I failed less this time…..

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“All day, every day, I have to fight off negative thoughts.” This was one of the most powerful things I didn’t know I needed to hear. It was profound, yet so simple. One of my favorite speakers said this and as she shared I was reminded – she is human. No matter how much I respect her, she is not perfect. In spite of her struggles, God is using her.

I was impacted by it for a couple different reasons. First, I can easily buy into the lie that in order to walk out my calling, I have to have everything figured out.

Second, I don’t like to admit struggle when I’m still in the trenches. We all often wait until we are on the other side of the struggle. Waiting allows us to communicate our struggle in the past tense.

We do that because it’s scary. It is a lot more vulnerable to speak about something you are currently struggling with than something you have reframed, repackaged and have control over. I’m realizing I do this more than I would like to admit.

In order to combat that, and encourage you to do the same, I’m going to tell you about my week.

I have a lot of anxiety around traveling. My trauma taunts me before I leave telling me something terrible is going to happen. And why wouldn’t it? Horrible things have happened several times before. Anxiety stirs up my stomach so much that before I even leave my IBS is in full force (I know TMI). My IBS causes me to feel nauseous, which is an anxiety trigger for me. On top of that I have a daughter who is anxious and doesn’t do great with traveling either. And as much as I attempt a peaceful exterior, she knows. So I have to try hard to not be anxious for her…which causes more anxiety. I get angry that I can’t just be anxious, but that I have to try to control my anxiety for her. Then I just get mad. It’s a vicious cycle.

A week ago I headed out of town on a four day, three night school trip with Piper’s grade. I rode separately, but close behind were 3 buses full of 5th graders. I had never been there. I didn’t trust the kitchen staff to accommodate my dietary needs. I was already behind on sleep. It helped that Bryan was along for the trip, but by my anxiety cycle was already in full force. Piper started the day in good spirits, but I knew all it would take was a sideways glance to push her over the edge.

It was cold. I didn’t get enough sleep. I was pleasantly surprised by the food. I had a lot of fun getting to know the kids. I had to take a lot of deep breaths. My thoughts would start to spin and several times I had to bring myself back to the present, to ground myself to reality. Piper did better than I thought. Overall, it was actually easier than I thought.

We returned home and then, after a 24 hour turn around, Cole and Bryan left for a weekend retreat. I felt really vulnerable when they left. The trip was better than I expected, but I was exhausted.

I also struggle when Bryan leaves town. As with traveling, my trauma taunts me before he leaves. Lies bombard me telling me that something terrible is going to happen to us or to him while he is away. When they left, I felt myself getting anxious and angry. I was angry at Bryan for going to the retreat right after we got back. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I also knew it meant another 2 days for me to struggle to maintain normalcy. I was angry that anger was my reaction.

Piper and I had a great weekend. We rented movies, got special treats and even got pedicures. But I was weary. I prayed all weekend that I wouldn’t be angry at Bryan when he got home. But when Bryan and Cole got home, I failed. I was angry.

I woke up discouraged on Monday. I was angry at myself. I was frustrated with my reaction toward Bryan. I was tired of the cycle I so often find myself in. I wanted to be done with the fight. I felt like a fake. I felt like if people knew my current struggles, any respect I have earned would be wiped away.

But then you know what I did? At that moment, I dropped to my knees and let go. I couldn’t do Monday in my own strength. I forced myself to worship, even though I didn’t feel like it. I read the bible even though I didn’t want to. I poured my heart out to God, all the good and the bad.

And as the day went on, my discouragement began to fade. I was able to acknowledge that in the midst of a week that wasn’t perfect and one full of imperfect reactions – I had some wins to celebrate. The week was a success. It was a success because I was less anxious than last time. I was less angry at Bryan than I was the time before. I had more fun with Piper. And I didn’t let my fear win. It wasn’t easy, but I did it all anyway. And because of that I won.

I share my story with you for a couple of reasons. First, as I mentioned, I felt compelled to share this because I think we need to stop waiting to share our wins until everything is wrapped up in a nice, perfect bow. I think we need to rejoice with people in the afternoon after they struggle to get out of bed in the morning. We need to celebrate when we react differently, even if it’s just one time, than we ever had before. We need to humbly declare when we are doing something hard that currently feels incredibly uncomfortable. We need to invite people into our struggle today, in the midst of it all.

When I have done this, two powerful things happen. One, my vulnerability often draws out vulnerability from others. As I share my current struggles, people almost always respond in kind. Grace abounds and we no longer feel alone in the world. There is nothing more beautiful than being fully known, yet fully loved.

Second, there is something about brokenness and humility that welcomes the Holy Spirit. I can’t totally explain why, but I know that God draws close to the broken hearted. When I am truly honest in my brokenness with another human being, I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Honesty and brokenness create space for the Holy Spirit to move in my midst.

So I encourage you to try it. Don’t take my word for it. Make a call. Send a text. Be honest, truly honest. Celebrate your win today, tell someone about it. Be honest with your struggle, today. It will be hard, but do it anyway. See what happens, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

I also share about my week in hopes that it will serve as a graceful reminder. Take a deep breath in the presence of these truths – you do not have to be perfect for God to use you. You just need to be humble and willing. You’re human, not perfect. God’s still at work in you.

Failing forward,

Lisa

Identity crisis

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Last week (Lies) we talked about lies and how the lies we believe about ourselves keep us from seeing ourselves as God does. After you take some time to identify the lies that have kept you from seeing yourself more clearly….

We then need to take a look at where we are finding our identity. 

Before diving in, let’s establish our definition of identity. It’s one of those words that we innately understand, yet struggle to define. According to Merriam Webster, identity is “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” It’s who we are at our core. It’s the place from where we make our decisions. The definition itself does not sound complicated, but most people I know (myself included) do not find their identity to be simple and straightforward. It feels complicated and unsteady. It feels like it’s always evolving and changing. 

It feels that way because we tend to find it in the wrong places. 

We all find our identity in a variety of places. We are defined by who our friends are, how good we are at a sport or our job title. We are defined by the roles we assume and the parts that we play. 

I tend to find my identity in my job.

When I was 13, I felt a strong calling from God into vocational ministry (meaning I get paid to do ministry). No matter how much I give my time and talents to others, if I’m not getting paid for it, I can easily feel insignificant and insecure. It’s like if I’m not getting paid to do ministry, I feel like I’m wasting my life and my calling.

I’m currently in a job transition. Because I don’t want to act out of impulse or desperation, I decided I would substitute teach while I waited for what was next. Every time someone asks me what I do for work, I pause and have to bite my tongue. I want to go into a 20 minute explanation of why I am substitute teaching and make sure they know it is just temporary. But then I take a deep breath and say with as much confidence as I can “I am a substitute teacher.” Period. No explanation. I know there is nothing wrong with being a substitute teacher. I only have to work 2 days a week and I have full control over my schedule. But somewhere down the line I started to believe if I was not getting paid to do ministry, then I didn’t match up. My identity has become rooted in my job status. 

I also find my identity in being a runner. I am proud of my accomplishments as a runner and my identity is deeply tied to my ability to run. When I can’t run, I feel lost. I also tend to link my identity to my parenting. My joy and happiness rises and falls on the accomplishments and behaviors of my children – the good and the bad.

It’s okay for me to enjoy running, to have a passion to serve in ministry or a desire to be a good parent. It becomes a problem when my value as a person rises and falls based on the failures and successes of those things in which I have placed value. When that happens, it is a sign to me that I have replaced my value with what I value.   

Let me give you an example. Say that you have always been the best runner on the team. For whatever reason, you have a rough season. You could react one of two ways. 1. You could feel sad and disappointed, which are natural and acceptable emotions. You feel disappointed about the season, but you don’t feel disappointed in yourself. You value running, but your value isn’t based on you being a runner. 2. You could be devastated and feel like you are a failure. You quit. You feel like if you can’t win, you probably shouldn’t try. That is a sign that you have placed your value on what you value. 

 It’s no wonder our identity feels complicated and unsteady. It feels that way because we have placed our value on things that are uncertain, evolving and ever changing. In doing that we smudge our lenses. We stop seeing ourselves as God does, instead we see ourselves through the lenses of the roles we assume and the parts we play. 

And we will continue to feel that way until our identity is rooted in the one who does not change. This is the one who is certain, consistent and true. 

Jesus. 

So how do we know when we have a misplaced identity? And how do we find our identity in Christ?

First, check your filters. I believe that God has given us two different filters to use as we seek to find the truth:

1. Our emotions. Yes, our emotions. Our anger, our discouragement, and our despair can be our teachers. Let’s use the previous running example. You had a bad season. Do you feel disappointed or sad? Those are appropriate emotions. Do you feel depressed and useless? If so, you have probably set your value on something you value. Our emotional reactions are a direct result of the condition of our heart. Let your reactions and your emotions help guide you. 

2. God’s word. He tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made. He has promised us that he has a purpose and a plan for our lives. He has given us the power over fear and he has called us his friend. He says that we are more than conquerors and that in him we are new creations. Those are just a few of the many ways God sees us. So when we feel contrary to God’s truth about ourselves, it’s time to take note. Somewhere along the way we started to internalize a lie or misplacef our value. In turn, our lenses got smudged. When that happens, we no longer can see ourselves like God does. 

After checking your filters, it’s time to get to work.

Romans 12:2 tells us “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

Renew is an action word. I think as Christians we often read God’s word and want whatever we read to just happen. But more often than not, we have to put the work in. Renew means to replace something old. It’s super hard work. But in order to see ourselves like God does, we have to replace the lies and values that we have allowed to smudge our lenses and replace them with the truth about who God says we are. To do that, we start by using the filters. Again, ask yourself, what  are your emotions revealing to you about the lies you believe? What are your reactions communicating to you?  How do your feelings about yourself match up with the truth in God’s word? 

Write down what you notice. Make a list. List out all the things that are smudging your view. Then next to them, write the truth.

Example:

Lie: I feel like a failure. Truth: I made a mistake but I am fearfully and wonderfully made

Lie: I am too scared. Truth: I do NOT have to live under the spirit of fear. I am more than a conqueror. 

Carry your list around. Pause through the day and run things through the filters. And then speak truth to those lies. Remind yourself where your value lies. Then do that again – and again – and again until you find that you are no longer looking at yourself with smudged lenses. You will start to see someone who is fearfully and wonderfully made, who does not live under the spirit of fear, who is more than a conqueror, a friend of God, full of purpose – a new creation. 

And when you start to see that person, then you will know that you are starting to see yourself like God does.

Let’s continue to seek 20/20 vision together,

lisa