt like falling off the side of the road in that Mario Kart race where it’s just a rainbow in the sky and you die every time.

Forgiving myself started with realizing I had a problem – and that problem was that I was allowing myself to carry the weight of every issue, conflict, and misstep. They all had to be my fault, at least in some part, but I let myself take the weight of 100% of all of them. I’d been carrying this deep hurt and grudge against no one but myself.

Forgiveness is learning to separate who I am from the things I do, and letting the feelings shame and guilt separate…and learning to not feel ashamed, but instead to let the proper feelings of guilt lead to the necessary actions. It’s also approaching the people who I’ve wronged and the ones who have wronged me and seeking forgiveness/forgiving them as I ought to (which is really, really hard for me).

Forgiveness is also accepting the forgiveness of God that I tell other people about all the time but somehow forget to apply to myself! (How messed up is that???) And it is surrounding myself with people who can build me up, encourage me intentionally, and point me back to that initial forgiveness (thank you).

I’m still learning, still forgiving, still becoming un-ashamed, and still crying about some of it…but I’m getting there. Ever so slowly I am learning to forgive myself just as I make myself forgive others, and as I have already been forgiven.

The Newness

If you’re familiar with retail, you will likely have heard about the golden quarter. If you haven’t heard of it, it is the 4th fiscal-quarter of the year (October – December) and it is “golden” because you’ve got some pretty major holidays in there which means big dollars for pretty much anyone who sells anything you can give as a gift, eat, wear, or decorate with. Which is basically everyone in the goods industry and a large majority of the service industry.

I like getting new things. New haircuts, new pens, new shirts, new glasses, new shoes, even new socks or underwear – and I’m sure you do too. Even new-old things (used car, thrift store finds, not-brand-new houses, etc.) seem to brighten and lift our moods. They can signify changes, or sometimes are ways we cope with a changes or circumstances we can’t control.

Newness and pushing forward have almost been synonymous for me lately with forgetting what is behind me and not having to worry about that anymore – I would rather forget and not slow down, if you would. Chasing this newness is easy – its tangible, usually transaction based, and has near instant gratification. Often it works to get out of a bit of a rut – I have a friend who, when things get difficult, shaves his beard and that helps him move forward and leave things behind him – and that works for him most of the time. (How, I don’t know, but, apparently, it’s magical?) But sometimes there aren’t enough haircuts, beard trims, and new things that can cover up the hurt that we feel. The newness of things and appearances and outer changes are not enough to make us new.

We can go for months and years ignoring the base issue of what is actually making us feel bad or in a rut or depressed, covering it up with new things, but at some point those new things are not new anymore, we run out of the newness, and we begin feeling the normalcy, the boring, the old, …

Jeremiah writes:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
– Lamentations 3:22-23

God is this weird fusion of oldness and newness. God is the I AM (Exodus 3:14), the unchanging one (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17), and faithful and constant (Deuteronomy 7:9, 1 Corinthians 10:13), ever present (Psalm 46:1), beginning and end (Isaiah 44:6, Revelations 22:13), etc. Yet this ancient, omnipotent one, makes us new (1 Corinthians 5:17), has new mercies every morning (see above), does new things (Isaiah 43:18-19) and is constantly revealing new things to us and to others. Even though he is old, he never gets old.

John writes:

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
– Revelations 21:5

“I am making” is ποιῶ in Greek. To break it down a bit, this phrase is a fancy (and shorter) way of saying the singular subject (God) is currently in the process of (as opposed to finished or not started), of doing something to the indirect subject (all things = us!).

Paul writes:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:4)

The Greek word ἐναρξάμενος (enarxamenos) is a middle participle of the verb “ἐνάρχομαι” which means to begin. In Greek you can add a participle (he, she, it) to a participle (-ing verbs) to make it mean “the one who is ____ing”, which is why your translation reads “he who began”. However, I also said this was a “middle” participle. In Greek, they can say things are being done by the subject of the sentence, being done too the object of the sentence, or that it is being done both by and too/is not yet completely finished – a passive voice would indicate that God did it to you, active would be you doing it to God, but middle? The middle means that in Paul’s perspective, both of us are involved in the making-new process.

So. God is old, he is making things new now, and he is working with us to create new things in us. A lot of songs use the idea or phrase of being made new/God making things new as a comforting refrain, but sometimes it isn’t that comforting. Being made new isn’t always the easiest process – it can require painful removal, refining, or “pruning” as we like to say in Christian culture-isms (unless I’m way behind the times and we’ve got a new saying?)

That newness isn’t something that shows up immediately – like a haircut or a pair of shoes. It isn’t something that is over and done with. It is a constant renewing of self (sort of like those PC updates they download for weeks before actually updating) much more like how we are called as new creations to cast off our old selves and put on our new ones. The white robes & clean clothes, the self-examination, the pruning and tempering and refinement of precious metals. That kind of knew takes time and shows up in little ways – and it takes work. It takes reminding ourselves daily of the truths about how we are loved and are being made new – we are not done! It isn’t a haircut that we have to go back and have redone or shoes that wear out and need to be replaced. It is all of us being renewed and refreshed every morning, every hour of the day.

Being called to become a new thing different from our old selves, and to trust that as we are made new, in joy and in pain, we become more of who he wants us to be.

Rejoice – he is making us new!

On Church

I am one of those people who basically spends the equivalent of a part time job doing church stuff – either attending, getting ready for things, doing admin work, meetings, other events, or whatever else that week has. I’m also one of those people who grew up seeing their parents do the same thing – which means I’m one of those annoying people who just don’t understand why you wouldn’t do that and did not realize that it was an abnormal thing until a few years ago…

Conversely, I am also one of those many people who has been hurt very deeply by the church. I have felt betrayed, hurt, ignored, and insignificant within her walls – which is ironic because I have also felt loved, healed, seen, and important within those same walls. I’ve spent all of my 25 years attending various churches and seeing joy and pain in so many ways – seeing the good, the bad, and (sadly) the ugly of what can go on when you throw a whole bunch of messy people together.

So why, if I have been hurt and continue to be hurt by the people of the church, do I keep going and giving of my many resources to see her continue to thrive? Because I love her – and because I have hope for her – hope that as we continue on and persevere, she will achieve her potential and that she will become all that I know she can be.

As Christians, when we talk about marriage we talk about commitment forever, divorce is not really something we go into a marriage considering, and when we talk about conflicts or issues, we emphasize working things out. In fact, we highly recommend marriage counselling BEFORE you get married and we are some of the only people I know of who regularly talk about things like love and sacrificially loving without even breaching the context of a romantic relationship – we are the people who look at the story of David and Jonathan and say wow that was a great friendship where their souls were knitted together. We emphasize vulnerability, sharing your burdens with other people,

Interestingly, in the same passages about marriage and husbands & wives, we get little glimpses of how God views the church — as the bride of Christ. Additionally, the Bible uses similar language when talking about husband-to-wife relations as they when talking about all believers when we are supposed to “submit” to each other. Elsewhere we are told to love our neighbours as ourselves( Mark 12:31), to pray for each other (James 5:16/1 Timothy 2:1), to seek to solve conflicts & correct each other (Matthew 18:15-17/Galatians 6:1), to give what we have so that no one is in need (Acts 2:42-47, ), to encourage/build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11/Hebrews 3:13), do all things in love (1 Corinthians 16:14), and, clearly, I could go on.

So if the church is a super important body, and we are supposed to honour and care a lot about the people inside of her, why, when we talk about church today, do we suddenly decide that this relationship is all about me and what I can get, it is one where I should come in with barriers and walls, that there are very small boxes you must fit into to attend and serve in the church, and that only certain people are fit to attend?

One of the most positive experiences I’ve had is starting to go to the gym – and I don’t mean positive in the now I’m more fit than I used to be way or the now endorphins got me high way, I mean in the way that the environment I started putting myself into was open, accepting, and positive towards where I was and where I was going. never once was I made to feel un-fit, un-beautiful, or un-worthy to be there. I was just another person on a journey of fitness and I would get told as such every time I would mention small feelings of doubt. It’s not that no one recognizes the need to lose weight, eat healthy, and drink water – it’s more that the journey we are on involves one thing at a time and we all have “been there” so we support others in their journey, wherever either of us may be.

It’s almost like at church, we become so caught up in what we think we need to be and ought to be and what we “need to do” to reach people with programming that we’ve forgotten the important parts. Crossfit gyms are unique because they’re literally warehouses with barbells. and like a rower. and a bike. but that’s about it. (ok also ropes and a few other weight things but you catch my drift). You go into a Crossfit gym to do a workout, sweat a lot, lift heavy stuff and move fast. Not many people do individual workouts, and there are 0 mirrors in the gym (except for like, the bathroom). So, when did churches become defined by their additional “services” to the public (do you have women, men, children, families, young adult, single older adult, babies, youth, tweens, older women, older men, married couples, newly married, single women, single men, ministries? and a Christmas and Easter kids pageant. And also a kid’s choir. And a hymn service, a modern service, a Gregorian chant service, a fire-and-brimstone message and a contemporary message?) No. No you don’t. Not to say that some of those ministries aren’t important and don’t have their place, but the point of the church was never to actively only serve those inside of it – it was to serve those outside of it. Jesus came to heal the sick not to tend to the already-taking-the-meds-and-on-the-mend ones.

People call it a family. The Crossfit box, I mean. Multi-generational people, you miss your friends when you don’t go for a while, they see you go through life ups and downs. They hold you when you cry after an emotional release after a hard workout. We sometimes call church our family – but usually in a cliché-from-the-front-stage kind of way. We keep lots of people at an arms distance, and we often leave when something doesn’t go the way we think it should or if another place down the street has a sparklier better-spoken pastor/worship leader/building, or when we have a conflict. Not that the auxiliary things aren’t factors, but perhaps they should not be our driving factors. When in doubt, I refer to this article. (I agree there are reasons to leave a church, I just find we often use bad ones)

When I went to Europe last year, one of my favourite things was visiting other churches while I was there. I don’t even know how to explain to you the warmth and joy I had at seeing people on the other side of the world (ok not quite the other side but close enough) worshiping the same God in similar and different ways, and seeing people I don’t even know get baptized into the larger church body. She is beautiful – the global church – and our local expressions get to be a part of that wonderful overarching story that we may never know all the parts of.

As beautiful as the church is, she is not perfect. I think she still needs a lot of work – globally and locally. She is a beautiful piece of art, but she is also a messy glob of wet paint on a canvas that you were trying to paint a landscape on that somehow now has dirt and grass stuck to it even though you did not set out intending for a mixed media piece. Also you did not mean to put that glob on either…

But the only way she gets better and thrives is when all the people within her try. Trying to be open and working towards things when other people aren’t. Being vulnerable knowing that those around you may not receive it well. Working towards what we know God has commanded we do as a group of believers even if other people don’t agree and get hung up on things. Caring for the people we may not really like a ton but we love unconditionally. Choosing to see past our theological differences. Forgiving. Seeking reconciliation. It’s not easy – it takes work just like everything else and every other friendship and every other community we engage in in our lives.

The Unravelling

The other day, while catching up, my friend asked me what my highlights were over the last 3 months. I had to clarify if he meant good things or just what stuck out because honestly looking back the first thing that comes to my mind is the large number of times I cried/sobbed in my car over the last three months (also, coincidentally, the number of times I thanked the Lord for waterproof makeup & a decent complexion so I don’t have to worry about the real struggle of tear tracks). The reason for all the tears? Well I mean you can read my last post too, but in reflecting it was quite honestly because there was so much change that happened in my personal life, inter personal relationships, and external circumstances that I either had 1. no control over, 2. had no say in, or 3. had turned out not the way I intended, resulting in me being completely overwhelmed and exhausted.

Beyond that, the degree of change in which I have experienced in myself over the last year is huge. The only work I can use to describe myself at this time last year is restless. I as coming out of one of the higher moments of my spiritual walk, I thought I had a lot of shit figured out (and PS why couldn’t everyone else figure theirs out???), I was having very fruitful quiet times, I had a great lent/Easter season, etc. etc. etc. And yet I was restless. I was desperate for change – in fact I wrote blog post after blog post and journal entry after journal entry  about waiting, hoping, expecting, and trying to learn how to rest. I felt like I was sitting in this weird limbo place and just waiting for my life to get started already. It was frustrating – like I was almost trapped in my own life. And then…..it all, very slowly, step by step, began to unravel.

Depending on how often you see me, you may not have noticed. I kept it under wraps for quite a while. If I did happen to share a glimpse into how I was doing under the surface, it was only that – a snapshot in time. I thought I was handling it fine, but the longer time went on the more I realized I didn’t.

Have you ever unraveled a knit piece? There’s almost a satisfying pop with every stitch you pull out, and as you keep pulling, it starts to unravel faster and faster …. just one string will do it, each stitch is connected. Ask anyone who knits and they’ll tell you how one good yank can reverse rows of work – great if you messed up and want to start over, not great if you liked it and a snag ruined hours of good, solid work.

The string that started the unravelling for me was an unobtrusive, small choice to decide to read Genesis after finishing up Hebrews in my quiet times. But something happened when I went back to the beginning — instead of getting a refreshing walk through old stories and God’s faithfulness, I instead found myself filling my journal with questions. I particularly struggled with the character of Abram and the seemingly nonsensical way God kept blessing this terrible (as I read him to be) man.  At the time I jokingly said that existential Christy came to play, but really – she didn’t leave. Questions in my readings bled into questions at other church events which bled into questions about my more fundamental beliefs and values and eventually bled into all areas of my life causing me to question my view points on almost everything, little by little, and then a lot by a lot.

Small things felt like big things, big things felt like bigger things. And they all just kept happening one after another. A week or two might go by and then a new slew of things would pour out and suddenly not knowing how to open the gas tank on a rental car or getting a tiny splash of oil on a shirt would cause uncontrollable tears.

The questioning, as painful as it was, was a key part of my unravelling. I scared myself with some of the things I was asking myself, and I felt adrift. But like a knitter pulls out their stitches to get back to where that missed stitch/count was, God needed to unravel me slowly as I begin to unlearn and let go of the things I held so dear. My questions about EVERYTHING were important because they began to strip away the person I had constructed myself to be. The Christy I thought I needed to be – the right Christy who did everything she thought she was supposed to do/told to do because only silly, irresponsible people make mistakes or do things that way because this way, obviously, is the only right way.

But I am not that Christy that I thought everyone wanted me to be. I am this Christy. I am this crossfit doing, bit of a mess, has a tattoo, really likes tofu and vegetables, has a thing with lipstick and heels, still doesn’t know what she wants to be doing in 5 years, Enneagram 6, binge eats ice cream when stressed, still don’t know everything about myself and what I like or want Christy.

I am in many many ways still a pile of unravelled yarn in a pile on the floor, but as I look at the mess and knots I’m working through, I am constantly reminded of Abram – this dude a year ago who rocked my world – and how I am Abram. I am the same mess of a person who, for no reason I can possibly justify myself with, I still blessed by a God who loves, pursues, and chases her into the dark corners.

With every “thing” that is piled upon me and every stitch that is unravelled, I am more and more convinced that this will work out for good. That the changed person I will finally end up becoming as I am re-knit together will be more the woman God wanted me to be than the girl I was a year ago. Diamonds and other precious gems stones are forged under intense heat and pressure (and very particular circumstances), gold and precious metals are useless without refining in extreme heat and purifying processes. As I tell my piano students — relearning a song after learning it the wrong way is painful, but worth it at the end. How much more worth will this unravelling be once I can turn around and see the knit-together piece at the end?

Strength

I messed up in my last post, or, as a friend in university would have said, I done goofed. The post itself is just fine – I’m not editing it or removing it, but I am reflecting on where I was when I wrote it and how I feel now – 5 months later.

Since then I’ve tried to write a number of posts. I wanted to post once a month this year (clearly I’m not fulfilling that resolution!) among many other goals, but despite the significant upturn I felt like I was taking in January, it didn’t last. I constantly felt like I was sliding backwards. I would fight to inch forward a little bit and then slide back again. It was like one step forward two steps back — I just could not get out of this hole I was in. I can’t even begin to describe the way life has seemingly just beat me down in the last few weeks alone.

Since November I’ve been dealing with a shoulder injury. Through meeting with my athletic therapist we determined I likely had a shoulder impingement and began rehab on it in January. It took about 2 months for me to stop feeling pain when I did a lot of movements, 3 to lift anything over my head, and over 4 months to be able to support my weight hanging on something.

Part of my rehab was seeing my AT on a weekly basis – we would chat about how I was doing, when and where I was feeling pain, and she would massage out the muscles around the injured area to work on keeping them loose and flexible and healing. The other part of my rehab was to do a home exercise routine that was updated over time to use weights and then heavier weights. I have never had upper arm strength. I know everyone says their arms are weak but this is like, a family thing. NONE of us have arm strength – compounded with a car accident that I had and never fully recovered from and you had a very very weak-armed Christy. I couldn’t lift anything and by anything I mean I couldn’t carry a 10kg bag of flour, I couldn’t lift the rolls of paper everyone else at work could lift to refill our proofing printers…carrying milk bags from the car to the house was heavy! I had gotten stronger but no one has ever looked at me and said “hey nice shoulders!”

Enter daily shoulder exercises. It took 4 months, but when I returned to my regular activities, I was better. I don’t mean better as in it didn’t hurt, I mean better as in I could do more. I could hold more. I could carry more. I could lift more weight. Some people would say that I did this myself. And in a way they aren’t wrong. I did get stronger by doing my exercises every day and by putting in the effort and work myself. But I did not do it all on my own by any means! I had someone checking on me weekly, giving me things to do, prescribing weights, massaging out the knots, plus I had a number of coaches helping me sub out movements while working out and making sure I didn’t further injure myself. My arms are still weak noodles but they’re stronger than they used to be!

So when I say I done goofed in my last post …. I say that because when I wrote it, I was reflecting on everything I had done and where I had come to, and I looked ahead relying on my own strength to get me further. Yes, I still stand by what I said that perhaps I needed to go through the heartbreak and falling down that I did – and I think I needed to continue to stumble through that after I wrote the post because I still didn’t learn my lesson. I thought I had! And I did learn part of it – but I hadn’t yet learned just how far the love of God would reach, and just how deeply he needed me to sink so that I would have to realize that I can’t bail myself out on my own strength. I may be stronger than I was before, but I am not and never will be strong enough to do this whole life on my own.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.
– Proverbs 3:5-8 (ESV)

***I started writing this a month ago – and since then I still haven’t learned my lesson…but I think I’m starting to. It is truly only in my most broken and needy that I will turn to help in my friends, family, and God. And strangely, being at the bottom is when I feel the most at peace in the middle of chaos and being incredibly busy. It is humbling to be in spaces where you cannot do it on your own, and I am so thankful for the opportunities to grow and learn, particularly after feeling so plateau-ed for so long. The one key difference in the last month is that I have chosen to let people in and to lean on them instead of just relying on myself. They point me forward, remind me of the past, and they point me up to the one who has never left. Who do you have that you can let in and help point you back up? We truly are stronger together.