Tag Archives: faith

Something like Heart Surgery.

Everything feels hard and fragile at the same time. And it feels that way because it is the way things are right now. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t been actively blogging for a while now. I was in the middle of a move so I let things slide and then I tackled true and real vulnerability which took all of the emotional effort I had at the time.

And then, November 2016 happened. The Cubs brought me great joy. America brought me great pain. I don’t even want to single out the president because yes, that’s painful too (growing increasingly worse) but what he revealed about this country, about us, about people I love, about institutions (like the Church) that are important to me was gut-wrenching. It still is most days. That night, when the results came in, I was torn to pieces in a way I did not expect and was useless for a week. You’d think I’d have put the pieces back together by now but I haven’t. I’m functional (because that is something I know how to do: function in a crisis) but I can’t go back to before. The scales have fallen from my eyes. The fact is, I am still processing (every single day since that dang day there is something new to process so I don’t even have time to ever really truly process…I’m sure some people can relate) and so to write things down, concrete things that will be here on the internet, well it just seems difficult and maybe even unwise. (I mean, I do it for a living but it gets more personal and less formal here).

But here I am.

My convictions are not weaker. In fact, they are stronger. But when I write something here, like this, I have to dig deeper than I do on Twitter or Facebook. And even though my convictions have grown deep and true roots, there are still things I am processing. Like my faith. I never stopped loving Jesus but I did stop loving people professing to be Christians (or at least loving them as easily as I did before). That’s a hard truth right there to write.

It isn’t what Jesus has asked of me (love God and love others). But, man, I wish I had the words to explain how hard I have prayed for help to love people who loudly profess ideas and ways of thinking that are hurtful to me, hurtful to other people I love, and so hurtful and destructive to whole groups of people. I mean, I have repeated Jesus’s command through gritted teeth to myself too many times to count. I have wrestled with God over all these people using his name for ugly at best and evil at worst. And yes, I know he’s got it. I know that what they mean for evil, he will use for good. But watching it…watching it hurts.

Loving people through gritted teeth has meant unfollowing some people on social media (not that big of a deal but it took me awhile to realize that was the loving thing to do instead of seething with anger and hurt over their ignorance). It’s meant not discussing politics with others and not because conversations aren’t important (I believe they are more important than ever…and I had/have them) but because nothing but a heart change was going to be effective. It’s meant praying for people I do not like very much. It’s meant grieving over the beliefs of people I love.

It’s meant examining my own privileges. It’s also meant admitting, “I don’t know” to questions and problems. Maybe if more people were willing to admit what they don’t know, the world would feel different. It’s meant clinging tightly to people who get it, who are in the struggle, looking for answers, coming back with nothing, and then going out and looking again. It’s meant new friends and saying goodbye to old ones. It’s been a time of grave disappointment in people I thought I knew but maybe I didn’t.

So while all that is happening, I have also been experiencing incredible happiness. I fell in love and we decided to marry one another. We’ve been growing together and we are getting marriedwe are getting married. I’m not one to gush but I truly do not know what this last year would have been without the discovery of two things. First, that I could love and be loved, deeply and truly and completely. Secondly, in the midst of such difficulty, I could know such happiness. I’m a different and better woman having met this man and working towards marrying this man. That is a blessing that could make me weep and those tears would not have anything to do with romance or mushy-gushy stuff but God’s mercy to me in bringing me and C together. Just like I can’t get past the incredibly tough stuff, I can’t get past God’s benevolence to me.

But the question I have struggled with is: how do I write from this place? How do I write from a place of such pain while some of my long-held dreams for my life are quietly coming true simultaneously? Some days I feel split in half so writing about it seems absurd. Literally every time I have thought, “I’ll write a blog post about the wedding, like how I used to. I’ll talk about colors and flowers” something horrible happens in the world and I am back to processing things.

I haven’t added my voice to the fray because there is such a clamor right now. That isn’t to say I don’t speak or use my voice, I just didn’t and don’t know how to do it here, in this space. So, I end up with this rambling thing that may not make sense but I’m going to push through because I’ve got to decide if I am going to maintain this space. And I can’t make that decision when I don’t show up. So I am going to try and show up and see how it feels.

One thing has not changed and that is my trust and belief in God. I will be the first one to say that I don’t get it. I don’t get how a sovereign God is at work right now but I believe he is. I have been beyond disappointed in the Christian machine this past year (specifically white evangelicals). I didn’t realize how insidious and disgusting this cancerous way(s) of thinking had spread (which shows you and me my privilege) in the community I used to call home. Maybe that’s why this is happening? Maybe our racism, our sexism, our xenophobia, all of our ugliness that we have internalized needs to be exposed.

When my mom was in her twenties, she found out she had a large hole in her heart that had been there her whole life. It was now compromising her life but this hole–the circumference of an egg–went unchecked for over twenty years. Until a strange exhaustion set in. Until her entire color changed. Until all these symptoms revealed the very real problem that required open heart surgery.

Maybe what’s happening all around us is surgery. The thing about surgery though is that it hurts a lot. Its goal is to heal but man, does it hurt and it is incredibly violent when you consider it. You have to cut and bleed before you can stitch and heal. Then, there is a long recovery. So my hope cannot even be in the process because that sounds horrible. My hope is in the Surgeon. But this is so hard.

I think of my mom, the scar she still bears so many years later.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:7,8 ESV

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What’s Good? On God and Grace.

If you read yesterday’s post, this is Part II. Thanks for bearing with me in dividing it. It was just a lot to share.

You know how I said I wished the story ended with the real Nina standing up and that it didn’t? It ended so much better. That’s not me being cheerful or positive. It is fact.

This may surprise you but I am so glad this weekend happened–for a multitude of reasons but in terms of what I shared yesterday, God used it to show me that some things I struggle with, high achieving and perfectionist tendencies, had been rearing their heads for a few weeks to varying degrees. The fact that I could not recognize myself this past weekend was the effect of all that.katespadestorageboxes4

I’ve always known those tendencies of mine are not good for me. When my illness began, God worked a number on me because a huge factor in the amount of pain I feel on the daily depends on stress and how I handle it. Life has stress so handling it is important. What isn’t great is to create stressful situations (as a high achiever and perfectionist) when they don’t need to exist. For many years, God used my illness this way for my good (because I truly believe He had me bending before I broke in this area…even without the health problem). This may sound nuts to some people but I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t had the seizure that led to my chronic illness. God is sovereign.

This lasted for years but too bad my attention span is only so long and it is easy to fall back into old habits. This time God chose to use another wake up call and it happened this weekend. Look, I am going to be straight with you: 99.9% of the people there either didn’t know me at all or had not met me in the flesh. Of course, I wanted them to get to know the real me. Here was our chance to meet and really get to know each other.

Um, not God’s plan for me. But since His plan is always better than mine, I am filled with hope and joy at this moment.

But this weekend, inside, I felt so drastically different in how I was acting (whether it appeared drastic to those few who did know me or not) that I was more concerned over why this personality shift was happening over what people may have thought of me. It was not nerves. It wasn’t me trying to impress anyone (this version of me was far from impressive). It was something internal going on. The lack of sleep for the week leading up to it sure didn’t help. But mostly it was the stress I’d been just been putting on myself for reasons unrelated to the conference.

This concerned me. But God (my favorite two words when strung together) graciously revealed both practical steps to take and spiritual ones. God made it very clear what I needed to do through His strength (maybe I’ll share that here, maybe I won’t…I do know I am not in the position to decide that at this moment). I’m not fretting over my reputation or the impression I made. God just used the way I was acting to reveal some deeper spiritual, emotional, and physical issues I had been ignoring like a child covering her ears.lady9

I love grace. I don’t know what I would do without it. For someone who is incredibly hard on herself (work harder, work better, that is not good enough), grace is just…it’s so foreign and amazing at the same time. It’s radical and I need it. It’s the place where I need to act and live out of every single day. I haven’t been.

For those who emailed and commented, thank you and also, don’t worry. I’m going back to therapy because it is a great place! I love therapy, especially in non-crisis moments (I don’t consider this a crisis considering other things I have been through). That’s when you get to go deep, search out patterns, be held accountable to all the tools you are learning. To be clear, when in a crisis, therapy is just as good only in a different way…kind of in the way of: please help me hold my stuff together until we meet again type of way, which is also important. But yes, wherever we are, sometimes we need help.

I am not doing any of this on my own power. I can’t (proof: this past weekend and the weeks leading up to it).

sfad4I need to get on a soapbox for a hot second because there is a problem when Christians who need help are not encouraged to seek out therapy if they need it. I listened to someone who had been told that and my heart broke. Any Christian who knocks Godly counseling or therapy can answer to me (and that’s before they answer to God) for being ignorant. I think that is one of the first times I’ve used that word on the blog because it’s an intense one. But I am saying it. Don’t tell me or anyone else to pray “harder.” I am praying and you need to get your facts straight about what prayer is and what prayer means and oh yeah, the Spirit is praying on my behalf 24/7 so maybe you should talk to Him about praying harder (see Romans 8 and many other places).

Or this whole believing God more thing. If you believed God more, you wouldn’t struggle with x,y,z. You know what I believe, bozo, or rather, what I know? The body of believers is important. We are asked to carry one another’s burdens. We are also different, gifted in different ways. And asking for help is important. So if anyone wants to ask for help from someone who has been trained in biblical counseling, they are believing God. They are taking a step of faith. You are hurting other Christians when you repeat the type of teaching that says therapy is bad or that if you need it, something is wrong with your walk with God. This teaching is unbiblical. That is is another word I don’t use here very often but I used it. And I believe it 100%.

Therapy can be manna from heaven, okay? God given and nutritious.

I will now step off the soapbox (I’ve never been insecure about therapy but I’ve seen and heard these attitudes before and recently when I was hearing someone’s brokenness over something and that they had been told this or taught this…Maybe I saw red? Or many colors? Can you blame me?)entryway5

But back to the point of this post after this detour. I am thankful for the wakeup call because now God and I can work it out (also, yes, therapy). It won’t happen with a snap of the fingers (a flesh pattern I’ve struggled with since I was about one years old just doesn’t disappear) it takes work, done through God’s strength, and that work takes time. But because of this weekend I can reroute. I don’t have to keep driving in the same direction.

That’s good, guys.

That’s grace.

Also, I have been told that if I even try to paint the straight lines again…expletive, expletive, expletive.

Thanks for your support as always. Your comments and your emails were such a blessing. My hope now, today, with two decent nights sleep under my belt, more prayer than I’ve done in a long while, and a plan in place, is that by lifting my petticoats so to speak…by showing you just how imperfect I am…you may be encouraged. Or maybe there is an area in your life that needs to be rerouted. I don’t know. I am just trusting God in sharing this.

God is so good, guys.

Finally, beauty from the ashes is in God’s job description. It has always been so since the time Adam and Eve sinned, lighting a match to the perfect relationship they experienced with Him in Eden. If after that fire and ash heap, He still could give us beautiful redemption through His Son, then I don’t know why we even pretend that there is a situation beyond Him. If you feel like you are beyond God’s grace or goodness, please hear me when I say you are not. Beauty from ashes is his thing. Let Him do His thing.

P.S. Remember when I told you that I learned to have a blog schedule but to also be flexible with it? Haha.
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Procrastination Station and Dreaming Big.

health1I once read an article that discussed procrastination and why people do it. According to some source related to science, people who procrastinate on the regular love the thrill of it. Endorphins are released actually, etc. Here is thing: maybe that’s true about the endorphins but I do not like enjoy procrastinating. I do it quite often, but I don’t enjoy it.

Recently, I’ve realized one reason I do it. If something is important to me, a dream I really want to actually come true, I put off doing the work for it. Then, when I don’t get the job or don’t win the contest I can shrug my shoulders and “not feel as bad” because I didn’t put my best work into it. I don’t want to let myself down.

This makes sense. And yet, it is complete nonsense.fix4

I am trying to let myself dream the dreams that I have shied away from dreaming. It’s too scary. What if it doesn’t work out? This way of thinking also bleeds over into dating and relationships–wanting something so badly but not going for it because it could crash and burn.

But God.

How many times does God have to say, “Nina, I’ve got this” and follow through on his word?

Answer: too many to count.

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This other thing I do is assign human traits on God. There are things I am scared to trust him for because I’ve had people screw with my trust in big ways. It still surprises me sometimes (and it shouldn’t…I’m in the word…but there is a difference between knowing something and living it out whole heartedly. Am I right?) when he does follow through on his word. When did I become so jaded?

I have been realizing a lot of things lately–not so much ugly truths about how I view the world and God and my life and dreams but hard truths that require big prayers and action.masterpiece

Today I’m challenging you (and myself) to dream big or go home.

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That Burden is Light.

I’ve grown used to my arms aching in airports.

Before technology caught up with my insatiable reading habits, as a young girl, I’d pack at least seven books for a week long vacation. I carried them on because I wanted to read them and because well, they added more weight to the suitcase I checked which was almost always on the verge, if not over the 50 pound maximum, much to my parent’s chagrin and consternation.

My arms still ache in airports, my back too.

I carry on at least one real book with my iPad (and Kindle App), my camera, my computer, possibly a second lens, my various chargers, my meds (if I can fit them), and other things I don’t trust to put in my carry on. All this goes into a tote. A backpack would be easier on my body but the tote can double as an extremely large purse or beach bag for wherever I am going. So it all makes sense. Really, it does. Cross my heart.

That Burden is Light

Someone recently asked me to type up this letter of God’s promises to us as a favor. If I told you how many times I’ve learned this lesson (over and over again, like a dog that keeps going through the electric fence), the number may be as high as the number of emails in my inbox. Instead, I am trying to show myself grace, and the same gentleness I felt from God as he very kindly reminded me how little my spirit and soul should ache from the weight he puts on my shoulder (aka they should not ache at all).

Can it really be that easy? Can I know such lightness?

The truth is as He says. His burden is light, his yoke easy.

So what am I doing, what am I morphing it into to make it so dang heavy?

That Burden is Light 1

Well, you know. There’s that guilt thing. Oh, I don’t want to do that because I don’t want to upset her. Or, I have to do this because it will upset him if I don’t. There’s that shame thing. And that embarrassment thing. There are things born out of faux duty and with the appearance of intensity. There’s that perfectionist thing. There’s that trying to be someone I am not issue too. I could go on. But one thing I know is that none of these things are from God.

They make the burden on my shoulders quite heavy and I already have issues with chronic pain so something has got to give. Something always has to give. Thus, God teaching me this lesson approximately 3,500 times:

Look, Nina, this is not from me or of me. Because my burden? Oh Baby, that burden is light. And my yoke? Oh Baby, it’s easy. Look I’ve promised You and I keep my promises. 

So though I am not her greatest fan, I must look to Taylor Swift and her sage advice. When I feel the heaviness and the weight, I must shake it off. It’s not the easiest thing to do. You see, I have the type of personality that just loves adding weight to the burden and difficulty to that yoke. It requires gut checks from me on the regular. Sometimes I go so long carrying all the non-God given stuff that I am so used to the weight and the pain of it.

How uncool is that?

But the wonderful, marvelous thing is the truth: I can lay down every burden not from him and shake off all the extra yokes I seem to have put on myself. I can hand these things over to him. Because he wants me to do so. Because he wants his burden to be easy and his yoke to be light and because those are the only things I should be carrying or wearing.

That Burden is Light 2

Right now, a lot of my guilt (and therefore, burden) comes from my health. I often times feel like I am letting people down because I can’t fully participate in all things. Either I feel guilty for this or I feel awful and pressured when I push my body past its current limits. It’s frustrating. Instead of letting that frustration go and redirecting my energy towards getting better (which is going very well…perhaps that is part of the reason I have little patience for my body’s issues lately…I’ve seen improvement and I just want to be all the way there while I do have a long way to go), it just becomes this weight I can sometimes actually feel on my back. This guilt and pressure is a yoke I can be led by and it is self inflicted.

Well, here we are again–learning the same lesson all over again and all the better for it.

Have you ever felt like this? What are you learning right now?

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The Walls Start to Crumble.

shellI don’t really want to write this but I am going to because I promised myself on the plane ride home from North Carolina that I would try. I also thought of a million ways to start and then I couldn’t. And then I saw on Amber’s instagram that she was reading Donald Miller’s latest book.

I remember seeing that he had a new book coming out a long time ago and as a fan, I was thrilled. Then I saw what it was about. The book is titled Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.

I was not pleased.

I was not pleased because I knew this was a book I should read and one that I would find convicting. I was not pleased because this is probably the biggest area of my life where I like to live with blinders on. If I feel God asking me to do something, I do it. Really, I do.

Except in this area. Except when it comes to relationships (of all kinds).*entryway5

A lot of strands from a lot of different places have been coming together for quite awhile to put me in the place I was on the plane ride coming home. On that plane ride, I tried to think of how I would articulate all these things and gave up. Then I tweeted that I would be posting this today so I could not chicken out.

A few weeks ago, I asked readers what they liked reading about. Someone responded that they liked reading my posts on singleness. I kind of sighed. I think I have written one post solely on the topic but certainly have alluded to it in other places. But who wants to write about singleness? It’s not something I want to exactly be known for. Besides, everyone feels differently about it and is at a different place with it. I don’t know all and I think even then, a few weeks ago, I realized my view on singleness looked on the surface healthy had a lot of hidden (even from me) unhealthy layers to it.

For so long–and I mean years–I was grateful for being single. I wanted to be married someday but being single allowed me to go on these great adventures and experience some amazing things I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. The biggest reason I was content was because I trust God, etc, etc.

I was lying to myself a bit. The truth: I was grateful for being single. The lie? While yes, God knows best and I did get to go on adventures and that was definitely part of my gratitude, the larger part of my gratitude, which I am only now figuring out, came from being protected.

You see, if I was single, as in not dating, not looking, not married, I could not be hurt.

I am terrified of being hurt.

I always have been but when my fears become actual reality in a startling and horrible way, I built walls. Yes, the post about that first relationship is one way my fears became reality–and a big one at that. It isn’t the only way (there are just some things I can’t share). So as I was saying, I really love being single and I don’t get why other girls don’t (which is partly true…girls who can only  think of is being married at 18 or any age really are hard for me to deal with), I also meant: isn’t it so great that I can’t be hurt?

Again, I started peeling back the layers only a little while ago but since then the realizations have been coming fast and hard in a way I cannot ignore. There are reasons for this.

For the first time in my life, over the last few years, I have had the privilege of doing life with married friends in healthy relationships where their lives and marriages and family are for the glory of God. I saw that people hurt each other because that is the nature of being human but that people didn’t always wound one anotherThere is a distinct difference.

This was huge for me.

As I said, I’ve always wanted to be married and have a family. Then, another realization. What I really wanted was for my closest friends who know me best to find this great guy who they could vet and say: you would be perfect with my friend, Nina. You guys will hurt each other because you are human but you won’t wound each other. You will also love God together and laugh a lot. 

I literally wanted my friends to vet some guy for me so that I could be promised that I would not be wounded again (and really, I don’t even love that word because with it is often paired with the word victim but here we are). I wanted that so I could trust this imaginary, vetted guy without doing the work of trying to trust him with the possibility of wounds and hurts. It sounds a little insane when I type it out but it also makes a lot of sense.IMG_8694

Another strand of realization: while I was getting to do life with these great couples, I was also cutting myself off from community. I had been doing this for awhile because again, I had been wounded and I have always kind of had this metaphor for wounds that involved an electric fence and dogs. You see, it is very easy to train a dog to respect an electric fence. I’ve seen it done three times with three very different dogs. All it takes is one minor shock and they never willingly cross it again. So why in the heck would I willingly invest myself in community when the major community I spent my time in as a Christian had left me wounded (not that I was perfect either, let’s be clear)?

I was wary but I could have trusted God. I could have said, people hurt people and ministries and communities and churches are made up of people and you’ve got to get back in the saddle. But I didn’t.

Instead I spent my time building walls–all sorts of walls.

After my silent talk with myself on the plane, I pulled out my Beth Moore Bible Study I am doing with a few friends and we took apart 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20. I’m just going to quote Beth because to take you through the steps of explanation without making you do the whole study but she wrote: “Together they [Paul, Silas, and Timothy] describe a time when the settling sediment of loneliness whips up into the activation of healthy longing. Shifting from bereft to bestirred is when you cease settling for feeling something; you actually start doing something” (Children of the Day: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 58).

My walls were strong and I built them well but for the reasons I’ve listed above (and others but we will get to those another time), I was starting to shift from contentment in my singleness while longing for a family someday to actual loneliness (no community will do that to you).

Before we took off, before I read Beth Moore’s quote, I had already texted a friend (ironically, someone doing the study with) and told her: I can’t do this anymore. I am not fooling myself any longer. I’m not single because I want to be. I am single because it is easier. I am single because being lonely*** is easier than being wounded. But I am tired of being lonely and I am going to do something about it. Then I did the study and read that quote. And I thought, Oh, God, you are so funny. I am going to download that Donald Miller book (Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy
)when I have internet access and with your help, I am going to do something about it. And one of the first things I am going to do is write about it, somehow, because this has, as you know, God, been one way I keep myself accountable. 

I downloaded the book and I am doing other things which I will share with you next week. As always, when I share my heart like this, I am nervous. But here goes nothing.

*I hope it is quite clear that I am not: oh, I NEED a relationship. I NEED to be married ASAP. This is about me letting down walls and just being open to whatever God brings my way which I have not been up until this point. Ya know?

***I am not equating singleness to loneliness. I would never do that. What I am saying, is that, for me, I was lying to myself. I hadn’t just cut out romantic relationships. I had gutted my life so only my most trusted friends remained. I had no community and without community we are lonely because we were made for it. For me, it is all tied together.
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