Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Embracing My Life In This Place

The pain draped around her story like a heavy, tattered coat. There was confusion and hurt and a desire to please. In the midst of these moments I began to realize how so many of us enter our adult lives with unrealistic expectations – ideals of what being loved looks like and expectations of a life perfectly wrapped in happiness and beauty. Once upon a time her story was my story; I am healing. When I was a child, adults would talk about keeping up with the Jones, meaning the neighbors next door; now we are trying to keep up with just about everyone on social media. I have begun asking myself why fitting in with people I don’t know well, or at all, matters? Why care if any of these social media folks are pleased with me?

In the end, don’t you think all we really want is to belong, to have a tribe of people with whom we experience meaningful connection? When it comes down to it, don’t we care more about being known and loved by those taking this journey with us than whether or not they are invested in meeting all our ideals? It is stressful for everyone when perfection is where we hang our values; friendships are no longer real or meaningful when we strive for or expect perfectionism. Healthy relationships have boundaries of respect wrapped up in grace. Wouldn’t you much rather have people enjoy being in relationship with you than perfectly please you?

Sometimes, like many of you, I focus on what is missing – that elusive, perfect life. I find embracing the life I’ve been given increases contentment, peace and joy. As I take steps toward embracing my life – one that doesn’t live up to all my expectations – I find more of what I truly need. Embrace is a word that has captured me in the past couple of months. A question I came across in a book study my sister and I did together was, “What do you want more of?” I knew instantly I wanted more meaningful interaction with the people who matter most to me, like my sister. I want to make it a priority to prioritize the people I love and long to know better.

The realization began growing, like a snowball rolling down hill, as one situation after another presented itself with opportunities to connect. But first I had to ask God: What is this life you have given me? I sought to discover what He wanted me to embrace and where He wanted me to invest my time. And then I found He led using the desires He had given me. He invited me to look at what’s available, not what is lacking. It began with spending time with my sister.

From there God gave my husband and I a wonderful opportunity to hike with my nephew, his fiancee and their baby. We met early in the cool of the day. They had packed a picnic and drove us to a canyon where we enjoyed surprises like an old cowboy dugout, wild turkeys strolling with a road runner, and genuine fellowship. Upon our return home from the visit with family in Texas my friend, Crystal, came to spend a weekend with us; saying she needed time with me. I had not been aware of my own need to be with her, but our visit left me filled and overflowing as we prayed together before she left.

In May I began reading Bonnie Gray’s book, Whispers of Rest, and knew I wanted to take this 40-day journey of rest with others. I opened my home and invited women from my church, as well as a new friend, to join me in experiencing more intimacy with God and deeper acceptance of His love for us. It has been a sweet time of heartfelt sharing and genuine connection. As I attempt to live life where I’ve been placed, God is teaching me to embrace what He has given, and I am experiencing more contentment. There is a place inside of me bursting forth into full bloom as I endeavor to embrace this life here on my street, with these people and in this community. I can’t fully explain it but I feel myself opening up and expanding.

Have you ever found yourself trying to adjust to a place and not quite figuring it out? Have you struggled with unrealistic expectations? How have you embraced the space in which God has placed you? I would love to hear about your experience.

Early summer reading:

What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Child-Sized Me

Lately I have been thinking about how I was as a little girl; sometimes the things I remember surprise me. As adults we often leave meaningful and special parts of ourselves behind in our childhoods as we grow in our own self-importance. My first name, Julie, means youthful and I desire to remain youthful. I am not being unrealistic; I know I am growing old like everyone else and have to embrace the natural losses coming with age. But in these vintage years I find myself wanting to be more fully myself, and for me that means embracing some of the forgotten parts of the younger me.

I am absolutely relieved to leave behind some things – those things harmful to me, things Jesus has touched and healed. But even in my chaotic childhood home the little girl me had something the grown-up me has hidden from others, and sometimes from myself. When I remember the books I read and loved I begin to find her there out of doors dreaming up all kinds of beautiful stories. Isn’t it incredible how much life I had to live before I was brave enough to write and share my stories, wanderings and discoveries with others? Writing is a gift the child in me loved and shared. I was braver then.

I lived in my own imaginative world where trees and animals were my friends. Being out in the woods was the best therapy a hurt, lonely, little me could find. There in the trees or in wide open spaces I appreciated the miracles of nature. Beauty fed my soul and gave hope for stories with happy endings. In my grown-up world I have come to accept there are not always happy endings here on the earth, but I have also discovered treasures in the difficulties – the good gifts only a perfect, loving Father could give. And I suppose when I look back at the child-sized me, it was in the midst of dark days I first noticed, without realizing what I was experiencing, the seeds planted there producing hope and more.

It was there in the dark places God wove a hopeful, determined spirit as I delighted in the changes of the seasons; studied bugs, leaves, flowers and trees; asked questions; read books; pretended I was a mommy, an Avon lady or an astronaut; jotted down phrases and thoughts and listened to the elderly folks in my life. As of late I am reminded more and more of the little girl me and I seek to embrace those parts of myself hidden in life’s brokenness and busyness.

As I go back in my mind to the days of the little girl, here are some of the things I find to be true about her and true about me when I choose to embrace the truth about who God made me.

  • absolutely fascinated by nature – restored by being out in the woods, on a mountain or by the ocean
  • delights in making things, creating beauty
  • loves word play (not word games) by reading or turning a phrase – creating word pictures and rhyming words
  • observant and sensitive
  • loves flowers and bright colors
  • hopeful and imaginative
  • surprisingly bold for an introverted child playing the role of caretaker/pleaser
  • sentimental, and with this comes a place in my heart for valuing the good in the people I grew up around and with
  • love for and appreciation of the elderly
  • a free spirit – able to wonder, play and dream for hours without any other type of entertainment
  • loves learning without the need to be an expert, but purely for the joy of learning
  • feisty and determined – helps me keep moving forward when things get tough
  • love for animals particularly horses, puppies and kittens
  • traveled the world through books – fascinated by geography, folk tales and wild animals and their habitats

Connecting with these parts of myself are reminders of how curious I am and why I was willing to capture a slimy banana slug and take it home to share with my girls, or put a caterpillar in a jar to watch the metamorphosis from chrysalis to butterfly. Some things I have remembered about the little girl me has opened up places of creativity long forgotten. In growing up and leaving behind important parts of the child me, I found myself taking on others’ beliefs about the good in life and forgetting the delight I took as a child in these gifts.

When my girls were young we got a kitten. The adults in my childhood family did not like cats, and eventually I was convinced I didn’t like cats either. But after we got Sassy for our girls I began to remember how much I loved furry, purring kittens. I remembered the times I managed to get a kitten for myself as a little girl in spite of the adults’ inability to appreciate that a cat could be a pet and weren’t just for mousing. Recently spending more time with elderly people reminded me of how blessed I was to grow up with so many elderly people in my life. I learned to appreciate and value the elderly. Accepting my desire to learn doesn’t mean I have to be an expert but to let myself embrace learning for the surprise and wonder it keeps alive in me.

Your turn. Think back to the child you left behind. Are you surprised by anything? What are the things you do today that remind you of your younger self? Is there any freedom, openness or creativity you remember and long to embrace and live out in your life again? In case you find yourself a little put off by the idea, I am not talking about childishness but child-like qualities that are true of you and compliment the adult you. What influenced you toward good? What delighted you? What made you curious? How can you incorporate more of this in your life today?