Let’s Not Say That Anymore (Pretty Please?)

Ok, time for honesty. You know how there are all these phrases that we use? Ones we should really stop using? Exhibit A: “Doing life together”. Didn’t we all agree to not use that phrase anymore? If you still use that it’s probably because you are over 50 and think that the “youngsters” speak in phrases like this. We stopped saying “doing life together” years ago. We just couldn’t bare to tell you. The embarrassment factor and all.

Exhibit B: I want to see your “doing life together” and raise you a “keeping it real”.

“Hey, I’m just keeping it real!” Let’s not say that anymore either. Please. I cringe every time someone says, “just keeping it real over here!”

Let’s be honest, we normally say this when:

  1. We are fake all other times. Stop that. Being fake and false is exhausting and who wants to be so tired?
  2. We have just overshared in a hilarious and awkward way. Don’t stop that. I love it when people overshare. If you are that way, let’s have coffee! No need to tag on “just keeping it real” though.
  3. We struggle with authenticity.

Let’s sit a little in number three.

That authenticity thing, it’s so subtle. Everything we say and reveal, we wonder how it compares to others. One day, “Just ran 5 miles, baked paleo cookies and ironed my husbands underwear… really nothing at all.” Next day, “Here’s a picture of my kitchen, yes, we are living in this pig sty… just keeping it real folks!”

A few things bother me about this. First, is this what it means to be real and transparent these days? “I’ve got dirty dishes”. If dirty dishes is your “keeping it real”, I definitely want your life.

It’s funny to me that in the midst of all this “keeping it real” we are still controlling what we reveal. We “keep it real” with just enough finesse to actually make us look better (compared to others). “Oh gosh, she’s even witty and honest when her home is a mess… love her!”

Control is the enemy of authenticity.
Comparison is the enemy of authenticity.

I read a confession the other day,

“I struggle with feeling like I can’t quite figure out how other women seem to do it all”.

It is a struggle, isn’t it? We endlessly compare and thus control what we do and don’t reveal. Being falsely modest when we succeed, witty and humorous when we reveal a small misstep. We are constantly comparing and controlling, praying we don’t fail to measure up to the perceived standard.

People get mad about everyone being “fake” on Facebook. Why does that bother us? Are we comparing ourselves to them? If they want to share their good news on Facebook and bad news in person, what’s it to you? That actually sounds pretty healthy to me.

Honestly, I think it bothers us because we are comparing ourselves to them. In our view, we can’t keep up with what we perceive is their perfect life.

How much longer will we believe this lie that anyone is keeping it together? The Christian life begins with falling down in a confession of failures and brokenness. The core of the Gospel is that no one has got their crap together, we all are in imperfect. We are all stumbling towards Jesus who brings mercy, grace and rest… three things that we desperately need. I personally alternate between awkward and desperate in my stumble towards grace and help.

“Keeping it real” does not need to be an occasional #hashtag. If I see only people’s success and not their struggle, failure and fights with their kids then I assume someone else get’s the privilege of seeing those glorious moments. Someone else gets to gently say, “let your children live to see another day, walls can be re-painted”. Someone else get’s to say, “call the counsellor and I’ll babysit for you and your husband tonight”. Another friend get’s to challenge our tendency hide our weaknesses and struggle.

We don’t need to remind people that we are “keeping it real”. As if anyone’s life is perfect or pain free. It’s not and it won’t be. That’s true for all of us, whether we see it or not.

Photo Credit: misselejane

On Life

Migraines are no good friends to have. My no good friend came to visit during the annual and eagerly anticipated girls retreat away. It’s one of those events where you count down the days and then hours until you sprint out of your house away from your children, messes and responsibilities. Straight into the arms of your friends, copious amounts of cheese, dark chocolate and clean white sheets at a guest house. My participation was cut short as my husband had to rescue me in my migrained puking state.

I felt sorry for myself in appropriate amounts. Meaning, a lot. It took no less than three days to recover. From the migraine. I’m still dealing with the self-pity of the lost girls getaway.

By Saturday I had to get out of bed and face life again. Minus the restorative power of friends, cheese and clean sheets. Sometimes life is like that, isn’t it?

Small children where loaded in to the car. To the grocery store we go. Along the way I stopped by a friends house (“pick up a hard drive” were the instructions of my husband). Of course a short stop for a hard drive was quickly forgotten as our kids mingled and we quickly settled in to a conversation about those things we talk about. The worlds problems were close to resolution by the time we were done. Middle East peace. Rampant disease. Broken families. All that.

At one point I casually checked my wrist watch. Too much time had passed and I had worked my-self in to a very bad situation.

I had to get to the local Pick ‘n Pay grocery store and it was nearing 10:30 a.m.! On a Saturday! At Capricorn! At the beginning of the month! The day before Easter! With children in tow!

If you don’t live in South Africa this all means nothing to you. But if you do, you know that all of the above factors spells imminent doom for whoever foolishly proceeds with said plan to grocery shop in those circumstances. Or at least some hair loss and momentary insanity.

I told my friend where I was headed and she just shook her head and muttered, “Well, good luck to you. You are a braver woman than I.” She was no help.

I steeled myself as we entered. “Thabo, get the cart! Garett hold the list! Now listen closely and let’s all stay focused”. We weaved in and out of aisles navigating each obstacle.

A large group of young girls was gathered near the pasta talking loudly and laughing like they were waiting to see One Direction. Another group of men was walking ever so slowly past the dried beans like they were sight-seeing and had spotted the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They did not want to be rushed.

I herded my boys through, on a mission to get in and out before even more people packed in an already packed full store.

We finally got to checkout where everybody was squeezing into various lines trying not to knock over the lemons in the process. It was my turn and I could feel a tap on my shoulder. A tall strong man was standing behind me holding a deli pack of fried chicken and a large bottle of bright green Cream Soda. I looked at him and he said something I could not understand.

All the noise, chaos and accents were blocking his meaning from my understanding. He pointed at his chicken and cream soda and said it again.

I responded how I always do when strangers say something I don’t understand.

“No!”

His face sort of pleaded. Again the pointing at the chicken and cream soda and then at the check-out lady. He wants me pay for his food. This is what he wants.

I mentally added up his bill, feigned a look of compassion and said again, “No”.

Again the talking in the accent I didn’t understand with the noise and the chaos.

Again I said, “No, I’m not paying, sorry!”

He looked confused and his words became suddenly clear. “I just want to pay quickly lady, I’m late for work. Couldn’t I jump in front of you?”

I turned red in the face. I was embarrassed. He was generous. I assumed he wanted me to buy his food, that he had no money. Honestly, it’s not an uncommon request. I stepped aside and he quickly paid and rushed off to work. I finished up and escaped Pick ‘n Pay (On a Saturday! The day before Easter! With kids in tow!).

Things happen. Things just do. Lot’s of little moments of unmet expectations, crowded grocery stores and strangers speaking in accents you don’t understand.

A lot of kindness and grace is required. Wether you missed your friend-cheese-chocolate-clean-sheet escape or mistook the tall-strong-employed-man for a beggar. A lot of kindness and grace is required. It just is.

Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar

Declaration of Independence

This year was a year of being slow for me. It was a year of stepping back from what I considered, at the time, overwhelming responsibilities. I set aside a few months to rest in order that I could be healthy for the long haul.

So, that was the goal at least. What did I do with that breathing space that I created you might ask?

IndependenceWell, I travelled through more airports than I can even count. I packed my bags and my childrens bags and travelled from one end of America to the other and back again (and again and again). I home-schooled my children in the process. We bought a house here in South Africa and thought, “With all our free energy we need to renovate this thing before we move in!” I spent the days before Christmas packing and moving house.

In the process of almost single-handedly painting the entire house (that includes ceilings, rafters, the whole shabang) I had a moment of clarity. “I think I’m more independent than I first realised… I think I like to do things on my own without any help.”

The fact that this seemed like a small “revelation” is astounding (especially to my husband!). Astounding at my stupidity. Astounding at my blindness. Independent? The Declaration of Independence should be my life’s mission statement because that’s how I seem determined to live.

I start out with such ideals.

Vow: Need people more deeply.
Small Print: But not too much and always on my terms.

Vow: Rely on others.
Small Print: But only so far and use precaution.

Vow: Ask for help more.
Small Print: A good time to do this is when I have attempted it on my own for an extended length of time.

Vow: Trust people.
Small Print: Dangerous territory, use extreme caution. Only if absolutely necessary and all other options have been exhausted.

When all the other options have been exhausted I’m simply left exhausted.

This is my tendency and I’m starting to realise that it will always be my battle to fight. I’ve grown and come so far. But, for this sojourn on earth, my temptation will always be to go it alone. There will be seasons of healthy and wonderful interdependence but I need to have safeguards against veering off-road and heading into the wilderness.

I know this isn’t everyones temptation. Some of us cling too strongly to others in unhealthy and (at times) destructive ways. We make individuals our gods, the ones we think will bring us wholeness and healing.

If only ______ helped me, I would be ok.
If only ________ loved me then my life would be full.
If ________ leaves me my life will be over.
Only _______ truly “gets” me and understands me.

These are all signs of unhealthy dependence. Their mantra about people is captured so well by Jerry Maguire, “You. Complete. Me.”

All of the above statements make me throw up in my mouth a little. Sorry.

I’m just so independent.

There’s a support group out there for y’all who truly believe this dysfunctional dependency is love.

I’ve got my own support group… just me, myself and I attend it. Perfect. Heaven. Dysfunctional.

This is the catch of how God designed life.

We cannot be whole and healthy through people.
We cannot be whole and healthy without people.

Our saviour cannot be people (or a person). Our Saviour does not work apart from people.

My dear, lovely Jesus. You’ve got my number and I know it.

I’m trusting God to rid me of this “Declaration of Independence”. I’m thinking that I need a “Declaration of Asking for Help Next Time I Decide to Paint My House From Top to Bottom”. It’s a step in the right direction, right?

What about you? Are you looking to others to define your worth and value? Or are you reaching for a barf bag just reading that sentence?

Photo Credit: Rob Walker

Finding Contentment

Contentment is a fickle thing. It is something we seem to seek after but rarely attain. How many people do you know regularly say, “I’m just content. Content with my life in all areas.” It’s pretty rare to hear.

It’s the old carrot and stick routine, dangling out in front of our faces, always just out of our grasp. But, wouldn’t life be great if we were content?

I just finished reading Genesis, a favourite of mine. It always strikes me that, from chapter 37 onwards, Joseph dominates the story. He’s a chapter hog in Genesis (classic younger sibling, always seeking attention).

Adam and Eve get three chapters.
Noah gets four chapters.
The Tower of Babel get’s one.

Those are all important events but none get as much press as the ongoing saga of Joseph.

As I was reading yesterday, I was struck, the whole Joseph saga started with jealousy. None of Genesis 37-50 would have happened if Joseph’s brothers hadn’t been jealous. That’s how it all started. Jealousy.

Because of jealousy Joseph got sold into slavery by his brothers.
That triggered him going to Egypt, being put in prison and having the whole dream saga.
Those dreams triggered him getting recognised by Pharaoh.
Because of that, he got a pretty powerful role which led to the rescue of Egypt and the Israelites from famine.
Which led to the whole slavery thing.

I’ve always overlooked that it all started with jealousy. This unseen emotion, when acted upon, triggered a whole sequence of events that resulted in a nation in slavery.

Jealousy is a heart attitude that just simmers and stews. Eventually it can shape our actions in ways we can hardly identify. How often are we sitting in a mess and wondering, how the hell did I get here?!

I wonder how many of those situations actually started with jealousy.

God has been driving a nail into my own jealousy and envy for years. I want to be content. Truly, though, how can I get there if I’m not brutally honest about what prevents me from getting there?

The big lie is that if only I could obtain that object of desire (a material possession, a type of marriage, a person, or children or gifting or talent) then I could be content.

This makes my contentment about just obtaining enough of _________.

If only I could only have a certain home. If only I looked a certain way. If only I had a personality like that. If only.

A chase ensues.

If only my circumstances were better. When this financial season of hardship passes. When the stress at work subsides. Circumstances never seem to line up to our bidding though. But we can always buy more stuff!

If only I had that certain car and nicer clothes. Getting that certain car becomes getting the house with the bigger yard. Then we realise material possessions don’t satisfy, life is about relationships!

If only my kids behaved in that certain way. If only our spouse would become like that certain person. But changing and manipulating others also doesn’t satisfy so we work on ourselves first. Isn’t that what Oprah taught us to do?

If only I could look like that certain person (cue the Juice Fast and fresh commitment to Paleo). If only I could conquer that certain issue (2015 IS THE YEAR. I’M DOING IT. SERIOUSLY. THIS YEAR! I’M MAKING THE CHANGES! OK, 2016 will do also. Whatever. Cue guilt and self-loathing.)

The reality? Chasing the desire is an illusion. The reality is our “if only” has become an idol. The idol will do what idols always do, enslave us to a lifetime of hard labour with no end in sight.

Contentment cannot be achieved through attainment or abandonment.

Finding contentment through attainment is simply consumerism.

Finding contentment through abandonment (of desire for anything) is humanistic Buddhism. That is, we selfishly try to destroy our desire for anything because all of life is just an illusion… this is not the Gospel my friends.

The Apostle Paul speaks of being content no matter what the circumstance or situation.

Why?

Because, contentment starts and ends with God.

How?

Jesus satisfies our deepest longings. We no longer try to find contentment in things or people that can’t truly satisfy. We no longer try to satisfy our longing for meaning through a job. We no longer try to satisfy our deepest longings for identity through people’s approval of us.

Jesus gives us new desires shaped according to both his humility (I don’t need or deserve everything) and his goodness (The Father is able and willing to give good things to His children).

The Holy Spirit empowers us to be both generous (re-shaping of our hearts from consumers to generous givers) and content in all circumstances.

I’m happy to say that I’ve seen God work in deep ways in my heart. I recognise quickly how my envy and jealousy will just lead me deeper into slavery instead of contentment and joy. I lean on him more willingly. This is encouraging to me when envy knocks on the door of my heart.

What about you?
Do you struggle with envy and jealousy?
In what ways does God want to journey with you towards contentment and peace?

Photo Credit: Evan P. Cordes

Anger, healing and swearing at God.

It was a beautiful summer day in Seattle and I had just finished an early morning shift at a coffee shop (4:30 a.m start time!). I was walking up the path to my apartment, thinking about nothing in particular except for perhaps a nap. Suddenly, I felt a stark and very direct question enter in to my mind. It was not a whisper from God. More like a shouted, “Hey, wake up, I’ve got a question for you!” sort of moment.

“What do you really think of ________?”.

I’m leaving out a name at the end of that sentence. It’s not important. What is important is this was someone who had hurt me. Hurt me more deeply than I thought possible. Hurt me in ways that I would still be dealing with many, many years later. But, I was being a good Christian about it. Quickly worded forgiveness, turning the other cheek, responding with “I’m ok, you’re ok” niceties.

But then this moment, with this question, came along.

I wasn’t thinking about this person or that situation so my guard was down. God knew that it would be. Before I could remember my normal script of “I forgive and release him! I pray God’s best for him!” an answer welled up within me and exploded into my heart and mind.

“He’s a f*&$#ing a$%hole!!!!!”

The magnitude of the anger startled and scared me. Up until that moment I had never entertained even a hint of that sentiment towards him. Everything was nicely packaged and under control. My ability to keep things under control can be a real curse I’ve come to learn.

I went up into my apartment and sat on my couch and just stared. What had just happened? Why had I just turned in to an angry woman with the mouth of a sailor?

And so on that summer day and in that way, my journey toward healing finally began. And it started with anger.

Anger is a funny thing. We know anger can be “righteous” or “unrighteous”. We interpret righteous anger as anger that is socially acceptable. Anger where we keep our voices down, say, “I’m really angry and I mean it!”, pray a prayer and then quickly move on.

A few months after my sailor outbursts I studied the book of Nahum in the Bible. Nahum can be a confusing book but one thing is not confusing, God is really, really angry.

Historically, one nation was viciously abusing Israel. God looked at his daughter, and could not just sit, watching the abuse. He could not calmly say, “Well, that’s just not nice. Come on everybody, let’s get along!”. No, his fatherly love demanded anger.

With that picture, I finally understood that God cared, he wept, he grieved. I understood that He is angered when his people are hurt, abused, betrayed and broken. God’s anger validates that the wound truly exists and that it truly is painful.

Anger is one of the most healing emotions because anger says, “This is not ok, I am not ok.”

What happened to me is soul crushing and the reason why is… I am more valuable than that.

The absence of anger is the choice to remain unaffected by sin.

The absence of anger is to agree that the wound and the wounded are of no significance. Not worthy of getting all worked up over.

The presence of anger is the acknowledgment of the depth of the wound and the deep value of the one wounded.

I have many, many students who deal with deep wounds from their parents. They all try so hard to not be angry, the very thing they should feel. For years they seek to “honour their father and mother”. By honour they mean, deny the hurt and remain unaffected by it.

When I tell them it is ok to be angry many instantly just begin weeping. They are acknowledging for the first time that their father or mother hurt them. Acknowledging their own deep wounds and thereby confirming that were not treated in accordance with their true value.

It is so painful to watch as they sob deeply but I know how healing it is to acknowledge their own value for the first time in their lives. They are finally absorbing the truth. Righteous anger screams out, “I was not treated in accordance to my value!!”

As I watched the angry racial events in Missouri and across America unfold, all I could think is, “I’ve felt that. I’ve felt exactly that”. I haven’t experienced the same thing as African-Americans have, but I know the anger that bursts out of it’s walls, suddenly, screaming with hot emotion, “I’m. Worth. More!!”

Many of us sit for years, pain after pain piling up until one final pain touches on them all and God loudly speaks that question, “How do you really feel about_______?”

If we obsess over answering with the right tone of voice and carefully chosen words, we miss the point entirely. If I focused on my swearing and boiling anger I’ve missed the point entirely. If we obsess on the few acts of violent protest in Missouri we’ve missed the point entirely.

Anger acknowledges value. Anger acknowledges worth. Anger sometimes comes rushing forth for healing to come pouring in.

Are there areas in your life that you’ve never allowed yourself to be angry over?

What value, freedom and healing are you then missing?

Photo Credit: Andrew McCluskey