I've spent a fair amount of time in counseling. So much time that I sometimes list it as a hobby.
(As a side note: I'm also a counseling evangelist of sorts. One year I referred so many people to my favorite counselor she sent me a Christmas gift. It was a plant. I killed it--requiring more counseling. She's brilliant!)
But I digress.
My point is that I have an innate hunger to grow. Its something God placed inside me when he formed me and its a part of how my story continues to unfold.
My first experiences of counseling were dramatic. Big breakthroughs, seismic internal shifts, and addicting 'aha's' characterized that first season. The transformation was so evident that my physical appearance morphed. The photo snapped as I graduated from my eating disorder treatment program documented a starkly different young woman than the 'before' picture taken just six weeks earlier. Nothing about my body was different but my face was lit up, my eyes were no longer vacant, I emanated hope.
But there have been more seasons of slow growth. A seed buried deep in the soil, mysteriously, stealthily becoming something new. Taking its own sweet time before it reveals a small shoot. Then more time as it lengthens and broadens and flowers. Painfully slow.
Photo Credit: Jason Samfield
Do I look taller to you?
I know I'm growing. At least I think I'm growing. But sometimes its hard to quantify or articulate. How does one measure 'more faith' or 'less anger?' Especially when its been a "long obedience in the same direction".
So, last week, when I had a distinct 'before' and 'after' moment I engaged in a little celebration. And now, I'm going to share it with you.
Photo credit: wwworks
Prepare to be underwhelmed.
I love a good makeover (I'm taping The Biggest Loser as I write this!), but the most important spiritual transformations occur internally, over time, through consistent disciplines, in the context of community, and the power of the Holy Spirit. They don't make front page headlines and are rarely blog-worthy. But they are the stuff the spiritual journey is made of. It's the evidence of the continuing work of the gospel in my life and some days that encouragement will go a long ways. So here is my little piece of mundane transformation:
See. Nothing to write home about. But I believe there is someone else out there who needs to be encouraged in their slow journey. Who needs to be reminded that these are the biggest miracles--the changing of a heart. And there will be other days in my journey that I'll need this reminder as well. And, now, I'll know where to find it--filed under 'Precious'.
A few years ago, God prompted me to focus on the word 'faith'. I went nearly an entire year without doing much with it. It wasn't until I entered the fourth quarter that the proverbial light bulb went on. I'm sometimes a little slow on the uptake.
2013 is a different story. Twenty days into the new year and I'm already experiencing radical internal change around the word he gave me--love. It's all good stuff, but I hope I've not peaked too early. I'm not sure I can sustain this pace of transformation.
Over the weekend, God took on quite a demolition project in me. Walls I'd been constructing over the last couple of years (maybe decades) sustained serious damage. The rubble isn't cleaned up yet, but I can see over the jagged remains into a place of deeper love and greater freedom.
It didn't come easy. There were little fits (and some big fits) and hemming and hawing. Until finally, it seemed he simply breathed on the wall and exposed it's structural inadequacies. Apparently that wall wasn't really even protecting me. Go figure.
Photo Credit: Rozab Botts
A new day
Today I feel...relieved. And exposed. Tired. Hopeful. Softer. But now what? Keeping people out is hard work, but it's got nothing on the difficulty of opening myself up to more pain. Today I decide whether I rebuild the wall or continue demolition. Seems an obvious choice. But it is a choice.
There are some great things happening in my life. Not the least of which is my 3/4 mile walk to the ocean. For this I am incredibly grateful. But there are some things I'm less grateful for. Take fog, for instance.
Mentally, I have accepted the morning fog, the more frequent clouds and accompanying rain. I've enjoyed many cozy days sitting by the fireplace, reading a good book while wrapped in a warm blanket. But I have not always been able to convince my emotions to come with me to this happy place.
Last month I trudged to my doctor to discuss the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of my anti-depressant medication. She asked some general questions, then honed in on a diagnosis. Our discussion went something like this:
Dr. Z: Have you ever noticed that you're affected by changing seasons?
Me: I lived in Phoenix for 25 years. We didn't have seasons.
Dr. Z: So you're not aware of how shorter days and less sun affect your mood?
Me: I am now.
Dr. Z: Yes, I would say you're prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
In other words, winter on the Central Coast bums me out. Ironically, I'm learning to rejoice in my depression (albeit, in a more subdued manner).
Give Thanks Always--Seriously!
Photo credit: ramocchia
This isn't the only situation in my life that's less than ideal. I won't go into detail, but I've been asking God a lot of questions lately. His response is, "Give thanks." That's it.
And that reminded me of Corrie TenBoom--a tremendously brave and godly woman who hid Jews in her home during WW2 and was consequently imprisoned by the Germans. In her book, The Hiding Place (which I read at age 10, leading to an irrational fear of concentration camps) she relates the story of how she learned to thank God for the fleas that inhabited their barracks.
When her sister, Betsie, suggested thankfulness was the answer to the flea problem (based on I Thessalonians 5:18), Corrie was incredulous. "I will never give thanks for fleas! " But Betsie persisted. "'Give thanks in all circumstances,' she quoted. It doesn't say, 'in pleasant circumstances.' Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.
Fog is a part of this place where God has put us.
I'm not suggesting that my experience can be compared to fleas in a prison cell. That's ludicrous. But there's a principle--a deep, freeing truth--that unites them. The reality that each part of our "where God has put us"--circumstances, brain chemistry, family, etc. is part of God's redemptive plan. An invitation to know God more deeply and be more fully conformed to his image. To see our faith increased and to make God's name great.
Betsie later discovered why the fleas were such a blessing. They were so repulsive to the guards that they wouldn't go into the big room. This allowed the women to freely pray, study the Bible and discuss faith and spirituality. The fleas were a shield.
So today I'm giving thanks for everything. I've put a note card on my mirror proclaiming, "Thank you, Lord, for the Fleas", and I'm beginning to sense an internal shift. Peace and contentedness are creeping in. And I'm learning to embrace some of the imperfection, instead of pretending it doesn't exist or trying to claw my way out of it--such a better use of my scarce energy levels.
Are there parts of your current circumstances that seem difficult to give thanks for? What would keep you from embracing the imperfect, the ugly, the painful?
I'm convinced that if Jesus took his disciples to pray today, he would come back to find them awake...and documenting the event on Instagram #tryingtostayawake.
Jesus is in anguish. His earthly journey nearing its end and the reality of the imminent, unspeakable loss sinking in, Jesus invites his disciples to "watch and pray". To simply be with him in his hour of greatest need. This tenderness and vulnerability amazes me. And how do they respond?
"And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping." Matthew 26:40
Photo Credit: Paul Lew
Talk about missed opportunity and very low emotional intelligence. Jesus looks them in eyes and tells them he is so distraught that he feels he might die of it. And this isn't motivation enough to participate in presence and prayer. Not even two more pleas from an increasingly anguished Lord can jar them into even a half-hearted response. How foolish and lazy are these men?
Imagine taking a walk with Jesus on that night. The evening has already been quite eventful. A tense dinner, with Jesus accusing one of you of betrayal, a direct rebuttal of Peter and some cryptic references to death and blood. When you arrive at the olive grove, Jesus asks most of the group to stop and he continues on with you, Peter, James and John (which, lets face it, makes you feel pretty proud). He tells you he's full of anguish and asks you to sit while he goes to pray. For an hour.
If this is 2013, what happens in that hour? Maybe you circle up, close your eyes and pray out loud for fifteen minutes. Then Peter decides to look for a verse on his Bible App or John's phone vibrates as a text comes in. Maybe its Judas explaining where he went--I should check that. Now its acceptable to get out your phone and before you know it, the four of you are checking in on Facebook and tweeting about the bizarre events of the night. "spending time with Jesus in the grove #innercircle #creepynoises #JudasisMIA"
How foolish and lazy am I!
I've been discussing prayer with God for a number of years now. That's a blog for another time, but in the last few months he's not only told me to pray more, he's drawn my heart to desire it. Only one problem. There's limited space in my life for prayer.
I now think in "social media"--imagining catchy captions for even mundane happenings. This in itself is not wrong. But I find that it often takes me out of the present moment and company and directs the focus to me. When I have a moment to spare in a day (at a stop light, for instance), I can often be found checking my phone. I don't respond immediately to most emails or texts, but as the number of unread texts, emails and other alerts grows, my anxiety grows with it.
And then I read this:
"The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray." I Peter 4:7 It sounds suspiciously like Jesus' words in the garden: " “Couldn’t you ... keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matt 26:40b-41.
What to do, what to do?
I'm not giving up social media or my smartphone. But I am going to have to work more diligently to watch and pray. To be alert because the end of all things is near and Jesus has asked me to pray. And that will have to involve some more disciplining of my time and my mind around all distractions--not just my Apple products.
But hear this again--Jesus has walked with us and clearly asked us to be with him and to pray. I don't want to be found with my eyes on my phone.
Does social media ever interfere with your intimacy with Jesus? Have you set any helpful boundaries around social media? I'd love to hear what works for you!
I love a new beginning. A clean slate. A blank canvas. You get the idea. Last January was the mother of all new years for me. I got a new state, a new house, a new church, a new life. For a whole year, everything was the start of something new.
A Slow Normal
This January is different. Thankfully. There is still the hope of a new year and with twelve months of data behind me I've got plenty of analysis to do. But much will stay the same.
I expected that such a dramatic transition would naturally produce dramatic growth. I still believe it will. But now I know that much of the growth comes later. At least for me.
Living in a perpetual state of discovery can wear a body down. Sure, it's exciting and fresh, but the real transformation occurs slowly in the stillness and the routine. In the persevering and the missteps and the loneliness and the adapting.
Looking back at 2012, I am encouraged by all that is new. But I'm even more excited about the 'new' that is to come. Not in the change of scenery, but in the depths of my soul.
Photo Credit: Duncan
What Road to Take
Now that much of life is established routine again, I have room to dream and plan and listen. Over the next month I'll spend time in reflection and confession and listening. And then I'll need to take some action. For some time now, I've begun each year prayerfully considering the following three questions:
How about you? Do you take any time to reflect in January? Do you have any deep desires for the new year?
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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