Strengths and Struggles

What are you good at? What are you not so good at? Most of us would far rather answer the first question than the second. We’d prefer to think about our strengths over our struggles.

It’s hard to admit what we struggle with. Our culture has set up the expectation that we live as though we aren’t weak in any areas, like we don’t need help with anything at all, like we can do it all ourselves.

But I know that’s not the case for me. And I’m willing to bet it’s not the case for you, either.

There are things I’m good at. But there are also things I’m not good at. Some of those things are issues I’ve battled time and time again, frustrated each time I see them cropping back up even after I think I’ve wiped them out.

Struggles make us stronger. If we only paid attention to areas in which we’re already strong, we wouldn’t have to challenge ourselves as much. We wouldn’t experience as much growth.

We should recognize and lean into our strengths. We have them for a reason. They provide us with ways to help those around us and make the world a better place. They give us opportunities to do things that we enjoy.

But we can’t be good at everything. You and I are unique. We have different sets of talents and gifts. We are good at different things, and we work better together as our strengths complement each other. If we were one hundred percent the same, our friendships would be very dull. We wouldn’t have as much fodder for conversation, less to learn about one another, fewer things to discuss, and less room for growth. We need our strengths and struggles to make us unique individuals.

We are better together. We need each other. In order to work best, though, we have to acknowledge the areas in which we are weak, the places for growth in our lives, and be willing to be vulnerable with others we trust. Then they can walk with us in our struggles, provide advice, give encouragement, and share their own experiences.

Our strengths can provide opportunities to teach others and share our skills with them. And our struggles are areas in which we can seek opportunities to learn from others. In both cases, there are ways for us to challenge ourselves, grow, and build relationships with others.

It’s important to focus on strengths and struggles that are really important to you. If you’re strong in an area that you’re not passionate about, know that you don’t have to spend all your time pursuing it. Maybe it will come in handy in some small (or not so small) way later on. Maybe it is something you can simply choose to not pursue right now. There are plenty of other things you can focus on instead that would be a better use of your time.

Similarly, I suggest focusing on improving areas of growth that you think are important to your life. You don’t have to be good at everything. You can choose to just not worry about being good at some things, knowing that you are good at others and your worth doesn’t lie in your ability to excel at everything you try. However, sometimes there are things that you really do want to improve on, like photography skills (that’s where I’m at), organization, healthier eating, exercise, or kicking a bad habit.

In order to pursue anything very well, we need to be willing to really focus on it. If our attention and efforts are divided between too many things, we aren’t able to pour enough energy into any of them because we’re spread too thin.

Choose to pursue what matters most to you, whether you consider it to be a strength or struggle.

Know your strengths. Lean into them. Find ways to explore them in new ways. Grow them. Challenge yourself.

Admit your struggles. You can’t get better at things if you don’t face them. Look to others who are good at what you’re not. Seek advice from them. Get help if you need it. But give yourself grace to know that you don’t have to be good at everything.

What are your strengths? What are your struggles? Have you found good ways to improve your strengths or grow in areas you’ve struggled in? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Loving Your Right-Now Life

I often find myself thinking I’ll be happier when I achieve certain things or change this or that. But there’s always something else that sneaks onto my list. It never ends.

And I’m pretty confident that I’m not the only one.

It’s easy to think that acquiring more things or achieving bigger goals will make us happier. And maybe they do. For a while, at least. Until some other shiny thing catches our eye.

When is enough enough?

How do we get to a point where we can just love the lives we’re living right now?

I think we can start today. We can start right here, right now. Wherever that may be.

We don’t have to wait for tomorrow, next month, or next year. We don’t need more money, better jobs, bigger homes, or more impressive lives to flaunt on social media. We just need contentment. We need to be grateful for what we have and see the emptiness of continually chasing after what we don’t have.

If we don’t put a stop to it, we’ll find ourselves in a never-ending chase. We will never be satisfied. We’ll keep pursuing one thing after another, hoping the next one will bring us happiness, only to find that none of them can.

So, how do we find contentment? How do we satisfy ourselves?

We find ways to love our right-now lives. We pursue joy right now, right here. We don’t put off happiness until something else happens for us. There’s no guarantee that it will. The only way to really live abundant, wholehearted lives is to embrace the beauty of life as we know it today.

What can you love about your life right now? It’s easy to see the things you wish you could change, but I want to challenge you (and myself, too) to seek out and list the things that are going well.

Are you healthy? Are your family members healthy?

Do you get to spend time pursuing a hobby or favorite pastime, even just a little bit?

Do you have enough money to provide basic necessities (food, gasoline, mortgage/rent, utilities)?

Do you have access to a wide variety of entertainment options (Netflix, cable, books, music, podcasts, radio, movies in the theater)?

Are you in a season that will pass all too soon, one that you should savor and appreciate as long as it lasts?

Do you have a vehicle that safely gets you from point A to point B?

Do you have a solid community of people to support you and live life with you?

Are there moments of everyday beauty you can pause to enjoy? How about things like the sunset and sunrise, your child’s perfectly imperfect artwork, an adorable puppy, a gorgeous flower, a moment of quiet before the chaos of the day begins, a delicious meal, or a sweet conversation with a friend?

For me, loving my right-now life looks like being grateful for the job I do have instead of spending all my time dreaming about another one I might like more. It looks like investing in decorating and updating my current home. It looks like pouring into my friendships because I have the ability to do so right now without a family of my own to devote time to. It looks like being grateful for my safety after sitting in snowy traffic, because although I had to wait to get around a handful of car accidents, I wasn’t a part of any of them.

What things do you love about your right-now life? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

Image source: Artem Kovalev, unsplash.com

For When I Don’t Understand 

Sometimes I just don’t understand. I don’t have an answer for my questions, and they just run on a loop in my head.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why are precious little babies lost?

Why does cancer strike?

Why do people think violence is the answer?

Why does the prospective job fall through?

Why, why, why?

I can’t say I really know. And I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers. I know we live in a broken world. I know God is in control. I know He has a big, glorious, mind-boggling plan for this world. I know life won’t be perfect this side of heaven.

But sometimes I’m struck anew by the weight of the brokenness in the here and now. When things happen to my people. When the headlines draw my attention to yet another instance of injustice or natural disaster.

In those moments, I’m forced once again to admit that I just don’t know. I have no real choice but to fall to my knees, admit the limits of my understanding, and commune with the One who knows the whys behind it all.

Lord Jesus, You are with us in the midst of our pain and confusion. You lend us Your strength when ours has run out, and give us hope knowing that we don’t have to understand but can still have faith in our doubting. Help us to have faith beyond what our eyes can see. And help us to love one another through the times when we just don’t understand. Help us live like love.

Now What?

I generally stay away from posting about politics, but now that the results are in, I wanted to share some brief thoughts on the subject as we move forward.

Despite how we may feel about the results of this year’s election, may we all remember that:

God is good. He has given me (and us, collectively) so much, and nothing that goes on in the world of politics can change that.

God is in control. I have no idea how things are going to play out, but He does.

God works outside the confines of the American political system. He is far bigger and greater than we give Him credit for.

God, the Gospel, and our purpose have not changed. We are called to love those around us. That’s what our life is about. That hasn’t changed.

We, the Church, are not limited to our ability to vote for a particular political individual or party to enact change. Our influence reaches into the lives of those around us by other means. We can do more. We are called to care for widows and orphans, to give a helping hand, not just to cast a vote and call it good.

Fear hinders us only if we let it. The future is unknown and scary, but God knows what it holds. We’re called to be faithful to the end, not cowering in the face of change or challenges. We can tap into God’s strength and press on even when we don’t know what lies ahead.

God allows all things to happen for a reason and makes it all work out for good and His glory in the end. Even when we can’t see it because we’re standing in the middle of the mess. He sees the bigger picture.

We are blessed to live in a country in which we can take part in electing our government representatives. Whether or not the people we are rooting for are the ones who garner the most votes, we got to have a say. There are many places throughout the world where people don’t have that privilege.

This election really could have gone one of two ways, and neither one would have been a smashing success. We all know this political season was especially volatile, and we would have chosen an imperfect, fallible human to guide us forward regardless of which box we checked on the ballot.

Our hope for the future shouldn’t hang on who wins or loses, because our hope shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of people at all. Neither administration would have solved all of our current problems or avoided causing any future ones; believing they have that kind of power immobilizes us as citizens and strips us of our motivation to utilize our own strength to stand up.

We have a responsibility to one another, despite the divide that politics has caused in this country. We have to fight for the truth and stand up for causes that are nearest and dearest to us. We have to stand together.

The newly-elected officials have limited reach and a finite term in office. While not everything hinges on who we elect, we get the opportunity to do so again in the future. Whether you’re content or concerned about how things played out, this is not the end.

There is a myriad of emotions surfacing in the wake of this, but I hope we choose compassion and hope over fear and hate.

We have so much to be thankful for. If nothing else, the ads are over and we have four more years until we have to go through this again!

 

Further reading/viewing:

Ellen DeGeneres’s Post-Election Message

Kid President on Disagreeing Respectfully

James Corden’s Post-Election Monologue

How the Church Can Move Forward Past Election Day by Janice Wood, Relevant Magazine

How to Be Worry-Free in Times Like These by Jennifer Dukes Lee, (in)courage

5 reasons why America will be OK, even if your candidate didn’t win by Josh Hafner, USA Today

Donald Trump Is the President-Elect. What Now? by Aaron Cline Hanbury, Relevant Magazine

Moving Madness

You never realize just how much stuff you own until you try to move it all to a new place.

img_0663Playing real-life Tetris with boxes and couches in trailers opened my eyes to the fact that our little apartment really held a great volume of belongings inside. Thankfully our family and friends were able to come help us move things, or we would never have gotten it all done (shout out to all you lovely people– you’re wonderful!!!).

Moving is always stressful, but our most recent experience was made even more chaotic by the fact that we had planned a family vacation only five days after we closed on our new house. I had the day of our closing off from work, but other than that, we had to move everything and clean the apartment after work that week. With stress levels running high and sleep levels dangerously low, we somehow managed to get it all done.

The experience served as a good reminder that I can’t control everything, especially timing. If I had my way, I would’ve set aside a few weeks in my schedule to devote to packing, organizing, cleaning, loading up vehicles, unpacking, painting, and decorating.

But, alas, that is not how this whole thing went down. Instead, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to accomplish too many things in too short of a time. Thankfully there were other people to step in and offer to help, because I realized I couldn’t do it all myself (despite all my efforts to the contrary).

I was less involved in church and community things due to moving logistics and our family trip, and coming back reminded me just how vital having a solid community is. I needed those people when everything seemed like more than I could bear. Who was I to think that I could take such a big step in buying a house without a little help from my friends and family?

But I learned. I realized it’s necessary to acknowledge my limits and accept help instead of trying to do everything myself. I came to see that my own expectations caused most of my stress, and I’m much happier if I set the bar a bit lower and allow myself to rest. I learned that not everything has to get done at once; it’s okay if people come over and see piles of unpacked boxes or blank walls or a room devoid of furniture. It was a humbling experience for someone who typically cares so much about presentation.

Of course, that was temporary; we’ve gotten things pretty much squared away, but I’m still trying to hang onto the concept of not needing to have everything spic and span in order to be hospitable.

We’re certainly not done, but we’ve made some big strides in making the house feel like home. We painted, bought furniture, and unpacked all the boxes, so I’m okay with letting the smaller things take their sweet time.

And for anyone who’s curious, here are some pictures of our new place: fullsizerender_9 fullsizerender_5fullsizerender_6fullsizerender_7fullsizerender_8fullsizerender_3fullsizerender_4 fullsizerender_2fullsizerender_1fullsizerenderimg_0787

Thanks to everyone who helped us move into our new home!

Faith Like a Child

When we became children of God, Jesus instructs us to return to the innocence of our youth. He wants us to trust Him with total abandonment and joy, free from the worries and concerns that can so easily dominate our lives (especially since most of what we worry about are things we cannot change). Being free from concerns is not the same as abandoning responsibilities. It is learning to tell the difference so we can give our concerns to the Lord.

When we were young, we jumped out of the bed each day with excitement, anticipating what each day would bring. We did not worry about food, clothing, or shelter. We felt secure, protected, and loved by our parents, and nothing gave us reason for concern.

If we, as adults, would go to Jesus with this type of childlike faith, we would experience that same sense of joy and freedom. -Nancy McGuirk, Rest Assured: Devotions for Souls in a Restless World

My coworkers and I often talk about how “adulting” is really hard and how we just don’t want to or we feel like we just don’t have enough energy to do it some days. Life takes a lot out of us when we feel like we bear the sole responsibility for taking care of ourselves.

We think we know better as adults than we did as children, but I think we overcomplicate things and lose sight of some simpler truths we took for granted when we were younger. As we get older, we take on more responsibility, and somewhere along the line, we mistakenly come to believe that we have to carry the weight of the entire world on our shoulders.

But if we would only acknowledge that we have a Heavenly Father who longs for us to trust Him with faith like a child’s– deep, unwavering, unbelievably simple, and unquestioned– we would find new freedom from our burdens.

Kids don’t worry when they’re in the car with Mom and Dad; they know they’ll reach their destination. They don’t know the way there, but they know that their parents do, and that’s enough for them. They don’t worry about what lies ahead; they know Mom and Dad are in control.

Childlike faith, at its core, is humble, honest faith. It is living your life in the security of God’s promises, taking Him at His word, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that you will be taken care of.

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said:“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. -Matthew 18:2-3

We don’t need to work or worry ourselves to death trying to keep all of our ducks in a row. Our endless striving will never give us the peace we’re seeking, and it never ends. It leaves us wondering what we’re forgetting, questioning what more needs to be done, comparing ourselves to others, and placing unnecessary and impossible burdens on our backs.

Our Heavenly Father knows what’s best for us, and He gives us the ability to cast our burdens upon Him and trust that He will take care of us. Today I invite you to lay down your worries and trust in God with childlike faith, letting go of our endless striving and instead rest in the peace that’s found in knowing we don’t have to have it all under control because He does.

Remembering the Resurrection

With Easter behind us, many of us go right back to what we consider our “normal” lives, meaning lives that we live between Sundays, lives lived outside of church walls, lives in which the cares and worries of everyday life take over and Christ takes a backseat.

In light of having just celebrated Easter, maybe we ought to reconsider our approach to daily life and the fractured view we have of life lived on Sundays and life lived between Sundays. Easter commemorates Jesus’s resurrection, His demonstration of power over death, sin, and the grave. It reminds us that although the people around Him treated Him with contempt and hate, crucifying Him on a cross after giving Him a thorough beating, He didn’t let them win. Easter proves to us that our God is greater.

And yet we live lives filled with despair, worry, and fear. We get so consumed by the obstacles in front of us that we don’t look up and acknowledge the amazing power of the God watching over us. We let our own personal Goliaths overshadow the strength and might that could be ours if only we would believe God is on our side and has given us the tools we need to slay the giants.

If we were to truly embrace the truth of the resurrection and its implications, we would live life victoriously. We would see that in everything, we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:37). We would boldly face the mountains standing in our way, knowing that every trial and blessing alike are designed to grow us, teach us, and point us back to God, ultimately for our good and His glory, and with Him, we can handle anything life throws our way (Philippians 4:13).

Instead of facing challenges with an attitude of “I can’t do this,” “this is impossible,” “this day is going to be terrible,” or “this is as good as it’s gonna get,” we can remind ourselves that the light is stronger than the dark. Our Savior conquered death for us, and we are free to embrace His joy, love, and hope. No, our problems won’t magically disappear, but we have the comfort of knowing that the things we suffer through today can’t even compare to the joy of eternal life ahead of us (2 Corinthians 4:17).

I’m not saying our struggles and obstacles aren’t real or can be dismissed with a positive attitude alone. I’m saying that we have a source of power that is infinite, and we can draw upon that strength to stand up and face our giants, knowing our God is with us and for us. He will never abandon us. His strength is more than sufficient to handle all of our troubles, although He may not always act when or how we want.

We know who wins in the end. And we can live our daily lives empowered by that truth if we choose to. What we believe about who we are changes our outlook on life. May you and I remember today and every day that we are more than conquerors through Christ.

On My Terms

There are ares of my life that God is trying to correct and change and mend and rebuild, yet I keep fighting. I keep saying that I want the victory, but I want it on my own terms. I’m still looking for a conditional surrender. I could handle a small plea bargain. I don’t want the help to come from that person, that place, or that other place. I want to be the master of my own future. O foolish man that I am! I want deliverance– but I don’t want to go through detox! -Bob Williams, Life Happens: Shut Up, Smile, and Carry a Plunger!

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve tried to get my own way, trying to convince God that my plan is somehow better than His. I complain, I fight, I whine, I beg, I barter, I cry, and I shout, thinking somehow I’ll get through and change His mind. I act like a petulant child throwing a temper tantrum in the checkout lane because I can’t have a candy bar before dinner. I put my foot down, refusing to take the road laid out before me because it’s unknown and scary, and I’m comfortable right where I am.

I want what I want, and I want it now. I don’t want to be patient. I don’t want to exchange my dreams for something else. I don’t want to be refined through difficult experiences, stretched by trials, and strengthened by challenges. I want the easy route. I want to go through life scot-free, living a fairy tale life inside a protective bubble of my own making. I want to choose how I learn– through travel, fun experiences, happy moments, joyful times– not through overcoming obstacles, facing my fears head-on, and fighting battles that appear completely hopeless.

Except when I take a moment to really consider it, I realize those things aren’t true. Deep down, I do want to be patient. I do want to exchange my little dreams for God’s bigger, better ones. I want to be willing to wait as long as He wants me to, trusting that He has purpose for the waiting.

I want to take whatever path He sets me on, knowing that He is going with me, and that even when I can’t see around the next bend or over the next hill, He can. He is working in my heart and my life all the while, developing my character and orchestrating the perfect circumstances in which to usher in His special blessing– one that is FAR better than the petty things I spend my time pestering Him about.

This is the truth I cling to when I find myself mid-tantrum: God is God and I am not. He said we would go through trials. He said we would be refined through fire, just like gold. And I want to be pure and blameless before Him, not full of impurities and junk like I am on my own when I don’t let Him have His way with my heart and in my life. In order to win the battles I face, I need to be still. I need to quit kicking and screaming, putting up a pathetic fight to try and get my way, and understand that my Heavenly Father has a greater perspective, more experience and wisdom, and knows a better way. Let not my will, but His, be done.

One Step at a Time

I’m a planner. Ask my friends and family. I like to know where I’m going and what I’m doing. I like to have it all organized and planned out so that I can get as much done as possible. Knowing what plans I have or events are on the calendar helps me figure out what else I can get done.

But I’m learning that I don’t have to have it all planned out. When I have a really defined long-term plan, I get too far ahead of myself. I get too far ahead of God. I reach a point where I no longer need to rely on Him for provision.

Instead, I fool myself into thinking that I have everything worked out for a while, all my needs provided for. Things inevitably don’t go the way I planned, of course, often causing a whirlwind of futile attempts to set everything to rights by my own strength. But the things in my life, right or wrong, are beyond my control sometimes.

In order to get me to open my eyes to the fragility of my plans, emptiness of my dreams, and selfishness of my heart, God allows me to encounter situations that challenge my self-sufficiency, reminding me that I can’t rely on my own plans and provision.

When our landlords told us they were moving ahead with the construction plans for the house this fall, my roommates and I were taken by surprise. The timeline had been shortened more than we had expected, and we were left with more questions than answers as we began to survey our options.

I kept telling myself we had plenty of time to find something, since we were planning on renting again, and postings didn’t go up too early in advance. I also knew from previous experience that it’s hard for me to be content with my current surroundings when I have a new place that I’m looking forward to. I get too far ahead of myself, dreaming about what I’m going to do with the new space, forgetting about the place and people currently around me. I wanted to steer clear of that this time, making sure I didn’t let the glittering allure of the next stage of life detract from my enjoyment of the place I was already in.

I knew God would provide a place, and as things seemed to move at a snail’s pace while the days flew by at warp speed, it was a comfort to know that we had a back-up plan of moving back in with our parents. But my sister and I recognized how inconvenient that arrangement would be for everyone involved. We trusted instead that we would come across the right place at the right time, even if it meant loosening our expectations and learning through trial and error, both of which we did by the time the search was over. But we knew we had to be faithful, trusting in His timing, knowing that He’s never late and seldom early. He provides for our needs for today, not all of our needs for every day all at once. He doles them out in smaller portions to keep our eyes trained on Him, to keep us close to Him. And, boy, did we have to stay close to Him during this experience, taking things just one step at a time.

My sister and I just signed a one-year lease for an apartment not too far from where we’ve been living. But I have absolutely no clue what life looks like beyond that. It’s a blank slate. No five-year plan for this planning-happy girl. That’s both exciting and frightening for my Type-A brain, but I’m trying to wrap my head around it. It’s an adventure. It’s my adventure. It could go in any number of directions from here. And that’s a beautiful thing.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Adventure is Out There

Safety will always be appealing to me, I think. I like the comfort of familiarity, the ease with which I can move through routines. But there comes a point at which I need to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself to live life beyond the confines of my habits, lest I become complacent.

I am planning a trip to Europe with my best friend, and I couldn’t be more excited for it. Along with my excitement comes some nervousness, but I’m okay with that. I am embracing the fact that no matter how much we plan for this trip, unexpected things will come up. We will learn how to face them together, and we will become better people and better friends for it.

I don’t yet know where exactly we will travel to within Europe (there are just so many amazing options!). But I know that we will experience new cultures, see new things, taste new things, do new things, and come back with a greater appreciation for God’s creation. Of course, I know the world does not revolve around me or our American culture, but it will be an entirely different experience to see how people in other countries live, and come back with new perspective. I know my worldview, approach to relationships, eating, cooking, business, communication, transportation, rest, work, time, and more will be challenged, and I sincerely look forward to having my world rocked by this experience.

This trip is going to be such a magnificent adventure. Not only will it take me outside the borders of my home country (which I have never done before), educating me about the history and culture of various other nations, but it will be the stepping stone to my future. This really is just the beginning. With my debts paid off, I will be free to pursue my dreams wherever I wish. I could move to California, Connecticut, or Cambridge. I could volunteer, work for a non-profit, work from home, start my own business, or work in another office. The opportunities are endless.

And yes, that is kind of scary. I’ll admit it. When faced with the abundance of options I have, it seems a bit overwhelming at times. But it also is incredibly exciting and empowering. I am wholeheartedly seeking guidance and wisdom as I begin dreaming for this next chapter of my life, knowing that I am given this freedom for a reason. I am being entrusted with it, to use it wisely and not foolishly, to benefit more than just myself. I don’t know yet what that looks like, but just the idea of using my life, my passions, my skills, and my time to make a small difference in some corner of the world makes me smile.

I have wanted for so long to feel like I have the capacity to make a difference, but I always let something hold me back from acting on it– school, fear, debt, obligations (whether real or perceived). I now am choosing to let go of the weight of those commitments and step into whatever this next season brings. Life is waiting. And adventure is out there.