Love is Kind

In the summer of 2013, I worked at a summer camp for girls in the mountains of northeast Alabama. It was an incredible experience and I did many things I considered impossible for me, such as lead a troop of 11-14 year olds, teach six year olds how to knit, or work a ropes course.

I struggled with many of the ropes course tasks because, for one, my hand-eye coordination is not as high as some people’s. I never was good at kickball or basketball or football or P.E. in general, for that matter. Another reason is that while heights are thrilling for me mentally and emotionally, my muscles tend to shut down that high up. My hands would get all sweaty and my fingers would lock up. My arms would go numb. My legs would stop holding me up. It was nasty. Needless to say, they eventually resigned me to the on-ground positions, like belaying climbers up a rock wall or helping little girls off the V-swing. Sometimes I got up in the air on break times just to keep on top of my game, which was always fun.

Of course, even though I was usually assigned to the ground, I had to be trained on all the elements, even the up high ones. This mean hours of training, running the same elements multiple times as both a facilitator and a participant, which always led to uncomfortable wedgies. On one of these days, one of the trainers (a girl named Ali), remarked on my ability to stay calm and patient during the stressful parts. She said, “You’re really patient with yourself.” I think back to that experience quite a bit, and I resonate with her words. That experience was how ropes taught me patience. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that patience is the first characteristic of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

This morning at church, it hit me that I am in the midst of learning the second characteristic from that passage: love is kind.

If you’re like me, you may have had a difficult experience (or several) in your formative years or even since then that has affected how you view yourself. Many times we don’t acknowledge or deal with these experiences – we just know that we are affected in some way, even if we don’t know how. Other times, a counselor, a traumatic event, or a faithful community brings these issues to light and we have to work them out in God’s timing. I once worked with a lady whose uncle told her she had ugly knees and since then she has always worn pants, even decades later. It may be a slightly humorous example, but it was extremely painful for this woman nonetheless.

Often, a situation has affected us for years. Maybe divorce; death of a loved one; abusive elder, peer, or romantic interest; absent parent; constant bullying; lifelong and/or mishandled medical condition; mental illness in ourselves or those around us; unfaithful friend; moving many times as a young child… There are any number of issues, and each person responds to these issues in a different way. A cross-country move may be a traumatic event in one child’s life, while his or her sibling may enjoy the move and make new friends easily. It doesn’t matter what the situation is… What matters is how it affects us. When we struggle with issues today, we may not realize that they are often directly linked to a difficult situation from earlier.

Personally, I struggle with negative self talk. There are a variety of places it could have come from, and I believe it was a combination of all of them. To deal with this struggle, I sought out the only thing I could that made it seem better… Accolades. I figured out by high school that I could take on responsibilities and lead or co-lead something and enter my writing pieces into contests and make A’s in all my classes, and I could run off those accolades like gas in a car. When I felt my self-esteem dropping, I would just remember that my teachers and peers (no more P.E. classes by this point, thankfully) and parents thought I was smart and good at what I did, and I would reign that negative self talk back in. Yeah, sometimes it got to me, and fluctuating teenage hormones did not help a bit, but I was able to be in control enough to be a happy and busy person. I was constantly busy. In college, it was the same way: busyness, good grades, ministry of various types, part-time job, leading and co-leading, staying up late and waking up early. Listen: There is nothing wrong with any of those things. Those are very good things. But when we use them to gain the approval of others, we are neglecting the God who has already given us His approval. I lived on the accolades and approval of others. I also lived for the feelings of success when I accomplished something – sometimes not as pride in a job well done, but as a more haughty, looking-down-on-people-who-couldn’t-do-it pride. Of course, I would have never said that back then, but I began to realize that’s the way it was when I got into the “real world” and people were not constantly giving me accolades and approval. Professors loved me in college, but my boss in the “real world” thought I was okay. And there’s nothing wrong with that… With time, I will get better at what I do, but I’m still learning. It’s okay that I’m okay. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way at the beginning of this “real world” adventure.

When the feelings of not measuring up and not meeting standards took its toll on me (from new my job, my new dating relationship, my new living arrangement… see a new pattern here?), I let that negative self talk have its way. It was not pretty. I’ll just sum it up by saying that almost a week ago, I had a horrible night. I was crying nonstop, I couldn’t sleep, my stomach ached, and I could not stop the demeaning thoughts. If it wasn’t spiritual warfare, it was pretty darn close. I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t remember or read Scripture, and I couldn’t calm down enough to think rationally. The negative thoughts had had their way with me. I had listened to them for months now and I could not take it any longer.

But grace found me and I eventually fell asleep. A few good talks with godly people, worship music, and a restful breakfast date with God later, and I am doing much better.

The point I’m making is that I have a propensity for negative self talk and low self-esteem due partially to difficult experiences when I was younger and partially to being a hormonal young woman in multiple new situations at the same time. Regardless, I was faced with the reality that I wasn’t loving myself when I let that negative self-talk into my head. Love is kind, and I was not being kind to myself. When Paul talks about taking every thought captive, he means more than staying away from sexually impure thoughts – he also means avoiding thoughts that put yourself down. You are a child of the Most High God, created in his image to do the good things he has prepared in advance for you to do. Why would you ever put yourself down? Later, in Philippians 4:8, Paul urges us to “fix your thoughts” on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Can you focus on those things while at the same time telling yourself that you are worthless and inadequate over and over again? Can you focus on true, lovely, and honorable things while dismissing your God-given gifts and dwelling on your human weaknesses? Can you focus on right and excellent things while ignoring God’s strength and staying in a place of self-deprecation?

As Christians, we are called to love, and I believe that this command extends even to ourselves. How can we love others if we don’t love ourselves? It’s a difficult balance to find, as we don’t want to become inflated and prideful, either. However, I believe that a positive understanding of God’s sacrifice and grace for us combined with an appropriate conceptual grasp of our teeny-tiny but nevertheless significant roles in his grand plan will help us to find that balance.

In fact, as C.S. Lewis wrote: “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves. It is thinking of ourselves less.” Self-hatred and self-pride are both examples of selfishness, as they are both thinking of ourselves more often than thinking of others.

There is a beautiful place in the middle there where we are at peace with our identities in Christ and we can humbly love others without hidden agendas. It may take an entire lifetime to get to a point of consistently walking in that place. In the mean time, we must deal with our own difficult memories and painful issues in order to love ourselves well. And we must keep loving others, and extending to them the same things we are extending to ourselves, especially when it is difficult.

Love is patient, love is kind… I wonder what God will show me next? (Read 1 Corinthians 13 to find out!)


 

P.S. Let me just stick a postscript in right here… Even as I’m learning about this incredibly important aspect of agape love, I’m realizing that I very often treat those around me with a lack of kindness, even people I claim to love. Why is it so easy to treat those close to us (family, significant others, close friends) with the least love? For this, I apologize, and want to remind those closest to me that this is a learning process for all of us. Thank you for your forgiveness and acceptance, even when my words, thoughts, and actions do not convey love.

The Adventures In Between

I realized today that even the “boring” stages of life are adventures.

I have really been struggling with the concept of growing up and being on my own. I think part of this struggle comes from feeling alone. I mean, even though I am blessed with friends who are making his journey with me and family members who are caring and supportive, sometimes I still feel like I’m doing this on my own. I must have the internal motivation to succeed. I must make choices that are right for me. I have to send out my own job applications and schedule my own interviews. I have to decide what time I’m going to bed and when I’ll wake up. I make the decision whether to have ice cream and coffee cake for dinner or to eat actual food (sometimes the ice cream wins out), but I’m making that decision myself. No one else will make it for me.

In that moment, realizing I’m free and yet somehow bound to my own limitations, I find myself fearful of what lies ahead. I was panicked at one time last month. I was incredibly anxious with all of my student teaching work to complete and with planning my next step. I fed my stress with junk food and lack of exercise (which, of course, is a completely healthy and mature way to deal with my problems).

the-adventures-in-betweengrace-upon-grace-blog


When I went to Thailand, I bought the audiobook version of Love Does by Bob Goff. If anyone is qualified to speak on adventure, it’s Bob Goff. Having just written resumes myself, I can’t begin to describe Bob’s resume. You can view his website here, but before I go any farther, you should know that Bob is a diplomat to Uganda, a lawyer who found an interesting way into law school, a hitchhiker (in his younger days), a father desiring to make his children’s dreams come true, a hiker and biker, the founder of a non-profit, a world traveler, a man engaged in life and whimsy, and an adventurer. He loves God and has a passionate for people and for showing people the God who loves them, too.

Listening to the audiobook version of Love Does reminded me of adventure. It is easy to “live the adventure”  when you’re dreaming of plane flights and rattling off new languages and hiking exotic waterfalls. But when you’re living with your parents and spending your time between job applications, running errands, and helping with yard work, it doesn’t really feel like an adventure anymore. How can I be adventurous at this stage in my life? Nothing stopped Bob Goff from being adventurous, even in the boring stuff. He sat outside the office of the law school dean for several days waiting and willing to be accepted to the school. When his Jeep was totaled, he rode a skateboard to work and asked his family and friends for rides to the airport and grocery store. Things that would stop me somehow didn’t stop him. He was still an adventurer regardless. Even if he failed, the failure was an adventure.

A writer at Deeper Story wrote that her “white picket fence… looks like safety but feels like adventure.” The thing is, my current adventures are not super adventurous. They look like safety. I few months ago, I was obtaining visas, buying tickets, flying halfway around the world, and living and working in a country I had never been to before for three months. That felt like an adventure because everyone knew it was an adventure. I had sent out prayer cards and made a blog and raised some money. I needed a passport, a visa, and plane tickets. It was good and bad and fantastic and difficult and beautiful all in one. (Adventures are not perfect every day.)

The same is true for adventures that seem somewhat less adventurous. I don’t need a passport for my immediate after graduation circumstances. I don’t need plane tickets. I’m not raising money (although that’s not a bad idea!). Regardless, my after-graduation adventures are still adventures. They may be less initially mind-blowing (moving to Thailand for three months was a little crazy to many people), but they are still adventures. I still find the whole “after-graduation”/”on my own” thing really crazy. And I believe that whatever the next days, months, and years hold will be good, bad, fantastic, difficult, and beautiful all at the same time, just like my student teaching in Thailand. God is calling me to adventures, even adventures of living in one of my dad and stepmom’s extra bedrooms and job hunting for a few months.

Twenties

Because you know what? This stage of life is just as valuable as the three and a half months I spent in Thailand. This stage of life feels like an “in-between” moment that I would like to skip over, but it is actually important. I didn’t graduate college after a few months of fun-filled partying with my best friends. I spent four years, most of them engaged in hard work, in order to graduate. The same is true about this part of my life. It may be weird and uncomfortable and hard and boring sometimes, but it matters in the grand scheme of things.


Let us not forget two things:

  1. Wherever you are right now, it is not a waiting room. As Anne Voskamp says, “Real Life is Happening. Right Now.” God is working right now. Use the time you’re given right now.
  2. Bob Goff writes, “You don’t need to know everything when you’re with someone you trust.” I think that because we can’t see God and we usually don’t hear Him audibly, we have difficulty trusting Him, but we are called to trust him and rely on Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He knows what the people around us are doing. He’s got a plan, so it’s okay to trust Him even when we don’t know exactly what’s going on. In the end, God is good, and He works everything together for His glory and our good.

Even the adventures in between.

The Process of Discovery: First Half of 2014 in Review

In two days, it will be June, halfway through 2014 as we know it. I have spent the last five months in a whirlwind of settling and resettling, excitement and tumult, joy and tears, entry and re-entry, leaving and arriving, movement and rest.

So far, 2014 has seen me setting foot in four countries and three states. I’ve flown in eight airplanes and taken at least nine other types of transportation. By next week, I will have packed up and moved (in various capacities) over ten times. I have been a teacher and student (and graduate), traveler and homebody, leader and follower, roommate, housemate, friend, sister, daughter, volunteer, packer, organizer, and writer.

(I know I’ve been slacking on the “writer” part!)

Last December, I chose to make Discover my OneWord for 2014. While I am enjoying spending some time focusing on discover, I find that the word hasn’t hit me the same way grace hit me in 2013. Believe me, discover showed up in Thailand, both in print as I arrived and in my daily interactions of discovery, as I did those very things I thought I could not do.

Maybe, unlike grace‘s consistent appearance in songs, books, and conversations, discovery is showing up more in my attitude. Maybe instead of hitting me over the head like gracediscover is being embodied and grown inside me. Maybe it’s a gentle process of discovery… imagine that!

My next adventure, and one that I am loving so far, is leading an 8-week online Bible study group with Good Morning Girls as part of their “You are Loved” study. (Enrollment ends tonight, if you are interested in joining!) As I gear up for the study with the 14 or so ladies who are joining me online, I am praying for discovery. I am praying that these ladies and I would discover more about God than we knew before the study. I pray that what we discover would shape our lives and our interactions with others for the better.

Also before me is the adventure of moving to the city where my dad and stepmom live with two good friends. We are living in their home for a while, looking for jobs, and settling in post-graduation life, whatever that is supposed to be! Thanks for your prayers, everyone.

You Know You’re “Growing Up” When…

  • You can justify spending less time in the junior’s section and more time in the women’s section. Unfortunately,  the junior’s section is too scandalous and the women’s too dreary.
  • You have to figure out what size you are in women’s clothes, like pant suits and fancy dresses.
  • You’re not sure whether to shop in the “teen fiction” or the “fiction” section at Barnes and Noble, but you can’t find what you’re looking for in either place.
  • “We’ll let you know by the end of the week either way” turns into “You might be lucky to get a letter in the next week or two.”
  • You have to buy your own food, even at home (if the family is not going out or if you don’t want to eat your brother’s Beefaroni).
  • You choose to eat the Beefaroni anyway.
  • You have to cook your own breakfast at your grandma’s house, but thankfully, you can use her Keurig machine for free.
  • You are mildly obsessed with money, getting a job, and affording things like a car and an apartment, but you are entirely unmotivated to apply for jobs.

Keep on keeping on, fellow graduates! We can do this.

During Freshman orientation, a speaker once told us to take a deep breath, relax, and say to ourselves: “This is a good idea.” By the time classes started, we were repeating: “Relax… This is a good idea!” After graduation, a friend’s Facebook status recalled this moment and reminded us that four years of college were, in fact, a good idea. We discovered, by the end of our college years, that God had been providing for us all this time. As we begin the next stage and move on to a new chapter, I say it again:

Relax… this is a good idea.

August in Review

August has been a really crazy month for me. I lived in three states, visited ten states and the District of Columbia, spent time in two countries, worked two jobs, slept in ten beds, ate everything from microwavable popcorn to calamari, drove too many hours to count, packed and unpacked and repacked and forgot something every time, and finally, somehow, ended up back at college to begin my senior year.

I don’t know how it happened – I just know that I am here. Believe me, part of me loves the thrill of adventure, the excitement and calculated risk of trying new things and doing something crazy. However, when I first got back to school, I went to bed around 9pm every night because I was just so exhausted and felt so out of control. It took a couple really great chapel services, some time with God, reconnecting with old friends, and even tearing down a closet door to re-center myself.

Adventure is really fun and I believe that everything I did this August and this entire summer was a benefit to me personally, but I am also reminded that I am so introverted that I have to be alone to recharge. It has been nonstop for weeks upon months now, and I’ve learned that I must rest! I have to use precious time, like the weekends or a spare hour here or there to be by myself, to workout, to read, to eat or have coffee with friends, to sleep.

I was made to glorify and enjoy God forever. Sometimes in my pursuit of service for Him or enjoyment of His gifts, I forget Him. Let me remember that resting in God is where I get my strength to do everything else he has called me to do.

If you fall into the need-time-to-recharge-or-I-might-die category, go do it. Don’t think that you can somehow be okay by ignoring your innate needs to be alone or to do nothing for a time. Rest is good. When we recharge with God, he will give us what we need to keep going.

So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.

– II Thessalonians 1:11-12, NLT