Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Calling and Cultivating Mustard Seeds

Today we continue our weeklong focus on vocation here on Memoirs of Algeisha. To read the first post, click here. I'm excited to delve into vocation, calling, passion, and obedience together.


On Calling and Cultivating Mustard Seeds


“Oh, so you’re completely messed up right now,” she replied when I told her about the study abroad program I had just returned from, more of a statement than a question. She sat cross-legged in the corner of our on-campus apartment, the soles of her thrift store sneakers worn and ragged, unaltered like her gray-streaked hair.

My friends turned to me in a whoosh of curls, highlights, and curiosity.

“Yes, I’m completely messed up,” I responded, unapologetically.

“Wait, what?” “Yeah, Aly, what?” My friends wondered, but I offered nothing more.

She gave me a smile and I knew right then that we shared a secret language, a code.

A code that would bring me back from the edge.

***
I have a friend and mentor who is incredible with college students. When I came back from a traumatic study abroad experience, she was the only one who understood right off the bat. She saw my questions about God and the church and U.S. foreign policy as engagement of my faith, not a rejection of it. She saw my anger as a sign of compassion, not rebellion. She listened, she validated, she understood my shopping guilt and inability to open my Bible. She challenged me to move beyond the anger. She called me out of wallowing. She demonstrated a life of compassion and intentionality. She gave me hope in the body of Christ.

When I graduated she gave me a present, a small, glass picture frame that at first glance looks empty. But if you look hard enough, in the center of the white paper backing is a small yellowish dot—a mustard seed. It’s tiny, smaller than I pictured when we recited the verse in Sunday School, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20

In an angry, questioning, depressed college student, she saw and cultivated a mustard seed of faith.

Recently I had lunch with her and the topic of calling and vocation came up. She said to me of her work with college students, of the shattering and rebuilding of worldviews, of developing a faith of our own, “I could do that cycle over and over again, forever.”

It wasn’t just me that she impacted. Her faith in me transformed my life and, in turn, spilled over into my relationships, my career, my spheres of influence. And it’s not just me that she’s mentored. I can’t even begin to count the number of students who would call her a most trusted friend and mentor.

She has a calling, a vocation, to work with college students.

When I think of Frederick Buechner’s wise words, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” I think of my mentor.  (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)

I think of the deep gladness she finds in friendship with college students. I think of the deep hunger for understanding and connection I felt when I returned from Central America, broken and despondent. I think of the mustard seed that blossomed into a flourishing tree in my life and in the lives of so many other students.

That is what I want to find. A calling that brings me deep gladness and meets the world’s deepest hungers. I have ideas of what this looks like. I experienced it for a time at Plant With Purpose, finding deep gladness in writing for an organization that meets deep hunger in developing countries.

As I move forward, I will continue to keep my eyes peeled and my spirit open to the mustard seeds of hope, of joy and faith that God is calling me to cultivate in the world around me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Quarter Life Crises, Schmuckdom, and Other Neurotic Musings


It’s VOCATION WEEK at Memoirs of Algeisha. No, the vacation was yesterday, the remainder of the week we will focus on vocation.



In honor of the perfectly punctual quarter-life crisis that has hit me square in the nose, this week I will delve into the topics of vocation, calling, career, faith, trust, and obedience. I will be sharing about my upcoming transition to what I hope will entail living the life of a bohemian bum in Guatemala, my struggle to hear and heed God’s voice in my life, and how I believe ministering to women with eating disorders and serving the rural poor are two sides to the same calling.

If you don’t happen to find yourself in your tumultuous twenties, I hope you can still relate to the search for meaning, purpose, and passion in our careers, homes, families, and friendships.

And don’t worry, I’ve already found some wonderful T.S. Eliot and body image/identity tie ins.

First up, I'll share a little background on how I've viewed vocation, calling, and careers in my own post-college life. 

Allocating Resources or Surrendering Lives?


Straight out of college I made a deal with myself: I would take whatever job allowed me to use my skills to do the greatest good for the poorest people.


For four years, that meant working as a grant writer for international development organization, Plant With Purpose.

When God started calling me away from Plant With Purpose, my pride stepped in. I told God He was crazy. There was no way He could use me outside of Plant With Purpose to do as much good for the poor. By my social justice calculations, it just didn’t add up.

In a fascinating New York Times op/ed piece, David Brooks attributes this kind of thinking to a “vocabulary of entrepreneurialism.”

He writes, “Many people today find it easy to use the vocabulary of entrepreneurialism, whether they are in business or social entrepreneurs. This is a utilitarian vocabulary. How can I serve the greatest number? How can I most productively apply my talents to the problems of the world? It’s about resource allocation.”

Dang.

For better or worse, those exact questions have formed the foundation of my life planning, dreaming, and scheming for the past several years.

I used to think I was wise, strategic, a conscientious compassionate.

But these last few months, God’s been teaching me a new litmus test for my life and my work. And the question is simply this: Am I moving in the Spirit? Am I going where God is leading?

I took my job at Plant With Purpose before I started praying, before I believed the Holy Spirit could speak, before I ever paid attention to God’s leading. 

In the last four years, my heart has changed, my prayer life has changed, my whole way of living has changed. So why am I still operating under the utilitarian mentality when it comes to vocation?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to think about impact, to weigh the benefits and consequences of our actions, and to make strategic decisions. I believe we are called to be good stewards of our time and resources, talents and gifts, but who am I to think I know better than God?

In his article, David advocates for an expansion of the discussion around careers, vocation, and community service. David argues that, “People are less good at using the vocabulary of moral evaluation, which is less about what sort of career path you choose than what sort of person you are.”

And this sort of person has less to do with what we do in the 9 to 5 than how we orient our lives. David writes, "It’s worth noting that you can devote your life to community service and be a total schmuck."

God has challenged me to give up my identity as a grant writer, and take on the identity of a follower of the Spirit. To become what Henri Nouwen describes as a mystic, “a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love.” (Henri Nouwen, The Discipline of Contemplative Prayer)

God is challenging me to become a person who obeys His leadings even when I’m a skeptical of His ultimate plan. He’s challenging me to follow Him to Guatemala even when my utilitarian conscience tells me that it doesn’t add up.

He's given me a chance to show what sort of person I am. Do I trust Him when it doesn’t make sense or do I lean on my understanding?

Even though I’ve been given incredible opportunities to work with organizations doing transformational work while I’m in Guatemala, it still doesn’t add up.

Not yet at least.

But I want to be where He wants to use me, whether it’s raising millions of dollars in poverty alleviation, sharing how God's moving in my life on this blog, or relocating to another country.

As I contemplate vocation, calling, and careers, I want, first and foremost, to surrender even my strategizing to His Spirit. To seek Him first, and, regardless of my occupation, to not be a total schmuck. 

***
What is God calling you to surrender? Can you relate to the utilitarian view of vocation?  Also, please check out the full David Brooks article, The Service Patch.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Get Your Pentecost On

Happy Pentecost Sunday!

Today marks the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the early church.

Let's face it, on our own we're weak and selfish and needy. No matter where you fall on the charismatic spectrum, I think we could all use a little more Holy Spirit (or Kaboom as one man in my church likes to call it) in our lives.

If you want to experience more of the Holy Spirit, check out this 10-day Pentecost Challenge by Vineyard Pastor, Duke Tabor, in his post, How to Have a Personal Pentecost Sunday.

"Without the enabling and empowering of the Holy Spirit, we cannot accomplish the work in front of us."

I thank you, Spirit, for your power and direction. For speaking into our hearts and praying on our behalf when we're at a loss for words. I thank you for the lives I've seen changed and the lives you will change.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Amen

Photo credit: The Christian Post

Friday, May 25, 2012

Finding My Way

I've lost that loving feeling. That spark. That passion. 

I've lost my joy and giddiness at work. My creativity.

I live on writing, on creating, on explaining. For years I would literally jump and twirl for joy (just ask my coworkers) when writing a new blog post or putting the finishing touches on a grant proposal at work.

I loved explaining the intricacies of transformational development and desertification. I loved thinking up new ways to share my favorite story ever--the story of rural farmers overcoming poverty and transforming their lives. I loved writing the first couple of grant proposals. I loved improving on the next batch of proposals. I loved crafting reports on the funding we received. I loved following up on those reports the next year.

I loved it all the first four or five times around. I burned out some time between thinking up the 5th and 6th best way to explain what we do to the same funder.

I love the work that Plant With Purpose does, but I no longer love the work that I do.

God has other for plans for me, I know. Exciting plans. Only-God plans for only-God dreams.

But for now, I've lost that loving feeling and I still have 25 more days with Plant With Purpose.

I'm desperate for a spark of hope. I know God WILL restore my joy. I know He's up to something crazy stupid good. But I want to see Him now. I hunger, ache, for a sliver of joy to hold me over. To assure me that I won't always feel this burnout. That my brain won't always feel like mush and that God won't just move at some unforeseen point in the future when He clears a way, but that He can and He will move NOW. That He is present NOW. That His joy is for the taking NOW.

On Tuesday I shared a quote from T.S. Eliot's play, The Rock, that really struck a chord with me. I've been mulling over this phrase in particular:

"Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word."

At work, I've lost my words. I can still complete assignments, meet deadlines, operate on auto-pilot. But I've lost the words that flowed so freely, out of love and joy. I wonder, Is this a chance to experience more of The Word?

Can He move? Will He move NOW?

I'm losing hope. Burnout has taught me to identify myself by my own inadequacies. Burnout has forced me to admit that I can't accomplish what I want. Burnout has cornered me into believing that I will never accomplish what I want. That I will never care. Never grow. Never be passionate again. Burnout has pumped poisonous lies into my bloodstream and I'm scared I will never wash clean.

Daniel Taylor wrote, "Freedom is useless if we don't exercise it as characters making choices... We are free to change the stories by which we live. Because we are genuine characters, and not mere puppets, we can choose our defining stories. We can do so because we actively participate in the creation of our stories. We are co-authors as well as characters. Few things are as encouraging as the realization that things can be different and that we can have a role in making them so."

Burnout wants to claim my life, my thoughts, my time, my last 25 days at work. But I believe in change, in growth. I believe I can change; things can look different.

The best analogy I can come up with for my current state is that of a depressed person who has decided to move forward with treatment (medicine and counseling), but who hasn't yet started the treatment yet. I know a break is what I need. A new country, a new job, a new challenge give me hope of healing, but I'm not there yet.

But even now, before the metaphorical drugs kick in, I can take baby steps. I can choose health. I can choose to fight the lies. I can have a role in making things look different. And I can give myself grace when change is slow going.

I am taking an important step. Desperate times call for desperate measures: I'm starting a twelve week program to sober up from my toxic thoughts. More like a twelve-week challenge to foster creative freedom. To bring back that loving feeling.

One of my wonderful coworkers bought me The Artist's Way at Work. I've gone through The Artist's Way before and have been transformed by the weeks of intentional focus on creativity. In creating, I experience God. 

Like the writers of The Artist's Way, I am strong believer that "The Great Creator has gifted us with creativity. Our gift back is our use of it."

Even in this time of burnout, I will fight for my creativity. I will choose to start this program now. I will choose to believe that things can look different. That I can experience His joy now.

If you're a creative, or a blocked creative, or a wannabe creative, I highly recommend The Artist's Way-- either for work or the original. There are a ton of really cool exercises to combat our inner critics, to nurture our dreams, and to enjoy the great gifts our Creator has given us and to learn to use them to bring healing and hope to our world.

Exercise by exercise, page by page, and week by week, I will use my words to glorify The Word. I'm excited to share how God moves, and I will pass along useful tips and assignments to help you in your own creative journey.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Do You Follow?

Me, that is.

Do you follow Memoirs of Algeisha? 

If yes, THANK YOU! Give yourself a pat on the back for ensuring your daily dose of memoir-mania and  weekly wealth of T.S. Tuesdays. Oh, and my blogging alter ego greatly appreciates the self-esteem boost.

If no, what are you waiting for? If you occasionally stumble upon this blog via Facebook, Gchat, or other social media or random Google searches, would you consider following or subscribing for reals?

Keeping up with the Memoirs is as easy as 1, 2, 3.


1.  Subscribe via email or RSS feed to enjoy bloggy updates. This is the best way to ensure that you're not missing out. 

 Subscribe in a reader

Or sign up to receive email updates below.

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner

Could be your best part of waking up (besides that steaming cup of coffee).


2.  Join the conversation on Twitter.   



3. Become a fan of Memoirs of Algeisha
on the book of face: Facebook.com/MemoirsOfAlgeisha

AND for the next week I will plant a tree through Plant With Purpose in honor of every new follower/like/subscriber. Giving to a good cause is proven to release endorphins, so go ahead, subscribe away!

And, as always, I welcome feedback. How's my blogging? How could I make it easier to follow along? What do you want to read more of? Know any guest posters who would like to share their love story with God?

Thanks for reading, and what are you waiting for--those trees won't plant themselves?!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hungry: Remembering God in the Fat Days

In case you haven't heard, I'm starting a new series on body image and identity called Hungry, based off of the bold and transformational book, Hungry: One Woman's Battle with and Victory over Anorexia and Bulimia.

As a part of this series, today I'd like to share an incredible resource for anyone female out there, or anyone who knows anyone female out there. A few months ago, I stumbled upon this great online community called The Good Women Project. I love this website because they tackle tough issues--like eating disorders, porn, lust, dating, and more--without flinching. They've created a platform "to share stories without judgment, experiences without fear, honesty without condemnation, and questions without embarrassment."



In short, they're awesome.

Today I was caught by the title of their newest post in their Body Image + Beauty section: When it isn't a skinny day.

In the post author Laura Colle writes about what happens when it's NOT a skinny day. When the "skinny high is gone" and anxiety and guilt threaten to seize your day.

"I head to my closet, once again longing for winter so I can hide behind hoodies and scarves. I go for my default and grab the leggings that hold in my tummy and a blouse top so I don’t have to suck in.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t care so much and I could be one of those people who just lets it all hang out anyway. But I care, way too much."

Most days, I care too much, too. I try too hard. I take too much pride in my skinny days, the days the mirror cooperates. And I freeze up in failure on the fat days. This is not a way to live.

On those fat days, like Laura, I need to be snapped out of my pity party and allow God to ask me the question:

"How dare you call what I created not good enough."

How dare I forget that I am beautiful and perfect, fearfully and wonderfully made?

To read more, check out the full article here.

Also, I'd encourage you to check out the Good Women Project through your social medium of choice:

--Cruise around their website: http://goodwomenproject.com/
--Become a fan on Facebook: facebook.com/goodwomenproject
--Follow them on Twitter: @goodwomenproj

***
Can you relate to Laura? Do you ever tell God that His work isn't good enough? Challenge: What are three things you love about the way God made you?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Where is the life?

In addition to T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, last week I cleared out the Eliot section at the library. So far, I'm devouring his Collected Poems 1909-1962

My latest obsession includes excerpts from The Rock, a play that he wrote in collaboration with E. Martin Browne and the Reverend R. Webb-Odell. Though it was first performed in churches in the 1930s, I would venture to say that much of his wisdom and critiques of the Church are even more applicable today.

He writes,

"Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word"


In this age of information we see a lot of words. We're constantly skimming, scanning, cramming. But what's the point?

"Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"


I am going going going. I am reading, writing, texting, tweeting, meeting, running, chatting. Where is the life I have lost in living? Where is the wisdom I have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge I have lost in information?

I write a lot words, but do I know the Word?

I so deeply desire stillness, silence. I crave rest. I long to experience the depth of His stilling presence.

I long for Life.

What do you long for?

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Carnival in a Cubicle

Thank you, God, that you will restore my joy. 

Thank you that will turn my mourning into dancing, my weeping into laughing, and my sadness into joy.

Thank you for the gifts you've already given me. Thank you for unexpected joy. Thank you for my coworkers and friends who remind me of your love, who bring me joy, who decorate my office and make me laugh and dance and celebrate. 

Day 30: "Welcome to the "It's Aly's last day working with Christi" fiesta.  

Thank you. 

*I still have 29 more days at Plant With Purpose, but my coworker, Christi, leaves for Africa tomorrow, so Friday was technically our last day working together in the same physical office. Thanks for the festivities, Christi! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Burnout Feels Like



Drowning
Like flinging and flailing and gasping for breath. Some days it feels like I’m floating facedown in the water. Waiting for rescue or waiting for death.

I can’t even remember what it felt like to swim.

Defeat
Burnout tells me leaving my job and moving to Guatemala is the ultimate failure, not a dream fulfilled. 
Like I’ve fought the battle and lost.
Like I’ve given up on getting better.
Not that I have failed, but that I am failure, will always be a failure.

Depression
Like not sleeping, not hoping, not caring.
Like laziness and anxiety, lethargy and restlessness, all rolled into one.
And crying, lots and lots of crying.

Loss
Like losing my dream job.
Losing my identity.
Losing my passion.
Losing my joy.
Losing my self-efficacy.
Losing my mind.

Burnout feels like I’ve turned into a drama queen. 

Writing this I know I sound melodramatic, but that’s what burnout has done to me. It really feels like this, and most days I can’t see past it. Most days it’s the only story I believe. The only story I have energy to believe.

It’s why I started this blog—to share a different story, a better story. To share the story of God’s transforming love. To share a story that doesn’t end in the burnout and the failing and the flailing. To remind myself that, as hard as it is to see past all of this, I can hope for the future. That the God who opened the doors for my dream job for a time will again plant the seed of hope and joy and passion in my heart. That He is not done with me. That He does not fail. That He does not flounder. That He will not give up on me.

That He will restore my joy.

Before Jesus started his ministry, God said of him: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

Before Jesus performed miracles. Before he raised the dead. Before he called out the Pharisees. Before he fed the 5,000. Before he died on the cross. God was well pleased.

I know I’m no Jesus, but today I’d like to hope that God feels this way about all of his children. That God feels this way about me.

As I reflect on the poisons of burnout, I write in the antidote. I remember the Love. And I paste it on my mirror, write it in my journal, replace the endless word loop of criticism with this declaration of love. This is the story I will choose to believe. 

“This is my daughter, Aly, whom I love; with her I am well pleased.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who Cares?


“God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.” 

--Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (introduced to me by my wonderful friend and mentor, Kay)


It’s easier not to care. It’s easier to stay hidden, disengaged.

I don’t have to care.
I don’t have to confess.
I don’t have to be a woman of character.
I don’t have to humble myself and turn from all that is not Him.

But if I want a life with Him, I do.

First, I must lose myself. My pride. My ego. My reputation. My dignity.

First, I must admit: I am broken.

I have tried on my own. I have slipped in and out of God-consciousness. I have clutched my desires tight between my fingers, deifying them.

One year for Christmas, my best friend and I took our mothers ice skating. My friend’s mom, a sweet Korean woman who had never before set a skate-clad foot on the slippery ice death trap, was terrified. She clung to the hip height railing on the periphery and scooted her way around inch by inch. She never made it to the center swirl of more experienced skaters. She never felt the sweep of cold ice glide past her. She never hit her stride.

With the same illusory sense of control, I cling to my own desires, my own will, scooting around inch by inch all the while wondering why I haven’t yet hit my stride. 

And in my scuttling and scooting, clinging and clutching, I mess up. I stay self-focused. I act out of fear and convenience and greed. 

I turn from Him a hundred times a day, in my thoughts, my attitude, my actions.

Like Annie Dillard wrote, God doesn’t demand that I turn back to Him, that I confess my sin—or even acknowledge it for that matter. Like the stars, He will shine on whether I acknowledge Him or not.

The question I must ask myself is, what do I want more?

Do I want a life with God? Or would I rather be the queen of my own universe? Float by? Pass through? Scoot along?

Deep down I know I want a life with Him. I want His power and grace and spirit. His purpose and His presence.

If it is life with Him that I crave, I must humble myself, lose myself. Destroy my internal fa├žade of goodness. Shatter my independence. Peel my fingers off the side rail of the skating rink and release my own desires, trusting that His ways are better.

A life with Him demands these things. A life with Him is what I want. 

***
Do you think God demands that we turn to Him or not? Do you think God demands anything? What life do you want? What do you cling to instead of Him?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: You've Cat To Be Kitten Me Right Meow



On Sunday night I came across this internet meme and my new favorite cat pun. Which is ironic because yesterday at the library whilst browsing the 821.912 section, which for those of you who don’t know, is the glorious Dewey decimal ranking devoted to the poetry of T.S. Eliot, I discovered something earth shattering, for me at least.

I discovered that T.S. Eliot had a not-so-secret affinity for cats, well, writing about them at least. I found a marvelous collection of zany cat poetry titled, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

According to the shameless book flap, “These playful verses by a celebrated poet have delighted readers and cat lovers around the world.”

He originally wrote the poems in a series of letters to his godchildren. Later the poems were compiled into book form and shared with the public. Many of his memorable cat characters were later adapted for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical, Cats. 

As a single female writer/blogger I am hesitant to admit this, but if T.S.-freaking-Eliot can boldly proclaim his love of cats, then so can I. I love cats.

So you can imagine my cat-ostophic delight at this discovery. I’ve just read a few of the poems thus far, but I must agree with Time’s assessment (circa 1993, again the book flap unabashedly proclaims) that there is “Enough ferocious fancy and parody to knock the spots off most cat books.”

Now I don’t read many cat books (please stifle your surprise), but Eliot’s collection of cat poetry may quite plawsibly be the best.

Alright, alright, any more puns from me would be a feline-y, so I will defer to the master himself.

Here’s my favorite of Eliot’s cat poems, The Ad-dressing of Cats, being performed by talented mew-sicians in the musical, Cats. Enjoy!



And because we’re talking about cats, I just have to share my absolute favorite cat video on the interwebs. I warn you now, you might pee your pants.

For those with a lower tolerance for parody, but still enjoy a bit of punnery, check out the Princeton Tiger’s compilation of 56 Movie Titles Made into Cat Puns.

Whelp, cat’s all, folks! 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why I’m Trying to be a People Pleaser


"It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power." - William Wilberforce

People pleasing has a bad rap. I blame it on the extraverts, which isn’t surprising because I blame most things on the extraverts (I kid, I kid). 

I mean, they’re the ones running around agreeing to be on a million and one committees and padding their schedules with social events and favors and functions until they’re fit to burn out, right?

But in all seriousness, there has been a rich backlash against people pleasing that I find troubling.

I’ve read several wise blog posts and books and articles encouraging people of all nurturing and charismatic stripes to step back, to set boundaries, and to put themselves first for once.

I understand the sentiment. I realize this isn't an extravert specific problem. I agree that we should not base our worth or our value on other’s opinions. I get that we need boundaries.

I understand all of this, but goodness gracious I do not need that kind of advice.

I need the rejoinder: I need encouragement to actually care about what people think.

You see, on the Myers Briggs personality spectrum, I am an INTJ. By definition,
INTJs don’t give much thought to what other people think.

"INTJs spend a lot of time inside their own minds, and may have little interest in the other people's thoughts or feelings." Portrait of an INTJ

They are “strong individualists who seek new angles or novel ways of looking at things….They are very determined people who trust their vision of the possibilities, regardless of what others think. They may even be considered the most independent of all of the sixteen personality types.” —Sandra Krebs Hirsch

In a pool of autonomous, individualistic Americans, I am among the most independent, the most internally focused. I don't struggle with people pleasing the way my empathetic, nurturing friends do. I have no problem saying no to a task that doesn't fit inside my own mental framework.

I do have a problem noticing others. I have trouble encouraging others. I’d rather theorize in my head all day than ask a friend what's going on in theirs.

My problem isn’t co-dependence, but independence—a stubborn independence that often borders on isolation.

Now this isn’t a self-bashing session. I think being an INTJ is awesome. If anything, I probably think I’m too awesome. There are perks to being an INTJ. For example, we’re nicknamed the Mastermind, and we’re a rare find, accounting for only 1-4% of the population.

There are a lot of things I’m good at. For one, I’ve learned to "think my way to compassion", to come up with creative solutions to complicated problems. It could even be argued that I’m good at loving and caring for people in unique, thoughtful ways—and the world could use a greater dose of thoughtful compassion, in my opinion.

But when it comes to people pleasing, most of the time the only person I care about pleasing is myself.

And that, I believe, is completely at odds with the Christ I follow, the God I love.

He who washed feet and healed the sick and forgave the sinners, He was deeply concerned with people’s needs, deeply attuned to the thoughts and hearts of others.

In order to please people, you must have some working knowledge of what they want, of what would make them happy, of what they’re thinking and feeling.

This is the type of people pleasing I want to develop. I want to grow in empathy. I want to see beyond myself. I want to care for others. I want to love others well.

As William Wilberforce said, I want to “promote the happiness of [my] fellow creatures to the utmost of [my] power.”

That is why I am trying to be a people pleaser.

***
Let’s start with you—how can I better serve you on this blog? Is there anything I can pray for for you? Any other way I can support you?

Where do you fall on the people pleasing spectrum? Do you struggle with co-dependence or independence? Any advice?

And if you know me outside of the blogosphere, please hold me to this. I want to know you more. I want to know your thoughts and feelings.  Let me know if there’s any way I can serve you or love you better this week. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

For the Love of Mom

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!

My beautiful mother. 
In honor of my own sweet, empathetic, creative, intelligent, inquisitive, and grace-filled mother, Susan Lewis, I'm reposting a piece about the power of my mother's words and love to transcend depression and bring life to the full.

Thank you, mom, for believing in me. Thank you for living out your beliefs in such real and tangible ways. Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for teaching me to ask the question, What if I am worth loving?

***

I circled the small space in my on-campus apartment bedroom, talking to my mom on the phone. Again my mom was asking if I had gone to church. Again the answer was no.

It was a conversation like hundreds of others we had entertained that year when I spiraled in post-study-abroad-the-world-is-an-unjust-and-awful-place-depression. The conversation consisted of mostly silence, deep breaths, and occasional grunts on my part.

I thought my mom would launch into another tirade about going to church, seeking help, doing anything to get out of the pit I was in.

Instead she told me something that I've never forgotten.

She said, “I want you to feel better about yourself, not just because you should, but because it’s a reality.”

For the first time in probably my whole life, I entertained that thought for real, like really for real. What if I really am lovable? What if that is the reality? What if the guilt and shame and anger I'd placed on myself for not measuring up to whatever impossible standards I'd created was just that, something I myself had created and entrapped myself in?

What if love was the reality?

Within the next few months my depression and self-hatred hit an all-time high and I hit an all-time low, and I realized that I either needed to live like I mattered and life mattered or life would be unbearable. And my mom’s words echoed in my mind.

"You are worth loving."

With the idea that love and acceptance could maybe come from something bigger than and outside of myself, I decided to live what my mom had believed about me all along. Suspending my doubts, I launched my own Love Aly campaign in which I radically rejected any thoughts of self-hatred and did my best to "fake it till you make it," choosing to live like I loved myself even if I didn't feel it.

And it was this experience of unconditional love for myself that brought me back to church, to faith in God, to life.

Thank you seems like the understatement of a lifetime, but I'll say it anyway. Thank you, mom. I love you.

Happy Mother's Day!

***

Readers, I'd love to hear about your mom--What have your learned from your mom? What qualities do you most admire in her? How are celebrating Mother's Day?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Goodbye Graces

I've finally done it. I've accomplished a feat I thought would never happen: I finally finished One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

Wait, what? you ask. You've been talking up this book for months now and you haven't even read it all the way through?

Guilty as charged. 

When I find a book I love, that speaks my soul language, I can't rush it. Ann's the kind of writer that keeps me occupied with one paragraph, one line even, for days, weeks. 

Her obsession with eucharisteo, with giving thanks, for choosing to see life as gift, will--I hope--keep me occupied for a lifetime. 

Ann writes, "the only thing to rip out the tape echoing of self-rejection is the song of His serenade. One thousand gifts tuned me to the beat."

I've felt it too. One Thousand Gifts has tuned me to the beat. The rhythm of love. The heartbeat of joy. The grace of gratitude. 

It's the antidote to my burnout at work, my dissatisfaction with my body, my stress and busyness and discontent. Even the act of giving thanks is a gift. 

I ended the book, tummy down on a picnic blanket overlooking a duck pond on a reading lunch date I pulled from my "Bucket bucket" which was inspired by Ann's commitment to counting gifts. 

These last two months before I move to Guatemala, leave my job, I am choosing to be present. Out of a bucket of uncertain tasks, I daily embark on challenges that promise certain joy. 

Here's my week of joy in pictures: 


Take a reading lunch break with Becky to the pond--
where I finished One Thousand Gifts.

Write notes to everyone (in the office that is).

Have a picnic on the grass. 

Dress like a coworker day.
I found joy in quiet moments, in spending time with ducks--who doesn't love ducks?--, in slack lining and bocce ball tossing with coworkers, in Bananagrams and note writing. I end this week filled. And for that I am thankful. 

Where did you find joy this week?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Body Of Lies


If a friend told you she was sick, you’d respond with compassion, right?

I didn’t.

When my friend told me she was struggling with an eating disorder, I didn’t feel compassion or sympathy or concern. Instead, I was angry. Angry that she had cheated to get the body I had always envied. The sleek figure, the toned abs--it was all a lie.

I worked out, I ate healthy, I disciplined my body into shape. She just threw it all up.

As her eyes welled with tears, my stomach churned with the ugly elixir of jealousy. Outwardly, I responded with the compulsory, "I'm so sorry," and "How can I help?" Inside, I raged.

That night I lay in bed and tried to pray for her. I tried to ask God for healing. I tried to envision a picture of her healthy and whole, healed. Every time I closed my eyes, I could only see her sexy, skinny body, her tanned abs and seductive smile. Focused on her perfect body; I was blind to her pain.

I used to think eating disorders were an issue of vanity. The ultimate in first world problems. To me, eating disorders were classified by disordered actions—throwing up or not eating or working out like crazy-- not disordered thoughts.

I’d meticulously track my meals, chart my workouts—the conditioning circuits, the hill sprints, the bike rides—and stare at my stomach in the mirror, waiting for a six-pack to emerge, all the while scoffing at the crazy girls who threw up their food.


I was disciplined; they were disordered.

In the dark of the night I prayed through my anger, asking God to reveal its root. An emotion flashed bright and ugly against the dark: JEALOUSY.

I wanted her body. I wanted her discipline. I wanted the attention. --Even if it took an eating disorder to get there.

I recoiled. Sat straight up in bed.

That's when I first realized I had a disorder, too.

I didn't throw up. I didn't stop eating. I didn't engage in unhealthy behaviors. But I was just as trapped and enslaved to my workout regiment and food rules as she was to her purging. I was a fellow prisoner of comparisons, self-hatred, and the-never-good-enough. I was broken.

I stopped praying for my friend; I started praying for myself. How could I help her on her road to healing when I was so sick myself?

Over the next few months, God transformed my heart. He began to reveal the lies I believed about myself--that I was only as valuable as I was sexy, that I was a fat ugly blob if I didn't work out, that my worth was based on my daily perception of body fat. He began to reveal the lies I believed about my friend--that she was the enemy, the competition, my rival in the contest to be the thinnest, look the hottest.

And He began to replace the lies with truth: I am not my body. Sexiness does not equate value.  My friend is not the enemy.  Eating disorders go beyond vanity; the disordered thoughts and behaviors are symptoms of a greater spiritual battle, a matter of identity, of worth.

So I began to fight--for both of us, my friend and I.

I still have a long way to go. But I've learned that we will never break free from these disordered thoughts if we don't have right relationships. If we aren't honest with ourselves.

I don't want to be the kind of person whose heart doesn't break when a friend tells me she's sick. I don't want to be the kind of person who cares more about working out then spending time with friends. I don't want to believe the lies anymore.

Do you?

I hope you said yes because I want to start a series on this blog devoted to recovering our true identity as God's worthy and beautiful children. In this series, called Hungry, I'll share some of my own struggles and healing in this area and encourage you to do so as well. I hope it will be safe place to be honest about the lies we believe about ourselves and our bodies.  I hope it will be a catalyst for restoration and transformation. I'll provide challenges, activities, prayers, and resources for those who want to join me on this journey to freedom.

I'll start by sharing the best resource I've found. My friend, Jessica Skinner, wrote a book about her victory over anorexia and bulimia. Her book has transformed my life and my relationships and brought healing and light to places of darkness.

For those of you who can relate to these thoughts, I encourage you to buy it. Read it. Share it.

For those of you who can't relate to the eating disorder part, but have ever struggled with self-worth, identity, or addiction. Buy it. Read it. Share it. 

For those of you who know someone or have even the remotest of possibilities of knowing someone someday who is suffering from eating disorders, low self-esteem, or distorted body image and want to learn ways to better care for and support them. Buy it. Read it. Share it.

For those of you who live in Southern California or have a tv or know any one who does--even the men out there. Buy it. Read it. Share it.

And for those of you who can't afford it, email me at lewis.aly@gmail.com and I will buy you a copy myself. I think it's worth it. I think you're worth it.

Let's journey together to denounce the body of lies and walk in His truth and freedom. 


Jessica was recently featured in  the Newport Beach Independent! To read more about Jessica's heart and journey and how eating disorders are no game, click here.

***
Give me feedback! Do you resonate with this topic? What kind of resources would you like to see? Have you experienced healing in this area?