vulnerability is a tricky thing.

The Monday after Mother’s Day, I posted something on my instagram story. I can’t tell you exactly what it said because instastories, by nature, disappear after 24 hours and I didn’t screenshot it and it came from me kind of stream-of-conscious-like so it wasn’t really curated in my brain. But it was a repost of a cutsie message board someone had shared that read “take a deep breath”, with a message to my friends struggling with the post Mother’s Day hangover feels to remember to breathe through their Monday. Breathe out the unexpected onslaught of emotions and remember that Tuesday will come. The day doesn’t last forever. Just breathe.

Personally, I had a hard day on that Monday, but it wasn’t as tough as past years. I made it through the weekend with a breezy heart, generally unaffected by a day that had typically crushed my soul in the past. No, this Monday was pretty different, because 2019 has been a pretty different year. I’ve hesitated to write about it because it’s deeply spiritual, and while I’m not ashamed of that, I realize that not all my readers are quite as woo-woo as me, and because the deeply spiritual parts of me are also deeply personal. So with all the clarity I can muster, let me try to explain that 2019 has me feeling freer than I have in years. I described it to a friend in this way: grief takes many shapes and forms, but for me in recent years it has felt like lugging a giant suitcase around. I used to travel a lot and lugging suitcases through the airport was by far the worst part. I was petite and not at all strong, with no upper body strength to get carry ons into the overhead compartment and much too shy to ask someone to help me, so stepping onto an airplane caused much anxiety and a weird combination of awkward embarrassment as I was determined to fit this dadgum suitcase into it’s spot while avoiding eye contact with all the strong men and women who probably would have gladly assisted me if I hadn’t been emitting such defiant independence. I was also pretty dramatic, clearly. But what I learned from being in airports all the time was that after a few months of traveling nonstop you start to forget how heavy the suitcase is. You just adapt. I don’t think I ever got stronger or less awkward, I just adapted to this new way of life. My grief journey has been similar. I felt like I was lugging around a suitcase full of weights, and over time I just adjusted to carrying it. So when the grief lifted in a sudden and spiritual way, I was confused because I couldn’t name what felt different about my heart. It felt lighter. I was smiling more, at nothing in particular. I was sleeping better. I had more energy. I was rarely thinking about children, and when I did there was no sorrow attached. It was weird. It wasn’t until someone at church came up to me out of the blue and said something so specific for me that I realized what was happening. She said “sometimes healing comes in the form of freedom from the burden of grief, rather than physical healing” (or something like that – sorry if I butchered it). And then it just clicked – the burden was gone. It was no longer holding me down or pulling me back. I had grown so numb to the weight that I couldn’t remember what it felt like to live without it.

Flash forward five months to Mother’s Day and I wasn’t surprised that I made it through the weekend so well. I was proud, even, that I had actually enjoyed it instead of being in my feelings the whole time. So when I started to feel grief kicking up dust in my soul that Monday morning, I was surprised. And confused. And terrified. Terrified because once you’ve lost that burden of grief, your worst fear is that you had only faked your way out of it and it’s going to come back. Confused because while I have gotten real good at identifying my emotions and labeling them fact or fake (salute, therapy), there was a jumble of things going on in my heart and I wasn’t able to separate them well. I was scrolling through Instagram on my lunch break when I saw that message board and told myself “take a deep breath.”. As I did I realized the grief wasn’t flooding me. I wasn’t having a panic attack or overwhelmed by my emotions. I was thinking of the women who were experiencing the Mother’s Day hangover I have felt for the past few years. I was thinking of the women who were pulling the suitcase of grief I had pulled for many years. I was sad. But I was light. This is my least favorite part of grief: the duality. I need to be either all in my feels or all the way out. While I pride myself on understanding the healthy gray of life, I need my feelings to be black and white. Grief doesn’t do that. As I sat there on my couch, I held both sorrow and joy in my hands, intermingling. Neither fighting for more space or the upper hand, both content to coexist and respect each other’s perspective.

And so I posted the cute picture to my instastory with my note for the women experiencing what I had experienced multiple years before, and a bit this year, A few friends reached out to check on me – because they are wise and loving – and I couldn’t explain everything I just told you. That I was better than years before, but experiencing a mix of sorrow and joy that felt strange. I didn’t know how to explain that I was both deeply sad and still free in my bones, because I couldn’t explain it to myself yet. So I gave them the answer I could: that I was trying. And spent the following hours and days experiencing a deep vulnerability shame for speaking up. Because I didn’t mean to post it in an attempt to garner sympathy for myself. I was truly speaking to the women in this posse of fertility misfits who I knew were having a hard day because I’ve had both the misfortune and pleasure to have gone before them. But my words were also for me, because I was hurting a bit too. And so I started to cave to this shame creeping up in me that says the only reason to speak out on this thing called social media, that we love to hate, is to receive love and affection.

This is where vulnerability gets tricky. I haven’t been writing much over the past several months, for a few reasons. Grad school is harder than I anticipated (eye rolls welcome), life has been busier than we thought it would be, I’ve largely been uninspired, and these pieces of me that are changing just didn’t have words to go with them yet. So I largely stayed silent while I processed. But the danger with staying silent is that you lose the habit of vulnerability. You grow out of practice. And I, certainly, need the practice and habit of vulnerability in order to engage well. Left to my own devices I stay bottled up instead of welcoming people into my suck. So when I spoke out this week, after months of not so much, I was immediately flooded with deep shame. Shame for being so open with The Internet. Shame for baring an unflattering piece of my heart. Shame for speaking.

I’ve become a big podcast listener over the past year, and today I listened to a host explain why they talk about themselves so much and tell such degrading stories about themselves when they know the public probably thinks they’re being self indulgent and narcissistic. This host said, the guest will only ever be as vulnerable as the host, so they’re willing to get deep in the muck first. I could feel my heart cracking as I sat at my desk. How beautifully true. Most people don’t show up in our lives ready and willing to bare the deepest parts of their souls, the good, bad, and gross. But it’s in all of us. If I want my table to be open to everyone and welcome to authentic, vulnerable, broken people, I have to be willing to be the first one to get down in the dirt and share my brokenness. And I’ve decided I will.

I don’t want to ever stop speaking loudly about the pain I’ve gone through if I think it will help someone else, because the voices of other women who have gone before me were some of the only things that got me through those early years. I don’t want to ever cower to vulnerability shame that tells me I speak out for attention or the words I speak have no power, because the words spoken TO me have more power than those people realize. Because God speaks to me through his word and through other people. And I don’t ever want to quit speaking out because I don’t think anyone needs to hear it or no one will get it. We are given voices that carry power, and refusing to use that power is disobedience. Refusing to speak up for and speak life into other people is what we’re made to do, but it starts with being honest about ourselves.

 

So here’s to getting back into the habit of writing and the habit of vulnerability. Here’s to saying no to shame.

Love,
Julia

 

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Prescribed Burns

“According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one is to be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. 14 If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved—but only as through fire.”  1 Corinthians 3: 10-15

Scripture snapshot: When reading the beginning of Paul’s letter, I can only assume things were starting to get a little dicey in Corinth. He’s tossing out some firm reprimands and corrections. Paul is trying to show the Christians in Corinth that they’ve placed their hope in their leaders rather than their savior. They’ve begun associating themselves with their spiritual guides (I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos), those men who brought them the good news and instructed them in the way of Jesus, rather than in Jesus himself. Paul is trying to remind them that Jesus is the goal and the common denominator that holds us all together, no the spiritual leaders we have chose to associate with. And while doing so, he explains it in the way of a builder: as a spiritual leader, Paul has laid a foundation for the Corinthians. He taught them the way of Jesus and is encouraging them as they continue to build their lives, their ministries, and their dreams through the work of Jesus in their lives, so that the foundation is flowing up through them. But that’s not what they’re doing. They’ve laid the foundation of Jesus. They love Jesus. But now they’re building their lives, ministries, and dreams in the ways they know how: through wealth. Through effort. Through intelligence. Through earthly resources. And Paul is left telling them that holy fire reveals all: only those things left standing after a fire are of God. At least, that’s the Bible according to Julia understanding.

 

I spent my early childhood in rural Oklahoma, so I know a tiny bit about prescribed burns. A prescribed burn is when a farmer willingly and purposefully sets his or her land on fire to clear out weeds or remains from a previous crop and provide fertile, nutrient rich soil for the future crops (farmer friends, please don’t tell me if I’m wrong – just go with it). This always disturbed me as a child. There’s something violent and terrifying about a fire that large – like it’s unmanageable and could be out of control in an instant. But the farmer knows what they’re doing. In the same way, God knows what he’s doing with our lives. The fire Paul talks about in this scripture is intended to clear out anything that isn’t built on the foundation of Jesus. Anything that we created with our own hands, through our own earthly resources.

 

I think some of us are in a tug of war with God, and we’re bone tired. He wants to set everything in our lives on fire to clear out the weeds, to reveal what is of him and what is not, and we won’t let go. We’ve got a death grip on pieces of our lives where we have placed our identity. The pieces of our lives that we’ve poured so much of ourselves into, and we’re not letting go. We won’t let the all knowing father have his way, because we don’t know what will withstand the flame. We’re afraid our marriages won’t hold up. We’re afraid all the money and effort we’ve put into keeping our families health and happy won’t save it from imploding. We’re afraid the emotional energy we’ve spent trying to hold our careers together won’t be able to handle the prescribed burn. We’re terrified of the loss. But Paul brings us good news – he says “…if anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved…”. God wants to save us, our heart and soul, more than he wants to save the earthly lives we have created for ourselves. He wants to save our spouses and our marriages, our families and our careers, more than he wants to save the versions of it that we built on our own. And he knows the version we built for ourselves will never withstand the flames like the kind of life he wants to build for us.  

 

Ecclesiastes 3:3 says there is a time to tear down and a time to build. Deconstruction has a bad rap right now in Christian culture. If you’re a follower of Christian Twitter you know what I’m talking about. If you tell people you’re “deconstructing your faith”, chances are the Christians in your life are going to assume you’ve abandoned biblical principles and are rebuilding your faith into a more people-pleasing version. I hate this. I hate it because I believe that going through a deconstruction and reconstruction of our belief systems is necessary to growth. I believe it’s biblical, and I believe it’s a process we should go through many times in our lives. Ecclesiastes tells us! A time to tear down and a time to build. It’s cyclical, seasonal even, to tear down and then rebuild. We’re only human – it’s natural that at some point in our lives our belief system and understanding of God will begin to look more like a version of ourselves and our spiritual leaders than it will the Jesus who died to save us. This is the crux of what Paul is teaching the Corinthians – it’s time to set fire to the belief system we’ve created and get back to the God of it all. It’s time to tear the building down to the foundation and let God do the work of building it back up, on his word, not on the word of our pastors or our parents, or our friends or Sunday school teachers. We have to get back to identifying ourselves with the Savior and not the churches with which we’ve chosen to live in community. But in order to do that, we have to let go of those areas in our lives that we’re holding onto for dear life. We have to be willing to let the parts of us that don’t reflect God burn in holy fire and see what’s left standing when the smoke clears.

 

The fire reveals the true position of our hearts. It puts on display the areas of our lives where we’ve bypassed placing our trust in God and instead used all our earthly resources to take care of ourselves and those we love. Some of us are quaking with the effort it’s taking to hold our lives together, silently screaming “what if the fire takes everything?”.

 

But you yourself will be saved.

The Art of Gardening

The most vivid memory I have of 2018 is sitting in my favorite chair on the morning of my 28th birthday and pouring out my prayers and dreams for the year. I don’t even need to go back to my journal to remember them – I know what they were. They were from the deepest corners of my heart, and they had nothing to do with babies. Nothing to do with doctors appointments, or infertility anything, or “clarity” for decision making. Not a dang bit. They had everything to do with community.

I prayed for encouragement; for friends with loving, challenging, encouraging hearts to come out of the woodwork and for existing relationships to become stronger. And the past nine months have been filled with some of the best friendships I’ve ever had. They’ve included celebrations, fr-amily dinner nights, 2am truth talks, movies, exhausted crying on hard days, the most ridiculous amounts of laughter, fancy dinners, concerts, obsessive discussions about the Enneagram, way too early in the morning gym commitments…the list could go on and on. It involved so much extroverting with my favorite introverts, which is surprisingly life giving every time.

I prayed for my marriage; for it’s continued growth and strength, and holy moly did that come through. We’re in the midst of our 9th year of marriage and I can’t think of a better year we’ve had, or imagine how it could continue to improve. We had so much fun together. We were goofy and adventurous. We challenged each other to yes to friendships and experiences instead of saying no out of habit or fear. We took control of our finances (what up Dave Ramsey, you scary man) and learned the awkward art of budgeting together. We each thought about the other person more than ourselves, and just continued to learn to love.

It’s easy to look at the things I prayed for and dreamed of last January or last June and say “God has been faithful”. He was, because he is good and perfect and for me. But that isn’t what I see when I look back. Sure, God was faithful to me, but I was also faithful to him. When I didn’t want to be. It wasn’t perfect by any means – I said more than things than I should have and stayed quiet when I should have spoken up and I’m learning the difference. I hurt people and am learning the art of asking for forgiveness more than defending myself. People hurt me and I learned to not let it push me away from the community I believe in, even at it’s ugliest. But I’m learning what faithfulness really means, when you get down to the dirty details. Scripture shows us that God is faithful, but it also tells us that faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit and should be evident in our own lives. In a world currently bent on self care and boundaries (both of which are things I fully embrace, practice and believe in), how do I maintain the balance of faithfulness to people/communities that might hurt me and a God who doesn’t always feel present instead of cutting and running?

The ah-ha moment I’ve had over the past few weeks regarding fruits of the Spirit, like this faithfulness, is the reminder that fruit develops over time. I think we’ve fallen into this false idea that the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – are qualities that define our Christlikeness, and therefore should be present at all times. We should be joyful. We should be patient. We should be able to control ourselves. This is all so true, and I probably pray more for these three things than I do anything else, but the Bible clearly calls these attributes fruit of the Spirit, not gifts of the Spirit. They are not fully given upon our decision to choose Christ over all, wrapped up in a tidy bow, supernatural in their own right to bring glory to God, and they cannot be created and sustained through our own works and efforts. They are the slow growing, fully blooming, fruit that develops from the tending, nurturing, and pruning of the compassionate Spirit of God.

I can’t keep a plant alive to save my life. Ask my green thumb sister, who so patiently encourages me in my failed attempts to grow pretty green things every single year and brings me new plants that should live forever, despite me. But when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, it’s not my job to grow them. When I wake up each morning, or make resolutions each year, to be more patient, or choose joy, or be kind, I’m already dooming myself to failure. I’ve already placed the impetus on my own ability and my own efforts. It’s not meant to be this hard. I simply have to wake up each morning and choose the Spirit. What a relief it is to let go of the perpetual nagging that I didn’t choose joy enough today. Or that if I haven’t practiced patience enough to master it yet. What a relief it is to remember these attributes are not the goal by which I measure myself. Scripture promises the fruit will blossom, but only when we lean in to the Spirit, time after time.

Confessions of an Introvert

I’ve spent quality time with at least one of my friends every day for the past five days, and you know what?

I’ve slept better than ever. Not the “exhausted and drained from being around people” kind of sleep, either. Good, restful sleep that has me waking up feeling refreshed instead of grouchy. Well, maybe a little grouchy.

I’ve been more in control of my thoughts and emotions instead of being ruled by them. Yeah, anxiety has still been present, but I’m more aware of what’s causing it and able to reframe it instead of letting it dictate my day. I can see it with a clear heart.

I’ve been more grateful. For the big stuff and the little stuff. Not in a cheesy “I’m grateful for this bread and the sustenance it gives my body” kind of way (but kudos to you if you’ve mastered that discipline), but naturally grateful and looking for the good in all my circumstances.

I’ve laughed so much more. Real laughter. With my friends, by myself, at the tv. As someone who struggles to freely express genuine emotions out loud, it’s a big deal for me.

I’ve cried more. Happy tears, sad tears, alone tears and public tears. The kind of tears that are more refreshing than they are a pit of sorrow, you know what I mean? Cathartic tears.

I’ve felt heard and understood instead of dismissed and irrelevant. The kind of heard that says my opinions and thoughts are valid and appreciated rather than a burden or white noise.

I’ve felt seen rather than forgotten. Like I’m not only welcomed to the table, but I’m filling a unique space where only I can fit  because of who I am, not what I can offer.

 

It hasn’t always been like this. I know some of you were quick to read through that and remark on how nice it must be to have good friends who make you feel that way, but not everyone is that lucky. And you probably did it with a little snark in your voice. I get it. If I had read that a year ago, or five years ago, or ten years ago, I would have done the same thing. But the difference between the past five days versus a year ago, five years ago, or ten years ago isn’t my friend group. It’s me. I used to see my community as draining and hard, because I can be shy and it’s easier to let fear overpower courage. It is easier to hide in my house or behind a manufactured version of myself than to get real. It is easier to assume no one is trustworthy after being hurt than it is to rebuild relationships. And when all those easiers took over, it became natural live life by myself. To cling to independence as a defense mechanism, while at the same time looking around feeling a little left out because everyone else seemed to be having more fun than me. They didn’t seem as burdened as I felt. And I realized that if I didn’t want to be lonely, if I wanted to be part of a community like the people I saw around me, I had to change myself and the way I viewed people. I continuously have to fight the habit that says to sit back and wait for an invitation from someone else, or a text from someone else, or for someone else to plan the party. I’m not saying you have to everything (I have to fight against that too), but it’s also not embarrassing or weird to be the one initiating friendship. And if we’re all waiting around for someone else to initiate, aren’t we all just going to be sitting in loneliness?

The kicker about being an introvert is we really do need recovery time. That’s not wrong, but the way we’ve been taught to recover is. It’s easy and tempting to believe the lie that says the only recovery when I’ve people-d too hard is alone time. Alone time with Netflix, alone time with Hulu, alone time with anything that doesn’t require my brain and just numbs my senses. If that alone time isn’t intentionally geared toward refilling my soul, I never feel refreshed. I just perpetuate the cycle of exhaustion. But I’m also learning there is sweet recovery that comes from sitting in a circle of my people with no phones and no distractions and just being. Being present, being honest, being available. Free to be fully myself with all my flaws, never excused but always loved.

Continuing to believe the lie that recovery will only come from alone time is just robbing myself of a real, full life. Because real, full lives aren’t lived in isolation.

 

Advent

“Well. This calls for a lot of Jesus this week.”

When I looked at my phone, my gut instinct was anger. I was telling a friend what a hard day it was, one of those days that highlights my childlessness in glaring detail. I felt like I was standing in a barren spotlight, between the baby showers and baby birthdays and baby Christmas presents and sweet family pictures. I was perfectly queued up to crumble into my feelings and she texted back that gem. She wasn’t wrong, and I knew it, but ever since I unleashed a tirade of anger and bitterness at God in my journal a couple of months ago we haven’t really been on speaking terms – mostly because I don’t want to hear it. I know that I will hear truth from him so clearly. The truth that he loves me more than I can understand. That he hates my barrenness more than I do. That our broken world and broken bodies break his heart more than I can imagine. That he can take my anger and then some and it doesn’t change his opinion of me. I’m not a disappointment. That he knows the death of my dream is painful, even when his plans are abundantly more. I know I will hear this and more, and it will break me all over again for the better. But.

But what do you do when you’re itching for a fight and the one you’re itching to fight doesn’t fight back? We’ve been conditioned to think that if we can win the fight or argument we will get our way, and right now I’m itching to fight my way out of childlessness in direct defiance to him. I’m begging for a mountain to climb instead of a valley to sit in. For a goal that takes physical steps and strength instead of a task that requires abiding and waiting. I know that waiting is creating strength in itself and abiding is a key to growth, I know. I don’t care. I’ve been focused on growth all year and I want to use muscles I’ve been building. I want to feel productive. I want to see the fruits of this year long labor of my soul instead of feeling drained and confused and questioning everything day after day. I want to fight my way into changing God’s plan.

We’re quick to tout the line that there’s nothing wrong with being mad at God. I completely agree, but I think we have to dig a little deeper. We have to learn the difference between processing our anger in healthy and unhealthy ways.  Over the past couple months, I have had to call out the specific unhealthy habits I lean toward when in conflict.

Unhealthy: Choosing my “yes men”. A few years that would have been my go to. In this case, while I was still certainly throwing myself a pity party, I didn’t turn to a friend who I knew would join the party. I chose someone who I knew would speak the truth to me, even if I didn’t want to hear it. For the past couple months I have been honest with these friends about what was going on, and they have offered me encouragement and challenging words and understanding hearts. We all have yes men in our lives, but it takes extra effort to go to the person who isn’t afraid to make you mad.

Unhealthy: Abandoning spiritual discipline. Even through intense anger at God, I didn’t “take a break” from my faith. I did the things. I did the things that came out of habit, and even with my limited effort I still heard from God. I believe there is a difference between continuously coasting in your spiritual life and continuing acts of spiritual discipline even when you don’t feel like it. Continuing acts of spiritual discipline out of habit, even when I’m angry with God and don’t want to hear from him, is an act of faith. It’s not coasting or pretending. It’s acting from the knowledge and experience that God has been faithful and will continue to be faithful even if I don’t feel it now. God is not disappointed in me when I don’t “feel like it” but do it anyways, or even when I do it anyways and feel like it was a waste of time.

Just because this adversary isn’t physically present when we’re fighting, like say our spouses, doesn’t mean we get to check out. If we value the relationship, we learn to work through them in healthy ways, even when we don’t feel like it.

 

December hits this weekend, and for the first year ever I purchased an Advent calendar. It came with a guided reading plan and activities, and needless to say I purchased it before the anger explosion of 2018. As I was setting it all up this week it was tempting to feel frustrated that my heart is clearly not in a baby Jesus adoration focused state, but I don’t think that has to be the goal. I know God isn’t shocked by my anger and withdrawal, and perhaps a plan to facilitate expectation and hope for a Messiah is exactly what I need. I need this time to continue crying out to God to save me from this brokenness that engulfs me. To feel the desperation that creates hope that he will do just what he promised he would.

I don’t know where you are as we approach the Christmas season, if you’re excitedly awaiting the arrival of a holy, miracle baby or if you’re like me, aching for the arrival of a warrior to fight for your frail heart. Wherever your heart stands, you’re not alone. And this advent season will meet you where you are.

The Fastest Way to Lose All Your Friends

Honest talk. This year I’ve found myself growing frustrated with some of the conversations that continue to pop up in my life.

As the middle child of five, I’ve always been the information hub. It’s the running joke in the family that if someone hasn’t heard from a sibling or a parent in a few days, I’m the first call. I’m an information oriented person. I crave the knowing and I find worth in being trusted with information. It’s pride, but it’s also a defense mechanism. If I have the information, I’m never taken off guard by anything and I can control how the information is used. It’s security for my worrisome heart. But not too long ago I was having a conversation with a trusted friend and I told her how tired I was of people coming to me for information on other people, or to discuss information they had. I was tired of being expected to know and to manage things. These conversations were draining me emotionally and spiritually. They were beginning to feel shallow, negative, bitter, cynical….just overall leaving me coming away sick to my stomach. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew that the closer I was drawing to Jesus, the more turmoil I was feeling in the friendships where I once found solace and refuge.

I’m sure you have immediately registered these conversations for what they are, but I never saw it. I was used to having and disseminating information, and I never saw it as abnormal or sinful. It wasn’t until this conversation that my friend gently (not so gently) called it out for what it was: gossip. The topics, the sharing, the attitudes – it was all gossip, and it wasn’t just hurting my heart, it was dissolving my relationships.

The funny thing is, I was angry with the people who were coming to me for the gossip. I was angry that they were dragging me into their nonsense and gave them the blame that I as stuck in this negative heart space. If people would just stop asking me for or giving me information, if I could hide from my phone and hole up in house, I would be much more at peace. What a lie. The truth of the matter is, people will continue to come to you for the things you continue to give away. There is no greater indicator of the state of your own heart than the conversations you’re having with those closest to you. If you are known for giving out encouragement, love, compassion, gratitude, kindness, joy, truth….people will continue to come to you for that. But if you are known for giving out gossip and bitterness or indulging sarcasm, anger, cynicism, slander, fear, nitpicking….people will continue to come to you that as well.

I once saw a counselor who loved to discuss boundaries. I’m an over-sharer, over-feeler, over-everything by nature. I would take everyone’s problems as my own and make it my own personal mission to help everyone fix their problems to the detriment of my emotional well-being. This counselor used to always tell me that if I wanted things to change, I had to create boundaries. But she warned me that creating boundaries wouldn’t be the hard part. Enforcing them is the hard part. If I set up boundaries but then let everyone tear them down because I wasn’t willing to enforce them, the people around me would never learn. But it started with me training myself to hold firm boundaries.

This is exactly the same. How silly of me to be angry at the people coming to me for gossip, or to wallow and encourage their bitterness when I am the one making the choice to engage in it. The more I participated, the more I was establishing what others could expect of me, and the more I was sabotaging myself. The only thing I have the power to change is myself.

My church has a retreat coming up soon and the theme is “Belonging”. How appropriate for this time in my life. I know of so many women, myself included, who have openly discussed how hard it is to make deep friendships with other women in the Church. It’s easy to feel like everyone else already has their friends, or no one “gets us”, or like we have friends but we would really like to be part of that group over there. I have a wonderful group of friends who lift me up and encourage me, but none of us are immune to feelings of loneliness. I do believe that we, as humans, need to do a better job of promoting inclusiveness, but I also think it’s time to take personal inventory of what is holding us back from healthy relationships. I can guarantee that when you make intentional changes to quit giving away the negative pieces of your life you will lose friends. 1 Peter 4 tells us that not only will these people turn away from us, but they’ll slander us. Negative people will search out negative people, and when you cease to be that outlet for them they will find another. But the life you gain by living in a positive mindset – the PEOPLE you will gain – are without measure.

Does this mean I never get to complain to my friends when I have a crummy day, or I go about life pretending that everything is perfect? Absolutely not. I don’t believe in “fake it till you make it”. But when the core of my friendships are built on the joy of the Spirit, when our focus is on spiritual growth instead of shallow gripes, I can go to them for truth and encouragement instead of being indulged in my whining. It certainly isn’t easy. Training myself to keep my mouth shut when I have information that relates to the conversation is hard. Learning to not speak the first negative thing that comes to mind and instead turn it to a positive is a challenge. Seeking out joy in a really crummy Monday is not my default. Looking for the best in someone instead of judging them by their worst is difficult. But it’s necessary, and it’s what we’re called to do. We have the choice to be the one bringing in the negativity and growing unhealthy relationships, or the one setting the boundaries and flourishing. I want to flourish.

Our Words Matter


I’m always quick to tell people that I’m not angry at God about my infertility. And it’s not a lie. I truly don’t feel anger. “I recognize that God did not do this TO me, it’s just a part of life” I tell folks. I know that in my head.

But then I find myself saying things like, “What are you trying to teach me through this, God?”. Trying. Through this. The implication is subtle, but it’s there. The implication that my hope has shifted from healing or a miracle and into the land of manipulation and accusation. That if I can figure out what the intended lesson is, I can fast track this along and my body will be fixed. That I actually do believe he is doing this TO me, in order to teach me something. It’s a different kind of victim-hood that I wasn’t aware I was slipping into, but when I saw it — holy moly, does it hurt.

The normal approach to victim-hood is a “woe is me” mindset, right? We’ve all been that person at least once, and for me it’s been multiple times. But this type of victim-hood I’m talking about is the opposite of wallowing, I think. It’s a determined, bulldozer approach to finding the root issue and fixing the problem. It’s the assumption that God would never let anything bad happen to me without there being a reason, so if I find the reason and correct the behavior or thinking pattern, I can right the ship. I am a victim, but I have the power to learn the lesson and regain control of the situation. It’s bossy victim-hood, and it’s bad theology.

There’s a huge difference between knowing that God will use all things for the good of those who love him, and believing that every hardship in life is intended and a lesson from God. The prior is a healthy understanding that while we live in a broken world, God will use our pain and our hurt for his glory. The latter is an unhealthy belief that any hardships I face are an intentional challenge to clear as I pursue him. If I can clear this hurdle, I’ll get what I want and move on to the next. And suddenly, my life has become about performance over obedience. Performance over belief. Performance over trust. Performance over faith. Performance over everything.

When I type it out like that the difference is clear and obvious, but life is so much more subtle than that. The lies that tempt me to make everything lesson-based are so easy for me to believe because lessons come with an answer. Lessons come to an end. Lessons, like a mathematical formula, serve a purpose and can be neatly written out with a step by step process to find a solution, and I find that to be soothing and assuring. I find comfort in thinking God works that way, but it’s a lie.

Our pastor loves to talk about how easy it is to get off course in life, and how it starts with just a minor adjustment. Just three degrees here can put you hundreds of degrees off course down the road, but it happened so subtly that when you look back you won’t know where it went wrong. I think that’s the case here. Our words hold great power in enforcing what we believe about God, and just the slightest adjustment can quickly lead us into believing lies such as this. God can (and is and will continue to) teach me lessons through infertility, but that isn’t the reason we’re walking this road. Broken bodies are part of a broken world, not a hurdle to clear as I desire to touch see the face of God.

Instead, learning to pray “what WILL you teach me through this” can change the position of my heart from manipulative and accusatory to trusting and obedient. A subtle shift back on the course of understanding that my God is a good, good father who will use every opportunity to teach me of his love and goodness. That he weeps with me and walks with me, but never creates an obstacle course requiring me to prove my devotion.