Trouble Me

I’ve had a couple of conversations this week that have gone along the lines of someone telling me something that’s not going right in their life, and then apologizing for talking to me about it because I have so much going on myself.

It’s kind of a tired idea, but there’s a lot of truth to the fact that carrying each other’s burdens is much easier than carrying our own alone. I sometimes wonder how often we bottle our pain up inside because we fear over burdening someone else. Or when we do finally share, the next day we act like nothing happened or it’s no big deal.

I don’t have a really big point to make here, but I’ve been thinking about this lately, about how hard it is to be vulnerable a first time and then stay that way. And that it’s okay, because no one is perfect and somehow in sharing our pain and our struggles with one another–that’s how we find healing and the ability to go on.

And that I don’t want any of my friends to ever feel like I have so much going on that I don’t have room for them. Yes, there are a few things going differently in my life than I expected right now but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to listen to what’s going differently in your life than how you expected.

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I knew inevitably that this period of unemployment would lead me down the path of my enemy…depression.

This is the problem with having too much time on my hands. I’m a thinker. I’m a worrier, too. And I was doing so well! But having all this time, (and really I don’t have a lot of time, I just have unstructured time) would lead me to think and worry. And it’s supposed to start raining again! And all I want to do is sleep.

It was hitting me hard earlier this evening and I was chatting about it on twitter a little bit with Heather (who I think is one of coolest people I’ve never met) and that helped a little bit. It’s so important to remember that what’s inside my head is not that big of a deal in the overall scheme of things. And my problems are relatively small. It’s just a matter of where I choose to focus my thoughts and also my energy.

So the thing is that I’m craving the right kind of read. And normally this is the sort of thing I’d post on the other blog, but the audience there is just so much bigger…I feel like all of you are my friends. (also lately everyone seems to think that because I posted ABOUT L.J. Smith, I AM L.J. Smith and I’m getting all these weird fan emails telling me what to do about Damon/Stefan/Elena/Bonnie. And also gushing. And it’s just kind of strange)

So while I’m going to structure my day hardcore tomorrow to avoid the mighty D, I will have some reading time. Here’s the thing, I’m looking for a deep comfort read. I don’t want to read fluff, in other words, I want to read something, preferably about God that will encourage me deeply, maybe even challenge me a little but in an inspiring way not in a “wow I have a lot of stuff to deal with” way. I have a stunning TBR pile so I’m leaving this totally open to suggestion, but I also have a Barnes and Noble gift card in case you suggest something I don’t have. (very likely) But it can’t be fluff! No fluffy God stuff, okay? I can’t take that right now.

Also I could use some music suggestions. I’ve been listening to Justin McRoberts’ covers album (which is brilliant no words for how I love it) but it’s not exactly uplifting. So if you have any suggestions for some truly edifying (again not fluffy) music I’d love to hear it! Otherwise, I’ll keep doing what I do best which is listening to the sad stuff.

Thanks everyone! I can’t wait to hear your suggestions.

Facing Criticism

One of the biggest and most difficult lessons for me to learn last year is that I am not my work.

This is a very hard distinction to make. We pour so much of ourselves into our work (and by work, I mean much more than our day jobs, I mean, for example, our creative work and labors of love) It reflects who we are in so many ways. Our decision making process, what we value, what we’ve experienced, our judgments, our creativity.

Our hopes, our messages, our stories, and our time are bound up in our work. But our work is not us.

I did not learn this lesson with grace. I learned it by becoming defensive, defeated, and allowing myself to be ridiculously hurt. This is always the ugly process of learning with me, it is never this easy thing, it is often all confused with the cut of emotion, with reality of my fallen self.

It is not an easy thing to learn because we validate our existence by our work. I see this with authors all the time. A positive review is a reason for celebration, a negative review can cause major disaster. I wonder sometimes, when I see an author make a big public disgrace over negative reviews if they have not yet made the distinction that they are not their books. Once the book is finished it is its own thing, it belongs to the reader, it belongs to the world.

I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t encourage each other, we absolutely should (and I’m a huge sap in this area, I often can’t keep my love bottled in), but we should in no way at any time derive our worth from the good things people say about our work.

I am not my blog.
I am not BBAW.
I am not the failed training program I wrote last year.
I am not the success I saw with students.

These are all things I have done some better than others and some I spent much more time and love on than others. But they are not me.

I am writing this post for two reasons. I am writing it to remind myself of this truth that took me awhile to swallow last year. And because I’m getting ready to launch the massive event I have coordinated for the past two years, to take another look at all the criticism and try to build something that better reflects what I have always intended, but never quite managed to execute flawlessly. And there might be times when I find myself bruised and in that case I will come back and look at this post and remember it’s just work…it’s not me.

Addicted to Sunshine

Now that I am seriously looking to leave Southern California, I have a problem on my hands.

I must break an addiction.

I am addicted to the sun. I am not exaggerating. Please stop rolling your eyes.

This is not an addiction I wanted. I never wanted this. I have always loved rain. Loved it! It was the perfect reason to curl up with a book, or listen to the Cure and contemplate the meaninglessness of my life and all the wrongs done to me.

I spent so long here moaning about the lack of changing seasons, the unbearable heat, the burning sun, always burning. I longed for the rain to come and wash away the dust and force all of the loud neighbor children to go play inside.

But somehow it happened. It snuck up on me, like all good addictions do, when I found more than one day of rain intolerable. Like any addict I whined for my sun. Where was it? I could not get access to it, so I complained and became generally miserable to live with. I have come to depend on never having to really think about the weather, on the assumption that my umbrella is best left under the seat of my car, that my mail will stay safe and dry.

The sun is life giving. It is necessary for growth but it is not the only thing necessary for growth. Rain is necessary for life, too. And while rain may be a bit more inconvenient and uncomfortable, I can’t help but notice that our hills look so much beautiful in the light of the sun after a rain.

I’m going to have to kick this addiction somehow.

Comments are Golden

Sometimes when you subscribe to a gazillion blogs like I do, you miss the glory that are comments!

I was reading Stephen’s review of Hear No Evil today (read his much-better-than-mine review and then for the love of God enter my giveaway) and after leaving a comment, I subscribed to follow-up comments. (which I do by default. Yes my inbox is a scary place, but I love to know what others think about posts that inspire me to comment) and a comment came through that just hit it on the head for me, especially in light of last night’s post. So I’m stealing it and posting it here, emphasis mine:

“I was on the phone this afternoon with Fred, the drummer from a band I was in back in 1992, and am always deeply grateful that I’m not who I was then. And maybe it’s not that I’ve changed so much. Maybe it’s that I’m growing farther from who I was trying to be and closer to who Christ has made me.”

I think yes that’s exactly it, our lives are a process of becoming who we truly are. And when you try to force yourself to believe something you don’t, or hide behind actions and self-righteousness it’s just not possible to also be truly yourself. So for me, when I finally surrender to realizing I don’t really think a certain way about things, it feels more like I am embracing my true self, and I am able to more clearly see my way. There’s a peace in surrendering to your conscience, the conscience I believe God gives us.

And as Elisabeth so eloquently put it in comments yesterday on my post, “I think the beauty of my relationship with Christ is how personal it is. After laying the foundation of my salvation and what it took to have that, what works for me is not the same for all.”

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

The Re-Entry

I’m hosting round tables on my book blog this year where we are alternating between contemporary Christian fiction and works of literary fiction or classics that are driven by faith.

We are in the middle of the first discussion and it’s very interesting. I’ve already outed myself as a liberal (theologically speaking and I’m not THAT liberal, but much more than I used to be)

It was actually kind of scary for me, because I could predict the response. I’m not sure exactly what everyone in the group believes (many of them read this blog…hello!) but I knew that some people would disagree with my viewpoints. Which is fine and good! We should disagree! It adds diversity, sharpens our thinking, and makes the world an interesting place. But it’s also scary the first few times for me, when I voice an opinion or viewpoint I’ve embraced in recent years. Especially when I was taught to think something completely different, so I can suspect what others are thinking about what I now believe.

Does that make sense?

I was thinking about this while I was reading Hear No Evil by Matthew Paul Turner. I was thinking about how the evangelical Christian subculture can be a pretty diseased place. I was thinking about this during a story towards the end of the collection where he talks about a friend who is a recovering Christian. I had to chuckle when one of the things he said was that these recovering Christians become know-it-alls. I am so afraid of that! (For the record, I don’t consider myself a recovering Christian! Still a Christian!) Over Christmas break, I remember dragging my sister and brother-in-law into a discussion about feminism. Actually my brother-in-law started it because he was expressing his hope that there were good books featuring girl heroes like Harry Potter. (yay for my brother-in-law!) I went off, I think, into a discussion about this (I forget sometimes that other people don’t live and breathe books and all their political issues like I do) and I met the exact resistance I would have expected from my sister. I don’t say this as anything against her at all, it’s just that there’s this reaction I’ve come to expect when you use the word feminism with evangelical Christians. It’s sort of a dirty word to us, we conjure up images of angry women who don’t know their place and are ruining it for stay-at-home moms everywhere.

I don’t really see things that way anymore, but I needed people to pry my eyes open and show me other ways of thinking. And now I cringe, sometimes, at the damage my prior attitude did to the cause of feminism. To my own sense of pride in being female. Anyway, I sort of regret the way I went on and on in this discussion we had, and so I certainly hope I don’t become some sort of know-it-all!

Anyway, I was thinking about how hard it can be to come out of the Christian subculture and to acknowledge other ways of living and even believing. And I think I had it a little bit easier, because I attended public high school. And for the first time I see a lot of value in the fact that after my Christian college experience, I plunged right into the most secular environment I could, where I was exposed to so many different ways of thinking and believing. I have spent enough time regretting that, and today for the first time, I realized how thankful I am for it instead. Because it was like a refining fire where everything that didn’t matter was burned away and in it’s place I was left with what I cannot live without, which is Jesus.

But I still find it a little scary to talk about how my views have changed with people who hold my old ways of thinking. I’m sure they feel disappointed that I’m a feminist, that I believe Jesus, not the Bible is sufficient, that I support gay marriage, and that I’m open to interpretations different than my own. It is always the reentry that is so hard, the not feeling critical when I’m at church but letting God show me how to love in spite it all. Because I’m hoping for the same love and grace in return, just in case I’m wrong.

Testimony

I grew up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. My dad was a pastor throughout my growing up years and still works for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, but in an administrative position for the district now.

It just doesn’t feel like spring without missions conference.

So when my parents invited me to one of the C&MA churches in the area because a missionary was going to be there, I decided to go. Things are completely different now. In the past, the churches would host a missionary for a week. We’d have meetings every night and really get to know them. It was always a special time. I don’t know if it’s the Southern California church culture or the lack of international workers now, but today’s service was not at all I was expecting. The pastor had the worker speak for a few minutes and then proceeded to preach his own sermon. Which was fine, but I mostly enjoyed the testimony of the missionary.

And it reminded me of how important testimony is. How sharing our stories with one another matters. How it builds our faith and reminds us of who God is. It’s what I love about house church, simple church, or cell church, there’s always a time to share testimony. And I don’t just mean the, “how I came to know Jesus” variety, but rather, “here’s what I’ve been thinking about God this week.”

It’s not that I don’t like sermons, it’s just that I learn best in the context of relationship. If we share with each other our joys and struggles of the week, if we study Scripture together and try to discern what it means, if we sing and pray from a place of what’s going on in our hearts…this is what edifies me, it’s what gives me context for what I go through on my own, and it’s knowing I have a safe place to fall that keeps me coming back.

We need to share our stories with each other. We need to make sure we’re making that a priority, because our stories are what we have. They are what are real and here and now. It’s how we we invite each other to know one another more deeply and intimately.

I guess that’s why I keep a blog. I want to share with you what I’m thinking. I want to hear your feedback, I want to know your stories, I want to be challenged, always challenged to see things differently, to reach and try to understand more fully this life and this God I love. And I do think we come to know God more deeply the more we know one another. I don’t mean that in some sort of new-Ageish way, I just mean that if I truly believe you bear the image of God than knowing you is knowing what He’s fashioned in you of Himself.