Who Am I?

Who Am I?

Such a question has been all too common in my life.

When others like me, I must be likeable. When they hate me, I must be a difficult person to love. When they compliment my talents, I must be admirable. When they insult me, I am worthless.

Or am I more than the sum of what others think of me?

When I feel happy, I must be successful. When I feel down, a miserable failure. When encouraged, I am bright-eyed and promising, the next moment discouragement makes me a hopeless case.

Who am I? Certainly more than what I’m feeling from moment to moment!

Yet it’s a question that haunts me and in my most honest moments I’ll admit that the fact that I’m asking the question in itself shows the depths of my insecurities and wavering character.

I’ve been reading a lot of biographies lately. I’m inspired by the stories of real people who’ve walked before me.

My current selection is Bonhoeffer.

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Living during the times of World War I & II, this book tells the life story of a German pastor who stood up to the warped society of his day, becoming a spy and eventually a martyr. Real hero material right?

What won my heart was his poem, written in captivity that echoed the words that have become commonplace in my journals and poems. In fact reading his words, I felt like I had stepped into my own story:

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How can two different people from two totally different times become so connected by three simple words: Who Am I?

That is the frailty of humanity. We grasp at strings to find something, anything to define ourselves by. But as I think these things over, a hint of a smile creeps to my lips. And I can’t help but wonder if God has a of a sense humour, knowing this about us. Didn’t he introduce himself to the Israelites as “I AM”? He doesn’t need to add anything to his title because he just is.

I may not know who I am, but I know the I AM, maybe that’s enough.

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Don’t Forget the Good

This is a repost, but today I thought it was an important reminder for me to stop and see the good in others.

I mentioned a few posts back that I’ve been sifting through old journal entries. A lot of the entries focus on my frustrations, my failures, my kids failures.

But then there was this one, a complete gem, that made me vow to start keeping track of the good as well. This entry was so touching that it had me sniffing back tears and smiling all at once:

Date: Aug 16, 2012

Yesterday my children put me to shame. I heard of an orphanage being built in Ethiopia that would house abandoned babies. It is already being built in faith that the needed funds will come in. But until the house is completed they are by law unable to take in any of the babies that are left in the wilderness to die. The government has strict rules on this so they need the money desperately – lives are at stake. Innocent lives. I had already had it in my mind to give $500, which is already $200 more than we usually give every month. As I wrote out a check, my eldest son, Isaiah, asked me what it was for. I told him the story of these babies and he ran to his room to get his piggy bank. He pulls out EVERY bill, toonie and loonie, only keeping a few cents for himself. It came to $75 – his entire life savings. Then, my next child (Bella) saw this and pulled out her piggy bank and the next child (Jonas), giving over half of their own money. Together, out of their own will, they gave all the money they have been saving from their birthdays, Christmas’ and other earnings. It came to $105. And here I am sitting on a big savings account. God, bless the tender, giving hearts of my children! It will take them years to save this money again! Isaiah is only 6, Bella 4, and Jonas 3…and already they are being generous for you. I wrote out a new check to cover their balance and have it in my mind to secretly put their money into the bank for them. Thank you for kids, who continue to teach me lessons that completely amaze me.

 

Often I just see the things that need to be changed in my kids lives, and quite honestly, the lists of behaviours and irresponsibilities they have completely overwhelm me.

What can I say? They’re kids…and there’s five of them.

BUT then, I read this and step back to actually see my children. And the truth overwhelms me: In many ways they are FAR more sweet, pure, forgiving, compassionate and gentle than I am.

And I am instructing them??

I shared this journal entry with them one morning asking for forgiveness. For too often focusing on the bad. For too often overlooking the good.

They are GOOD kids.

They are obedient, sweet, unselfish, and I often feel the opposite about them because I get stuck on teaching what needs improvement, forgetting that the most important thing in a teacher is the ability to see the good in their students and call it out.

In doing this, we don’t try to make our children become something they aren’t, rather they begin to see who they are and flourish into a mature version of that. When I am told I am good at something, it pushes me to try even harder, to learn even more. But when I am told I’m terrible, or a failure, it makes me want to give up and not try at all. Teaching my children, has taught me this in a very sobering way.

I think God has a sense of humour, because I see myself as their teacher, but quite often they are mine. 

Mental Health: Are We Choosing our Own Chaos?

I don’t do random.

If I start something new, it almost always has a purpose. Sometimes the roads I travel start with a purpose but only lead to a dead end, or they get so rocky and dangerous that I turn around.

But I never just carelessly walk down random paths. I’m far too predictable, to safe, to orderly for risky adventures. However, I have to admit that I always seem to find myself on these precarious streets…

Like the time I chose to keep my baby at the age of seventeen. Or when I chose to get married before I graduated. A few months later, I chose to pack up a bag and live at the hospital while my baby boy suffered for almost a year, before witnessing God’s amazing healing hand.

I chose to finish my high school diploma with 3 kids under 3, even though my body begged for extra rest and I had no desire to do homework when they were finally sleeping at night.

Later, I chose the lonely road of homeschooling, though I’m not a great teacher and I feel unqualified.

I chose to leave a church full of friends and family that I had attended since my childhood to help start a church that ended up being the most painful and wounding experience of my life so far. I also chose to walk in forgiveness and healing, believing the best of people.

We left a job my husband loved, to buy into a company and build it into something, which has been painfully difficult.

And my newest path is the choice to send my five beloved children to public school next year.

I wish I could see the future but I can’t, so I try to walk as close as I can beside the only one I know who does: my Heavenly Father. He’s known by so many to be a rock. A shelter in the storm. The hiding place. He’s a foundation. He is a strong tower. Our refuge in times of trouble.

That is my God.

The choices above may seem difficult, but no matter how those around me viewed them, they all brought a sense of peace and although there has been hardships and inner turmoil around me almost constantly, I rarely have felt that sense of chaos within me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have felt inner turmoil. In the past I felt a lot of it while dealing with depression and anxiety. In fact this month I’ve been feeling a lot of it.

I can tell almost immediately when I’m in “overwhelm” because I become unable to slow down and just be. My downtime moments are filled with distractions.

This is why I feel like having a daily time of devotions and reflection is so important. Other than connecting with God, if I wasn’t used to quieting myself nothing would seem wrong! I would feel anxious and upset, but I wouldn’t realize it until panic attacks and anxiety would start kicking in.

However now I can tell things are wrong just by assessing my quiet times. I just want to distract myself! Turn on the Netflix. Get out the iPhone. Scroll through the news articles!

There’s no desire to reflect or think about my own personal life and the “whys” or the reasons for my behaviours.

This is overwhelm: Avoiding reality. Avoiding the hard questions. Avoiding true connections. This leads to small talk, which leads to shallow and unfulfilling relationships.

It’s a constant disconnected feeling and general discontentment in life.

Sound familiar? This constant state of busyness and distraction are common place in our world, but should not be common place in the Christian life. It feels weird when I get like this because I’m not used to it. It’s like running in a random direction just for the sake of running.

Busyness is often like that, isn’t it?

We sign up for this and commit to that, not having a reason for it but simply because that’s the way the rest of the crowd is headed. It feels wrong to turn off onto a more lonely (albeit simpler) road. But in my experience that’s the path that usually brings the most meaning and peace.

Not that important lessons aren’t learned on the main roads…but with high traffic comes stress, chaos and accidents.

This is where quieting ourselves and learning to ask the hard questions becomes so important. Without reflection, life becomes too difficult to navigate so we instead turn to distracting ourselves from the busyness which leaves us disconnected with our own emotional state. Cue the sleeping drugs, anti anxiety and depression meds that studies say about 1 in 6 Americans are now dependent on.

1 in 6!! Let that sink in for a moment!

No I’m not saying that there’s never a reason to take medicine for mental health issues. Not at all! There are many legitimate imbalances in the human brain that require medical intervention. But do we really believe that 1 in 6 people need to be on meds? Or is there something else going on that we’re not willing to face?

These are uncomfortable questions and thoughts, I know. Necessary ones though.

Are we willing to face them?

Am I?

 

We Can Be Free

As promised, these are my steps to freedom that I would like to share today.

My last few blog posts have been about my struggles with words which started many years ago. In fact, it started so long ago that I had forgotten how or why or when it began. So I did what I’ve learnt to do when I don’t have the answers: I went to God.

I knew it wasn’t going to be just one conversation, rather many – all addressing the root of my anger, of my hurtful words and my outbursts. So I set aside a whole week of prayer and journalling to spend with God dealing with this character issue.

Day One: God, I journaled, what is the root of my hurtful words? Where did this begin?

I sat in my bed, waiting expectantly in the early morning, for that’s when the house is quiet and motionless. The sun was still hidden from sight although the first edges of the light were slowly beginning to creep up on the horizon.

God speaks when we listen. But it takes time to learn to hear him. Sometimes he’s silent. Sometimes we are too loud. Sometimes there’s a reason he’s not answering – usually because we already know the answer but we don’t want to listen.

However today, my heart was quiet and I was desperate.

And I saw a picture in my mind. It was a memory from when I was a girl. I remember something really bad happening and someone that I respected very much yelling and swearing in anger about it. As a result of that outburst, people paid attention, that person was heard and the problem was dealt with.

A simple memory. One long forgotten. However a lie was planted in my heart that day: Strong and hurtful words are powerful and they can accomplish good.

That was the lie where it all started. Where I let my voice shout and scream hurtful, strong words to gain a false sense of control because I felt that in the end it would accomplish good.

Recognizing the lie is always step one. I quickly scribbled the memory down in my journal, along with a lie I believed. I renounced the lie, and repented before God that I had believed it.

Then I asked God: Can you give me a foundational truth to replace this lie?

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

Ah, Yes! Of course! Evil cannot bear good fruit. Evil and darkness do not birth goodness and light. The only way to overcome evil and injustice is with GOOD. This is why revenge will never set the bitter soul free, only forgiveness can do that. I memorized this truth, etching it into my memory like initials carved into concrete.

Day Two: God, how can I change my habits? They are ingrained into my life so deeply. How can I become someone who speaks life?

God: Repent! Choose a day to turn from your sins. Make a list of those who you’ve heard in this way and apologize to them. You will never be perfect, but if you say sorry to each person and start fresh from this day forward, then you won’t have a heap of history to carry on your shoulders. You can look back and say on this day you repented. From then on, all you have to do is apologize each time you say something hurtful or burst out in anger.

I’m too exhausted to ask God for names this day. The thought of the list He might give me is overwhelming. So I pray for strength.

Day Three: OK God. Who do I need to apologize to you?

He gives me a list. It is not exhausting. In fact, it involves mostly family members. I thought it looked too short so I mentioned some other names of people that I’ve had conflict with. God gently tells me that the actions of others I need not taken responsibility for, only the mistakes I have made.

That same day I ask my husband and children for forgiveness, and they are incredible. They forgive me without hesitation.

Day Four: My heart feels lighter God! There’s no more secrets, no more shame. Help me to have the strength to confess to the remaining people.

God: Good. It’s time that you see yourself as loveable again.

These tender and applicable words cause me to melt. I feel lovable. That’s exactly how I feel.

Day Five through Seven- More confessions. The last of them. So much grace shown to me by so many people. God, I feel at peace. Thank you for giving me the strength needed to go through with this.

God: I love watching the captives go free. You are free daughter.

Me: God what now? I am free, how do I keep from getting tangled up in sin again?

God: Dear Child, continue walking beside me. Soak in the truth. Repent when you fall and run back to me, not wasting a second with hiding in shame. Walk with a tender heart beside me and I will lead you into victory. Turn your eyes to the cross and I will purify your mouth.

The steps aren’t set in stone. The conversations will look different for each person. But this is my journey to freedom. This is God completing his work in me.

-It isn’t difficult, yet it’s humbling.

-It isn’t hard, because he’s done the work, but it does take time.

-It doesn’t take a strong person, it only takes a desperate one.

This is what Freedom looks like.

In the Waiting

“Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

These words have been like a beacon of light in a very dark valley for me. For years I’ve been asking God hard questions…questions of when I will be united with like-minded believers, questions of how long I will feel alone, questions of why I feel so much like an outcast, a misfit, a foreigner.

And I hear Him over and over again speaking:

Wait for the Lord. Yes, Lord, I’m waiting.

Be strong and take heart. I’m trying Lord, really, I am!

Be strong and take heart. I’m tired of being strong God.

Take heart and wait for the Lord. I’m tired of waiting God.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Do you believe this promise? Do you believe my words? God, you know I do.

Then wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Stay Soft

One of the hardest things in life is to stay soft.

People will try to tear you down, indeed, even those closest to you will say hurtful things.

It’s so easy to just say “Fine! I’m done trying. I will no longer engage. I’m just going to go on and act pleasant on the outside while keeping up my walls so that no one can get in, so that no one can hurt me.”

This is not God’s desire for us. This is directly going against his plan. His plan is and always has been to speak truth over us where lies have been planted. His longing is to bring healing to our wounds.

Let me tell you a secret: Building walls may keep more hurt from coming in, but it also traps in the hurt you already have. What if your walls aren’t just keeping hurt out, but also keeping healing out?

It’s only in continuous opening ourselves up to the Father’s love and his view of us that we can get a correct view on others actions towards us and our response to them.

This isn’t a long, preachy post. It’s just a encouraging word: Stay soft, dear friends.

Watch your Labels

Not a dog, not a wolf…all he knows is what he’s not.” Balto

When I was I child, I loved the movie “Balto”. It was based on a true story where a town suffered from a severe epidemic and ran out of medicine for it during a severe snowstorm. Balto, who was half wolf and half dog, didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. The dogs wouldn’t accept him because he was different, they thought he was “wild” and “dangerous”, the people of the town were afraid of him – but he was soft, he was tame and he just wanted to belong.

In the end, his differences and wild instincts are what saved the town. But those differences were only appreciated once he had done something great, once he was famous.

I think we all tend to see differences in a negative light. It’s why we use harsh words in describing people who we think should be more like us. For example, the other day in frustration I said to my kids: “You don’t care about being on time at all!” And in my head I was thinking all the negative things: Lazy, Slow-pokes, Thoughtless, Uncaring, Unconcerned. In reality that’s only my view of them when I’m rushed or in a hurry. On the flip side they could be thinking the opposite of me: Workaholic, Driven, Bossy.

In their eyes, I care too much about being punctual and in my eyes they don’t care enough!

As my week went on, I thought about all the benefits that their laid-back and care-free personalities bring to my life. It brings peace, it brings joy! They are able to notice things that I don’t have time to see. Like a bald eagle, perched on a tree outside. Or a beautiful flower beside the road. They are able to laugh in stressful situations.

What if, just what if, we began to speak words of life over others? What if we focused more on what good each character brings to the world, then what problems they’re causing? The truth is that we need each other and our differences desperately. I need my carefree children to bring joy and calm to my life. They need me to bring order and structure to theirs.

I was thinking of all the negative labels I’ve put on people and of some of the good that comes out of those same traits. As I began to change my thinking I suddenly saw a shift in my perception of those around me. Instead of calling people:

Strange/Weird… I called them Creative.

Defiant… Independent.

Slow… Careful.

Bossy… Leader.

Stubborn… Tenacious.

Perfectionist… Wholehearted.

Self-righteous… Passionate.

Negligent… Easy-going.

Lazy… Relaxed.

Passive… Peaceful.

Cowardly… Cautious.

Simple… Humble.

Frivolous … Joyful.

Bitter… Just.

Hasty… Prompt.

Shrewd… Wise.

Know-it-all… Convicted.

Careless… Fearless.

Callous… Strong.

Emotionless… Reserved.

Emotional… Soft-Hearted.

I’m not speaking about the exception to the rules here. I’m definitely NOT saying that bad character should be treated as good. But this isn’t about hurtful characters. This is about negatively labeling people who have been made the way they are to enrich our lives.

This week start with yourself. Address some of the negative labels that have been spoken over you (maybe even in your own head).

I’m not weak, I’m tender. I’m not insecure, I’m flexible. I’m not a perfectionist, I am wholehearted. I am not bitter, I yearn for justice.

I am more than the labels given to me.