What I Need is Not the Same as What You Need

Someone once told me his secret for growing close to God. He said he went for a walk everyday, and spent the whole time praying and blocking out the world around him.

He knew he’d connected with Jesus in the most powerful way if he reached his destination, and couldn’t remember how he got there. He liked to get so lost in prayer that he didn’t hear the birds, didn’t see the cars driving by on the street, and didn’t even notice any litter by the sidewalk. He knew he had reached a deep focus on God when everything else faded away.

And he said the people of his community would be wise to follow this same practice – go for a walk and tune everything out, talking to Jesus. He said we might have more litter, because no one would be noticing it and picking it up, but we would all be closer to God.

It was a strange moment for me to realize how incredibly opposite my experience was from this man’s. I have always measured the success of my daily walks by how present I can be. I actually feel closer to God when I am able to get out of my thoughts, and listen to the birds or pay attention to the shapes of the clouds or the colours of the sky. I know I’ve connected with Jesus when I notice the beauty of nature and feel the breeze on my face. I like to spend my walk thanking Him for the things I’m noticing around me, and feeling His peace settling into all the books and crannies of my overactive mind.

If I get home and I don’t remember how I got there, it means I have been so lost in my own thoughts, I have forgotten God on my walk.

What that man needed to refresh his spirit was exactly the opposite of what I need to refresh my spirit. But when I tried to explain this to him, he could hardly believe it. It had not occurred to him that there might be other ways for people to connect with Jesus. He really thought he had found The Best (and only?) Way.

I think this kind of thing happens often – we find the secret that works for us, the thing which unlocks focus or fervor, and it’s so successful or life-changing that we’re bursting with excitement and want to share it with the world! We have what they’re missing – we could help them! It worked for us! It will work for them!

Or sometimes it’s not quite that pure, and we can so easily see where someone else is obviously going wrong. If only they would do it our way, things would be right.

We make our choices because we think they are good choices. It can be hard to think of things using a different perspective. We like our own way of doing things, and we think others should like it, too.

But this way of thinking can be dangerous, because it suggests that what is right for me will always be right for you. And this is simply not true.

It’s tricky, because this can quickly morph into zero accountability, because “you do you”, and who can really say what is true or absolute anymore?

The extremes tend to be “Everyone should do it my way”, or “Everyone should be able to do their own thing”. It’s easiest to hang out on one end of an extreme. Balance is hard and fuzzy. It’s easier to be black or white instead of grey.

But I don’t think we were made for either of those extremes. We were made to live in community – to have our lives and feelings and opinions and habits constantly bumping into other people, overlapping and getting all mixed up and messy. It can be outrageously uncomfortable, but I think it’s a great way to learn, and to find balance.

I like hanging out with people who agree with me, but I have to reconsider, redirect, and refocus a lot more when I’m around people who don’t agree with me. I can’t stay stuck in my ways when I’m doing life with different kinds of people. I have to work harder to find balance. I have to admit that my way is not the only way. It might not even be the best way. It might be great for me, but not for everyone else.

If I’m being honest, I have to admit I got a bit frustrated with the man who thought we all should get lost in prayer on our walks in order to be close to Jesus. I felt like he was saying we all needed to be exactly the same. And because I didn’t like what he was saying, it made me think long and hard about why this bothered me, and what I thought was a better answer for me personally. I had to work at it. It took effort, but in the end, it was good for me, because I had to figure some things out.

Obviously, I’m not opposed to the idea of getting lost in prayer while walking. I just think there are different ways to go for a walk. And there are different ways to connect with Jesus.

There are many ways to do a lot of things. And when we start insisting on everyone doing things the way WE do them, we’re losing the chance to see a new perspective. We lose the chance to ask questions, be curious, and get a broader picture of all the beautiful, unique ways God chose to create people.

Courage for 2016

For a number of years, I’ve heard people talk about choosing a word for the year – a personal theme they want to focus on. I didn’t ever feel drawn to this tradition, until now. A friend on Facebook was talking about bringing prayer into the process of choosing a word, and asking God to provide a focus for the year. This captured my attention, and became something I wanted to try.

I had no idea what kind of word God might give me, or even if He would give me anything, but I started praying about it, and the word which became stuck in my mind was “courage”. Suddenly, the word “courage” is popping up everywhere – verses I’m reading, the new book I got for Christmas, whatever.

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I can see how “courage” is a common theme in my life right now, in a few different ways:

Personal Relationships

Last summer, I read a couple of books about boundaries by Henry Cloud, and spent a lot of time talking with a counselor about what I was learning. I came to realize that I’d struggled with people-pleasing issues for so long, I didn’t even recognize the problem. It’s been insanely hard for me to be honest about certain opinions, because I couldn’t bear to have anyone disagree with me. I would only tend to open up about my true opinions once I was sure someone would agree with me.

Friends who read my blog can’t understand this, because I seem like a very open person with strong opinions, but the weird truth is, it’s much easier for me to be honest in front of a computer screen about certain issues than it is to tell someone face to face what I’m really thinking. I would far rather email someone about an uncomfortable topic, than talk to them in person. I like to take my time processing things, choosing my words carefully, and when I have to do that on the spot with someone, I tend to clam up.

My hesitance to be open and honest about what I’ve truly needed or wanted has led to a lot of unhappiness, stress, and confusion in my personal relationships. It is my desire to grow in my ability to own my issues, preferences, and opinions, and to work up the courage to be truthful and gently direct. When I have recently gathered up the courage to be honest about what I really think or want, it doesn’t usually offend anyone! And if it does, I’m starting to see how it isn’t my problem if people don’t want the same things I do – no one should try to force another person to do something they are not comfortable with. They share their opinion, I share mine, and we piece something together that works for both of us. I can see great things happening if I speak with honesty and courage.

Physical Strength

My therapists agree it’s time to take my physical therapy to the next level. Until now, my therapists have focused on getting my muscles loosened up from years of pain, tension, and having babies. As long as I don’t go too long between appointments, and keep up with my stretches and yoga, I’m okay – not great, but okay. It doesn’t take much to put my neck or back out, though, which means extra trips to the chiropractor and massage therapist, so now it’s time to strengthen all those weak muscles, in order to prevent further injury. This scares me, because it’s painful, and really hard to know what my body’s limits are when I’m trying new things. Pushing myself too far immediately sends my body into a downward spiral, and sometimes it can take months to get back to a good place.

But it’s time! And it will definitely take a lot of courage to push through the pain, keeping at this until my body gets stronger.

New Opportunities

I have the chance to do some speaking/teaching this year, and it freaks me out. I’m not afraid to be up in front of people – I’ve always felt completely comfortable with that. What makes me nervous is the amount of work it takes to get ready for these types of things. Since having postpartum anxiety, I’ve really cut back on how much I’m involved with each week. I’m feeling good now, but I don’t want to pile things back on my plate. Going back to all the things I used to do isn’t the same – we have three kids now, so our family has changed, and I’ve changed. It makes me apprehensive to push myself, because I don’t know my new limits in this area, either. Some stress is okay, but I never want to go back to the place I was at emotionally this last summer.

It also takes courage to try new things, because I have no idea if it will work. I’ve got an idea cooking in my head, and it could be awesome….or it could totally flop. I have limited control over the outcome, which scares me. But it’s an idea I believe God gave me, and the outcome is not really my problem! I can only do my part, and then surrender the rest to God.

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So those are some pretty big things I already know I will need courage for, and the New Year has barely begun! I’m sure there are other things I haven’t even caught a glimpse of yet….

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What do you need courage for in 2016?

3 Things I’m Learning About Getting Along With People

For the next week or so, I’ll be posting some of my favorite posts from the archives. I’m speaking at a ladies retreat the first weekend of March, and want to focus on preparing for the sessions I’ll be teaching.

I’ve re-posted readers’ favorites before, but those are not necessarily my personal favorites – the ones that came from the deepest part of me, and seemed to bring some kind of healing and truth to my life as I wrote them. I hope you enjoy them, the second time around!

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Anytime you live with people, issues will come up that must be dealt with.

Or not.

I suppose you could just avoid people, ignore the issues, and keep going, but that doesn’t usually seem to work out so well long term. It can seem like the more appealing option sometimes, because dealing with issues is HARD. It takes a lot of courage, and a willingness to go through some pain and discomfort. And yet every time I’ve had enough courage to take the plunge, it has been completely worth it.

Sometimes, “dealing with it” has meant working things out with other people.

Other times, “dealing with it” means working things out…in me. (That’s far more uncomfortable!)

Here are three things I’m trying to think about when I am frustrated with somebody:

1) Ask the question, “Why would a completely sane, reasonable person do something like this?”

Ben took a conflict management class for his Masters program this last year, and this was one of the questions he was taught to ask.

When someone makes a choice to do something which seems completely unreasonable, annoying, or foolish to me, asking this question produces the same answer every time: They do it because they don’t know.

They don’t know how I feel, they don’t know all the facts, they don’t realize that it’s difficult for other people.

And that’s okay! Since when does everybody know everything?

Since never.

And when I realize this, I start to think about the situation from the other person’s point of view. I start to see how things might look from their perspective, which is always going to be different from my perspective.

“Not knowing” is so much easier to take than “being a jerk”.

2) Assume that everyone is trying their very best.

Why is it so easy to assume that people are being lazy or careless or rude, and if they would just try a little harder, everything would be fine?

Who says they are not trying their very best?

Maybe they have some heavy burden to carry that you don’t know about, maybe they’re going through a really tough time, and for whatever reason, this is their best.

When you think about it that way, so much annoyance disappears, and it’s possible to give somebody the benefit of the doubt.

3) That person is God’s favorite.

Jon Acuff wrote an incredible post about how every single person is God’s favorite. And when someone is annoying me, and I think, “__(fill in the blank)__ is God’s favorite.” It is very difficult to stay mad and think evil thoughts if you truly think about that one for a second.

The same God who loves me loves them.

He made me, He made them.

I pray for God to get me through a tough time, and they pray to the same God.

Who am I to think that I’m better, that I know better, that my choices are better, that I deserve to be more blessed by God?

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If problems with people are cut off during the thought process, they stay a lot smaller.

And now you know exactly what I’m trying to think when I’m in a difficult situation. I repeat those three thoughts to myself over and over.

Sometimes.

I still have a lot of work to do on this one!

What’s your secret for getting along with difficult people?

Mentor Me (Part 1): Embarking on a Journey

This week I get to begin three long-awaited friendships. There are some really amazing girls at camp for the year, participating in Red Rock Bible Camp’s discipleship program called Pursuit. Each time I heard that another girl was applying for Pursuit, my excitement grew in anticipation for all that we will experience in this coming year.

Ben is running the program, and for the most part, my role will be more behind-the-scenes:

  • listening to all of Ben’s wildly creative and crazy ideas, and then helping him work out the details until the ideas actually become realistic and doable
  • supporting Ben and trying to manage our family/home in the best way possible while he goes on various trips with the students throughout the year, the longest one being three weeks
  • being available for anything that comes up, like running errands, having the students over, other things that I can’t think of because nothing has really happened yet but we’re just getting going!

While I’m really looking forward to being involved in whatever way Ben needs me to be, I am also really excited about the other stuff I’ll get to do: teaching and mentoring. Especially mentoring.

We have four students this first year, and since the majority of them are girls, I will get to do a lot of mentoring.

I am so excited. These girls are really amazing (go here to “meet” them), and I’m so looking forward to getting to know them.

With my role of “mentor” officially starting this next week, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be mentored. Yesterday morning, Ben and I came across a video about mentoring that got many thoughts swirling around in my head. I decided it might be a good thing to get them to stop swirling by writing them all out, and sharing some of them with all of you.

And so begins this little series called “Mentor Me”.

I once read that one of the best ways to encourage continual growth in the Christian life is to participate in two different mentoring relationships: being mentored, and being the mentor.

I don’t know how many Christians out there actually have both of these types of relationships – they are a gift, and sometimes seem hard to come across.

In the next few days, I want to share with you some of the things that I’m learning as I seek out both types of relationships in my life.

Here’s my list of topics:

Part 1: Embarking on a Journey

Part 2: Sharing Some Personal Stories

Part 3: So How Do I Find Myself a Mentor?

Part 4: Choosing a Victim

Part 5: What Do We Talk About Now?

Conclusion: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

So there you have it. This is for all of the amazing women who have mentored me, and all of the sweet girls who have allowed me to be part of their lives. You all mean so much to me!

See you tomorrow!

Reasons Why I Need to Live in Community

People ask me all the time about what it is like to live in a close community of people at camp.

I never know how to answer that question. Are they wanting the short or long answer? And how honest can I be? Even if I hated it, I could never actually say that. I don’t hate it, but it’s my life, and life tends to go up and down. I’m human and I struggle with stuff, and in my life, “stuff” is sometimes….living in community.

But some of the very best moments of my life happen because we live in community. And some of the hardest, most rewarding lessons of my life have been learned because we live in community.

So here are my reasons for why it is good for me to live in community:

1. Growing a flexible, loving, and unselfish attitude.

I think God looked down from heaven and saw my lovely, structured, controlled little life in Niverville, and decided to shake things up a bit. He knew I needed a constant reminder to include people in my day. In those personality test things, I tend to come out as being very task-oriented. That’s great for getting check marks on my to-do list, but not so great for putting people first in my life. Especially in spontaneous ways. I really do love spending time with people, but being spontaneous has always stressed me out.

But guess what. Here at camp, my little plan is continually challenged. I am always being reminded that the selfish tendencies must be destroyed. I have to lay down my desires, or I will live a very grumpy life. It’s taken me a long time to figure that out.

In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes a chapter about living in community. He writes about how hard it can be to adjust to community life:

When you live on your own for years, you begin to think the world belongs to you. You begin to think all space is your space and all time is your time.

The whole chapter is pretty fantastic, but I especially loved this part:

One morning, before anybody woke up, Bill and I were drinking coffee at the dining room table. I told him I lived with five guys and that it was very difficult for me because I liked my space and needed my privacy. I asked him how he kept such a good attitude all of the time with so many people abusing his kindness. Bill set down his coffee and looked me in the eye. “Don,” he said. “If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.”

2. Learning to live out my faith in the setting of relationships.

I can be extremely holy when I am by myself, praying and reading my Bible. Except that doesn’t count for much. To bask in the holiness of my own devotions is not the point. The point is to get my heart in the right place before God, and then go live that out with all the other people He loves.

God is about relationships. I need to be about relationships. I could do that anywhere, even if I had a nice house on a nice street in a nice town. Except that I have a tendency to forget about my neighbors. At camp, it’s pretty much impossible to forget my neighbors. They eat lunch and supper with me every day. They share my washer and dryer, they come to every social event I am ever part of, they work with my husband, they play with my children. We do church and ministry and life together.

They invade my life in a way that is good for me. Sometimes I can get tired of that, in the same way that a muscle gets sore when it is being exercised and strengthened. It wants to be left alone. But it’s not good for muscles to be left alone. That was never the point.

God touches people’s lives through relationships – with Him, and with other people.

A few weeks ago, a speaker at camp said this:

Individualism is dangerous. It takes us away from the very center of what God is about – He is about community, love, and relationships. Individualism steals the joy of life.

It’s funny, because I think that I will be happier if I can control every aspect of my life, but it’s actually the opposite. Left to my own devices, I can plan every blessing out of my life! I leave no room for God to work, and who is happy under those circumstances? Not me! His ideas are usually unexpected, and a lot better than anything I could come up with on my own.

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This stuff still is not coming easy for me, but we are working on it. When stuff happens that frustrates me, and makes me long for our private, cozy little house in Niverville, I try to thank God for the opportunity to grow. I try to remember that people make life better – even when they don’t do things the way I think they should. I try to thank God that I am forced into a situation where flexibility, love, unselfishness and relationships are not optional. I try to put people ahead of my comfort and my to-do list.

Any other tips out there for how to live happily in community?

When Life Gets Hot

That Ann Voskamp is amazing. I keep giving you links to her blog because so much of what she says is true and wise, and gets me thinking.

If you want to check out another great post, go here. She writes about how life can be like a pressure cooker:

“…Let the pressure do its work.” Lock the lid on. Let life get hot.

Stay present. Breathe deep.

Let the pressure do its good, quick work.

Such a good read about how the pressure of life can refine us.