Tuesday, November 29, 2011

T.S. Tuesday: Coffee Anyone?

"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons." T.S. Eliot

Monday, November 28, 2011

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens...

Besides pizookies and peanut butter, my two favorite things (and the only causes I shamelessly promote in this world) are Plant With Purpose and my younger brother's music.

Today, one of my favorite bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, posted a compilation of her Favorite Things.

Her list is much more comprehensive than mine and there is some seriously good stuff on there, so please please please check it out here (especially her #2 favorite Life-Changing Gift, where she does the Plant With Purpose promoting for me).

My other favorite thing is my younger brother's music. I know I'm biased because I'm his sister, but take a listen for yourself to see how objectively talented he really is. And show your support by purchasing his new EP for just $5 buckaroos--talk about a Cyber Monday deal!

AND especially take a listen to the song he wrote for me, his favorite (and only) sister. (I mean, jeeze louise, you'd think I'd never get down on myself with a song--and a brother--like this).

What are your favorite things?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Unwelcome Elephant

This feeling only comes in two sizes: regular, can’t shake this vexing sensation but still able to function, and extra large, paralyzing, life-stopping, all-consuming. If you allow this unwanted guest to sneak past the bouncer of extra large you can pretty much say hello to an eternity of bumping and grinding with this guy in the nightclub of hell. When he comes looking for you in your modest skirt and smoothed hair, assuming invincibility because you don’t flaunt yourself around like a floozy, you need to stop, drop, and roll off the bus leading you down the one-way highway to the danger zone . Trust me, you do not want to let this guy anywhere near you, your hopes, your future, your children, even your dog. He will squash your dreams and eat your confidence for breakfast after he ravages your body and your sanity all through the night. He steals your identity and transforms you into a small, frightened child. His presence prickles your hair and dries your mouth. With your heart beating like a conga drum, he wraps his icy fingers around your tender throat, daring you to call out his name. But you can’t reveal his identity. Like the metaphorical, rough-skinned, plain-as-day elephant in the room, your friends know of his presence, but remain silent. The responsibility lies in you, not them. You don’t make decisions anymore; he does. Left to fend for yourself, with your ever increasing insecurity, doubt, and self-loathing, you may never make it out alive, or at least as a healthy, fully functioning adult.

The only antidote—confidence, compassion, dare I say love. Acknowledge your attacker and move on. Don’t think that you must show him compassion; don’t let your guilt trip you into giving him an inch. Have compassion on yourself instead because he won’t just take an inch—he’ll take a foot, your leg, your whole body and mind. If you do feel guilty or like you have suddenly diminished to the size of a pinhead, feel guilty that you don’t love yourself enough. Then take a deep breath, give yourself a good once over in the mirror, slam the door on that greedy little monster’s face, and go (or rather skip) on your merry way, bidding farewell to this unwelcome elephant, unencumbered and free.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

T.S. Tuesday: The Truth Shall Set You Free

"Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, No. 1 of 4 Quartets

Some people keep dirty little secrets from their friends and loved ones.

I keep dirty little secrets from myself. Or at least I fear that I do.

Like my nagging question, “What if I am worth hating?,” I’ve been scared that one day I’ll wake up and “realize” that all my worst fears are true: I’m ugly and fat and boring and awful and entirely unlovable. That somehow I’ve tricked myself into believing all of this unconditional love stuff.

I’ll be found out. More than that, called out, exposed.

I’ve always been mildly (to put it mildly) obsessed with self-examination. But I could only go so far, look so deep, before I came unglued. My “perfectionism was so pronounced that I was not sure I could bear facing the truth of my own darkness without becoming completely unraveled.” (Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton)

I spent most of my life unraveled. Unraveled and weighted down by the sheer depth of my failure: my failure to love others well, my failure to connect with God, my failure to be popular and happy.

I could only bear so much reality. Self-examination was a form of cruel and unusual punishment. And my prayer life was nothing more than glorified guilt trips.

This was before I learned to bask.

In the spring of 2010, I took a spiritual disciplines class at my church where we read through the book, Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton. It rocked my world. For the first time, I learned to engage in healthy self-examination. In life-giving self-examination.

Since then, I’ve been learning to examine my life and God’s presence without the harsh condemnation and self-rejection that used to paralyze me. It is with the grace of God that I can even believe that self-examination could be something uplifting and transformative.

I began to find that, “When practiced rightly, [self-examination] leads us into a greater sense of God’s loving presence in our life, it fosters a celebration of our created self…”

NOT to shame and guilt and self-hatred.

It sounds so straightforward. It sounds so logical. Of course God loves us. Of course Jesus came to set us free. But I just couldn’t get it for so long. I loved to rebind the chains that God so desperately wanted to release me from.

But little by little I began to discover that self-examination could spark a journey that leads us to be fully loved and fully known by God.

A journey to be fully honest with myself about my flaws and shortcomings and failings—my reality. A journey to wake up to this darkness within me without becoming unraveled.

This week I will continue to explore self-examination and share tips and practices that have led me to greater joy and freedom and a Truth that continues to set me free.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How to be a legalist in three easy steps

(because legalists love bullet points)

1. Set impossible standards
2. Adhere to impossible standards
3. View an acceptance of grace in your subsequent failure to attain these impossible standards as the ultimate defeat

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Love Letters to a Skeptic

March 25, 2010

Aly,

I love you if you work out.
I love you if you don't work out.
I love you if you sweat sweat sweat it out.
I love you if you don't eat enough.
I love you if you eat too much.
I love you if you call mom back.
I love you if you isolate yourself.
I love you have a productive day at work.
I love you if you sit on Facebook the whole time.
I love you if you're feeling hot.
I love you if you're feeling bored.
I love you if you hate your body, your self, your life.

I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

T.S. Tuesday: Stacking up Truths

It's difficult to describe how I came back to God. To have it make sense to anyone outside of my life. There weren't too many concrete events that make tidy little blog posts. As Donald Miller said in his book Searching For God Knows What and in his blog post yesterday, there were a million steps that led me to where I am now, and even now, the steps are changing.

It was watching the Boy in the Striped Pajamas, it was dating a guy who was so much more cynical than I was that I actually started to believe something, it was stealing a Haitian woman’s parking spot, it was watching Planet Earth at the non profit organization I was interning at, it was reading ee cummings and T.S. Eliot, it was salty runs along the cliffs, it was new journals and an obsession with the Holocaust.

It was a stacking up of hundreds of little truths. In T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Dry Salvages, the third of Four Quartets, he writes:

"There is no end, but addition: the trailing
Consequence of further days and hours,
While emotion takes to itself the emotionless
Years of living among the breakage
Of what was believed in as the most reliable--
And therefore the fittest for renunciation."

I like the idea of the addition, the stacking, the summation of experiences and truths and ideas. That there is no end; only addition. Here Eliot is talking of suffering and pain, of death, but I’ve come to see this stacking up in every area of my life. My life is a compilation of truths and connections. Of a million steps that add up to where I am now.

Stacking hundreds of little truths up together is how I feel most connected with people--and with God.

I know it doesn’t sound much like basking, like soaking in God’s love. But my basking started with a few ideas, a few truths the size of mustard seeds, and built forward.

Love

ê

God is Love

ê

Love is God

ê

God

God is
God is here
God is here with
God is here with me.

In the last two years God has pursued me like crazy. In the ways that I like to be pursued (single men take note). I feel connected to God the same way I feel connected to people--through learning and growing, questioning, poetry, books.

God allowed me to stack up truths with him. I didn't need all the answers. I could still be cynical and skeptical and angry.

Amidst my questioning and cynicism and stacking up of truths I experienced Love. For myself. For this world. And for the God who created me.

And that was the start of the basking.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Basking: The Remix

All last week I was planning to write about how I came to bask in God’s love. But I couldn’t.

I felt silly. I felt like the stories I wanted to share were silly examples of positive self-talk and self-absorption.

I talked myself out of their importance. I started to doubt if I'd really made any progress. I started to doubt if learning to love myself has really helped me love others better.

As I sought to write about these fits of unwarranted compassion, these moments where God spoke to me and set me free, I realized I am not yet fully free.

As I seek to set others free, I am realizing just how trapped I still am.

Am I really better off? The accuser mocks my progress. I've done nothing. I'm no good. Can I really love and serve others better now?

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had moments of freedom and seasons of basking. It doesn’t mean God isn’t calling me to share these stories of freedom I’ve experienced.

I have heard God. He has spoken to me through words and images, friends and strangers.

And it turns out he’s pretty kind. His words are life-giving. His words are Love.

But this last week I’ve been hearing words that aren’t so kind, that aren’t from Love. Faced with a fear of leading a new book club at my church to share and grow with women struggling with eating disorders, this voice tells me I don’t need to lead because I’m ill equipped. I’m too shy. I’m too busy. I’m too scared.

God must be crazy to want me to lead this book club because I am the least qualified of anyone I know. My friends are friendlier, kinder, more hospitable, more empathetic, better suited to this ministry.

I feel ill equipped to love people, to lead people, and to make an impact.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: I don’t lead, I don’t try, I don’t engage, and then I’ve proven that I was ill equipped in the first place.

As soon as these thoughts flood my brain, I’ve abdicated my responsibility. I’ve lost out on the gift that I am and the gifts that God has for me.

Another thought that’s been plaguing me is that I’m being selfish for starting a ministry within my church community. I feel like I’m taking the easy way out. That somehow this ministry is second rate because I’m not directly serving the poor.

I absolutely believe that God has called me to this ministry. And I still feel guilty.

Where’s the freedom in that?

I’m not so different than I was three years ago when I scoffed at the idea of basking in God’s love. I’m still tempted to base my worth on my actions and efforts. On my poverty reduction and social justice scale. I’m still tempted to earn God’s love.

But I can’t.

I am loved. Period. That is the reality of who I am.

Henri Nouwen said, “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved."’

As a response he says, “The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world--free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless.... I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”

This week I will share the silly stories of positive self-talk and revelations that have speckled my journey of learning to bask in God’s love. I really do believe this basking, this experience I've had with God's unconditional, unconventional, unfathomable love, has shaped and formed me to love others better.

Let the basking begin.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

T.S. Tuesday: Nurturing Creativity

"Anxiety is the hand maiden (aka slave) of creativity." T.S. Eliot. Word.

And a few more words and inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert. Enjoy:









A Celebration of Saints and Siblings

Not only is today, November 1st, All Saint’s Day and the first day of Dia de los Muertos (which I read a great post about yesterday on Caleb Wilde’s blog), today is also my older brother’s birthday.

When I look back on our shared childhood, the first memories that arise are shared fears: fear of adults, fear of the phone, fear of the dark, fear of getting in trouble.

As kids, we were so scared of adults that we’d enlist our younger brother to exchange our unwanted Happy Meal toys for the coveted Hot Wheels cars. Our younger brother would toddle up to the cashier, all dimples and smiles, while Khary and I would duck beneath the table or huddle closer to our mom, lips quivering at the mere thought of talking to a stranger.

To this day, Khary and I share a phone phobia, although I am pleased to report that we're both getting much better (being a journalism major will quell that fear right quick—or drive your roommate mad).

As much as I remember the fears and worries of childhood, today I am reminded of so much more.

Growing up with a lot of fears yields a lot of courage. I once heard a quote that said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

Over the years, Khary has shown me that there are many things more important than fear.

Khary, today I want to say thank you for being you.
For the beauty you’ve taught me to see in the underdog.
For teaching me that different doesn't mean worse, it could even mean better.
For your creativity.
For your empathy.
For your loyalty.
For teaching me early on the power of words to build up or tear down.
For the times we’ve laughed so hard we’ve cried, making fools of ourselves at Olive Garden.
For the times we dared Cameron to touch the electric fence--and he did it.
For understanding my fears better than anyone else I’ve ever known.
For your example of courage.
The courage to trust me with your heart.
The courage to be vulnerable and real.
The courage to continue, to try again even when the world wants you to fail.
The courage to pick up the pieces.
The courage to grapple with it what it means to be true to yourself.
The courage to suspend judgment in order to build relationship.
The courage to risk authenticity.
The courage to hope that things can look different.
The courage to care.
The courage to love.

Thank you for being you. Happy Birthday and congratulations on your new job! I love you.