Struggling Not to Struggle: Change is Hard Work

It has been 42 days and twelve hours since I had my last Diet Coke.

…and I still instinctively reach for one at least three times every. single. day.

I gave up Diet Coke for the obvious reasons.  Anything that contains ingredients you can’t pronounce without getting tongue-tied is inevitably going to be bad for you.  As I have spent the last several years trying to get the upper hand on an autoimmune disorder, I was well aware that the three to four cans of Diet Coke I was drinking daily were not helping.

Yet there was another reason I gave up the Diet Coke:  One day it dawned on me that I was not drinking it because I was thirsty, or liked the flavor, or needed a caffeine boost.  I drank it because it was a habit. Around 11:00 every morning I would zombie up myself and stumble for the nearest can I could find. Quite simply, I drank Diet Coke because I had been drinking it for years and the brain was on auto-pilot.

Since trying to awaken myself to a new habit of not drinking that can of obsession, I have spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on habits, change, and what it takes to be the best version of one self. Where else in my life are bad habits whittling away family relationships, work performance, and most importantly my devotion to Christ?

Through this, I’ve determined if you want to be the best version of you–whether that’s you personally, or you as the representative of a family or organization–it’s going to take hard work to change.  In the development of habits, the ones that are unhealthy are the ones of which you are least aware.  What are the things you find yourself just doing because you do them?  Are those actions contributing toward the person you want to be?

If you are looking to be healthier in your personal world, your work world, or your social world, you will need to take some radical steps in a different direction. Your make-over won’t just happen.  Even if you take a step in the right direction today, you must resolve to take that step every single day. Once is not enough.   You will need all the courage and conviction you had on day one and you will have to exert constant energy toward your goal. If you’re really making a change from old to something new it should feel like you’re rowing up-stream.  Are you struggling to keep pointed in the direction of your goal?  Or are you just floating along with the current of old habits?

It’s so easy to slip right back to where you started.  No difference.  No change.  Just the status quo…no matter how unhealthy that may be.

Where are you needing resolve?  To what are you inclined to slip back into?  My little can of Diet Coke is teaching me what a mighty big challenge change can be. I understand your weariness and frustration.  I get how silly it feels struggling not to struggle.   But don’t give up!  Keep going!  Give it all  you have got!

Advent: The Things of Which We are Helpless

There are some things in life of which we are helpless.

My baby turns 16 years old today.  I’ve been looking forward to celebrating him in a special way since the calendar rolled into December.  But the common cold I thought I had turned on a bitter heel last night and declared itself the flu.  I missed the staff Christmas party I had been looking forward to and it’s looking very likely I will also miss the boy’s birthday party.  And I am completely helpless to change it.

I’m laying here between violent reminders of this sickness trying to think about Advent, but finding the two realities incongruent.  One would not think to put “ravaged flu-wrecked body” and “sweet, baby Jesus” in the same sentence.  (But, alas! I just did.)

It doesn’t take much reflection to see how Advent is about acknowledging the wrecked places that Jesus chose to enter. He saw our helplessness and came to our rescue.  With the sweetness of His mercy, He came to minister to our disappointment and to restore our devastated places.

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”  Romans 5:15

This truth will not change my immediate physical condition, but it has lifted my heart to a place of gratitude.  We have a Savior who sees our helpless condition and doesn’t leave us alone in it.  Christ continues to enter our helpless places–the flu, cancer, broken marriages, Afghanistan.  In all these places, He is present and His presence makes all the difference; for to be helpless does not mean that we must be hopeless.

Where is your helpless place?  Not only does Christ enter this place, He understands it.  The One who was once the helpless babe in a manger sees and understands.  He became helpless so that you and I could have hope!  As you continue to prepare your heart in this advent season, give thanks today that Christ is present in the things of which we are helpless.

Embracing Your Inner Hero

Do any of us ever feel we can be the hero our own story requires us to be? 

Yesterday at the Community Enrichment for our Children’s Ministry, I taught on the need for us to be a protagonist, or hero, for the students in our classrooms.  This year our theme is “I Love to Tell the Story…”  Obviously, the story we CM workers love to tell is the story of Jesus.  But it’s told from an unique perspective–our personal perspective.  As we teach the Word, we communicate how Jesus intersects the stories we live.  We help our ‘readers’ get a view of the Author’s world by conecting them to the feelings, sights and sounds we experience as walk with Jesus.  We are grounded in who we are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14) and our lives paint a picture for our students of who they too can be in Him.  Our story inspires them to believe that Jesus can intersect their story–at home, at school, on the soccer field.  We let them see how big our shoes of faith are and invite them to take a little walk in them; knowing some day they will fill them with their own faith. 

As I was teaching, a random thought ran through my mind: “If I were reading my story would I identify myself as the protagonist?”   There are very few days that I see myself as a hero.  Even less so at this moment.  

 I still experience a lot of self-doubt about my contribution in life.  Heroes don’t, they offer their best even when it’s not invited…often they offer it because it’s needed, not welcomed. 

I get my feelings hurt easily.  That’s not supposed to happen to heroes.  They’re supposed to rise above their own sadness, insecurity, anger and frustration.  Like a magnet drawn to the north they hone in on the feelings of others and act for their interest.

I often get confused.  Heroes don’t.  They have laser focus on their vision of inspiration. 

I realize these statements relugate me to the category of ‘antagonist.’   Yet, maybe that’s the best description for me.  There’s too much truth in the saying, “You’re your own worst enemy” for me to think it wouldn’t apply to me. 

This week has some hard things for me to face.  I’m already looking for places to hide and feelings to deflect.  Being a coward really is the easy way out.  I want to be the hero in my story, but there’s a lot of risk and pressure in the trying.

Am I the only one who has to dare themselves to be a hero over and over again?  When your mind knows the truths your heart can’t quite believe, what do you do?  It’s not a rhetorical question:  Really?  What do YOU do?  How do you embrace your inner hero?

Living Over the Objections of Others

“Most come here over someone’s objections…Some of you are living over someone’s objections as you struggle to find your God-given identity and your place in His kingdom work.”

These words spoken today by Dr. Richard Mouw penetrated my heart in a profound way and with no warning the tears poured from the deep rivers my heart had dammed up for years.

I have thought about, dreamed about, prayed about, yes…even avoided, Seminary for at least 15 years. But today it became a reality.  With it came exhilaration, expectation…and fear.

What Dr. Mouw articulated is the tension I live with every day.  I possess a desperate desire to be equipped and empowered for ministry.   However, like a scarlet letter, the little letter ‘f’ for ‘female’ must always be checked on every inventory I have ever considered for the place I hope to play in God’s kingdom work.   I am painfully aware that to be who I believe God has called me  to be requires I “live over the objections of others.”

I hate that I believe the lies about gender limitations more than I trust the truth that God has spoken to my heart.  I hate that I care more about what others will say about me than treasuring God’s approval.  I hate that to walk the pastures He has promised to lead me through will probably mean that I will be required to walk through the valley of shadows experienced by misunderstandings, ended relationships and loss.  All things I hate; things that keep me up at night; things I fear more than anything else.

Today my heart consented to what my head already knew and tonight they are consoling each other with the truth that living to God’s approval is better than never doing anything bold enough of which others could object.

What are you not doing because you are afraid of others objections?

“beyond labels”

This last week I have been called “brave,” “liberal,” “feminist,” and a “coward.”  These were all very interesting responses to my announcing I have applied to attend seminary.  I suppose these labels are to be expected for a woman who treasures her calling and is still trying to work out the framework of Biblical femininity within a community of people who are also trying to figure it out.  Honestly, none of the responses or labels surprised me.

However, my response has taken me by surprise.  I’d like to say that the way in which I am labeled by others does not bother me, but I’d be lying.  I enjoy the affirmation of others.  In the absence of affirmation, I camp out in  fear. 

Reading Franis Chan’s “Forgotten God” this morning has made me consider if I enjoy the affirmation of others more than the affirmation of God.  Do I fear other’s disapproval more than I long for the approval of God?   Chan says, “It means refusing to let your fears of what others think, your fears of rejection, keep you from pursuing the truth about the Holy Spirit and whatever else God is teaching you and calling you to do” (p. 46).

So why would a woman go to seminary?  What is it that God is teaching me and calling me to do? I am positive that God is calling me to be all that I can be in the image of God, for His glory (2 Cor. 3:17-18).  For whatever reason, seminary is a part of my becoming.  

Today I am moving beyond the labels to be affirmed by the Counselor and Great Affirmer.   There is truth in His affirmation.  There is confidence in His leading.  I’m refusing to let the labels or fear convince me otherwise.