State of Limbo

So, the other day I was eating grapes and the last one I planned on eating tasted like the child of a sour patch kid and a tomato. Uck! It makes me shiver just replaying it in my mind! Thankfully, I had backup grapes to wash out the horrific taste from my mouth!

You are probably asking yourself, “Where in the world is she going with this?” Well, to be honest I’m not entirely sure, but this grape fiasco really got me thinking about life.

Peanut M&Ms are my favorite candy. Now, I’m sure you are confused about everything, except the fact that I love food! It is dangerous for me to be around Peanut M&Ms, because I can eat them like nobody’s business. But, sometimes a terrifying event occurs that catches me off guard: I get an M&M with a bad peanut inside. Anyone who has experienced this knows the soul-crushing effects. Yet, Peanut M&Ms are still my favorite candy, even with the risk of occasionally discovering a less than ideal tasting peanut. I do not eat Peanut M&Ms or grapes with the expectation that their taste will potentially give me the heebie-jeebies, otherwise I would not willingly eat or enjoy eating them at all.

This is the point God started to reveal something to me. I recently read a book by Grace Thornton titled I Don’t Wait Anymore. For any girl out there who needs a perspective shift and a spiritual challenge to embrace the incredible journey God has planned for each of us, regardless if it matches our expectations, this is a must read. For the girl (like me) who is perpetually single or is seeking to find the purpose for her life, Grace Thornton forces you to question where you place your identity and the expectations you place on God. Whether you are idolizing marriage, the perfect job, or appearance you have longed for, prayed for, and worked for, Thornton suggests that this mindset “would turn things that God designed to point us to Him into things we expect Him to give us in order to fill the holes we hold Him responsible for creating (p. 70).” This perspective encourages the idea that God is good only when life is good and it is hard to find God’s presence in unexpected challenges.

Girls, please don’t feel like I am calling you out! I am preaching to myself right now. We are not the first and will not be the last people to unknowingly place expectations on God and experience doubt and confusion when those expectations are challenged or seemingly unmet. The Israelites expected God to provide them with food in the wilderness. He did. He made manna rain down from the heavens (Exodus 16). Sounds like something you could expect the God of the universe to do, right?! But, after 40 years of manna, the Israelites expected more of God after He had continuously answered their prayers to be nourished and demanded that He give them meat (Numbers 11). They overlooked His provision and goodness for their needs and focused on their desires. This dilemma made Moses question God’s purpose for the journey in the wilderness and led to the rebuttal of all rebuttals from God. Not only did God send the Israelites more meat than they could stand, He asked “Is there a limit to the Lord’s power? Now you will see whether or not my words come true.” (Numbers 11:23)

A similar situation occurred with my main man, Jesus. The Pharisees proclaimed that since “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, And his sisters live right here among us (Mark 6:3),” that he could not be the Messiah. The Pharisees were so fixated on the specifics of their idealized version of the Son of God that they missed the power of His messages that were “quite unlike the teachers of the religious law (Mark 1:22),” that set Him apart from any and every one. Because they already had pictured what God’s blessing would look like, they were blind to the most miraculous gift God has ever given, because it was not what they expected.

In both of these instances, God provides for the needs of His people, in the form of food and a Savior (NBD!). But, these massive blessings are overlooked, because people can’t get over themselves and their precise expectations of God’s plan for their lives. Since being slapped with this realization, I have felt like I’m holding a daisy in my hand plucking off petals until I know the answer to my spiritual relationship issue. I’m not debating if “He loves me, He loves me not”. Thankfully, I am confident in that answer. But, I’m questioning “To expect, To not expect”. My heart and mind are in a limbo state. In an attempt to destruct the expectations I have placed on Him, I have found myself expecting less of Him. Talk about Jekyll and Hyde thoughts! For example, rather than expecting God to provide me with a godly husband, at times I have convinced myself that I need to get comfortable with the idea of being lonely forever. Either way, these thoughts encourage me to focus on desires I do not feel like are being met, rather than the blessings God has already provided and continues to provide everyday that may not be exactly what I expected, like my friendship with Maddie. Either of these trains of thought lead me to miss my ultimate destination: God.

“He had pieced our paths together in a way we never could’ve imagined through the seeming wastelands of failed dreams and changed plans. “I doesn’t look anything like I thought it would.”(p. 125) ” That one bad grape or peanut inside an M&M made the next bite so much sweeter and memorable (I take eating seriously!). You don’t want to anticipate the scary, plan-altering events in life, because getting out of bed in the morning would be an absolute chore. That is why we can rest in the fact that although those unexpected events or seasons may arise, God is faithful, His mercies are new everyday (Lamentations 3:22-23) and He plans to share His victory with us forever (John 16:33). Even in the bad grape seasons of life, God promises to be with us.

Ultimately, our confidence in eating good grapes has to increase and the fear of eating gross grapes has to decrease. Or in the words of John 3:30, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” His desire for my life is greater than the desires I place on my life, because Ephesians 3:20 is no joke! Now I am working to replace my specific expectations of God with an overarching one, that He is AMAZING and is working in me, giving me the desire and the power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13). This process is not cured overnight, but by replacing my expectations with God’s promises, He is transforming my desires. Even though He is the only One who knows the unknown, when I believe He holds my future with plans to prosper me, I can “know the truth, and the truth will set [me] free” (John 8:32).

So, if you have felt discouraged or unfulfilled lately, grab some grapes or Peanut M&Ms and contemplate life when you bite into one that makes your tongue do cartwheels. It might make your heart do one too!

Love,

Pay

Learning to Be Still

Where my fellow over-thinkers at?? I am quite literally ALWAYS living in my head to some degree… replaying that conversation from yesterday (or from 3 years ago and still cringing at my response), thinking about my next meal (let’s be honest, this is probably the most frequent), dreaming about my ideal future life, etc. While spending a lot of time in your head is not necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to a dangerous slippery slope of emotional distress and unhealthy fixation. Let me elaborate…

As an emotional, identity-seeking, individualistic enneagram type 4, I have mastered the art of overthinking. I am driven by my emotions.. A “feeler” rather than a “thinker,” who spends a lot of time internally processing through all of my emotions to make sense of why I feel the way I do. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the enneagram, us 4s tend to “default” to sadness, determined to feel through all the negative emotions to get a better understanding of our identity and to better be able to relate to others. I am not only driven by my emotions, but by my strong desire for deep relationships with people. Because of this, I can put a lot of weight on my interactions with people and form unhealthy attachments to people. Through these interactions I end up placing expectations on myself as well as the people I’m interacting with and amplify my own need for approval in the process.

I recently came across a verse that hit me harder than the struggle bus. Galatians 1:10 says this, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

YIKES.

Okay woah woah woah.. I mean it’s not a sin for me to want to connect with people so don’t try to tell me I’m not a servant of Christ.. Jeez Paul. Isn’t it funny how quickly we can jump on the defensive when we know we’ve been called out? After taking my pride out of the equation, I thought about this verse. It’s true that community and relationships with others are AMAZING things that come from God himself, and should be sought out; however, the danger is when those relationships become more important to you than your relationship with God.

IDOLS.

In his song Clear the Stage (go check this song out it’s amazing!), Jimmy Needham describes idols as anything that you want with all your heart, anything you give all your love, anything you put before your God, and anything you can’t stop thinking of. Take a minute to identify what you spend the most time thinking about… is it your significant other (or desire for one)? Your job? Food? Past or future? For me it’s all of the above, and rarely do I choose to clear out any space for God.

The other day I had an emotional breakdown out of NOWHERE. I’m talking puffy cheeks, tears.. The whole shebang. Now as I mentioned before.. I’m a feeler. I’m used to having strong emotions and dealing with them, but this time I was caught off guard. Apparently a lot of feelings had been circulating in my mind without my knowledge (or permission) and they all got triggered as I left a coffee shop where I had been doing homework. I got on the phone with Payton a couple hours later and the word vomit and tears came flooding out before I knew what was happening. I won’t hash out everything that caused those feelings, because you would be here a while.. But let’s just say that it was well rooted in relationships and experiences that I spend a LOT of time thinking about. I had been putting so much of my energy toward overthinking every aspect of these experiences and interactions with people that I drove myself to insanity without even realizing it.

The pastor at the church I go to has been talking a lot about attachments. He says that you know you are attached to something by looking at how much energy you put toward it. I realized that I have been putting all of my energy (and therefore forming attachments) to people, experiences, and expectations rather than God. I’ve allowed those things to occupy all of my head and heart space when I should have been letting God in to still my constantly running mind. I’ve constantly heard the words “be still,” but never known how to actually apply this. Every time I try to sit still in silence, I either get bored, fall asleep, or my mind starts wandering which defeats the purpose. I have not come anywhere near mastering this.. But lately I’ve been trying to learn how to be still. Instead of letting my mind focus on all my fears or fantasies, I’ve been learning to put my energy toward simply being. Clearing the stage of all the things that distract me from merely being in God’s presence. God is always present, but I am often not aware of this until I choose to be present to Him. Being still and shutting off the overthinking is hard for me, and it probably always will be. But the peace that comes when I allow God to steady my anxious heart makes it worth it.

So my question for you is this… What do you put all of your energy towards? What is keeping you from being in God’s presence? Perhaps self-awareness is the first step toward freedom.

Sending a hug!

Mads

Eternal Tree Pose

It had been one of those semesters where the light at the end of the of the tunnel [Spring Break] seemed to be getting dimmer as I was drawing closer. A grueling nine straight weeks of going to school, teaching my heart out and feeling beat down emotionally and physically, I desperately needed a perspective shift, because my focus was solely on the obstacles I was and would potentially face with the students in my classroom.

No doubt, God called me to teach. But, I allowed myself to bask in the desperate darkness of frustration in the Land of “What Ifs”, more than the glorious light in the Land of “What’s Next God”. Even after two years of questioning God’s plan and sporadic moments of understanding His purpose for the pain, I could not seem to shake the dust off my soul. My default, unkempt thought process led me to view God as my personal Reward Giver, rather than my Ultimate Reward. Leaving part of my heart in cobwebs, unable to notice what God placed in front of me, right where He led me, His goodness.

For several weeks, I had my quiet time in my classroom, before students filled the desks and biology words exited my mouth. I continued to pray, “God, please let me see you, in the little things, in a student, and in me.” Yet, once the morning bell rang, it was as if I experienced short term memory loss and forgot to be on the lookout for God’s Presence. By the dismissal bell, I felt drained and uneffective. I was missing the point.

One day my legs with the flexibility of steel rods were attempting downward dogs and warrior poses, in a yoga video. It was the scheduled recovery video for the week, after breathtaking cardio and butt-wrenching leg workouts earlier in the week. All of the videos in the program include a stretch portion at the end, but I typically skipped it. I didn’t see the need to spend time on something that wasn’t burning many calories. Although I was looking forward to the easier workout, I continued to watch the clock tick down, like a hawk. Yet, it was here that God spoke to me.

I initially struggled to find myself in tree pose, with one foot planted on the floor and the other resting on the planted foot. Once I found my center, by looking at the same point on the wall, I instantly gained pride in my ability to not collapse for the past 10 seconds of my existence. The yoga instructor began discussing the importance of finding balance in life. Yada, yada, tick, tick. But, then she threw me a curve ball. “Close your eyes,” she said. Simple enough, right?

Wrong!

I was wobbling all over the place. I was losing my balance, because I was missing the point I had been looking at directly. God hit me like a wrecking ball right there. And, it looked like He did as I stumbled to regain my balance.

Everyday He has given me the opportunity to see Him in my classroom. Yet, I wasn’t focused on this point, I had no balance in this area of spiritual discipline. I was asking Him daily for a point to fix my eyes on, but I seemed to be refusing to look to Him. Therefore, by the end of the day, I was left with my head in my hands wondering why God never revealed Himself to me and why I felt like the purpose and passion God gave me for teaching had disappeared. As I contemplated the physical reenactment of my inward spiritual struggle, a verse came to mind,   2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

I was expecting God to be flashy and show up in what I my eyes were focusing on: student’s emotions, test scores and teaching strategies. Rather, He met me where I was, with my eyes closed, to show me that my focus was in the wrong place. Balancing is not impossible with your eyes closed, but it does require more intense concentration. The same is true for a strong relationship with God.

You will lean and sway, like a tree in the wind, as you learn to trust and follow Him, sometimes to the point where you almost topple over. But, when you choose to align yourself with Him and focus on His plan for your life and His kingdom, you regain your balance, your passion to be with Him and know Him more. Colossians 2:6-7 says, “6 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” This verse reminds me of when I initially asked God to be my Focus, my Savior, the Center of my life and the passion that came with that invitation. But, Paul also insinuates that this isn’t a one time decision in verse 6, but a constant choice to focus on Him and His goodness. As I stood in tree pose with my eyes closed, the instructor directed me to, “Fight for my balance and to be rooted like a tree, standing tall and firm.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the way my clever God had shown up in the workout I always skipped over and couldn’t wait to end. He was stretching my faith by showing me the importance of establishing my focus on Him. Rather than skimming for His Presence in what I can see, remembering that roots grow underground, out of view, and my faith grows out of His love and a reciprocal pursuit of one another. God used a mundane yoga video to help me grasp the divine significance of gaining rest and rejuvenation in acknowledging His Presence. There is no doubt that He is in my ordinary, but I have to choose not to skip over the commonplace and make a point to focus on Him in order to find balance in what He makes extraordinary.