You are Still Worthy

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart,” said a wooden ornament hanging from a bathroom cabinet.

“The only person I have to be better than is the person I was yesterday,” said a signpost outside a church.

Are these really the best mantras to carry with us?

view from mountain

Growth and maturation happen as life progresses, but often it isn’t tangible and visible and right there. It isn’t like climbing a mountain, where you can look back or unfold a map and see how far you’ve come. Even when your body screams and your throat is dry and your head hurts, you can still see progress.

Real life isn’t like that. Real life is subtle and grey and hazy, even when you look back. Either you don’t have a map, or it doesn’t seem trustworthy anymore. Your body may scream and your throat may be dry and your heart may hurt … and in all this, there is zero concrete evidence of progress.

Sometimes, you will sink down, and it won’t be ladylike (or gentleman-like). The nice bench next to the nice signpost — that acceptable resting place — is just around the bend, but you couldn’t make it that far. You’re a heap on the side of the road, sweaty and red.

What if you’re still there tomorrow? And the next day? And next year?

I must be better than I was yesterday. And you aren’t. At least, not in any way you can see, not even as you rise heavily to your feet. You don’t feel like you are being particularly strengthened, like any character traits have sharpened themselves into any kind of tool. In fact, the ground seems to have given way a bit, and the wind pulled you back down a few hundred yards. If anything, you’re worse off than you were before. You’re not better than yesterday, or the day before, or even the year before.

You might as well lie down again. You aren’t getting any better.

This is why I think comparing oneself with previous versions of oneself is toxic.

In many ways, life is more about the journey than the destination. Maybe the only way to truly be “better than the person you were yesterday” is to forget about that person and forget about that saying.

Just live today, no matter what the world looks like through your half-opened eyes.

God isn’t using his head to handle you and his heart to handle everyone else, so you shouldn’t either. Give yourself as much grace as you possibly can, because that’s what he’s doing.

It’s not about getting to the top of the mountain. It’s not even about making sure you pull yourself a few steps closer to the peak today. What is this “summit of perfection” you’re striving for? Your worth isn’t based on perpetual upward motion!

Be in Christ, even if you’re not better.

Maybe you won’t see growth for a long, long time, but one day you will put your hand at your side and you will feel polished metal. Surprised, you will look down and see new tools in your tool belt that you didn’t realize were there. New bits of wisdom, new confidence, new depths of love and hope and patience.

And yes, another day will come when you will reach down again and some of those tools will seem to be missing, and you won’t know why, and you will feel like all the progress you were making has been lost.

Remember, even in loss you are not lost. Life is subtle and grey and hazy. Hold on to truth and God even when every outward sign of value and progress and comfort is torn away.

You are still worthy.

(photo credit)

Day 31: Here, at the End of This Thing

31 Days in the Word

One month ago, I spontaneously decided to join with hundreds of other bloggers and accept the challenge to post a blog every single day of October. My series would be called 31 Days in the Word, and it would be a way to hold myself accountable to reading the Bible daily.

Well, I have blogged every single day, but it didn’t take long before “31 Days in the Word” turned into more of a “31 Days of Whatever-the-Heck-I-Can-Think-Of.” What with working almost full-time, as well as juggling multiple other commitments this month, blogging daily became a major consumer of my time, and, if I’m honest, a burden. I’m a slow writer, especially at the end of long days.

Perhaps inevitably, this blogging experiment often turned Bible-reading into a pressure-filled, obligatory chore. Whenever I would read the Bible before writing a blog post, I couldn’t focus on Scripture without thinking, What am I going to pull out of this to write about today? That’s part of the reason why my blogs, for the most part, became less about what I was reading in the Bible, and more about what was going on in my life and mind and heart at the time. Sometimes it was Bible-related, sometimes it wasn’t, but being real was more important to me than fitting into a mold.

And I wrote many real words that flowed from my life and mind and heart, and that maybe wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t been blogging so often.

As the month went along, however, I found that my writing and my life were becoming a bit disproportional. This quote from Sarah Bessey that I shared last week sums this up excellently:

Sometimes, I find if I’m writing too much and not living my life enough I have nothing to write about. Writer’s block and that place where I’m feeling stuck and where I feel I have nothing to say, it’s usually because I have nothing that I’m living and nothing I’m experiencing and nothing I’m taking in. You can’t really write out of an empty well. … I can’t write about church and community when I’m not making time for church and community in my life.

Will I ever do a 31-day series again? Right now, it seems very unlikely, but if I ever do it will not be a decision made without serious consideration regarding both subject matter specifically, and whether or not I am up for such high-frequency writing.

Thanks for joining me on this journey! To give both you and me a break, I’ll be resting from blogging this Friday, but will resume my pre-October Tuesday/Friday blogging schedule on Tuesday, November 5.

If you missed some of this month’s posts, you can find a full list of them here. These are a few (okay, eleven) of my favorites:

Day 30: Pieces of an October

Ozzie, the dog, and me
Ozzie and me

Cookies sliding into the oven while the phone is sandwiched between my shoulder and ear. I am laughing and the batch is small because I eat so much of the dough.

The black-and-white dog I am growing to love walking fast with me in the waning twilight. I think we both prefer the longer loop.

Long conversations filling my heart like music and love, and mingling with music and love.

Cell phone reaching its text message capacity yet again, bursting with precious words waiting to be transplanted into the safety of a Word document.

My voice spreading out over the airwaves from our old station and old microphone, and I still can’t explain why it’s so easy to be on the radio most days.

Firewood finding its way into the woodshed in the rain and shine of summer and fall, filling two nostrils and one face with dirt and accomplishment.

A cat waking me up and a junior-high boy introducing me to anime and two houses of new responsibility weaving into real life.

Boxes of crackers and other scrounged-up snacks being passed into the hands of adolescents in my Sunday school class after we act out Bible stories together. Still, I miss grown-up church.

Thin Bible pages turning to Isaiah and the Psalms and the Gospel of John, mostly, in the shades of evening. I rejoiced the few times it didn’t feel like an assignment. I longed for freedom and I longed for true rest.

A girl with wet hair and a too-big T-shirt drifting off to sleep in an empty house. She is ready for tomorrow.

Day 29: God vs. King (Psalm 2)

throne

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2

Even if all the kings, presidents, and prime ministers of the world grasped hands and conspired as one, they would be no match for the King of Kings. God isn’t worried that the people of the earth will be able to defeat Him if enough of them unite against Him. If Lucifer couldn’t do it with a host of traitorous angels, then our efforts are less than feeble.

Sometimes, we raise our eyebrows at descriptions of God as One whose “wrath is quickly kindled” and who will “terrify in His fury.” Why must we “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling,” as this psalm says? How does this jibe with a God of love and compassion and mercy?

Let’s look at the context. This psalm is about the kings of the earth vs. the Lord’s anointed. In the tumultuous years after David’s son Solomon reigned, when the kingdom was divided and many unscrupulous men (and one woman) took turns on the two thrones, the people followed the lead of their monarch.

If the king feared and served the Lord, the people followed his example and repented and turned away from the idols. If he didn’t, they didn’t.

That isn’t to say that the people were blind sheep without minds of their own. God raised up prophets to be messengers of truth to His people, and there were others who served God even in the midst of corrupt, godless leadership. Obadiah, a man high in King Ahab’s court, is one example.

But when there hadn’t been a true witness of God in years, when the king ruled with an iron fist and he and others in his entourage were enticing and intimidating people away from God, it isn’t hard to understand why so many stopped seeking the Lord. And when they stopped seeking Him, they stopped seeing Him.

The story of Elijah’s defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel is a profound example of what happened when the people saw the power of God in a remarkable, irrefutable display: “They fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God’” (1 Kings 18:39), and then they rose up against the prophets of Baal.

But I digress. My point is that rulers are responsible for more people than the average citizen is. They shape the character of their nation, not to mention so many individuals, and if they reject God and spit in His face and plot against Him, it isn’t just they who are affected, but thousands of others!

And God takes that very seriously. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).

Don’t we want a God who will take action when world powers rise up against Him, who will fight for His people when they are on the brink, who is greater than sin and strong enough for us to take refuge in Him?

(photo credit)

This is day 29 of 31 Days in the Word.

Day 28: Walking with God (Psalm 1)

Tree Planted by the Water

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

Psalm 1

“Enter by the narrow gate,” Jesus said, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

That’s Matthew 7:13-14, and it’s a powerful illustration of the two roads that lie before us.

When we think of these paths, we often envision constant motion, a steady stride to an eventual destination. But it’s not always that black-and-white. “I do good things, I am a productive member of society and a good father,” says a smartly dressed older man sitting in an armchair on that broad path. He shakes his head at the disheveled young people who saunter by, not seeming to care for anyone but themselves.

But even though he’s sitting, he’s still in the wrong place. It’s easy to play the judge, but what good is it to “sit in the seat of scoffers,” finding a comfortable spot in the place that leads to death? Don’t you realize that the road is tilted, that even while you’re thinking you’re far enough back for safety, your chair is sliding down, down, down with everything and everyone else?

Even in our narrow path, we believers can get stymied. One minute she’s walking joyously, the next, she glimpses others who seem to be walking faster. She tries to catch up, her heart thundering in her chest as the joy drains away. She forgets what brought her here in the first place and Who gave her the strength to walk at all. And then she crumples to the ground, oblivious to the outstretched hand before her.

Standing apart from God, from “the law of the Lord,” doesn’t just mean knowingly and rebelliously walking in the opposite direction. Sometimes you’re leaning against a wall that crumbles behind you, and it isn’t until you’re on the ground that you realize you’ve trusted the untrustworthy. Sometimes you’re sitting in a chair and it isn’t until you try to stand and fail that you realize how long you’ve been chained by lies.

Walk with the Lord, stand with the Lord, sit with the Lord. Dance with the Lord, work with the Lord, dream with the Lord, and you will live life in all its verdure. You will be that tree planted in the Lord. But being planted in the same place doesn’t mean predictability or boredom. You will grow new leaves and branches, you will provide shelter for others in ways you never would’ve imagined when you were only a tiny sapling, you will produce fruit that will revive you and everyone who comes in contact with you, and as the seasons change around you and fill your vista with wondrous new sights, challenges, and opportunities, nothing will uproot you, and nothing — not even the greyest of winters — will cause your leaves to wither and fall.

Blessed be this tree, this person, who delights in the law of the Lord.

(Photo credit)

This is day 28 of 31 Days in the Word.

Day 27: Be Still (a Sunday blessing)

be still
photo by Unspoken Romance on flickr’s creative commons

Psalm 46:10 — He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

May you let go and take that deep breath and close your eyes in true rest. Put away your lists and put away your worries and put away everything that needs to be organized. May you be more inclined to rest in God the more you see Him do. Let go of the high bars and tightropes and balance beams of performance. Just be. May you be still and know that He is God.

This is day 27 of 31 Days in the Word.

Day 26: A Saturday for Looking Back

This day 26 of 31 Days in the Word — a Saturday update.

I’ve been away from home all week on my housesitting adventure, and I can’t say it’s been any more restful than usual. It brings its own set of challenges and responsibilities, really.

Like making sure the dog gets enough exercise. Like making sure I have enough food. Like trying to ward off loneliness.

Last night, I was reading blogs and feeling restful and blessed. Blessed that there are so many other words, so many other stories, so many other lives to connect with.

One of those blogs was a guest blog over at Addie Zierman’s website: One Small Change: One LESS Thing (written by Heather Caliri):

The world keeps telling me there’s no way to contribute unless I’m frantic with effort. That there are so many issues to worry about; so many worthy causes. The truth is, I want to do something, dammit.

Until I sit with a new friend at coffee—the coffee I almost told her I was too busy for—and hear her say how she has spent years feeling that no one had time to be friends.

It sounds so familiar.

Two weeks ago, I wrote this: “My mind and my life are full of many things, but I can’t seem to settle on any one of them long enough to rest in the exploration. There are too many things worth doing. I must do all of them, and I must do them all well (or so I tell myself).”

One week ago, I wrote this: “I think back to this time a year ago, and I miss the time I had to take walks and spend time with people without feeling that push of the schedule, that nudge to end the Skype call or the coffee date not because the conversation had come to a natural end, but because I worried that I wouldn’t get everything else on my list done and still get enough sleep. Relationships are a luxury now.”

I don’t want relationships to be a luxury. I don’t want my schedule to be so full and so rushed that I don’t have enough time to rest, to think, to be still.

I want to be still.

But how does one be still and do less in a busy world?

Day 25: Public Speaking and Other “Performances”

speaking at my high school graduation
Speaking at my high school graduation. Back when the fear still dominated.

I’ve had so much trembling fear as I’ve stood in front of people.

I was 14 years old when I started going to a “real” school after a lifetime of homeschool. That first year, I was in a Bible class where we each had to memorize and then recite a Bible verse every week. We also had to come up with an application for our chosen verse, though that part didn’t have to be memorized.

I would always say my verse and application fast. One day, someone decided to race me, and so the competition was on, and oh what fun memories I have of stopwatches and rapt attention and a friendly rivalry.

The reason I started saying them fast in the first place, though, wasn’t because I was trying to set a record. It wasn’t even just because I was nervous. It was because I didn’t want people to listen too closely to my application. What if my application was dumb? So I would read it as quickly as possible so people hopefully wouldn’t be able to fully process what I was saying and, thus, wouldn’t be able to judge me.

I didn’t believe my words had worth.

I’ve done the same thing with creative writing assignments in school. Especially when I know I’ll have to read them out loud. Panic would lock up my creative process and I would struggle to bring a word, a sentence, an idea past my freaked-out filter and onto the page. They’ll think this is terrible, I couldn’t help but think, and there would be no enjoyment in the writing.

So much of this fear of mine can be traced back to viewing my words as performances instead of as conversations. I wrote about this on Wednesday, but today I’m making it more personal.

In performances, you can’t mess up. In performances, everyone is watching you and no one’s talking with you and there’s no us, only a very separated you and them. In performances, it’s all or nothing.

I was insecure, and I believed the lie that I wasn’t good enough and my words weren’t good enough.

In school, even preparing for a speech days in advance was enough to fill me with fear. During and since my life-changing trip overseas with YWAM, though, I’ve felt a strange desire to do the very thing that had so terrified me. I spoke at youth groups and church meetings a few times in Asia, and even though I was always nervous right before going to the front, I was able to prepare without fear. There’s something exhilarating about stepping way out of your comfort zone, but it’s more than that. I think speaking and I have some kind of future together.

Anyway, since then, I’ve taught Sunday school regularly, co-preached a sermon in a Mexican church (complete with a translator!), given a toast at a wedding, and of course been on the radio. Sometimes I was still nervous, but I was almost always the one eagerly volunteering to speak, and I never regretted it.

What changed?

My identity changed, in ways I can’t fully put into words. I believe that I am someone worth liking, worth loving, worth listening to. My words aren’t in competition with anyone else’s words (though I do need reminding of this quite often). I can speak or write and not know everything and even make mistakes and it doesn’t make me a failure.

Some people will never enjoy speaking in front of big groups. It’s just not who they are. But I’m beginning to think that I’m not one of those people (two years ago, I never would’ve believed I would be saying this!). I’m beginning to see that speaking and teaching don’t have to be performances; they can be conversations. And I like conversations.

Wedding toast for a friend
Making a toast at a friend’s wedding last month. When the fear no longer dominated.

This is day 25 of 31 Days in the Word.

Day 24: When November 1st Can’t Come Soon Enough

Christmassy socks
Yes, these are the very socks I mention, in this photo taken just for this blog post.

I woke up an hour early this morning. I’m still in my pajamas, wearing a hoodie and thick Christmassy socks even though the warmth outside will reach the mid 80s by the time the sun has finished its work for the day.

I know it’s not the end of the month, not the final entry of 31 Days in the Word, but I need to reflect on this whole thing a bit. I hope you don’t mind.

Yesterday, I knew that I had long since reached a point where I needed to be in the Word, needed to pursue community, needed to put ideals and plans and goals into real-life action instead of just writing about them.

In an interview about writing, Sarah Bessey said, “Sometimes, I find if I’m writing too much and not living my life enough I have nothing to write about. Writer’s block and  that place where I’m feeling stuck and where I feel I have nothing to say, it’s usually because I have nothing that I’m living and nothing I’m experiencing and nothing I’m taking in. You can’t really write out of an empty well. … I can’t write about church and community when I’m not making time for church and community in my life.”

I very much resonated with this. I am a slow writer, often. Especially after spending seven or eight hours at work before trying to pull words out and meet the daily quota.

How glad I will be when there no longer is a daily quota!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did this experiment, and I’ve written many things that I’m proud of, many things I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise. But I will be glad when November arrives and I can settle back into my twice-a-week postings and “living my life” won’t have to feverishly try in vain to stay ahead of — or at least neck-and-neck with — my writing.

Last night, I was tired and sitting bleary-eyed in front of my computer, wondering what I would write about, and then I thought, You know what? I’m just going to spend some time with God and go to bed.

Best decision ever.

Day 23: Performance vs. Conversation

In the studio
Me in the studio during last year’s fall Share-a-thon.

I don’t like performing.

It’s one thing to sit in the studio at the radio station where I work with the door closed tight as I leisurely read a devotional or even go off-script with a “Lizzie original.” I’ll sing lustily or let the music play in the background as I mark up my paper with the adjusted start and end times of my voice tracks. My mental math has improved over the months.

When I misspeak or lose my train of thought, I’ll pause and then carry on when ready. I’ll edit out the mistakes and silence later. My favorite moments are usually those off-the-cuff ones, when I’m speaking or praying unrehearsed words from the heart.

Put another person in the room, and it changes everything.

Even if we’re only talking for a minute or two about a subject I’m quite familiar with by now (like our upcoming Share-a-thon), I’m nervous. I’m afraid of making a mistake, so I try to plan out everything I’m going to say and exactly how I’m going to say it. I turn it into a performance.

Strangely, this usually only happens when it’s prerecorded. On live radio, I’m much more comfortable. You’d think it’d be the opposite, wouldn’t you? That not being able to go back and fix it, that having no safety net for my words, would be asphyxiating. I won’t say that I can always think of things to say or that I never feel the pressure, but our live radio atmosphere is one of grace and conversation and sharing, and I find myself relaxing into it and finding the freedom to just talk.

I can be more real when I’m live because it feels more like a natural conversation. Instead of “oh wait, mistake, must stop and start over,” I can laugh and say, “Oh, whoops, this is what I meant to say…”. And that’s what conversations in real life look like too. The way we do live radio takes away the barrier, the pretense of polished perfection. Conversations aren’t meant to be perfect performances. They’re meant to be unpredictable and messy and all over the place. And beautiful. Beautiful because of all those things!

In some of those prerecorded conversations and interviews, though, it feels less like a conversation and more like a performance.

I think we sometimes turn what should be a conversation into a performance. When I care about you and what you’re saying, that’s a conversation. When I’m focused on myself and what I’m saying and on impressing you, that’s a performance. And when I’m making a speech, if I’m excited to share these words or stories or this information with you, and if I’m curious to hear what you have to say on this subject as well, that’s a conversation. But if I’m focused on appearance and perfect diction and how I have to be the best at saying this and how if I do this right there will be nothing more to say on the subject, that’s a performance.

Even when it should be a performance — i.e. in theatre, in music, in dance — I think incorporating elements of conversation (such as engaging with your audience and wanting to share with them and help them experience what has touched you so deeply) can only improve the performance.

What do you think? When are performances good? Is art more like a performance or a conversation?

This is day 23 of 31 Days in the Word … though this post may be more inspired by personal experience and, to an extent, by Emily Freeman’s 31-day series on living art than strictly fitting into a “31 Days in the Word” box. But hey, I’ve been spending more time reading the Bible this month than I was before, and if this series has lately been “more about the-girl-who-is-reading rather than the-God-she-is-reading-about, that’s okay.”