Friday, April 30, 2010

Using your gifts in volunteerism

This is a re-post of a journal I originally wrote 10/08/09 and posted on Cafemom. I stand by my position as much today as I did 7 months ago and feel that this is a prudent time to revisit the subject.

I have been thinking a great deal about volunteerism and the use of our personal gifts lately. I volunteer quite a bit and often wrestle with whether or not to take on a volunteer opportunity. When I first started volunteering on a regular basis, I would pretty much say yes to everything and then I would find myself burned out and resentful rather quickly. Over the years I have learned that it simply makes for a smoother ride for all involved if I limit myself to jobs that I am really good at. It just makes so much more sense. I also never realized that in my eagerness to jump in with both feet that I was hindering others from realizing their full potential as part of the group. This realization brought me up short.

We are all gifted in different ways. I am going to use my Christian perspective here, but I believe this message is relevant to everyone, no matter what your faith base. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-28 we are told that everyone has a different, unique gift and that we should use that gift in alliance with one another. This passage also uses the body as analogy to show us the significance of each part. No matter how small or large, each part, when working correctly, makes its contribution to the smooth operation of the body as a whole. So it is with people. In a group, every person has a significant role in the group. Whether it be large or small, each member must pull their own weight or the group will fall apart.

To add to this analogy, I would like to offer this - not only does every part of the body have to be in proper working order, each part has its own unique role and shouldn't take over the function of another part. If it does, then the part being taken over dies away. For example, take a person with a particular problem with his left eye in which his eye is not communicating with the brain and therefore the affected person cannot see very well out of the left eye (amblyopia). It is not that the eye lacks the capacity to see, it simply lacks the brain recognition necessary for sight. Over time the right eye takes on more and more of the seeing power, the left eye get weaker and weaker until it finally stops functioning all together. This in essence renders the person blind in the left eye. The right eye sees most things well enough, the person is able to function well for the most part, but he is still blind in that left eye and the right eye is being strained beyond its capabilities. His body not functioning at maximum levels.

This situation can be avoided all together if the doctor places a patch over the stronger right eye of his patient, thus forcing the left eye to increase its development of communicating to the brain. If all goes well at the end of such treatment, the patient most likely will be able to see clearly through both eyes. At this point, the body is working as it should; all parts are pulling their own weight and everything is in balance.

I have seen this scenario played out many times in various volunteer organization. We are so passionate about the organization itself, we are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep the group running, even if the job we take on is not in an area which we are gifted. For a while the organization will operate well, but after a while the strain of overwork will cause problems for us. What we also don't realize we have done in our zeal is that we have taken away an opportunity from someone who is actually gifted in this particular area to serve the organization. Pretty soon that person becomes discouraged at not being used and stops working completely. Then we find ourselves in a really bad position; the whole organization is limping along instead of racing to the finish line because everyone lacks direction and motivation. It is time to regroup, but we have lost valuable time spinning our wheels doing work for which we are not suited and caused others to feel frustrated at not being able to do what they do best.

It is easy to stay motivated when we are doing something for which we have a talent. When everyone is working toward the same goal, in various roles for which they have a gift, then the group really shines. So, we really have to be careful in our areas of service to be cognizant of not only the goal, but also our position in helping that goal blossom. We want the organization to have unity and strength and this comes when all people involved are working the way that is right for them. Then we really don't have to worry about the rest of the group and we are free to focus on our own activity. We should never allow our own motivation to take over the opportunity for someone else to serve. When we are all using our gifts, then no one feels overworked and no one feels under-appreciated or unfulfilled. We end up with a group in which our goals are accomplished and everyone is a winner.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sometimes Just Showing Up is the Hardest Part

Did you ever have one of those days where you oversleep and instead of feeling rested after having that extra hour of sleep, you feel a step behind from where you need to be the whole day? Well, that was my day yesterday. It was a solid day of forgetting to make lunches, rushing to appointments, questioning my actions, hard decisions, mommy guilt and just plain chaos. I was feeling weary and beat by the time I finally went to bed, ready to just give up, in fact. It certainly wasn't a perfect day by any stretch of the imagination.

My imperfect day got me to thinking about my relationship with God, and how I often feel a step behind the place I need to be in that relationship as well as in my life. I am constantly forgetting things that should be routine, rushing to get to the next lesson, second guessing myself, battling with guilt for not seeing/doing what I should have, feel plain chaotic inside and out. Will I ever get it right? Is God getting exasperated with me? Is God happy with what I am doing with my life? These are questions that are on my mind continuously.

Luckily for me, God doesn't require perfection. All he asks is that I show up. And to keep showing, day after day, after day. It really is that simple. And that difficult. Some days I don't want to show up. Some days I don't want to go by God's pray-for-your-enemy rules. Some days I don't love those people who oppose me and I don't even want to try. Some days I don't have compassion for people who make the same mistakes over and over again and I don't feel like loving them like Jesus would. I want to throw up my hands in frustration and turn a cold shoulder to them. Yes, some days it would be easier not to show up. Because once I show up, I am required to obey God's word.

Colossians 3:12 says that as a Christian, we are to clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility and patience. Further on, in that same chapter of Colossians, in verse 13 and 14 it is written that we should forgive others, bear with one another. Over all of this we are to put on love, like a cozy warm coat that protects all of the other things from getting frostbitten when we expose ourselves to others. Notice in verse 12 it says that we have to wrap ourselves in these things so that others can see them just by observing us. Our actions speak much louder than our words. We can quote scripture and tell bible stories all day long to everyone we meet, but if they can't see the manifestation of these attributes, covered in love, in our actions, what good are we to the Kingdom of God?

The lessons that I see in scripture always come back to love one way or another. I know that there are those who do not believe that God (and Jesus) is only about love, but I believe that in the most fundamental way, he is. Even in his justice he is loving. This gives me great comfort to know that God's overriding emotion toward me is love. It makes me feel better when I have a bad day, when I don't listen to my inner voice (the Holy Spirit) like I should and even when I just don't feel like showing up; he still loves me. He's always waiting right were I left off, ready to proceed at my own pace. He shows infinite patience with me and my failures. I count on his compassion when I find myself in need of his mercy. His kindness goes a long way toward helping me to forgive myself my imperfections. With his gentleness and humility, I learn to accept correction when I need it.

I count on all of these things from God. It only stands to reason, that as his servant, he would expect me to extend the same to those around me. So, when I look back over my day yesterday and most especially one hard decision I made, when I second guess myself, all really need to do is ask myself these questions: Did I approach the person with compassion?; Was I gentle yet firm in my words?; Was I patient and forgiving?; Did I show kindness in my delivery?; And above all were my actions done with love? Answering yes to these questions should give me confidence that what I did, though it may have caused pain, was still the right thing to do and in so doing, was in line with my faith and the compass by which I live my life.

Making the right choices is a hard call sometimes, but we still have to show up. We have to show up, obey and then trust enough to let it go and allow God to handle the rest.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Natural Anxiety and Tension Relief

This week a friend asked me for some tips on combating anxiety without pharmaceutical intervention. I gave her a few tips, and I thought those tips might be of interest to some of you. In this day and age, who doesn't have a bit of anxiety and nervous tension, right? These tips are not foolproof and sometimes it is best to seek a doctor's advice. If you have prolonged bouts of anxiety that lead to withdrawing from life and/or depression, please contact your doctor or mental health care worker.

Herbal supplements are a good place to start when it comes to relieving mild to moderate, occasional anxiety. Valerian root, kava and chamomile are three that I have tried with some success. They can all be taken in pill form or as a tea. The Valerian root has a very strong odor though, so I suggest taking it in capsule form instead of tea. Chamomile, however has a wonderful fragrance and is very nice and relaxing as a tea. These are all non-habit forming. The herbs may have some counter-indications with other medications though, so always check to make sure they are compatible with any regular medications you take. Also, if you are pregnant or nursing, it is always best to check for safety issues regarding herbal preparations during this time.

Homeopathic remedies are also quite effective in treating anxiety. Homeopathic remedies are based on the theory that 'like cures like'. So, the idea is that you take a small amount of a substance that would normal cause a problem, dilute that substance tremendously and then put it through a sort of shaking process. What you have left is (sort of) a vibration of the original substance that, when taken orally, will combat the symptoms you are displaying. Look in your local vitamin or health food store in the homeopathic section for remedies for anxiety, stress and insomnia. I have tried Hyland's brand for several different maladies, including anxiety and have been quite pleased with the results.

Guided relaxation is an invaluable tool to calm the mind and relieve tension in the body. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of relaxation CDs on the market. I did an iTunes search and I had an anxiety attack just looking at the shear volume of choices I had before me. I then entered 'Guided Relaxation' in the search engine and that narrowed the field down a bit. I listen to a few demos and narrowed my search even further by selecting the offerings that had a Christian slant to them, since that was a fit for me. Of course, for those of you who are not Christian, it goes without saying that you would find a different way to narrow your search. :) I have an iPod Touch and I downloaded a couple of apps for that. The one I use most is called Relax With Andrew Johnson. The man who guides you through the relaxation exercise has a soothing Scottish accent that I find very appealing . If you have an iPhone (or iPod Touch), you can type guided relaxation in the apps key word search to find other options.

Another great relaxation tool is deep
breathing. I use this in combination with aromatherapy probably more than anything else. My favorite oils are peppermint and lavender. It is important to get pure essential oils when doing aromatherapy, and not fragrance oils, in order to get the benefit of the healing properties in the oils. I mix the two oils together in a brown mixer bottle and inhale the scent on my in-breaths, or put a drop of the oil on my forehead, then do the breathing. To do a deep breathing exercise is very simple. Get in a comfortable non-slouching position first. Breathe in through your nose for two counts, making sure your stomach rises as you inhale, so that you know you are breathing from your diaphragm. Hold the breath for a second, then breathe out through your mouth for four counts. It is important to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in because this releases the carbon dioxide from your body. I often recite a mantra, short scripture or one line prayer as I do this exercise. This allows positive thoughts to be in the forefront of my mind. An example would be - In: I am only human / Out: But, God is my strength and refuge. Or - In: Happy is as happy does / Out: I am in control of my happiness. Anything positive and affirming will work.

You may be thinking - where can I find all of this stuff she listed? Well, I'll tell you, the best on-line places I have found are Mountain Rose, Drug
Also, check your local Yellow Pages for Natural Health Food stores and vitamin stores to find all of the herbs, homeopathic remedies and essential oils you need to get started on your way to a happier, more relaxed life.
I feel I need to add that in the long run, these techniques are most effective and more likely to yield lasting, drug-free results, when used in conjunction with a solid anxiety recovery program or professional therapy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rush to Judgment

Several years ago singer/songwriter, Jennifer Knapp walked away from a career in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) arena. She stopped recording and touring all together. At the time she left the CCM industry, there were rumors that she was gay. Recently, Knapp resurfaced and has admitted to the world that she is, indeed, a lesbian.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's all in your head. Only it's not.

Over the years as I have struggled with varying degrees of depression and anxiety, I have encountered many people who have become exasperated with me for not being able to simply choose happiness. Their exasperation exasperates me, to tell you the truth. Luckily, I have a husband and some close friends who really (I mean really) understand that it is not that simple.

Yes, negative thoughts, when continuous, can cause you to become anxious or depressed. Unfortunately for the clinically depressed/generalized anxiety disordered person, it is not snap-your-fingers easy to turn these thoughts around. They swirl around, and around in our heads on a never-ending loop of what ifs, darkness, gloom and lethargy. For some of us, there just isn't enough serotonin, norepinephren and/or dopamine created in the brain. Couple this with a surge of adrenaline that we get when we are anxious and you have a very bad combination. You have a person who just wants to flee or fight and doesn't have the energy to do either one. It can be paralyzing.

There are medications that help to stabilize and regulate chemicals in the brain, but these are not little, magic happy pills. We don't take them and then suddenly all of our problems are solved and we become blissfully happy. What they do is bring about a balance that allows us to have the ability to think in a different way, where we are not always at the mercy of whatever chemical is firing or misfiring inside us. Then, we have a choice.

Over the years that I have been on medication, I have done a lot of self-examination and have made great strides towards a life unencumbered by the baggage of the past. There are times of unusual stress that will cause me to have a set-back, however, and I will have to begin again to sort things out, perhaps change medication and get back on track. This is the place I found myself at this winter. There were several factors that contributed to my set-back. Looked at in isolation, they may not seem too overwhelming, but with everything hitting at once, it just took me over. Not in a sense that I was out of control, but it just became to tiring to pretend to be okay any more. Once the medical side was taken care of, it was time for me to start doing the healing work, making a concentrated effort to look on the bright side and freeing myself from the darkness.

I can choose happiness. I thought maybe just acting as if I were happy would bring about an attitude change. It doesn't. Not in a lasting way, at least. I don't want fake happiness or forced smiles. I despise fakery (yes fakery is a word. I deem it so) and people who put on a show for the world. I certainly don't want that for myself. I want genuine joy and abundant delight in my life. This can't be achieved by the fake it 'til you make it attitude that was popular a decade or two ago. At least for me it can't. For me, there are no shortcuts to happiness. I already have all of the outward trappings of happiness - a great family, enough to eat, clothes to wear, a home, money to pay bills, a 'job' that I love, no major catastrophes are going on in my life - it's all there. It's not that I take it for granted; I appreciate it all. It is just that I have to switch my focus at times and not force myself to be happy, but allow myself to be happy.

I came across this video of a song called As If by Sara Evans. The song is about love and finding the right person, but I think it applies to life in general, as well. The girl in the video is very fixated on finding just the right man. She goes through a series of 'perfect' men, only to ditch them when they didn't meet her expectations. In the end she realizes that the right man was there in front of her the whole time, she just couldn't see it because she had a vision of what was 'right' and 'perfect'. I think we do this in our lives more than we realize. We go searching for perfection, may even at times fool ourselves into believing that another person or a thing can provide happiness for us. In the end, though, we come to the conclusion that what we need for happiness, joy, bliss, delight, is right in front of us the whole time. We just need to look in the mirror to find it. We, ourselves, are the only person who can make us happy. We have to find contentment within ourselves, be satisfied and comfortable with who we are, and accept our own worth before we can truly be happy in this life.

Here's to self-love and lasting happiness.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sabbatical Day 5

I had one last issue to take care of before I leave this wonderful cabin of peace tomorrow and go back to resume my life. This issue was the hardest one. The one I had been putting off even thinking about this whole week. I didn't want to deal with the can of worms it would open up inside me. I knew I had to deal with it though, and deal with it, I did. This issue I am talking about is anger. I had a lot of pent up anger and it was coming out all sideways at the people I love the most - my family. I didn't want my children to remember me as Angry Mom, so it was for them, most of all, that I tackled this issue.

I believe that anger is actually a secondary emotion. Anger is what frustration, hurt, disappointment and resentment leave behind. Someone has hurt, frustrated or disappointed us and because we don't want anyone to dislike us, we keep the hurt to ourselves and next thing you know we are angry and bitter because no one understands us. Of course they don't; we never said anything! We then carry these negative emotions around with us and turn them inward, causing us to be anxious and depressed. This effectively allows the person we are angry with to come along beside us wherever we go. They are like an albatross we drag around with us, placing them smack between ourselves and those who really matter in our lives. Everywhere we go, there they are. Allowing them to have a place between us and our loved ones reminds us to keep our defenses up, so that we won't be hurt like that again. As long as they are there, no one can get too close. The problem with this is obvious - we are allowing these people who have hurt us to control our ongoing relationships and thus our lives. The only way to remedy this problem is to release the anger. Which is what I did today.

I knew it wasn't a good idea to confront these people. It would have been a circular conversations that would have left me more frustrated. I had to think of some way to get all of my pent up frustration, hurt and anger out, once and for all without opening myself up to even more painful emotion. So, after much thought, I came up with a plan. I sat down and wrote out some letters to these people. I told them of the ways I was hurt by them, frustrated by them and now felt angry and bitter towards them. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I didn't have one thing left unsaid. I let it all out on the paper. Then I read the letters. Then, I read the letters over and over again until the words no longer had feeling behind them. I read them until I was no longer affected by the words. After the words no longer had control of my emotions, I took the pages and torn them into little pieces. As I was tearing the pages to shreds, I prayed. I prayed that God would give me the strength to let go of my anger once and for all and give me peace. Then I began to pray for the people I had written to. I asked God to bless them and grant them peace in their lives.

It's done. Finished. I can no longer pick up those hurts because I tore them all to pieces and threw them in the garbage where they belonged. I wish no one ill, but I will no longer be controlled by people I choose not to have in my life. They are gone and so is their power to manipulate me.

I feel emotionally drained right now, but I feel free. I am ready to go home tomorrow and continue to work on all of these issues that I have uncovered. By the grace of God, I will be able to conquer them all in due time. Moving forward I see light and great, glorious adventures.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sabbatical Day 4

I am feeling really stuck today. There are so many thoughts running through my head with no clear direction to any of them. I have found myself being distracted by things today, as if my mind doesn't want to confront any more issues. I mean aren't the issues I confronted the past three days enough? How many issues can one person have? Don't answer that. It was rhetorical. I know that I have multiple issues to deal with this week. I also know that I am not going to cure a lifetime issues in one week. I do hope that I can at least identify most of them and move in a positive direction when I get back home. I am feeling the pressure right now. Only one full day left after today, so I better get this thing figured out. I need to have it all figured out by noon Saturday, so hurry up and figure it out!

Okay, I think I just stumbled upon my next issue. The need for perfection. Those who know me may not see me as a perfectionist. Especially if they have dropped by my house unannounced. I am pretty messy and can appear quite scatterbrained at times. I procrastinate like crazy. I lose things regularly, just ask each of my children how many times they have handed me a permission slip or report card, only to come back later to retrieve it and find that I have misplaced it. By all outward appearances, I am no perfectionist at all. But I am.

Being a perfectionist has nothing to do with being perfect. It has to do with my perfectionist thought processes. I suffer from the "Anything worth doing is worth doing right" mentality. I don't do something unless I can do it right. This means that things I lack the time, direction, energy or motivation for fall by the wayside. I procrastinate until I have time or energy to do it right. I don't make decisions because I am afraid of making the wrong decision. I want to have a clear-cut, right answer. If I am not interested in doing something, but I said I would when someone asked me to (see previous post about my need to be liked issues), I will drag my feet getting it done because I don't care enough about it to do it right. I realize this is a circuitous thought process, but I have been doing it for so long it has become a habit. What to do? Form another habit, of course. Yea, that should be easy, right?

It is going to be an internal struggle for me to go against my natural inclinations and give up my all or nothing ideals. I am going to have to be much more intentional with my thinking so that I don't fall back on old habits. It is going to mean saying no when I am asked to do something I am not interested in doing, which may be quite uncomfortable for me and may even cause some people to think less of me. I am going to have to force myself to get started on a project (ie, that book I want to write) and keep at it until it is finished no matter if I think it is perfect or not, which may cause some anxiety because I really want to put my best foot forward in this venture. Despite the anxiety and discomfort changing my habits will cause, it will alleviate so much dread and stress that I often feel from taking on ill-fitting projects and procrastination. Hopefully the benefits will carry me and I will learn to deal with good enough before I even have a chance to balk at myself.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sabbatical - Day 3

Guilt. So much emotion is wrapped up in its five little letters. Just looking at the word conjures up for me images of all the things I feel bad about. Things from long ago. Things that have happened recently. Even as I sit here, right now I can think of things that I feel guilty about. Just being here at all, away from my family makes me anxious and guilt-ridden. I can picture all of the things that I am missing, all the things I usually do that someone else has to do instead. And that is just for starters. Don't get me started on all of the regrets from years ago and all of the ways I would do things differently if I could do it again today. Not to mention all of the people whom I have inevitably let down over the years! I start to feel breathless and panicky just thinking about it as I pile one guilty verdict on top of the last. My back is breaking from the burden of carrying around all of the guilt. I need to lay it down.

I have memories of guilt and worry from a very early age. I was the family peacemaker. Whether that role was given to me or I picked it up on my own is unclear to me, but the fact is, that is the way I felt. If a family member was upset, I needed to smooth things over. I never liked seeing anyone upset, so I would do what I could to make things right again. If everyone wasn't happy, I felt guilty about it, as if I should be able to make everything peaceful and harmonious.

As I grew up, I just naturally kept up that role in my relationships with friends, family, co-workers, boyfriends and eventually with my husband and my children. To this day I feel it is my place to keep things on an even keel. If I am at a party (or gathering of any kind) and I can see that a discussion is going in a bad direction, I will do what I can to steer it in another direction. I am constantly monitoring the body language and facial expressions of those around me, so that I can intercept a bad mood and turn it around. My children have learned this about me and use it to their full advantage. They know that a long face or a desolate sigh cannot be ignored by mom for very long. I like that I am perceptive and that I can 'feel' the emotions of others so well; that is actually a very positive trait. It is exhausting, however, and it always leaves me feeling guilty when I can't do it right. By right, I mean, when I can't make everyone happy, peaceful and harmonious.

How egotistical is it of me to think that it is my duty pacify everyone at all times? Who do I think I am anyway? When I really analyse this trait I realize that is actually is sort of a control issue with me - to feel that I need to control the moods of everyone around me. Am I really doing it so that others won't experience discomfort or is it so that I, myself, don't have to feel uncomfortable about their discomfort, or so that I can control the mood in the room? Either way it needs to stop. It is not healthy for me, plus, other people have to learn to handle their own blunders. I mean, what do I think they do when I'm not there? Oh, man, there's something else to feel guilty about - I can't be with everyone 100% of the time! Eee, gads!

Seriously, though, guilt is not a healthy motivator. A little guilt is not a bad motivator, I suppose; it serves a purpose in keeping the majority of us from becoming conscienceless sociopaths, bound for a life in prison. A lot of guilt, or misplaced guilt, is not good though. It keeps us from having a healthy amount of self-esteem and prevents us from separating our happiness from the happiness of others. We all need our own identities and should allow ourselves to feel things independent of what others are feeling. We can't control it all anyway, so why keep feeling guilty about it?

How to expunge ourselves of these interdependent guilt feelings? That is a hefty question. One that I believe can be solved by another little five letter word - MERCY. Jesus said this in his sermon on the mountain(Matthew 5) - Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy. I have always looked at that verse in an outward sense, as in having mercy or compassion on others. But, in reading it today I read a different spin on it. Compassion begins at home (in our own hearts) and we need to have mercy on ourselves; forgive ourselves for not being perfect; overlook the times we were unable to get it just right; give ourselves permission to be flawed and unable to make everyone happy all the time. We have to be able to extend mercy to ourselves before we can really show mercy to others, just as we have to learn to love ourselves before we can love others as Jesus asks us to. This is a very freeing though. Very freeing, indeed.

I am going to practice feeling merciful towards myself, even as I feel a twinge of guilt for not being with my daughter tonight when I know she could use her mommy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sabbatical - Day 2

Write a book? Create a website? Who, me? Why me? That is what the nagging little voice inside my head taunts. Why would anyone want to read anything I wrote? Only a few friends will ever read it and they will do so only to be nice, so as not to hurt my feelings. What makes me special? Look at all the books out there, and at all the blog website there are. Surely, what they have to say and their writing is far superior to my attempts. See? In just a few short, negative thoughts, I have talked myself out of something I have wanted to do since childhood - well, write a book, that is. This website thing is relatively new and was not something I dreamed of as a child, but for the past several years I have thought about it. I always come away with the same thing every time I think on and dream about it, though. You know why? Because I always tell myself the same thing -duh! Well, it's time to turn some of those thought patterns around and now is as good a time as any to do just that, so here goes.

Who, me? Yes, why not me? Who cares if anyone reads it, it's no big deal if only a few people read it, it's the process of writing that really matters. Getting the thoughts out of my head and down on paper (or cyber-space) is the objective. I can do that. The creative outlet is what the process is all about. What makes me think I am special? Nothing. And everything. Everyone is ordinary and everyone is special. That is a fact of life as I see it. God created us all with the same basic instincts, but all with unique characteristics. What could be more wonderful than that? No one who has ever written a book or created a popular website is any more or less special than I. They probably have the same anxieties and fears and insecurities as I have, but there is one slight difference - they had the courage to put themselves out there but, up until now, I haven't. Oh, yes, I have stuck my toe in the water, written things, and put myself out there to an extent, but I have never gone for the Full Monty. It is time.

The time has come to lay aside my fears of rejection and my anxiety at the thought of looking foolish. It is these fears and anxieties that keep me stuck in the past and present; they prevent me from moving ahead. In a way they have been my crutch. As long as I tell myself these negative things that I started this post with, I don't have to really try-- I can keep making excuses and hide behind my anxiety. I never realized until now how comfortable I had become with living in fear. Fear has given me a free pass from doing things that are uncomfortable for me. Anxiety has cocooned me in a way that has not been conducive to my dreams, but has nonetheless made me feel so safe and secure that it has crippled me from really living.

As a Christian, I have no business being fearful or anxious. I know that 1 John 4:18 clearly tells me that God lives in me and that his love drives out all fear and that Philippians 4:6 says that I should be anxious for nothing. I have read these passages of scripture over and over through the years. They have stuck in my head; I can recall them at will. However, somehow, they have not embedded themselves into heart. There has been a disconnect between what I intellectually know to be true, and what I feel is true. I am ready to make that connection. Living in fear has done nothing to move me toward my goals and dreams. It has done nothing to improve the relationships in my life. Living in fear does not draw me closer to God's love. Therefore, I must give it up. I have to put down the crutch and take up the cross and follow wherever the road takes me. I know I have a great leader in God and the dreams he has for me are bigger than anything I have imagined for myself. My job is to prepare myself for the free-fall that will occur once I let go of the crutch and to trust that the arms that hold the universe will have the grace to catch me.

Here I GO!

Fee - Arms that Hold the Universe

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Sabbatical - Day 1

As I drove to my sabbatical destination, the destination that was supposed to bring me closer to the peace I longed for, I felt anything but peaceful. What I felt was stirred up, rattled and unsettled. Most unsettling for me, was driving through the town where I grew up - not the town where I spent my childhood, but the town where I spent my early adult years. The town where I really grew up, not chronologically, perhaps, but emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. You know, the kind of growing up that we do after we are already grown, out of school and on our own. I spent almost 10 years in this particular town and boy, did I ever have some growing experiences there; a lot of them painful, yet unavoidable and beneficial nonetheless. So, driving through was a bit uncomfortable as I recalled some of the more upsetting lessons I had learned in my time there.

I was traveling through an area of this town on my way to my final destination yesterday and I was practically transported in time as I remembered this particular stretch of road. I used to drive this route to work every day. It was so familiar, that it was almost as if it were 1988. And yet it had changed, all at the same time. Some of the old remained, sure, but a lot had been added, improvements have been made and some things that had once been landmarks on the terrain were gone altogether. I thought briefly about the similarities between the changes that have been made to the landscape of my old stomping grounds and the changes that I myself have gone through over the years. I have changed in just the same ways, I have added a few things, gotten rid of a few things that no longer served a purpose in my life and made some improvements, but still, I am recognizable; the bones of my personal (inner) terrain remain the same.

Time marches on and we certainly can't remain the same. We have to be changeable without being completely changed. The inner self, the self that I believe is the soul, created by God is a unique and wonderful thing and should never be changed to the point of being unrecognizable. The trick in changing ourselves properly lies in culling out the unnecessary parts and keeping our essence intact. This process has indeed become very tricky for me recently. Hence, the reason I have come to this cabin, alone, for a week - to find peace, listen to my inner voice (the Holy Spirit) and strip away all the superfluous layers of 'stuff' that aren't really me. Sounds easy enough, right?

One of the main sticking points to creating this change, at the moment, is expectation. Not only the expectations of those around me and the world at large, but also the expectations I have for myself. Those expectations are often higher and more difficult to achieve than anything the world could throw at me. I have always had high expectations for myself and exacting personal standards. It is so much easier to forgive the foibles of those around me than it is for me to overlook my own imperfections. Appearing foolish or looking stupid to others is a fate worse than death to me. It is this fear that holds me back from opening myself up to my full potential.

Tackling the fear-of-looking-foolish beast is one of my goals this week. Once I accomplish this, I feel I will be free to live as I was intended to live, as God created me to live. I will have changed some more in the process, just as the town where I grew up has changed. It is still the same town, though. It still has the same feel it always had, it is just improved a bit to better serve it's purpose for those who live within its borders. That is what I am praying for myself as well.