The Itch

I think maybe it’s a byproduct of being a military kid, of being in a new place every few years, but every three years or so I get really restless and angsty.  A friend of mine in college, who also grew up in the military and with whom I bonded very quickly, called it the Itch.  And every once in a while, not often, but about every three years or so, I’ll send her a message or I’ll get a message from her that will inevitably start with one of us saying “I’ve got the itch.”

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I’ve got the Itch.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling unhappy on a soul level.  I’ve been lonely even when I’m surrounded by the people who love me best in the world, and I’ve been thinking so deeply about…everything.  I’ve been internal and quiet, consumed with thoughts about God and church and friendship and who I am in relation to all of these things.

It can sometimes take me to some pretty dark places inside myself, and it can feel like too much to hold in my head.  And so I start to feel anxious and overwhelmed. And when I start to feel anxious and overwhelmed, my impulse is to run to a new town with new people where I have a chance to be a new me, who isn’t so neurotic and consumed all the time.

I get the Itch, and the Itch means I’m ready to move.

But, what I’m  realizing now is that the Itch isn’t about being sick of my town or my people or my church or even God.  For me, the Itch is about being sick of myself. It’s a marker of an existential wrestling. It means that with all the time I’m spending in my own head, I’m finding things that aren’t working for me anymore – relationship dynamics, or patterns of behavior, or unhealthy things that I think about myself.  It means that Jesus and I are locked in and working something out, and it’s painful. It means that I’m about to have to do some surrendering and then some changing. And changing is hard.

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The BFF told me a couple of years ago, “Don’t for one second lose sight of who you are.  You are someone who goes into the dark with Jesus, and you always come out having learned something. And you’re better, and I’m better, and our friendship is better for it. So, don’t forget that even though it’s hard, it’s worth it.”  (I wrote it down in my journal, so I wouldn’t forget it.)

For years, I have hated that I’m a deep-thinking neurotic who has to go into the dark to wrestle with Jesus. For years, I have wished that I could shut my brain down every once in a while and get changing moments with Jesus sitting in church singing a worship song. But, the BFF is right. God meets some people there for sure, but it’s not how He and I get down to business.

No, God and I get down to business when I’m restless and angsty and ready to move.

We get down to business when I’ve got the Itch.

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Do it anyway

4 years, side by side.

In college, I had a roommate who used to say that she could tell the kind of day I was having by the kind of music I was listening to in my car.  If I picked her up from soccer practice and I was listening to Jennifer Knapp, then all was right in the world and we would make dinner and laugh and watch Friends re-runs until we went to bed.  But, if I was listening to Ben Folds, ripe with curse words to sing along with, or if I wasn’t listening to music at all, then she knew I would bug off with the excuse that I had a paper to write and I would go seek solitude in my room or at the library for the rest of the night.

I went through an introspective, kind of lost season during my senior year of college, when we lived off campus and I had the only car and my roommate spent a lot of time riding shotgun, and I flipped between Ben Folds’ Rockin’ the Suburbs  and Ben Folds Five’s Whatever and Ever Amen.  This went on for months.  But, on the day that I ejected the Ben Folds CD and inserted Passion: Hymns Ancient and Modern, she was in the passenger seat, and she put her hand on my shoulder and she said, “It’s good to have you back.”

It’s funny how well someone knows you by the end of four years lived side by side.

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I think about this sometimes, when I catch myself flipping off the Christian satellite station in my car in favor of the melancholy Coffehouse station.  Because sometimes I change it just because Christian music can suck and miss the point, but sometimes, like my friend pointed out to me many moons ago, it’s because I’m in a place where I want to sing along with all the swear words.

Actually, I’ve noticed that this is only the first of many signs of all not being right in Whoville.  First, I stop listening to music that directly talks about God and Jesus.  But, then I stop reading and start watching a whole lot of crime show reruns, the dark kind, like Law and Order: SVU.  Then I stop writing, and the blog goes quiet.  Then I stop going to the gym, and I stop caring if I’m drinking enough water.  Then I start sleeping poorly and getting migraines.  And then I don’t answer my phone when it rings, and then I stop responding to text messages and emails.  And then I get sick of people and I don’t even want to drive across town to see the BFF or the neph-in-love.

Yesterday, though, I did it anyway.

I got up and went to the gym, and I worked out with my trainer and I ran on the treadmill. And when I got home, I drank water and made oatmeal.

And I drove across town, and I played with the neph-in-love, and I stayed long after dinner talking to the BFF and her husband, who happens to be my oldest friend, and I told them about the garbage that’s taking up space in my head the last couple of days.

I drank water in addition to my coffee, and I ate a banana when I wanted M&Ms.  And when I got home last night, I didn’t turn on the TV. I read a couple chapters in a novel about a guy who came to know God because his best friend had more faith than anyone he’d ever met.

I did it even though I had a migraine, and I hadn’t slept well, and I didn’t want to see people.

I did it anyway.

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There are still emails and phone calls and text messages to return, but this is a start.

This is the place to start doing things differently.  This is the place where I don’t let the darkness win. It can have yesterday, but it cannot have today.  This is the place where I chose sleep, and exercise, and reading, and all the things that are good for me.  This is where I remember that Jesus is still doing transforming work in my life, and this is where I start to give Him control of yet another piece that I’ve hung onto for far too long.

And this is the place where good changes start.

When we do it anyway.

2013: PRESENCE

(c) RAW Photrography
(c) RAW Photography

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

– Ephesians 5:14b

2012 was a year of setting priorities. It was a year of making decisions to be the kind of person I wanted to be in the world. That is to say, when 2012 rolled around I found myself spread too thin, giving all of my energies to too many people in too many places, and ultimately not living in a way that reflected what’s most important. So, in 2012 I shifted my focus and made different choices.

I stopped serving out of obligation and guilt, and only said “yes” to the activities and ministries that I could give myself to with a cheerful heart. I challenged myself to soften, and said “yes” to every chance to hang out with my friends and their kids. I disconnected from relationships that ceased to honor God, even when that meant leaving people and a church I’d known for two decades. I wrote with more honesty and vulnerability, and I connected to a group of people who love writing and Jesus and who understand how the two are intimately related. And, ultimately, I prioritized friendships with people who are real, who embrace the grittiness of life without losing God or hope or grace.

I don’t want to stop this in 2013. In fact, I want to do it better. I want to wake up every day paying attention to my life and the people in it. And that’s why my word for 2013 is PRESENCE.

While 2012 was a year of priority-setting for me, 2013 is going to be the year where all the priority-setting plays out. And I want to be present to what the year has to offer, in all the ways I already know it will and in all the ways that it will totally surprise me.

I want to be present to my friends and my family, and to what they’re telling me about who God is through the way that they love me.

I want to be present to my writing, and to the ways that God is weaving Himself in and out of the story I’m telling with my life.

I want to be present to every church I attend as I look for a new place to call home, and to open my eyes to the way God moves in different communities who are gathered in His name.

I want to be present to the moment, and to what God is teaching me about love and grace and mercy and redemption as I walk my days surrendered to His lead.

I want to wake up and attend to the ways that Christ is present with us.

It’s time to go

Joy_chuch b&w

It’s Sunday. And better than being Sunday, it’s Communion Sunday.  And I love Communion Sunday. I love it because it’s about people of Christ coming together and eating together and honoring the sacrifice at the Cross.  It’s about people who love Jesus pausing in the busyness of our lives to remember that He died and rose again and is coming again.  And we do that together, in community.  Communion Sunday is a big deal.

But today, for the first time ever, I didn’t take communion on Communion Sunday.  And my heart hurts, and it’s a big deal.

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It’s not unusual these days for me to pick a fight with Jesus on a Sunday morning while I’m getting a shower, or putting on my make-up, or ironing my shirt.  Every Sunday feels hard to face from under my bedcovers, so I pretty much wake up sour.  I know that I’m going to have to face again the greater ramifications of the blow our church took this summer and is still trying to recover from.  And it means facing gossip and angry words, disappointed parents, and hurting teenagers.  It means that I’m going to pour all of myself into the day and go to bed at night feeling like I’ve left someone somewhere disappointed or let down.  It means I’m going to have more conversations about some upcoming event than I am about how God is showing up in the lives of the people sharing my pew.  And it means that I’m going to be busy working rather than living into the Sabbath and rest.

So this morning was really just par for the course, because as I got ready for church Jesus and I were in the throes of a pretty intense dialogue regarding church. Only this time I did a lot less talking and a lot more listening to that Still Small Voice, which I have been stubbornly ignoring for months.  And in the quiet came four small words.

“It’s time to go.”

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When I walked into the sanctuary this morning, I immediately saw the table set for the Lord’s Supper, silver trays full of pieces of unleavened bread and tiny cups of grape juice stacked tall, and I knew immediately that I wouldn’t be partaking with the congregation today.

Because I couldn’t come to God’s table to be with His people when Jesus and I are in the throes of an intense dialogue about church and what church is about. And it’s possible that my season at this church is over, and that makes my heart hurt.

But, it’s not over because of the gossip and the angry words and the disappointed parents and the hurting teenagers.  In truth, it’s those parents and those teenagers that make me hesitate in going, because I hurt with them and want to help them and I love them more than they will ever know.

No, it’s possible that this season is over simply because God’s leading me elsewhere. And if I’m honest, God has been leading me elsewhere for a long time, since before the blow of this summer, with the very first out of state job offer two years ago.  I think maybe it’s time to start paying attention to that prompting, to those four small words.

“It’s time to go.”

Thoughts from Lauren Winner: Being the apple

From Girl Meets God.

Lauren Winner says you would’ve thought that her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or that her house had burned down or that her best friend died in a car crash, the way she cried  in church one morning.

I know that kind of crying because I’ve done that kind of crying. I did that kind of crying two weeks ago after simply being asked how I was “really doing.” The question came from someone I knew really cared about getting the answer, and it undid me.  Because my answer was, quite simply, “I am not okay.”  I said it out loud, and that confession somehow gave my physical self permission to respond in kind.

And I know in my deepest places of myself  that’s what that awful Wed was about:

I was the apple, and He was the paring knife. God was stripping away more of my everything.

And it certainly wasn’t pleasant.  But, it was good.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Lord, help my unbelief!

image from thinkfeelbeautiful.blogspot.com

This post-graduation season has been hard for me.  I feel unmoored most days, like a boat without a rudder, like I’m being pushed forward by the current of adulthood, but I’m directionless. I decided to take classes online to complete an additional certification, hoping that it would give me direction.  It didn’t.  I decided just last week to start formally putting together a book proposal and to make a real go of this whole writing thing, hoping that it would provide some kind of stability. It hasn’t.  I’ve thrown myself mercilessly into serving the people around me by painting nurseries, throwing baby showers, making dinners, editing college admissions essay, and teaching Bible studies, hoping that through activity that something would click and I’d know how to move forward. I don’t.  I’m unmoored, directionless, unstable, and busy.  I’m the literal definition of a hot mess. Look for me around town. I’m the one without make-up in the ratty old college hoodie and over-sized Adidas sweats that she stole from her best guy friend’s Goodwill pile.

It’s not easy for me to look in the mirror these days because I don’t like the face that’s looking back at me.  She’s tired and worn, and her eyes are flat and lifeless.  She looks like someone who’s letting the world kick the crap out of her.  She looks like someone who’s lost the will to fight.  She looks unmoored and messy.  And this “she” is a hard one for me to meet eye-to-eye.  I am ashamed of her. I’m ashamed of myself because I’m not sure how I’m reflecting Christ in the world walking around looking like this, hiding behind baggy Adidas pants and school and activity.  I’m ashamed of myself for lacking joy and struggling to hold onto hope and losing faith.

“I do believe; Lord, help my unbelief!” *Mark 9:24

On Tuesday night, I sat in Jesse’s car with her, parked in front of the house we were supposed to be in with our Bible study group, and I yelled and I cried and I said all of the things that I’ve been burying under school and writing and busyness.  It happened like that, in Jesse’s car with her because it was a safe place, but it happened because I needed that safe place to say out loud all of the things that I’d been driving myself crazy with in my own head. I needed to confess. I needed to confess that I’m scared that I may have wasted time and money on a degree that I may never get to use.  I needed to confess that I’m worried that I may never find a job or a husband or any of the things that I’ve been taught bring fulfillment and satisfaction.  I needed to confess that I sometimes think that taking a job in Michigan might have been a better move, even though I know God’s called me to stay here.  I needed to confess that I’m lonely, like I feel more often than not like I’m doing life all by myself, even though I know I’ve come such a long way in sharing myself with my friends over the last couple of years.  I needed to confess that I’m angry and anxious and scared, and that being angry and anxious and scared is making it hard to maintain joy and hope and faith.

“I do believe; Lord, help my unbelief!” *Mark 9:24

My friend, whose counsel I trust and who might know me better than anyone else on the planet, told me Tuesday night that I always have the greatest insights after I’ve been in the darkest places.  She told me that she doesn’t want me to stop being me, the person who walks through those dark places with Jesus. I always seem to forget that there’s something valuable to be learned, though, when I’m actually in the darkest places with Jesus. In the dark places, where I’m angry and anxious and scared, I tend to think it will always only be dark.  I tend to think that I will always only be angry and anxious and scared.  In the dark, I forget that Jesus is even in there will me at all.

“I do believe; Lord, help my unbelief!” *Mark 9:24

I’m making this my prayer for the rest of this season, however long it may last, however dark it may go.  I suspect that I will continue to feel unmoored, directionless, unstable, and messy for a good while longer. I suspect that I will struggle to hold onto to joy and hope and faith, and I suspect that my friends will have to continue to be safe places for me to confess and try to make sense of this season. But, more than suspecting, I know Jesus is meeting me here. It’s on me in this season to look up and see Him.  And since I’m looking up, maybe I’ll give the mirror a glance as well.  I suspect the face of the person looking back at me is going to be someone I can be proud of.

Silence: maybe not so golden?

For anyone who knows me, this will not be a shocking admission:  I am a talker.  Actually, I have a hard time shutting up.  So much so, in fact, that “quick” cups of coffee with friends can take several hours.  So much so that I often dismiss my girls late from Sunday school class, for the simple fact that 45 minutes does not allow me to say all that I think needs to be said about any given lesson.  So much so that I would rather sit around in my friends’ living rooms drinking coffee and visiting than doing just about anything else.  Heck, I’m so much of a talker that I chose a professional life that requires me to talk all day.

But…

My idea of “talking” is really much more about listening.  At least, this is what I’ve noticed about myself over the last several months. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a really good thing because I don’t think genuine listening is a skill that many of us hold to anymore. You know, the kind of listening where you actually care to hear an answer to, “How are you?;” the kind of listening where time stops and all that matters is being with that person in that moment and hearing from their heart about their day or their family or their job or whatever.  I think this kind of listening is the stuff of good relationships.  I think this is the kind of listening that Jesus did.

Google image from kratik1987.blogspot.com

But…

I don’t often give people the opportunity to listen to me.  Even tonight, a friend of mine asked me about a date I had been on recently and instead of sharing my heart about the date and the guy and how I’m feeling about dating in general, I told her what we did and capped it off with a flippant, “‘It was a good time.” I didn’t actually talk about it, because I didn’t actually share with her my heart.

I think I do this kind of withholding a lot, actually.  On the way home from my small group Bible study tonight I was weighed down by trying to figure out why, and I think the reality is that I often don’t believe that I have the right to talk.  It’s a manifested combination of bad theology (a deeply rooted poor understanding of what others-first living is) and insecurities (a deeply rooted foolish belief that people don’t actually care about what I think or feel). And I know it’s becoming problematic and that I can’t keep holding onto bad theology and insecurities because I feel the pressure of the silence.  I feel it because of the knot in my shoulder and the pervasive migraines and the hard time I have falling asleep at night. So, it’s intrusive, actually.  And it’s not just intruding on my health and my sleeping patterns, it’s intruding on what I think about myself and how I interact with other people. With every word that I don’t say and every conversation I don’t have, I get a little bit angrier and little more pent up.  And like a dam that’s about to burst, I think I’m just about as filled up with all the silence I can handle.

So…

What do I do about it?  I think I start “talking.”  I mean, really talking. The sharing my heart thing, I think I do that.  Because this breeds community and because Jesus didn’t just listen, He shared Himself too.  And I’m not going to the Cross and I’m not saving anyone by talking about a date I just went on, except that maybe I am saving myself a little bit.  I think that by having the conversations I haven’t been having or saying the words that I haven’t been saying, I’m stopping this burying myself under silence and anger that I’ve been doing.  And I have to believe that by dealing with my insecurities and unpacking my bad theology, I’m saving myself from those very things too.

So, maybe there’s something to the old cliche that silence is golden. In Psalm 141, David implores the Lord to set a guard over his mouth and to keep watch over his lips (vs. 3).  And James is clear in chapter 2 of his book that the tongue is a powerful muscle that can be as destructive as a spark that sets fire to a whole forest.  We have to be careful about what we say, for sure. That’s Old Testament and New Testament truth.  But, I think there’s a reality that silence isn’t always golden. Sometimes, actually, it’s destructive.  Sometimes it creates more problems than it spares. Sometimes there is a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  And maybe when you start to feel yourself getting buried under silence, when it starts to be destructive to the building of community, and when keeping quiet is no longer reflective of Jesus’ kind of listening…maybe then it’s time to start talking.