Rest

I don’t get sick often. Not really. I get a cold once or twice a year, but that’s about it. Nothing to even keep me from going to work. The thing is I am very good at knowing when I need to take a break and rest, and I’m very good at saying so and getting the rest I need. But the pace and rigor of this semester have been such that all the rest I get on the weekends simply isn’t enough. And it’s honestly easier to go to work than to get a sub and make lesson plans for them. That is, it’s easier when I’m well. But this week, I’ve been forced to slow down, and I’m very grateful for it.

Last Wednesday, I felt tired. But whatever, I feel tired on Wednesdays. Don’t we all? But I also felt a sort of pain in my ears, like someone was pushing a Q-Tip out from the inside. It passed, and I didn’t think about it again. Thursday, I felt way off. I texted Will in the morning and said I just didn’t feel right, and that I needed to go to bed early that night. By the time I got home Thursday evening, I was really starting to feel bad. I felt feverish and weak, and my throat felt disgusting. I thought it was post-nasal drip, so I took some cold medicine and went to bed.

I stayed in bed until 12:30 Friday afternoon. I tried to get up a few times. I considered it every time I got up to go to the bathroom. But I just couldn’t do it. When Will left for work that morning, we thought I had the flu. But as the day wore on and I didn’t have a runny nose or anything, I started to suspect strep throat.

We went to Urgent Care on Saturday morning, and he confirmed the strep and told me I was not to go to work at least until Wednesday. He also wanted to take some blood to test for mono and said I should stay quarantined until that test came back. So after a quick trip to Target for some penicillin, I’ve been at home since then.

All of that was fine. It was miserable, but it was fine because I wasn’t scheduled to work at all on Friday or Saturday. I was to be a woman of leisure regardless of my health. But then Monday came, and with it, the guilt. I knew I couldn’t go to work, and I had made arrangements and lesson plans for subs, but I felt like I should have been doing something with my WHOLE DAY OFF. Right? Shouldn’t I have been planning lessons or making up tests or doing something productive that I could do from the comfort and rest of my sofa? My husband said no. He said my only job was to get better, and that I shouldn’t do any school work at all. He told me to read, to sleep, to start and finish an entire TV series on Netflix. And for the first time in my life, rest was really, really hard for me.

I realize now that my life had worked up to such a frenzy that coming down so suddenly felt like jumping off the Scrambler while the ride was still in motion. It was scary and not at all safe. But you can’t live your life on the Scrambler even if you do occasionally close your eyes and breathe deeply. So I took the leap.

This week, I have watched all available-on-Netflix episodes of Call the Midwife. I’ve also watched several episodes of New Girl and Doctor Who and no less than four movies. And sure, I did some laundry and some dishes, and I made the necessary arrangements and plans for substitutes for extra days, but I didn’t do any of the work that could wait. I’ll get back to that next week.

One of the hardest parts about being a grown up is finding the right balance between work, play, and rest. It’s hard because it’s different for everyone, so you can’t use others’ lives and needs to prescribe your own. It will only make you feel guilty or crazy or weak. I have coworkers who teach insane hours while also taking care of kids and chronic health problems and who knows what else. They do it, and they’re fine. But their bodies are different from mine, their support systems are different from mine, and their passions are different from mine. Their struggles are also different from mine, and I don’t know what their struggles are, but I know they exist. Nobody has it all together. So all I can do is listen to my own body and give it what it needs. This week, rest has been very, very good.

Sharon’s Truth

Sharon and I have known each other for several years. We met at church and sort of lived on the outskirts of each other’s lives until she joined the mentoring group last year. I love, love, love that she volunteered to write a guest post for me because we are so vastly different. That means that she brings a voice, a life, an experience, and a wisdom to Onward Hoe! that it would never have otherwise. Here she is to tell us her truth.

I have a kinship with the quotation “Keep it copacetic”.  I understand the concept of coloring within the lines and I thrive where there is order.  I can even enjoy chaos provided there is some semblance of order to it.  Organized chaos is my specialty, but only on a limited basis.  And therein lies the rub.

Copacetic is defined as something existing within a perfect order.  Keeping it copacetic is my attempt to control the how and why of things to create and maintain a perfect order.  As a kid I was the fun-loving only child who liked the organized chaos of coercing my friends to push me around on a riding lawnmower because I simply loved to go and needed a way to do so without starting the motor since it was forbidden.  I spent afternoons with friends riding our Big Wheels in our basement within the chalked lanes, stop signs, and turn lanes that I created.  There was creativity, but existing alongside that was organization and a general framework.

In general this served me well throughout my school years and college.  I was an introvert who honed my extrovert tendencies and exercised my leadership to create a narrative for that position and organization.  There were few leadership opportunities that I did not seek to tame.  I thrived in college because there was a space and time for me to ask questions but operate within a framework that was familiar and over which I had some control.  Eventually I graduated with a degree in political science, pre-law concentration and began my work as a paralegal.  In all my years of working within the legal field, I have continued to thrive in that ability to operate within a space of systems and structures that can change but don’t do so suddenly and without some warning and some influence or coercion.

Within my personal life, my relationships thrived when I felt safe to be crazy.  This likely explains my eventual marriage to a man who is jokingly referred to by many in our social circle as “chaotic evil”.  He is the yin to my yang yet we overlap in ways I would not have imagined.  There is safety, once again, within that field of operation of allowing free reign within an established set of parameters.  I was blissful in entering our relationship and marriage, happy to have the freedom to be less inhibited.  So, when I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me without warning, I began to chastise myself for letting down my guard and allowing a less-than copacetic system within my life.

September 8, 2008 marked the date that my world paused unexpectedly while inertia hurtled me forward and somewhere I heard that clichéd record-scratching sound in my head.  My husband of eleven months called me at work that morning to say that we’d gotten the results of his recent medical tests and it wasn’t good.  Leukemia became the cause of whiplash and an adrenaline surge that propelled me to somehow drive home from work, call family and friends with the most ominous news I’d ever given in my life, and get over to a major medical center to check my husband in that afternoon.  There was no passing go and most certainly no collecting $200.00.

Our friends and family surrounded us and it was most certainly a God-send.  We met with doctors and nurses, confirmed that it was a type of leukemia that had a specific plan for treatment that would include about two and a half years of various stages of chemo, and discussed our family planning methods more times than I’d like to count since there was no predictor for whether radiation would be a rest stop along the way and how that could affect our future family creation.

One of the main doctors on my husband’s treatment team is nationally known for his development of a specific treatment regime to deal with the type of leukemia that infiltrated.  We were encouraged by him to keep our one-year anniversary plans on the calendar so that we’d have a goal in mind.  I am ever grateful to that man for giving me that shred of hope three days after my world spun out of control.  Whether he knew it or not, he gave my copacetic-adoring heart the jump-start to continue.  After a three and a half weeklong intensive treatment regime in the hospital, my husband came home for a few days before we left to celebrate our one year anniversary.

Those three and a half weeks and the months and years that followed spoke to my copacetic-loving heart because I found peace in the fact that there was absolutely nothing that I could do.  In this instance, this was a God-thing to heal and to use the doctors and nurses along the way.  I could not cushion the blow of a dwindling immune system, but I knew it was to rebuild a healthy one.  I could not prevent the chemo medicine from wreaking havoc on his stomach lining, but we knew the outcome would be infinitely better.  There was chaos operating within order and there was simply nothing I could do and no responsibility that I had to perform, other than to be there in that experience with my husband and the two of us together seeking to keep our humor and wits about us through it all.

I’m happy to report that we have recently celebrated five years of remission in the only way that is fit:  our annual Survivor Party where we invite lots of people, grill lots of food, and have lots of laughs.  It symbolizes an annual marker to the survival that my husband celebrates and it reminds me that there was a time in my life that I stared down one of the most dreaded things and still felt peace and eventually deliverance to a celebration along the path.

I wish I could bring that same peace into my churning world now.  There are moments when I have ALL THE QUESTIONS and none of the answers.  My heart pounds and my temples throb because I simply cannot process all the change, all the frustration, all the unknowns.  I desperately hang in the balance of understanding how to have faith and hope and still process the realistic frustrations and disappointments of life.

But then there are moments where I look at the things that celebrate from whence we came and I remember that I am stronger than I thought and my copacetic-seeking heart has found kinship and peace before.  There is nothing to prevent that from happening again.

And that’s my truth.

Who’s in Charge Here?

I have a friend who is a model. Literally. I don’t mean that in the same way that people say, “She’s a rock star,” to mean that she is just an awesome person. I mean literally, people pay money to take her picture, and then they use it in advertisements and stuff. Also, she’s done some runway work, so you know it’s not just that she’s pretty easily Photoshoppable. She looks good no matter what she’s wearing, what face she’s making, how she’s standing, or what her hair is doing. She really is just that gorgeous and perfectly proportioned.

She’s also pretty outspoken against Photoshopping models, models being required or pressured to be unhealthy-skinny, and body shaming in general. I appreciate that about her a lot. I think it’s VERY important for the people who are being hired to advertise clothes to be real people with real bodies and not some unattainable, computer-manufactured shape and size. I think it is crucial to the future of our society (not just girls and women) that we get a more realistic idea of what is normal and healthy and beautiful. And anyone or anything that promotes a healthy body image and encourages girls/women to love their bodies is fine by me.

However, I wonder how effective the message is when it comes from girls who already have what most people would consider an ideal body type. Earlier today, my model friend posted on Facebook about the recent Target Photoshop faux pas, saying that it’s not ok to do that to a girl’s body, especially when you’re selling bikinis to impressionable, self-conscious, teenaged girls. 100% agreed. Later, she posted this handy chart of bikini bodies, which I think is great. But part of me responded to the latter with, “Easy for you to say. Your body really does belong in a bikini.”

Here’s the thing. It’s nice and warmfuzzy and girl-powery and all to say that any body with a bikini on it is a bikini body, but what would we really think if we saw a 350-pound woman with lower back hair and stretch marks jiggling her way around the pool? Really, if we’re honest, what would you think? What would I think? Would people say, “You go girl,” or would they take a picture of her as inconspicuously as possible and tweet it with a mean caption about a beached whale? Would people walk up to the deck chair next to her and ask if the seat is taken, or would they keep their distance and be uncomfortable that she’s there at all?

Y’all, we live in a culture where public breastfeeding makes people antsy, offended, and downright nasty, and where pregnant women are considered unfit to wear bikinis. It is ridiculous.

I honestly don’t know how to fix this problem because if a thin, busty, hairless girl says all body types are beautiful, the girls whose bodies are less than ideal (societally speaking) will say, “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to deal with this.” But if a fat, lumpy, stretch-marked and/or hairy girl says that all body types are beautiful, then a lot of people will say, “Yeah… Yeah, whatever you have to tell yourself. Now please cover up/bleach your mustache/pluck your chin hairs/wax your happy trail.”

I am absolutely in no way saying that there is anything wrong with skinny girls, busty girls, fat girls, hairy girls, models or the Loch Ness Monster. What I’m asking is –

Who can fix this?

Who is currently deciding which women are beautiful, which women deserve to be seen by the masses? Who is currently telling us that we must have a gap between our thighs? Who decides how much of a woman’s body to slice off with Photoshop? Who is telling our 11-year-old girls what they’re supposed to look like in five years, how they’re supposed to control the shape of their bodies at a time when their bodies are completely unpredictable and out of control? Whoever is in charge needs to take responsibility for what they’re doing to us, how they’re making us believe outright lies about ourselves and others, how they are shaming us, and how they are causing immense amounts of pain.

How can we get to these people and convince them that all body shapes and sizes really are beautiful? Or to speak their language, how can we convince them that they’d probably sell more clothes if people could see how the styles will really look on their body type? How can we get our society to believe that all women are beautiful and valuable, that there is no wrong kind of body, and that we’re all ok, even if our thighs do rub together?

Annual Birthday Recap: 33

Man, this time last year, Will, Whitney and I were in Charleston so that Will could ask my dad if he could marry me, and Whitney could eat some she-crab soup. Both missions were successful.

Thirty-three was a pretty wild ride. Here’s a recap for you since I didn’t blog a lot:

Proposal

Will and I got engaged on March 27, so it was the first significant thing that happened to me at 33. You can read the story here if you want.

Engagement Photos

The timing on this was tricky because we had to do it before it got too hot and sticky in NC, and we had to do it at a time when Amaris was available, and we had to find a time when I wasn’t teaching, and we had to do it before I had my face cut all up. And although it was tricky, and it was starting to get hot and sticky, I think we got some really good shots. Here’s one of our favorites.

Photo by Amaris Fotographic

Photo by Amaris Fotographic – http://www.amarisfotographic.com/

Surgery on My Face

I had a little basal cell carcinoma on my forehead that was removed about 14 hours after our engagement photo session ended, so basically it was a good thing those pictures came out so good because for the next couple of weeks, I had a giant bandage on my forehead that looked sort of like a Pringle. We called me Pringle-face. It was not so pleasant, but it did provide me with one of my favorite student interactions of the year. The first day I walked into class without the Pringle bandage, one of my students said, with pleased surprise, “Hey teacher! You regrow your face!”

Moving

Dear God the moving. Always the moving. If we don’t have to move this year, that will be wonderful. If we do, we’re hiring people. We are too old to be doing it ourselves, and our friends are too old to be paid in pizza. And we live in a third-floor walk-up that actually requires you to go DOWN two floors before you go up three. I cringe just thinking about how many trips we took up and down those freaking stairs moving my stuff in over the course of about two weeks. And then I unpacked over the course of about three months. A little advice, friends. Hire movers. Then spend your energy on unpacking so that it all gets done in a shorter amount of time. I hate living so unsettled like that.

The Very Unfortunate Destruction of My Toe

The day after I moved, we helped some friends move, and in the course of that, I stubbed my toe worse than you can ever imagine stubbing a toe. When you stub your toe on the bed in the middle of the night, that is NOTHING. I won’t give you any details about it because I am a little queasy just thinking about it, but suffice it to say that I couldn’t wear anything but flip-flops for several weeks, and I couldn’t sleep with that foot under the covers for at least a month. Awesome.

Bridal Pictures

After my face had healed enough, I had another photo session. The timing of this one was also tricky. Amaris was getting ready to go to Italy, so we had to do it before that. But we had to wait for my face to mostly heal so I didn’t look like the bride of Frankenstein. Also, it was still really hot and sticky. And on the day of the photo shoot, it rained before we could get the outdoors portion of our plan done. We ended up going back to Amaris’s house, where we got one of my favorite shots of the whole day.

Photo by Amaris Fotographic

Photo by Amaris Fotographic – http://www.amarisfotographic.com/

Wedding Planning

We still wonder if it would have better just to elope. I enjoyed seeing everyone at the wedding, which I guess is why you have a wedding, but the whole thing exhausted and stressed me out more than I ever want to be exhausted or stressed out again. Maybe I shouldn’t have kids? I know there are people out there who really like that kind of stuff, but it was not my cup of tea at all. Never again.

WEDDING DAY!!!

That’s just nuts. We still can’t believe it’s real. We still feel very much like we felt at this moment:

Photo by Amaris Fotographic

Photo by Amaris Fotographic – http://www.amarisfotographic.com/

Honeymoon!

We spent our honeymoon in Gatlinburg and Asheville, and it was GLORIOUS! We read books, we slept a LOT (mostly because we both got sick, bless our hearts), we did the cheesiest tourist things you can imagine, including Ripley’s Believe It Or Not “Odditorium,” a sky lift, airbrushed t-shirt, and a caricature. The caricature is framed and hanging on our wall of random stuff, and I plan to make a throw pillow out of the t-shirt, maybe this summer when I have the time.

The Holidays

They happened. We spent our first married Thanksgiving here with Will’s family and our first married Christmas in Charleston with mine, and both were great. By that time, we had started to recover a little bit from the wedding, and we were able to enjoy just being off work and hanging out with family and friends.

This Semester

Y’all, this semester is beating me up every day like a mean, horrible bully. I have stress dreams about my students. I feel like I’m working all the time. I’m counting down to the day when these classes will end, and I’ll get to breathe again (52 days). Incidentally, I will also get to blog more when this semester ends, so we can look forward to that. Well, at least I can look forward to that. I won’t speak for you.

But no matter how hard it is, I get to come home every night to this sweet man, who cooks dinner for me, then snuggles with me while I fall into a coma for eight hours, then wakes me up in the morning, encourages me to get out of bed, and lovingly pours me a bowl of cereal when I’m running late from staying in the bed for too long.

Photo by Amaris Fotographic

Photo by Amaris Fotographic – http://www.amarisfotographic.com/

It’s been a tough, stressful, wonderful, exciting, amazing, sweet, crazy, incredible, exhausting, unbelievable year. I can’t wait to see what 34 brings!

Dana’s Truth

Dana is a friend from church. Sort of. We went to the same church for a while, and we knew of each other, but we weren’t really friends until this past year when she joined the mentoring group you’ve heard tell about. She also went to high school with my husband, which is weird sometimes when I hear stories from back in the day. Dana and her sister own a wedding planning business together, and they’ve been building a wedding venue over the past year, which has proven to be…challenging. She is a brave woman, to say the least. Here she is to tell her truth.

I was asked to contribute to this series and I immediately said Yes, Of course! Why not? Well, not even a minute goes by after I hit send and I immediately had that sinking feeling. You know that feeling when you realize that you have to dig deep inside to admit something? Whether I was 12 admitting that no, I did not put on deodorant this morning, or when I was 17 and said “I love you too.” I always, my entire life, struggled with the truth.

From the time I could remember, I found myself winding these stories to either explain away a behavior, or to make myself look better, more compassionate, more loving, and more desirable. I struggled from the depths of my soul with disappointing people. I never understood those people that just said “to hell with them! I can do whatever I want!” That idea scares the literal crap out of me.

So, to admit my truth, to dig down deep to what I know is true and clear, was hard. I spent weeks journaling, thinking, and playing around with “my truth.” I would come up with a good one, and then shoot a hole straight through it. I always came back to this one, undeniable truth – My husband loves me. Okay, you can all start gagging now – but I really started to meditate on this simple fact. I started to think about the time when I was 17 and I admitted that yes, I do love this kid. The facts were spilling out of me and I just had to sit to write it all down and contain this waterfall of emotion and truth in my life.

Sam and I met in high school. We dated through college and got married 6 weeks after we graduated. The first few years were bliss. We had normal squabbles, but truly some of the happiest times of my life were the first few years we were married. Even then, I still struggled with who I was. I felt somewhat secure in who I was in my husband, but who was I in God, in my family, in my job, in my skin, in my friends? I found myself slipping back to the unrealistic vision of who I should be. I wanted to create a more exciting life, a more spiritual one; I started working out a lot and strived to be the skinniest I ever was. I felt like I had to put on a mask with everyone. This only got worse when I had my daughter.

We decided I would finish out my year and then quit. I was so excited. I had these grand ideas about my days home with this sweet baby. It was hard. I lost a part of me. I lost the part of me that studied for years to be a teacher, who dedicated their time and energy to sports and after school activities. I saw fewer people, talked less like an adult, and just felt out of sorts. I couldn’t shake it. I made up a schedule to keep the house clean, to cook perfect meals, and to look like a person (i.e. showering, brushing my teeth – you know – being human), and I would fail.

I would fake it so well on the outside, I smiled in my MOPS group, I posted pictures of my kid who was screaming two second before with the caption “isn’t she perfect?” I would gush about staying at home and no one was the wiser. My husband would get home; I would look at him and hear, “What are we having for dinner? What did you do today?” I was hearing the lies I was telling myself. I convinced myself that he just loved the idea of who I was. The real me, the mess, the disaster, and the lost me, he did not love and he desperately wanted the idea of me back. I spent years believing this. I tried to impress him, make him see my worth, my value to this family. I never let him in on my true feelings. I kept walking through life that I was happy. To admit that I was not over the moon about being a stay at home mom, made me feel like a failure and a disappointment. I wanted to so desperately prove to him that I was the perfect mom and wife.

It took this last year to really see the man I married. We have had a tough year, lots of downs, lots of stress, and lots of honest to God depression on my end. When I listened, when I looked, I saw this man standing before me as I am blubbering away that I am so sorry I dragged us into this. And he would respond, “its okay, I love you.” I would throw my hands up saying I just can’t do this, I can’t be around this 2 year old for another minute, nothing I do is right, nothing works! He responds, “its okay, I love you.” I would sit in the bed and cry that I was terrible mom who can’t even find time to make Valentines with her daughter, that this path we are on has cost us so much and I just don’t even see the value. Instead of agreeing or getting upset that I did indeed bring us down this road he responds, “I love you Dana, always will.”

It was then that I realized I could be a mess, I could be a straight up disaster with a month long of unshaved legs and he would look at me with the most genuine smile and tell me I am beautiful, that I am loved, that I am valued. I think back to when I stopped feeling the need to lie. To start being honest – I feel crappy. I feel angry. I feel so tired, so lonely, and so.. and it was with him. I could dig down to the ugly parts of me and serve it on a platter and he would take it and say, “but, I love you – YOU Dana.”

There is something freeing about finally believing a truth you have so desperately been praying and seeking for. It is a sense of peace, of knowing how perfect the world actually is. When I curl into his arm at night and we fit perfectly like two jigsaw puzzle pieces, I know that this was God’s perfect and ultimate plan for me. He gave me a man that is able to give me something no one in my life could ever give me. The comfort to speak truth and believe I am not ugly for it. I am not considered a waste, a disappointment, or even tossable, but I am loved. His simple words, simple actions brought me to my knees with God. If my husband can love me this much, how much does Jesus love me? How much does he desire to see my ugliness, take it and tell me I am loved? The thought is unfathomable. I will never really know. But what I do know without a shadow of doubt, as sure as I am that God laid down his life for me, my husband loves me. And that my friends, is my truth.

For more from Dana, here is her business blog. Check it out, and if you are getting married, HIRE HER IMMEDIATELY. If I could go back and change one thing about my wedding, that’s what it would be. She and her sister ran my wedding day, and it was the best thing ever. I just wish I had hired her to plan the whole thing.

Reality Check: A Follow-Up (Part 2)

I was just looking through the list of deadly sins, and it hit me: They’re all based on what we shouldn’t do, where we fail. This is a very common message – we’re sinners, we’re depraved, we’re unrighteous, our very nature is against the nature of God, and our only hope is Jesus. I don’t disagree with this idea, but I think the emphasis of it is misplaced. It’s not the church’s fault, really. What they want is to emphasize Jesus, to make him the hero, which he is, and that’s a great message. But what happens practically is that it sets our default thought pattern to, “I am bad. I am depraved. My very nature is wrong.” This leads us very easily to, “I am unlovable. All of this ‘God-is-love’ business is absurd and cruel.” Do you see what’s happened? We are still emphasized in this thought pattern. We are emphasized, but negatively and without the Good News part of the story.

Here’s my truth: I don’t think God has ever been disgusted with you. I don’t think he’s ever seen you as evil. I don’t think he’s ever been angry, upset, or disappointed in you. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” on the cross, I think he meant it and had the authority to make it true. I think he saved everyone in that moment, and the only thing left for us to do is/was to accept the reality of it and live in that reality. And when we say, “Yes, I like this. This feels real and loving and freeing. I’m on board,” Jesus says, “Cool. Welcome.”

Living in reality is a struggle sometimes, but if your default belief is “I’m bad,” the struggle is even greater, and for some people, this thought pattern will sadly always prevent them from being able to live in it. But when you live in the reality that Jesus established, there is no condemnation for you, even if you struggle. God is not surprised or angry with you because you struggle. He is sad, not because he’s disappointed in you, but because he wants freedom for you.

Imagine you have a friend who is addicted to heroin. My guess is you are not angry with your friend for having an addiction. Rather, you hate seeing your friend in pain and are sad to see your friend make decisions that hurt him/her. I think it’s the same way with God. He hurts for us because we make decisions that hurt us and take him up on so little of what he offers.

With that in mind, let’s talk about greed and sloth.

Greed

Greed is wanting stuff, more and more stuff, as much stuff as you can get, and getting it by any means necessary. You do this because you don’t know that you are loved, that who you are is exactly who you were meant to be, that you are accepted and cared for. In your mind, you are unworthy of receiving anything, so you take it for yourself, or you stew about not having it until it makes you depressed or drives you to go out and get it. You want more stuff because that means you have more money, and in almost every culture ever, having more money meant having more power, and having more power means you are worthy of more respect, and respect means people love you. Having not much stuff means you are poor or a hippie, and historically, poor people and hippies don’t have much power (although arguably the hippies have a lot of love anyway).

I’m going to start sounding like a broken record here in a second, but the message doesn’t change. You are loved. You can’t even imagine how loved you are. You are loved like crazy. You are loved immensely. You are loved beyond your ability to conceive of love. You don’t have to collect stuff to show the world how much they ought to love you. We can tell by looking at Donald Trump that it doesn’t work anyway.

You are free from that burden. You don’t have to keep up. You already have the love you desire. You already have the acceptance and respect and dignity you’re looking for. They are yours for the taking. God is yours for the taking.

Sloth

My old roommates, the Joshes (Whitney and Lauren), used to say that sloth was my deadly sin of choice. It’s true. I was off work for snow last week and didn’t change out of jabambas for two whole days. I got tired from sitting around all day, so I took a nap.

But sloth as a spiritual issue is not about physical laziness. It’s about either not growing spiritually or not using your gifts to do the things you know are meant for you to do. It is not contributing to the world. It is not bringing to the table what you have to offer. It is about withholding the image of God you bear from the world. And a big reason why we do this is because we don’t think we have anything to offer.

Hear me well on this one, friends. When God created you, he didn’t look at you and go, “Well crap. I screwed that one up.” No, he made you in his image so that the world could see him through you and know that they are loved too. Who you are is exactly who you are supposed to be. You are a unique mixture of the attributes of God that he weaved together with your personality to make you you.

You have love to offer. You have grace, peace, kindness, service, strength, joy, justice, creativity, hope, art, encouragement and beauty in you, and we need it. Please don’t hide your joy from me because you think it’s too loud. Please don’t hold your creativity back because you think it’s not good enough. Please don’t keep your peace to yourself because you think it’s weak. Ladies, please don’t stifle your strength because you think it’s not feminine. We need the image of God you bear to the world. We need to see him. We need to see you.

I know this one is hard because it’s dangerous to let yourself be seen by the world. It’s risky to be vulnerable and to let people in, and you should definitely be cautious and wise about who you open up to because there are people out there who will take advantage of you or disrespect the gift you are offering to them. But with people who love you, it’s worth the risk, and you can take it knowing that you are already completely loved, that you are perfectly accepted, and that the God in you is good.

I’ll try to wrap this up next time with wrath, envy and pride. It might be spring break before I can get around to that, but I promise I’ll do it when I can. Love y’all.

Reality Check: A Follow-Up (Part 1)

Let’s start with a list. God is:

love, loving, lovely, kind, gracious, generous, helpful, a healer, good, merciful, funny, just, our protector, light, life, salvation, strong, joyful, holy, perfect, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, at hand, sovereign, righteous, unchanging, active, caring, concerned, eternal, impartial, wise, true, transcendent, imminent, free, freedom, freeing, pure, unfailing, never-tiring, rejuvenating, life-giving, inspiring, available, powerful, sacrificial, sufficient, one who sanctifies, peace, our provider, our healer, victorious, accepting of people, against evil, our comforter, almighty, a good father, trustworthy, real, reality, trinity, one, beautiful, author and perfecter of our faith, creator, creative, happy, for us, crazy about us, hope, hopeful, encouraging, tender, warm-hearted, patient, honorable, a good listener, a good communicator, dignified, necessary, an artist, individual, universal, humble, glorious, welcoming… (feel free to add to the list)

All of these things are available to you (yes, you) always. God is available to you (yes, you) always. If you want him, he’s yours. It’s that easy. You don’t have to fix yourself up first. You don’t have to make amends first. You don’t have to kill a goat first. You just have to say, “Hey, I’m on board,” and Jesus responds, “Welcome.”

A friend asked me to do a follow-up to the last post with some more examples of what freedom from sin looks like in the reality of God. I’ll do my best. And just for funsies, let’s talk about the 7 Deadly Sins (that’s fun, right?). We won’t get through all of them in one post because nobody has time for that, but I’ll do a few today and a few next week, and we’ll see how it goes.

Lust

Oh wow, we’re just jumping right into the deep end here, aren’t we? Deep breaths, aaaaaaaaand go…

Lust is an excessive desire, usually for another person sexually, but not always. It could be about power or fame or other things as well. But just because it’s familiar as a term (and probably as an experience for most of us), we’ll talk about it in terms of sex. Sex is about connection, love, acceptance and knowing/being known. There is a very real physical element to it that I won’t go into right now because there are just so many rabbit holes that could lead us down, but spiritually and emotionally, when you want to have sex with someone, you’re looking for connection, love, and acceptance. You want someone to know you completely and love and accept all of you. You want to show love and acceptance to someone you know completely.

Here is truth and freedom: You are already known better than any other human will ever be able to know you, loved more perfectly and more completely than any other person will be able to love you, and accepted as  you are – warts, skin tags, body hair, cellulite, fat, morning breath, dandruff, freckles, moles, worries, recklessness, volume, size, emotions, baggage, neediness and all. Sex will not make your body image issues go away. It will not manufacture the deep connection you long for. It will not make you confident that you are a lovable person. Even in a marriage that is safe, loving and happy, sex is not a magical thing that satisfies your desire for love and acceptance completely. And thank God, you don’t have to rely on sex for any of that. He provides it generously. Love and acceptance are yours for the taking. They are gifts God is holding out to you like an excited kid at a birthday party saying, “Open this one next; it’s from me!”

Gluttony

Thomas Aquinas broke gluttony down into six different sins:

  1. eating too soon
  2. eating too much
  3. eating too expensively
  4. eating too wildly
  5. eating too daintily
  6. eating too eagerly

I think these are kind of funny. Could someone please explain to me the difference between eating too wildly and eating too eagerly? Either way, I’m definitely guilty of that one around Girl Scout cookie time. And how dainty is too dainty? Are little girls everywhere going to hell for having tea parties?

Essentially, what it comes down to is using food (or money or other resources) for something more than just a tool to meet a basic need. I think we are meant to enjoy food (because come on…basil exists), but when we trust in food or money to satisfy us, and when we withhold food or money from others who need it, we are fending for ourselves. We are believing the lie that God is not for us, that he cannot or will not provide for us, and ultimately, that he does not love us. We are trying to get love and provision for ourselves, but we don’t have to do that.

Here is truth and freedom: God loves you. He just does. That’s what love does. And the confidence that we are loved is freeing. It frees me to enjoy food because it tastes good and fuels my body. And it frees me to give some of my resources away so that other people can enjoy food as well.

That might be enough for today. Next week, we’ll try to tackle greed, sloth (my favorite), wrath, envy, and pride. Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all! You are loved beyond your capacity to understand it.

Reality Check

This is going to be a very Christiany post. If you’re not into that sort of thing, I’d encourage you to read it anyway. It’s something new for me, so maybe it will be something new for you as well. If Christiany posts are exactly what you’re into, this one might make you nervous. I don’t know. We’ll see. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts either way.

Anyone who knows me well has likely heard a little about the mentoring group I’ve been a part of for the past three years. After three years, it’s still hard to explain. When I go to meetings now, Will says, “Have fun at group. Enjoy listening and responding and crying.” That’s pretty much how it goes. There’s not always crying, but the listening and responding part is the best description I can give you. It’s deeper than that, though. It’s not the same listening and responding that we tend to do in life and relationships. It’s listening without judgment or agenda and responding with truth and love. It’s pointing out God in others. It’s reflecting the character of God by telling others how we see the character of God reflected in them. It’s naming and encouraging and truth-telling. It’s hard work, and it’s good.

A couple of weeks ago, we went on our annual retreat, and one of the exercises we did was to brainstorm attributes of God that we’ve experienced. Among them were love, peace, acceptance, grace, hope, and protection.

In another exercise, we were encouraged to consider why we do the things we do that are not loving, peaceful, accepting, gracious, hopeful, and protective, and I had a realization. When I choose to do something that goes against the character of God, it is because, in that moment, I want some aspect of God’s character, but I don’t believe he gives it to me freely. I believe instead that I must take it for myself.

Take vanity, for example (no really, take it – Ha! See what I did there? Comic relief). I care about my appearance because I want people to think I’m beautiful because I want them to accept me, to love me. I want to be loved so desperately, and I think the way to get that love is to make myself look good. Then people will compliment me, and I’ll feel good about myself. I’ll feel loved.

Or falsehood. When I tell a lie (or don’t tell the whole truth), I am protecting myself from something, probably shame. I’m not believing that grace, acceptance and protection are available to me, so I’m getting the closest thing to them – avoiding shame and punishment while believing I deserve them both.

What about gossip? When I gossip, let’s be honest, it’s probably because I’m either jealous or self-righteous (or both). I believe that someone else is loved while I am not. I believe that someone else is getting grace that they don’t deserve. I want to be loved. I want the grace that person is receiving. When I gossip, I knock the other person down a notch in my mind so that I feel more loved/lovable.

But here’s the truth. We live, currently (not sometime in the future), in an actual, physical, real world where God loves us perfectly, completely, and unconditionally. And he gives all of himself freely, liberally, without limit to anyone who’s interested. He gives us love, peace, acceptance, grace, hope, and protection.

The only requirement from us is that we accept this as reality. And I’ll be honest – sometimes that’s really hard.

Sometimes I don’t want a handout. I just want to do it myself. Sometimes I don’t trust that there are no strings attached, and my skepticism pushes my own agenda forward. Sometimes my perfectionist tendencies come out. I’ve made a mistake, and in my mind, grace is unacceptable. I know I don’t deserve it, and I can’t bring myself to accept that I’m fully loved and accepted, so I choose to punish myself rather than let grace in.

But when I can remember what’s real – that love, peace, acceptance, grace, hope, and protection are mine for the taking because the source of them gives them to me freely – I don’t have to fight for myself. I don’t have to take love at someone else’s expense. I don’t have to fend off shame by withholding truth. I don’t have to knock other people down so I feel built up.

This is not about behavior management. It’s not about behavior at all so much as it is about belief. I’ve been in church all my life, and I’ve heard theology, justification, sanctification, atonement, sin, redemption, and repentance described in a hundred different ways that never impacted me like this has. I thought for a long time that the message was, “Stop sinning.” Then I heard, “No, it’s not about your actions. It’s about your heart. Make your heart right.” Then it was, “No, you can’t make your heart right. Only God can do that. You have to surrender to him.” But the explanations for how to surrender to God, if existent at all, are always either vague or based on ME doing a prescribed set of spiritual activities, which doesn’t seem like surrendering very much at all.

But recognizing true reality (redundant, but you understand) and false reality (oxymoron, but you understand) for what they are and choosing truth has made things much clearer for me.

This is what I think Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection were all about. I think he came to open up this reality for all people in all places and all times who would accept it. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what’s true and real and available to us all.

Elaine’s Truth

I have only met my friend Elaine a handful of times in person. We both happened to be available on a weekday once, so we took a road trip together to WILKESBORO!!!!! to see Zach Galifianakis lead story time at the Wilkes County Public Library. It was awesome. We were also briefly involved in a writing group together where I admired her honesty and courage with words. Other than that, we’ve just stalked followed each other on blogs and social media for the last several years. Here she is to tell us her truth.

When I was invited to write a “That’s my Truth” blog post, at first I thought I might write something about motherhood. But life intruded with a more pressing issue: The question of the Law, and how much of it we as Christians are expected to keep.

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to make a theological argument. Paul did that very eloquently 2000 years ago, and wise and intelligent people have been dissecting his argument ever since. When I was in high school, reading the New Testament, I couldn’t reconcile Paul’s arguments with what my church was teaching me. Free from the law? How could that be? Everyone knew that you had to be a good person – no illegal activities, no sex, no smoking, no lying, etc. So what on earth did Paul mean by being free from the Law? It didn’t make sense because Paul was teaching something very different from what my parents and church were teaching.

I chose to avoid my confusion by doing the “safe” thing and obeying the Law, at least the parts of the Law that I had been taught applied to me. That meant I could eat bacon, but I couldn’t have premarital sex. I could drink alcohol, but I couldn’t get drunk. I could go out in public while menstruating and not worry about making a bunch of people unclean by sitting in public seats, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to be in authority over men.

But after college, as I meditated again on Paul’s words, I came to a startling conclusion: He really meant them. We are free from the Law. And not just the parts of the Law that Jesus addressed (like food), or the parts of the Law explicitly mentioned by Paul (like circumcision). The whole shebang.

The very first church council ever recorded was about this very issue – how much of the Torah were non Jews required to follow? (An aside: At the time, this meant the first five books of the Bible, along with all the rabbinical laws, known as the Mishnah. It didn’t just mean the 10 Commandments, or the literal Hebrew text in isolation.) In Acts 15, we see a group of new Christians struggling with this issue. And after much thought and prayer, they decided to pick 3 laws for the non Jews to follow. Three. Out of over 600 written Hebrew laws and countless additions and interpretations. And they weren’t chosen from the 10 Commandments either. Just avoid food sacrificed to idols, don’t get involved in sexual sin, and don’t eat meat that was strangled and still has blood in it.

Here’s my truth. When Paul said we are not under the Law, he meant all of it. We live under grace. The Law is valuable because it gives us insight into God’s will and God’s preferences. But it is no longer binding on Christians. We can choose to disobey any Law we wish, because we are not under it. We are not slaves; we are free heirs with Christ. We have already been purified and are holy in God’s eyes.

When we pick and choose which laws to follow and which ones to disregard, we are committing idolatry. Instead of putting our faith in the Holy Spirit and developing a sensitivity to His voice, we put our faith in a system of rules interpreted for us by other fallible humans. We seek knowledge rather than wisdom. Wisdom is life by the Spirit. It requires us to meditate on God’s word (yes, even on the Torah), and to spend time in prayer, and to learn how to hear God’s voice.

Many Christians are threatened by this and I have been condemned for it. But thank God, I live under grace. So even if I’m wrong, I am forgiven, I am free from condemnation, and I will stand justified in God’s eyes, no matter what. THAT is the good news of Jesus. That we are truly free from the entire Law. We live under grace.

To read more from Elaine, check out her blog or her other blog. Thanks, Elaine!

That’s My Truth

A few weeks ago, I was texting with my buddy Dallas, and I forget the exact content of the conversation, but she started out a text with, “Here’s what’s true…” And I loved that she said that and not, “Here’s what I think,” because we need to hear truth. We need something solid to stand on. We need friends who will break the banter of a conversation to tell you that something necessary is coming at you, and you should be prepared. Dallas is great for that sort of thing, which I hope you’ll get to see for yourselves, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s my truth: We are all in a life-long process of learning, and we all understand and explain things to ourselves differently. Some lessons, I pick right up, some lessons take me FOREVER to learn, and some I feel like I’ve had to learn fifty-eleventy-million times. Sometimes it helps me to retreat and process on my own, and sometimes I need to hear somebody say, “Look BP, here’s what’s true.” I love hearing other people’s lessons and stories because truth is truth, and we all need to hear it. I want more of it in my life, and in the process, I’d like to share it with y’all.

So what’s happening is Onward Hoe! is inviting guest bloggers to share their truth. I have no idea what they will say, but I’m excited to find out.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the title came from, there’s a scene in the movie Waitress (that I wish I could find a video clip of, but I can’t) where the main character, Jenna, asks her boss, Cal, if he’s a happy man. And his reply is:

“Well if you’re asking me a serious question, I’ll tell you: I’m happy enough. I don’t expect much, I don’t give much, I don’t get much. I generally enjoy whatever comes up. That’s my truth, summed up for your feminine judgment. I’m happy enough.”

What’s your truth? What are you figuring out about life these days? What do you know that you know that you know for 100% sure? What matters? Feel free to sum up for my feminine judgment.