The first thing I noticed was the smell of rotting meat.
I’d just flown back from a two day conference, where I’d sat elbow to elbow with CEOs and marketers for million (or billion) dollar companies, learning from a multiple time bestselling author and renowned speaker.
Before the conference, I obsessed over what I would wear, over how I would introduce myself, over the chip in my nail polish that would surely give me away as an impostor who didn’t belong there. The stunning location and beautiful event materials made me want to shrink inside my navy blazer and disappear.
But then, the conference got underway. I stumbled through introductions, and to my shock, no one told me to leave. In fact, they actually listened to my ideas and took my suggestions seriously. No one interrupted me, or made me feel like I was too young, or too idealistic, or just didn’t understand the way things worked. They actually listened to what I had to say, and found it valuable. By day two, I felt like I belonged – like I could be confident and speak up, because I’d be taken seriously. I was taken seriously.
And then the conference ended. And that brings me back to the smell.
As soon as I walked through the door to my office, I smelled decomposing meat.
While my colleague and I were gone at the conference, some other team members had been using our workspace, without asking. They’d had some BBQ for dinner, and left their trash on our desks.
Dirty napkins, empty coffee cups, and of course, the rotting carcass that I’d smelled when I first walked in.
These just happened to be the same team members that we’d just spent hundreds of hours of our time over the last few weeks in planning for a project for them, and then my colleague spent two solid weeks of travel, and several late nights, early mornings, and squeezing in their phone calls and helping them even while we were at the conference. They’re the same team members who don’t fill out request forms, and demand 24 hour turnarounds without apologies or even a thank you.
I bet it’s happened to you too, even if you don’t work in an office. A few hours after your birthday celebration, you realize that you’re the one they all expect to wash the sink full of sticky plates and silverware, and clean the cake out of the carpet. After the Mother’s Day service at church, your husband complains about the laundry not being finished, and the kids are whining about what you fixed them for dinner. You come home from coffee with a friend feeling refreshed, only to find the house is in shambles inside and your husband is so happy you’re home … so he can go back to cleaning his car.
The injustice stings. These are the people we’re trying to help, and instead of showing appreciation, they just demand more, or respond with outright disrespect.
I set off to find those co-workers. I was going to show them the photos I’d just taken of the evidence. I was going to demand an answer to why they thought that was an ok way to behave.
They weren’t in their offices. I felt a little thrill as I thought of being avenged, and I swung by my boss’s office. But she wasn’t there either. Still angry, I marched back to my office.
I cleared off and threw away all the trash. The injustice of it still burned.
Driving home, my mind drifted to weekend plans, and I remembered suddenly that Good Friday was in two days, followed by Easter Sunday.
And then slowly, like sunlight rising over the edge of the horizon, it began to dawn on me.
Two thousand years ago this week, Jesus suffered mockery, abuse, torture, and finally death at the hands of the very people he came to serve.
But it wasn’t just for those people in Jerusalem that he willingly suffered and died. It was because he knew that I would sin that he died, so that I could be right with God.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Friend, sometimes we will be despised. We may actually suffer at the hands of those we’re trying to help.
But thank God, we have a savior who knows what it is to suffer. And he modeled for us servant leadership, and true love. And when he calls us to love the unlovely, he’s already shown us what that looks like.
Because he first loved us, when we were still sinners, trash and all.
When I look back over 2014, nothing really stands out. It feels like a dark, stressful, rushed, frustrated, and tired blur. I don’t even have to look at my resolutions for last year to know I didn’t accomplish many of them.
I spent so many long hours trying to finish a project at work – all to realize at the end of the year that it was out of my control. I neglected my family, friends, and all the things I enjoy, really all for next to nothing.
I feel like last year was a waste. Yes, we paid off some debt, we bought our first house, I got promoted, we’re now expecting our first baby – but while we passed so many milestones, I didn’t take the time to enjoy them and let them sink in. Looking back now, I’m saddened.
This year, beyond just checking off my resolutions, I want to end in a better place than when I started. Better spiritually, relationally, emotionally … all around healthier, happier, and more satisfied because I’ve spent my energy on what really matters in life and what refreshes and refuels me.
This year is going to be really hard. I’m having a baby in July, Lord willing. And my dad is getting deployed this spring, to Liberia, to provide security at the Ebola camps. Talk about scary.
And who knows what will happen in the next 12 months that I never anticipated. But this year, I want to be present for it, even the hard things.
I want to take time to feel happy, to do some things that make me happy, and to take care of my health and family. I want to take time to grow. And to just be.
JJ Heller puts it well, per usual, in her new song.
I do have a list of “resolutions.” But it just boils down to one thing: making 2015 a better year.
Do you have resolutions for this year? Or a word or phrase that’s your focus? Share it in the comments below.
Was honestly my first thought. …and yet heal me.
Was my second.
I was already familiar with meditation, but confession, well, that’s different. Yes, as a Protestant, we confess our sins directly to God, and it’s great. But I realized over the course of the week that too often my confession goes something like: “I’m sorry God for all the bad things I’m sure I did today. And moving on…”
I don’t often really think about my sin. It’s uncomfortable. And I certainly don’t talk about it with anyone else, despite what it says in James:
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
That’s beyond uncomfortable, to a level of vulnerability that I can only aspire to.
But praying the prayers of confession with the She Reads Truth community was exactly what I feared, and hoped for.
It felt like removing a deep, deep splinter. You know it’s going to hurt, but the only way to heal is through the pain.
This prayer in particular ached for days:
Prayer: “The Deeps”
Lord Jesus, Give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach; help me chastely to flee it, and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be thine alone.
Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being.
Give me a deeper knowledge of thyself, as saviour, master, lord and king.
Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth.
Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from thee.
Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until thou alone art seen in me, thy beauty golden like summer harvest, they fruitfulness as autumn plenty.
I have no master but thee, no law but thy will, no delight by thyself, no wealth but that thou givest, no good but that thou blessest, no peace but that thou bestowest.
I am nothing but that thou makest me, I have nothing but that I receive from thee, I can do nothing but that grace adorns me.
Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.
I waited for the service to start sitting at the end of my row, while people bustled around me, greeting each other, reserving their spot with their Bibles while they went to get donuts and coffee.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I knew I couldn’t even muster a Sunday morning smile and “fine,” today.
I closed my eyes and tried to clear my head of all the boiling emotions. Church was starting soon.
Why am I angry?
The thought caught me off guard. I wasn’t angry… just frustrated. Bitter maybe. Ok, definitely a little angry. Fine. Pretty furious, if I was honest.
I felt abandoned, because God had taken some people out of my life that I really wasn’t ok with letting go.
I was overwhelmed and feeling way over my head at work.
And I felt lost. So many things God was doing just didn’t make sense.
I funneled all my anger into one question. I wanted to scream:
God, where are you?
But I just sat there, in my pew. And fought.
Why is this happening to me? Why have you allowed these things to happen to people I love? I just don’t understand what you’re doing. WHERE ARE YOU?
I couldn’t remember the last time I felt like I’d really heard from God. Or the last time I knew I’d seen God at work. Or the last time I felt like He was actually working in me, and using me.
Church would start soon. I had to cram my thoughts into the back of mind to deal with later. To distract myself, I pulled out my phone and started scrolling through emails. I opened my daily Lent devotional from SheReadsTruth, and read:
And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
– Jonah 4:4
I stared at the screen, and let it sink in.
Do you do well to be angry?
It hurt to say it, but I knew the answer.
Of course no. Like Jonah, I’d witnessed God’s mercy. I deserved nothing, and received so much.
Besides, what good did my anger do? What did it accomplish? It didn’t keep me from feeling alone, overwhelmed, and lost. It put a barrier between me and the only One who could help.
I don’t remember the sermon. But I left feeling more hopeful than I had in a long time. I knew the timing of the email wasn’t an accident.
On Monday, before I started on the daunting tasks for the day, I read:
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
– Joshua 1:7-9
Then the next day, a friend shared stories from their life with me that reminded me of two things:
I’m not alone.
And as trite as it sounds, God really does have a bigger picture at work.
When I took my seat the next Sunday, while none of the situations in my life had changed, everything else had. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t afraid. And I knew where God was.
Of course, He’d never left.
Relent Part 1: Failing. ReLent = Starting Lent over, and the idea of giving up, which seems to be what these 40 days have been all about.
I just have to say, I’ve really sucked at Lent this year.
And I mean, really, really sucked. Miserably failed.
Two years ago, I observed Lent for the first time, and it transformed my life. Last year, I didn’t do it, and I missed it. So this year, I noted the date weeks before and planned to spend some time meditating on what I would fast from this year. Then, I promptly forgot all about Lent until Ash Wednesday.
I spent the first week of Lent trying to decide what to fast from. Ice Cream? Too easy for someone who’s lactose intolerant. Coffee? I would die. Facebook? Need it for my job. Could I fast from stress? Busyness? Worry? I wish. Then I’d actually have time to sit and think about what I actually should fast from.
I finally decided on meat, “rich meats” to be exact. Several weeks ago, I started attending a Bible study on the book of Daniel. Beth Moore suggested fasting from “rich meats,” like Daniel and his friends did. She defined “rich meats” as beef, pork, not including chicken and fish.
This might be far too easy to really count as a sacrifice, I thought.
I was so wrong.
I quickly lost count of the times I messed up … the corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, the pepperoni pizza, the Ruben sandwiches, the bacon … so many times.
I should be so much better than this. I can’t believe I messed up again. Maybe I should just give up. But this is so simple! Surely if I just try harder, I can get it together …
Another day, another failure. Frustration turned to anger.
Finally, I collapsed on the couch, curled up in a miserable ball of failure, and cried.
I CAN’T DO THIS.
It was sob and a prayer.
Yes. That’s the point.
It was a still small voice. Not audible, felt, more than heard.
And suddenly, the light began to dawn. That’s the point. In order for me to stop rushing and be still, I had to come to the end of myself.
Now, I was ready to listen.
But that didn’t mean I’d like what I’d hear.
ReLent, Part 2: Fighting, is coming soon.
About the name, ReLent. The prefix “re” has the idea of re-doing, starting over, starting again. In some ways, I started my Lent over at this point. I started following the She Reads Truth Lent series, and its changed everything.
“Relent” also means to give up, and give in. So far, that’s been a recurring theme for me.
And that’s why I haven’t been blogging. I’ve been too busy WORKING. Full-time. At a non-profit.
When I first set up my social media profiles on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, I wrote a short “about me” that I repeated on all three sites. In it, I referred to myself as a wife, youth group leader, crafter, and writer.
Later, I deleted “writer,” and substituted “blogger,” or “enjoys writing.” Calling myself a writer seemed too pretentious for the author of a small blog with big goals of being published and changing the world.
And as of October 21st, I am a writer. And as my boss told me this afternoon;”See, you’re already making a difference!”
I still catch myself while I’m reading some of the neverending documents, style guides, books, and articles for my enculturation, staring at the logo, thinking, I can’t believe this is real.
And when walking into the courtyard, lit by the sunrise, I actually work here.
Even when leaving those same doors, with the hum of traffic in the distance, I get to come back and do this again tomorrow. And next week. And the week after that.
I’m amazed. And humbled. Encouraged. And blessed.
Thank you, for your kind words of hope and encouragement over the last two years while I wrestled with God over my future. I finally feel right where I’m supposed to be.
Although really, I was where I was supposed to be all along. Moving across the country to Arizona. Going to this church, which led to an important connection to this job. Waiting. Trying and failing at other things. Waiting longer. All that waiting has led to this. God’s hand was in all of it.
I dropped my purse and keys on my desk, kicked off my black flats, and settled onto the couch. I sighed happily and smiled. Something good is coming! By this fall, I’ll have at least a part-time job, if not TWO part-time jobs!
That was July. This is September.
After starting out so full of promise, the story of my summer 2013 became one long waiting game.
In the spring, I applied for variety of jobs, and mailed a pitch for an article and a corresponding item to a craft magazine. I received rejections for most of my job applications, and eventually I gave up on the rest of them.
In June, I applied for and landed a summer internship position that, although unpaid for the summer, could turn into a part-time job. At the same time, a law firm contacted me about a part-time administrative assistant position I’d applied for months ago. I interviewed over the phone, then in person, and then I made it to the final round – interviewing with 11 people for a full 8 hour day. Intense, exhausting, and yet, tired as I was, I felt almost positive that this was going to work out.
Finally, I’d not only have a job, but a job that would give me the opportunity to make a difference in the world, plus allow me to pursue my other passions on the side. And, combined with a the part-time job in social media from my internship, I could actually make a full-time income.
Then it all fell apart. Due to some restructuring, they eliminated the position and wouldn’t be able to hire anyone for the job. But they contacted me August 1st because they had a full-time opportunity available. I spent that weekend with the youth group trip to California, and the roller coasters we rode at Knott’s Berry Farm couldn’t compare to the emotional roller coaster I was riding.
So on August 14th, I interviewed for the fourth time. The last time I heard from them was Labor Day weekend. Right around this time, it turned out that the business I was interning with couldn’t afford to hire me part-time in the fall. On Monday, my internship ended. And now, I’m just waiting.
The warm, promising glow of summer has given way to gray clouds of disappointment and cold, cold rain.
At first, it looks like all a waste. What was the point? All those interviews, all that work, and I’m right where I started.
Last week, I came across an old favorite passage of mine. I hadn’t read the whole passage since 2009, but one verse was set as my desktop background, a friend shared it during small group, and I read it again the next day in a Bible study book. I knew it wasn’t coincidence. Lamentations 3:19-33:
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.
Although at times, it still seems like this summer was a waste, I know that God doesn’t willingly bring me affliction. This waiting period is shaping and molding me. A few good things that have come out of this job process include:
I’m better at interviews! Not only have I had a lot of them over the summer, I’ve had a lunch interview and a panel interview for the first time
I’m confident that I can present myself professionally, and be a serious candidate at a company with very high standards
I had to overcome my fear of driving on the interstate, three times
I grew my design portfolio and experience by designing a website, Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, and YouTube channel.
I learned more about social media scheduling, and how to increase interaction
I learned to deal with disappointments, even though I didn’t always handle them well at the time
Through all of it, I’ve developed more patience and perseverance
And remember that back in the spring, I sent an article to a craft magazine? I got to preview the spread yesterday! They accepted it, and I’m going to be PUBLISHED! I’ll share more details with you as it gets closer, but suffice it to say that “excited” is an understatement!
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m doing during this waiting time. How am I using this time while I’m not working? How can I make the most of the time I have?
Have you ever experienced a time period of waiting? Did you you make the most of it, or looking back now, what would you do differently? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments!
Have you ever been driving down the road, playing the radio in the background, when suddenly a song comes on that you’ve heard a thousand times before, but this time the lyrics just jump out of the speakers and stab you right in the heart, leaving you sobbing over your steering wheel? (Total driving hazard, by the way.) That happened to me yesterday.
“Strangely Dim” by Francesca Battistelli is one of those overplayed songs on the Christian radio, but from some reason, yesterday, the lyrics perfectly captured what I’ve been experiencing the last few months, especially the first verse.
I’ve had all these plans piled up sky high
A thousand dreams on hold
And I don’t know why,
I got a front row seat
To the longest wait
And I just can’t see
Past the things I pray
But when I fix my eyes on all that You are
Then every doubt I feel
Deep in my heart
Grows strangely dim
All my worries fade
And fall to the ground
Cause when I seek Your face
And don’t look around
Any place I’m in
Grows strangely dim
Sometimes where I stand
On this narrow road
Is in a raging storm
Or a valley low
When I fix my eyes on all that You are
Then every doubt I feel
Deep in my heart
Grows strangely dim
All my worries fade
And fall to the ground
Cause when I seek Your face
And don’t look around
Any place I’m in
Grows strangely dim
I don’t know, I don’t know
What tomorrow may hold
But I know, but I know
That You’re holding it all
So no matter what may come
I’m gonna fix my eyes on all that You are
‘Til every doubt I feel
Deep in my heart
Grows strangely dim
Let all my worries fade
And fall to the ground
I’m gonna seek Your face
And not look around
Til the place I’m in
Grows strangely, strangely, strangely dim.
Sunday, I turned twenty-three. Oddly enough, I’ve wanted to be twenty-three for some time. I think it’s because that’s the age people would always guess that I was when I was in the 18-20 range. I thought I might actually feel like my age and mental age match up, instead of always feeling older than I am. But nope. Now I feel 26. Oh well, I’m still happy to be twenty-three! It has a nice ring to it.
Usually, as you would know if you have followed this blog long, I start writing about and anticipating my birthday anywhere from a month to two weeks out. This year, I honestly forgot all about my birthday until my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law reminded me a few days before. Last week was a crazy emotional rollercoaster for several reasons, and it just wasn’t on my mind.
We were in California for the much anticipated fun trip with the youth group over the weekend, so I celebrated by getting to hang out with my sister-in-law at Knott’s Berry Farm, and Brian surprised me with cake and candles.
Now that I’m almost caught up on sleep, I celebrated today by dressing up, opening my presents and cards, eating pancakes, and writing a list.
I got this idea from Joy the Baker. The premise is that each year brings with it increased wisdom, so each year I can create a longer list of things I’ve learned. So for this year, here’s a non-comprehensive list of 23 things I’ve learned in 23 years:
1. Saying “Yes” to something means saying “No” to something else. Even if it’s just your free time, every time you agree to something, you’re making a sacrifice somewhere, so choose wisely.
2. If you feel any hesitation, don’t hit “Send.” If it gives you a tingly feeling in the pit of your stomach, you probably shouldn’t say it. Even if you don’t think you’re mad anymore, just hold off until you can feel good about sending it.
3. Simple is best. This applies to design, decor, style, art, writing, problem solutions, etc.
4. Use good pens. They make writing so much better.
5. This too shall pass. Remind yourself of that often.
6. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Thanks, Eleanor Roosevelt.
7. Smile. It really does help.
8. Dress the way you want to feel. If you want to feel put together, add some accessories and real shoes. If you want to feel powerful, put on your blazer. If you want to feel comfortable, put on your slouchy sequined sweatshirt.
9. Smart is beautiful. Kind is beautiful.
10. People are more important than things. Spend your money and time where it matters!
11. An apology fixes many things. As hard as it is, an “I’m sorry,” can really turn things around.
12. A soft answer really does turn away wrath. Proverbs 15:1.
13. Forgiveness sets the forgiver free.
14. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
15. Quality is usually worth paying for. In the case of shoes, shoes that cost more are almost always more comfortable, better for your feet, and longer-lasting.
16. Don’t hesitate to take lots of photos. Those will be memories preserved, so don’t feel bad about it.
17. The only way out is through. In other words, you have to face your fears in order to conquer them.
18. Don’t save things for a special occasion. Every day you’re alive is a special occasion!
19. You are and always will be an introvert, and it’s ok. Take a book with you.
20. Real growth sometimes looks a lot like being lost.
21. Failure isn’t final. Quitting is, so don’t quit.
22. Life doesn’t turn out the way you want. You’ll have to learn to deal with this.
23. Even when it all comes crashing down around you, you are still loved, chosen, and have a purpose.