In God We Trust

“I have a really hard time trusting people.”

At one point or another, we’ve all said it. I. Don’t. Trust. People. I’ve. Been. Hurt. Before.

Take a step back from these sentences and tell me what you see. This statement is pure selfishness. Think about it. How is it possible that out of all the people in the world, only one person has ever been hurt?

“Wait. You don’t understand. You don’t know MY story.”

A couple weeks ago I was on a walk with my friend April and her dog Parker. As we walked along the greenway near our homes, Parker would curiously stop ever few steps while trotting alongside us happily. But whenever a dog, big or small, came near, Parker’s demeanor immediately changed. She became defensive and tense and started to bark at the other dog.

It got us talking about what Parker was like when April first got her. It was apparent when April first got Parker (who is a rescue dog) that she had seen some rough days. And after a pregnant Parker had wandered onto a friend’s farm, April volunteered to adopt her.

But it wasn’t easy. It took weeks for Parker to warm up to April and even longer before she would even consider snuggling up to her after a long day.

That’s the thing about past hurts. Even when you’re out of the storm, the pain can still take a hold of you and haunt you.

I’ve been hurt. So have you. We carry these wounds with us long after the storm has faded, long after we’ve wandered onto a new farm and found a safe haven. There comes a point where we have a choice – to lay down our burdens or continue carrying them down the road. The funny thing is, most of us choose to hold on our loads. But why?

Why do we insist on holding on to our pains and disappointments? When we refuse to let go, what happens within us is a heavy, bitter storm that continues to brew. And even when we take strides to move on, we continue to be pulled back into our hot mess.

Think about someone who has a hard time trusting people right now. Maybe it’s your best friend. Or someone you’re in a relationship with. Maybe it’s you. They have a façade about them that says they’re okay. Some days, they don’t have another care in the world. Then, almost out of the blue, something happens. Maybe a missed phone call or a hurtful word, it doesn’t matter what the trigger is, because the result is usually the same brick wall. A complete emergency shut down.

“See, this is why I don’t trust people!” they say.

Sometimes I wonder what the Bible would have looked like if Jesus had a hard time trusting people. Would He encourage the weary and heavy burden to Him? Would He bring up his parental issues about the time His parents forgot about Him and left Him behind in another city? Would He jump from group to group looking for friends who didn’t fall asleep on Him in His most dire of moments? Would He complain to whoever listened about how His best friends pretended they didn’t know Him when He was being unjustly accused in court? And would He flinch whenever He heard the crack of a whip in the distance?

We can spend our entire lives making list after list of why we don’t trust people. But maybe it’s not about these people who have hurt us. Maybe it’s not about what they have done to us or not done for us. Maybe, it’s actually about the who.

I think we’ve been going about this life-trusting strategy all wrong. We’ve been going about our lives putting our trust in imperfect people. Here’s the thing, imperfect people are selfish, inconsistent and flaky, so of course we feel let down by them! But what if we put our trust in someone perfect? We are called to trust the Lord with all our hearts. Not 1/3 of it. Not half to God and half to Fernando, boyfriend number 37, but ALL of our heart. And that’s where we’ve made our mistakes. Because when we put our trust in someone who is selfless and consistent and always there, there is an absolute guarantee we will not lose.

img_1Adjusting to home life took some time for Parker. Little things like cowering in the midst of raised voices or sweeping brooms were common reactions for the sweet pup. But April stayed consistent and through time, Parker let her guard down. Little by little, Parker began to open up her heart to April and eventually put her entire trust in her.

Something struck me in my conversation with April. She said that now, Parker will trust her with her entire life. She knows that April would never put her in harms ways. And even in the moments when Parker tries to take a snap at a strange dog coming toward them, she is doing it more so to protect April than anything else. I think it’s because Parker gets it. She’s found someone who she can completely trust and when we find ourselves embodied in that kind of love, we’ll do anything to protect it.

We’ve spent our entire lives putting our trust in the instability of other people. Making the change won’t be easy. There will be many days of being in the unknown, wondering if history will repeat itself, questioning God’s intentions with our lives. Other days you may wonder when the catch-22 will appear, because this sort of unfailing love is just too good to be true.

But through time, you’ll let your guard down.

And little by little, when you allow yourself to open up your heart to God and trust Him completely, a new world will open up before you. One that is filled with endless hope, endless possibilities and immeasurable freedom. And when you find yourself embodied in that kind of love, you’ll never look back. (Trust me).

Take it from Parker, the best is still yet to come.

Mirror, Mirror

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Chances are, you can probably list off the top of your head things you don’t like about yourself. I know I can.

Here’s a secret I wish I knew when I was in high school. Are you ready? It’s a big one. Nobody loves everything about themselves. Nobody. There isn’t one person who can look in the mirror and honestly say, “Hmm. There is nothing I would want to change about myself. I’m perfect. You’re welcome, world!”

I know that is hard to believe, especially when you walk into a room and your peers are so stinkin’ beautiful. And not the fake-magazine-airbrush kind of beautiful, but the girl-next-door-natural-beauties that make you just want to look up to heaven and say, “Really?”

imgI’ve been thinking lately about the queen in Snow White who bottled up all her insecurities into the way she looked. We don’t know much about her personality besides the fact that appearances drove her insane. She was obsessed with how she looked. Every day she would stand in front of her mirror, gawking at her reflection, with the same loaded question: “Mirror Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” She might as well have said: “I am so insecure about my looks that I need constant affirmation from everyone.”

There’s a lot to learn from this fairy tale queen. In her quest to be the most beautiful maiden in the land, she, ironically, becomes repulsively unattractive through her obsessive personality. That’s the thing about being consumed in outer appearances: it will destroy you.

When I was in high school, I went through measures of Snow-White-Queen-Craziness. I bought certain clothes just because I felt like it made me prettier. And because I knew my parents wouldn’t approve of my clothes, I hid them in the back of my closet in a suitcase. One time after feeling insecure about how my eyebrows looked, I plucked them until they were a pathetic thin line. I might as well have shaved them off at that point. I have pictures of the before and after and they are NOT pretty.

(I have a lifetime full of these stories. If you ever want to get coffee and have a good laugh.)

What I’m saying is, I get it. I really do because I’ve been there too. You can buy all the makeup in the world. You can starve yourself or make yourself throw-up to try to be skinnier. You can put on high heels and a short skirt and get some attention from people. But it won’t bring you happiness and that’s the truth.

If you remember the story of the queen, you know it doesn’t end well for her. Same with all the other fairy tale stories like this one. No little girl dreams they will one day grow up and be vain and stare in a mirror constantly doing whatever it takes to be beautiful. Not a very exciting life; not a very exciting Disney movie either.

I know you hear all the time it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but that’s the truth. Inner beauty develops something make-up and fancy clothes can’t even begin to touch – confidence. Nothing is more attractive than someone (guy or girl) who knows who they are and isn’t going to compromise or settle. Confidence can’t be manufactured or bought or dieted. It can only come from a place of security in something that won’t ever fail you.

There’s a song by a band called One Direction titled, “What Makes You Beautiful” and I love it. I may or may not dance to it when it comes on in my car. The lyrics of the song go something like this: “ you’re insecure, don’t know what for…being the way that you are is enough.” So, if what I said isn’t enough, maybe the ridiculous catchy chorus of a cute boy band can play as a good reminder to all of us.

“Being the way that you are is enough.” That means you don’t have to wear a certain brand or talk like everyone else or weigh a certain amount. There’s only ever been and ever will be one “you.” And that is enough.

Unlocked Doors

7176826I have a theory about unlocked doors: they make great stories.

Example One:

One time I was in a one-person restroom at a coffee shop in Nashville and I forgot to lock the door. A girl walked in…we both screamed. The whole coffee shop heard us.

 

Example Two:

I was sitting in my living room of the townhome I lived in during college. A couple friends were coming over for game night so I left my door unlocked, ready to be the best hostess ever. A huge, football player looking guy bolted into my house screaming, “Derrick! I know you’re in here!” (I edited out some of his other choice words.) I must have scared him with my Ninja stars because he took one look at me and ran out the door.

 

Example Three:

My senior year of college I was going bowling with a couple friends I had made in one of my classes. We all decided to meet up at Charlie’s house before heading to the bowling alley. Charlie gave me directions to his house, assured me it was easy, his house number was 3408 and I would see his black SUV in the driveway.

3408. Black SUV. Got it.

He told me he was going to take a quick shower, but he would leave the door unlocked and I could just make myself feel at home.

“Hey, do you have any food?” a question every college kid asks.

“Doubt it. My brother cleaned out the fridge, but you can help yourself to whatever you can find.”

I turned onto his street, quickly located 3408 and like he promised, his black SUV sat on the driveway. I walked into his cute, suburban looking house. The living room was directly on your right when you first walk in to the house, so like a good Asian girl, I took off my shoes, plopped myself on the couch and turned on the Disney Channel.

[Let me pause and explain the whole Disney Channel thing. I didn’t grow up with cable because my parents refused to let us fill our heads with mindless hours of television. So when I started college, I naturally experimented with my new found freedom by getting cable and watching mindless hours of, yes, the Disney Channel.]

About two minutes into an episode called “That’s So Raven,” my stomach reminded me that I was hungry and I walked down the hall into the kitchen. Half-listening to the television and focused on doing a thorough raid of their refrigerator, the last thing I was expecting was to run into anybody but Charlie in the house. But there, in the middle of Charlie’s kitchen stood two 6’ something cowboys. I’m talking plaid shirt, Wrangler jeans, Cowboy boots and hat.

Okay, Sarah, be nice, but don’t talk too much or you’ll miss the entire episode…“Hi! I’m Sarah!” I said extending my hand to one of them. When the guy failed to extend his hand in return, I tried the other guy. They both stared at me blankly, without moving and said nothing.

I tried again.

“I’m a friend of Charlie’s. I didn’t realize there were other people going bowling with us! This is going to be fun! How do you know Charlie?”

Again, they said nothing.

If you know me well, I’m an awkward person and I definitely don’t do well in awkward situations like this. I tend to be that girl who keeps digging a hole and jumping in before burying myself in a pile of dirt. But my thought process was, if we were going to spend the next few hours bowling with each other, it would be a long night if they thought I was a jerk. And there was no way they were going to ruin bowling night for me.

“So I know Charlie’s in the shower right now and you guys look like you’re in the middle of something…so…I’m just going to grab some food and go back into the living room.”

Silence.

“You guys are more than welcome to join me. I’m watching the Disney Channel. I know, I know, but I was deprived of cable as a kid so even though it’s weird to watch it in college, I love it.”

Silence.

“Right now ‘That’s So Raven’ is on, it’s not the best episode, but give it a try, you might end up liking it.”

Silence.

“Okay, well, I’m just going to check the fridge.  Excuse me.”

I moved a couple steps toward the fridge. Cowboy One didn’t budge.

“…Oh…excuse me, just…going to…”

Still, Cowboy One’s feet stayed firmly on the kitchen tile.

“Hey, I’m sorry, I’m being rude! If you want, I can make you guys some food too. Are you hungry? Who am I kidding, all guys are hungry all the time. Am I right?”

Silence.

At this point, I’m annoyed. These guys are obviously jerks. You know the type, too cool for school. I don’t know who they think they are but they are not better than me, maybe I don’t WANT them to come bowling with us!

“You know what. I’m just going to wait for Charlie to get out of the shower and grab some food later…It was nice meeting you! Hope you guys go bowling with us!!” (Not!)

I sat back down on the couch, fuming a little. How rude.

That’s when a cold rush ran through my spine. You know, the kind where it feels like a ghost has just passed through you and you feel the blood drain from your body. Raven, the character on TV, was having a premonition on the episode…I was too.

I got up slowly and walked back into the kitchen. The two cowboys were standing there like statues as if they hadn’t even breathed since I left them.

“Um,” I squeaked. “This isn’t Charlie’s house, is it?”

Cowboy Two made his first peep ever:

“No, it’s not.”

It was like a gun shot before a race. I took off running. I grabbed my stuff, didn’t bother putting on my shoes and ran. Getting into my car would take too much time so I just kept running down the street. I ran until I found a bush to hide in and dialed my friend to who was also on his way to come pick me up.

When we arrived at Charlie’s actual house he stood on the lawn with his hands in the air –

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”

“Charlie! What is your house address?”

“How should I know! I don’t write myself letters!”

I handed Charlie my keys and made him go back to 3408 to retrieve my car. When he returned, he informed me that the two cowboys were now rolling on the lawn, laughing.

So, this story has been on my mind lately. I think God calls us to live our lives with unlocked doors. I don’t mean He wants you to literally leave the door to your house unlocked…actually, if you feel Him calling you in that direction, by all means, leave it unlocked…but what I’m trying to say is we are called to love without inhibition or false pretenses. We are called to love people. Period.

There was a time in my life that I had a falling out with Trust and made the decision that I didn’t trust anyone ever. After being constantly burned by the people in my life, I decided to completely shut down my heart. After all, everyone had ulterior motives and I wasn’t going to take any more risks on getting hurt.  I even argued that I was just following God’s instructions to better “guard my heart.”

But people who don’t trust anyone live really lonely lives. Seriously, they’re literally all alone. I learned by not letting anyone in, I became an imposter. In an effort to keep everyone at bay, I let myself become a different person – a jaded, angry, malfunctioning robot. And if you get good enough at keeping everyone out, eventually you even build a wall to keep God out.

Turns out putting your heart on lockdown can make you into a coward. Not only will you constantly feel empty and lonely, but you become surrounded by a lot of superficial relationships.  I’m not saying you need to cultivate deep, intimate relationships with EVERYONE, but I think it’s important to consistently seek wisdom from good people, surround yourself with people who will be honest with you, no matter what and love you sincerely. What I’m saying is, your faith and love cannot amount to anything under a lock and key.

Jesus was the ultimate example of living a life of unlocked doors. He did it in such a way that He was able to guard His heart from the things of this world while still standing true to who He was. He knew just how to love well and unconditionally without reserve. Sure, there were moments His heart broke, but he recognized that it is far better to love big than live small.

That’s what happens when we unlock doors. We open our hearts to opportunities full of great moments and stories we would never have experienced otherwise.

A few years later I got a call from Charlie telling me he had befriended his Cowboy neighbors.

“They still talk about you, you know,” he told me.“ At parties they like to tell people about the time the little Asian girl walked into their house and wouldn’t stop talking.”

Like I said, great stories come from unlocked doors.

The Ride of Your Life

When people say, “it’s as easy as riding a bike” I want to punch them in the face. Don’t get me wrong, I used to be one of those people who overused that phrase. “It’s super easy! Trust me, it’s JUST like riding a bike!” But all of this positive pep talk changed the day I learned – brace yourself now – I can’t actually ride a bike.

Yes, you’ve heard me correctly. So the term that is “easy” isn’t very relatable to me. No, it’s not easy. In fact, it can be quite terrifying.

It’s not like I never learned how to ride a bike, because I did. I was so excited when I got my first bicycle. I had begged and begged my parents for one and on Christmas morning, there it was – a yellow and white Minnie Mouse bicycle with a white basket and pink flowers. I still remember how it felt riding up and down my street with the warm breeze against my face, completely fearless. There was nothing I couldn’t do, no imagination destination I couldn’t peddle to when I was on my bike.

A few years ago, my friends and I were at the lake for the weekend and I suggested we take the bicycles out from the shed and ride around. It had rained the day before, but, today, the weather was perfect – blue skies, slight breeze – and we were all excited to have a nice day outside. My friend rolled them out of the shed and there were just enough for each of us to ride. One by one each person got on their designated bike and began pedaling in a circle around the parking lot. Everyone, that is, except for me.

For no reason whatsoever I suddenly became fear-stricken. What if I don’t remember how to ride a bike? I’m going to embarrass myself in front of everyone. These thoughts rushed through my brain. Literally out of nowhere, this fear of not knowing if I would get hurt or not began to cripple me. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since I was in middle school, but surely that Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 2.04.31 PMwouldn’t mean I would forget how to ride one, right?

“Get on the bike, Sarah!”

“I can’t. I’m scared.”

The next 10 minutes consisted of my friends giving me a pep talk. It started out sweet and eventually the encouragement turned ugly.

“Don’t worry, it’s easy, see!”

“You know how to ride a bike, stop scaring yourself.  It’s okay!”

“Sarah, stop being a baby, it’s not that big of a deal.  SARAH.  Get on the bike and just ride!”

But even with the (ahem) overwhelming love that flowed all around me like a giant hug, I couldn’t bring myself to get on the bike.

Have you ever felt this way in life? The paralyzing fear to not try something because you’re so afraid of what may (or may not) happen. You’re crippled by the “what-if scenario”; the one that convinces you you’re going to fail, you’re going to get hurt, and you’re going to look like a fool. And even if the facts stack up in your favor, the voice in your head repeats over and over to you: “You can’t do this. You can’t do this. You. Will. Fall.”

After some coaxing and mental determination that I wasn’t going to be the only one in the group not to participate, I got on the bicycle. It felt amazing! It was exactly as I remembered it to be; I felt like a kid again! I steadily pedaled a few feet and breathed a sigh of relief. No one had to know all the silly fears that had been running through my head just seconds earlier. So, we all took off toward the road, laughing and soaking in the warm breeze against our faces.

Then out of nowhere, a voice started to creep into my head.

Be careful. If you fall, you’re going to hurt yourself and it’s going to be extremely painful.

Seriously Sarah, are you sure you can do this?

I tried to ignore it, but the voice got louder.

Grip the handlebars as tightly as possible. You don’t want to lose control. Or balance.  Trust me, you don’t want to know what happens then!!!

I’m just saying, it would really suck right now if there was a spider crawling up your arm. Wait, is that a piece of lint or a…

That’s the moment I let the voices get to me.

I let out a high pitch, curdling, full-out embarrassing, scary movie scream for absolutely no reason. As I screamed, my friends shouted that I was on the wrong side of the road. Everything happened quickly after that. I heard the sound of a passing car and I panicked. One foot wanted to pedal, the other wanted to brake and without the proper guidance, the bicycle tilted underneath me and, like a fool, I let go of the handles in surrender.

So, naturally, I fell.

And I kept falling.

Down the hill, through sticks and mud, screaming my final words of departure from this world all the way down. Fortunately, my natural athleticism saved me from breaking any bones (no, not really). I limped back to the cabin, mortified and angry and with a pretty large gash of blood streaming down my leg.

This story is embarrassing for me for several reasons:

One – It makes me look like an idiot.

Two – I ended up getting hurt and proving that I really can’t ride a bike. And riding a bike is easy, right?

I let fear get the best of me. I became so afraid I would get hurt, that I did get hurt. And that’s exactly what happens in our lives if we let it. Whether it’s being afraid to take a chance in a relationship, worrying that people will judge you for being different or refusing to take a risk in fear of the unknown, whatever it is, we play into our fears. And when we give into it, we ultimately get hurt in spite of ourselves.

John 4:18 tell us that there is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear. So often I play into my fears both big and small and I get so consumed by these fears that trusting in the bigger picture – the perfect love of Jesus – is the last thing on my mind. But the truth is we have absolutely nothing to fear. There is no risk too high, no dream too big, no broken heart or broken bone that is too much for our God to handle.

There is no guarantee in life that we won’t hypothetically (or literally) fall off our bicycles. There is no guarantee of success or failure when we are riding into the unknown. The point of it all isn’t to be frustrated by uncertainty, live in fear and give up but instead, to live beyond our fears. And if we do fall, we dust ourselves off and try again.

Here’s the challenge – think of something you’re afraid of trying and go for it. Yes, I’m talking leaning in fully and jumping in. Don’t let the fear of failure, or the reality of it, keep you from experiencing your ultimate bike adventure. It’s time we pulled our bicycles out of the shed, feel the breeze against our faces and be fearless. It will a little scary and it won’t be easy, but like I said, riding a bike never is.

 

Photo Credit: Chris Gray

Ready, Set, GO!

I love cheering at marathons. There’s the bustling clumps of people all around you. People are excited and hopeful. Everyone seems like they have brought out their best moods. And for these few hours, the race is all you have to think about.

[Let me clarify and say I do not feel the same way about actually running a marathon so if you were planning on asking me to “train” with you or do a “sign-up” of any kind then you should just move along. Nope. Not going to happen.]

Besides, what’s a marathon without the support of the people watching on the side?

photoIt’s a strange love of mine – cheering on strangers and friends – that has been running deep in my veins for quite awhile. I’ve markered up some pretty catchy posters, done some exciting self-food marathons along the way and once, I even jumped into the race to catch a falling girl who had passed out (but that’s another story).

The Nashville marathon is this weekend and it got me thinking about how sometimes it’s easy to overlook the people on the sidelines. You almost expect them to be there and they can go unnoticed unless the streets are empty or abnormally overflowing. But these are the people who are self-sacrificially investing their morning to (somewhat) boringly wait on a three second glimpse of a friend rushing by. It’s a fleeting moment of ‘hellos’, but so many runners have told me what a huge impact it makes to have people cheering for them every step of the way.

It’s something we as humans crave; the need for people on our sidelines as we run our life-marathon. Sometimes these simple, small gestures can make all the difference when you’re running uphill.

I recently heard a story from when my friend Kelli ran the Nashville marathon a few years ago. She had trained for months with her friend, carbed-up the night before and mentally prepared herself to take on her first marathon. Her friends knew that even though Kelli was determined and able, she would still need encouragement. So, they mapped out the route and split the group up. At every couple of mile markers, without fail, there would be a body, a friend, cheering for Kelli.

Life can feel like a marathon.

We’re putting on our tennis shoes and doing some mild stretches before taking off toward the finish line. Some days it’s easy. The mile is smooth and the wind is blowing kindly. Some days are not so sweet. The hill is steep and endless or you’re on a road full of potholes. And on those rough parts, it can mean so much to look to the side and see a cloud of witnesses cheering you on, posters in hand, pushing you forward. Sometimes these moments can be pivotal to your next step.

Some days I don’t bother looking at my the sidelines. The run is easy – I don’t need anyone’s help, I tell myself, as I turn up the music in my ear buds. But let me tell you, in the moments when your heart is weary, an empty sideline can feel almost deafening.

Kelli was hitting her stride during the marathon. Each mile ticked off getting her closer and closer to the finish line. She survived the painful uphill climb on 12th South, she turned onto Wedgewood and soon, she was passing through downtown Nashville. But around the halfway point, looking forward to seeing a friendly face wasn’t going to be enough to keep her going. There was too much left to go, there were some unexpected hills along the way and Kelli was growing weary.

Her friends on the sideline continued to scream words of encouragement for her but they could see from her face that she was struggling to continue on.

Then something amazing happened.

Kelli’s friend – the one who had trained with her – jumped the barricade. And in that moment, he went from the cheering fan to her running partner. In this selfless act of love, he came up alongside Kelli and ran the rest of the race with her. Then, a couple miles before the finish line, with her confidence up, he jumped back into the crowd and met the rest of the group at the finish line.

When was the last time you jumped into a marathon? We’ve done our minimal parts drawing up posters, sending a text with a smiley face, grabbing a cup of coffee every few months, but when was the last time we practiced loving so brilliantly big and selflessly?

We can learn a lot from Kelli’s friend; I want to be a friend like that. One who understands the weight of being a true friend. One who not just faithfully stands on the sidelines, but is willing to jump in to a race that doesn’t belong to me wholeheartedly, without a second thought. I think that’s where our minds can get the best of us. We second guess these impactful acts of love. Is it too much? Maybe they don’t want us to? Do we have time? We convince ourselves that we have our own burdens to worry about, our own marathons to run. But when it comes to living out Greater Love, no sacrifice is too much for a friend.

This weekend, I’ve carefully drawn out some posters which I’ll bring to my usual spot on the race path. I don’t think I know anyone who will be running but I’m content just doing my part yelling happy thoughts out to strangers. But in the meantime, I may start carrying my tennis shoes around with me. Because when the time comes that I see a friend struggling on their life-marathon, I want to be ready to jump in without hesitation. Head in. Heart full. Feet first.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends.

Pit People

I started writing this blog post in my head a few weeks ago but never got around to actually writing it out.

Then earlier this week I started typing what I wanted to say, but the more I typed the less I felt motivated to write. So I stopped. And now it’s Friday, and here I am again.

You see, the reason why I didn’t want to write this post is because I knew how I needed to end it – nice, eloquent and sweet, like a perfectly crisp bow. I’ll fast forward this for you. I was going to write about being hurt by the people in your life. And by the end of this post I was going to have some compelling lines about forgiveness and moving forward and loving people who have hurt us, because that’s what we’re supposed to do…right?

But honestly, I don’t want to write about that.

Why not? Because I don’t want to write about why we should or have to be the bigger person. I’ve tried living as one my entire life and honestly, I’m just so dang tired of being the bigger person and the nicer person and the person who gets hurt and still takes the high road. No. What I want to do is tell everyone to stop being so selfish, for once in their life, to take off their inconsiderate blinders and be better human beings…to me.

2012Hello, my name is Sarah and I live in a pit.

That’s right, you heard me, my home is a dark hole.

I started digging this pit when I was seven years old and the kids at school bullied me into doing some things I didn’t want to do. Then in middle school I was locked in the boys bathroom, which only made me dig deeper. There was a point in my early teenage years that I finally thought I had found my safe, confidant circle of friends, only to discover that I was a mere pawn in a cruel, humiliating Internet joke (June’s blog post). Somewhere after that my pit grew deeper and deeper until one day, I fell in.

Now that wasn’t my intention at all when I started digging this ditch. At first, I had a plan to throw all the haters, enemies and people who had hurt me in there. One day, I’ll show them, I’d promise myself as I shoveled through the tears and hurt. I was fueled by the idea that the lower they got in the hole, the better I would feel as I stared down at them from my high horse of justice.

To be honest, I’ve gotten quite used to this place I call home. Yes, it’s lonely and painful, and while the anger doesn’t ever fully dissolve, at least I know I won’t ever get ambushed.  I know what to except and if you can’t love, you can’t hurt.

Most of you don’t know this but 2012 was – in my opinion – the worst year of my life. The year ended more painfully than it began and as the days bled into 2013, the first few months didn’t seem very promising. I must have started getting cabin fever because a few months ago I decided, I had to get out of this pit.

Let me tell you this – getting out of a pit is way more difficult then falling into one. It seemed that the more steps I built, the more walls I climbed, another situation would pop up and pull me back down again. That’s when I came up with the solution. Quit everything.

If my life had been a color-coded organized calendar, it would have been burned into ashes and tossed out into the Atlantic Ocean. I quit extracurricular activities I didn’t want to do. I quit initiating with my friends to see who, if any, would still call me. And quite frankly, I simply quit caring.

And as I proudly dusted myself off for pulling myself out of this hole, what I didn’t realize was that in the process, I had myself a new pit. And the moment I took my first step, I fell right into a new pit.

My favorite television show is How I Met Your Mother. Don’t argue or try to say it’s gone down hill because I won’t listen; the heart wants what it wants. There was an episode this season about what it means to have a ‘pit person’ where the writer’s drew from an analogy from the film Silence of the Lambs. I’m not familiar with scary movies (Casper was scary enough for me, thank you) but from what I gathered in this episode, the person from the movie would throw another person into a deep, dark pit and watch them suffer until they ultimately perished.

Each character on the show had a pit person or a person that wanted to put them in a pit. At a pivotal moment in the How I Met Your Mother episode, Ted (the show’s narrator) said this: “You can spend a lot of time making a pit for someone in your mind, but the only person in the pit is yourself.”

When I watched that part I cried.

Here’s the thing about pits – they aren’t comfortable, it gets awfully lonely in there and the person you end up hurting the most is yourself. It’s like drinking poison and expecting another person to die. And the longer you stay in your pit, the more you become the shell of a person people once liked being around.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We’re not meant to live in pits and we’re definitely not meant to die in them either.

Think about the story of Joseph. His life pretty much started in a pit. And once he got pulled out of the literal pit, he got thrown back into hypothetical pit after pit. But whenever he got in to another pit, he didn’t stay there. When he had the choice to stay in or get out, he got out – every single time. It got me thinking about all the efforts we try to heal our wounds and climb out of pits with little success and how Joseph, in all his seemingly detrimental moments, practiced the best escape route of all. Maybe it can really be this simple:

Don’t soak in life’s hurts (Gen 37:18). Don’t punish your future self for something that happened to you in the past or present (Gen 39:19). Work diligently and humbly (Gen 39:21). Be kind (Gen 40:7). Be generous (Gen. 41:37). Surround yourself with people who will lift you up (Gen. 41:46). Forgive continually (Gen. 45:4).

Love God.

But none of these happy endings and better days would have been possible for Joseph or remotely possible for us if we aren’t willing to take the first step. And you know what that is, right?

Step One: get out of that pit.

 

Photo Credit: Mackay Cartoons “Digging a Deeper Hole”

Feel the Burn

Sometimes I feel like a burn victim.

Let’s be honest. Words hurt and actions can scar. We try not to let them get to us, but we flinch and squirm as if they are physically hurling balls of fire in our direction. And when fire scorches us, we feel the burn.

Sometimes I feel like I’m walking a path where the people around me hold torches. With each harsh comment, whether intentional or unintentional, it’s as if their fire is being directed at my skin. And the more I walk forward, the more times I get burned.

“You’re not good enough.”

“I’m busy, I don’t have time for you.”

“I hate it when you do this…”

“I don’t like you.”

We try to stand up, be strong, not let these things get to us, but at the end of our day it seems we look more like a burn victim then a resilient soldier.

Recently I was talking to my friend about first and second degree burns. I’m not sure why this particular topic came up, but I mentioned how big of a baby I am when I burn myself on a stove, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to have my matchesentire body engulfed in burns. My friend said that some victims are in so much pain that they often don’t feel anything at all, it’s like their body knows to protect them from it.

It got me thinking about how we do this when we get burned by the people around us. In an effort to keep ourselves from getting hurt, we train ourselves to become numb. At least I do. But lately, I’ve been noticing the more numb I get, the worse I feel about myself.

Like I said, sometimes I feel like a burn victim.

In the past 12 months there have been a series of fires. People saying things that hurt deeply, friends that have taken advantage or for granted, confidants who’ve betrayed and close relationships who seemingly cease to exist. And as I stock each memory in my head, I feel my heart turns numb, stubbornly refusing to let anyone else in. After all, if you can’t love, you can’t hurt.

When I was little I was quite fascinated by snakes. The fact that they can shed off their creepy little shell of a body and come out with new skin, leaving the old behind to waste away is pretty incredible. Our bodies have a similar “cool factor” in its ability to heal from burns. Depending on the degree of the burn, our skin knows how to repair itself, scabbing until the skin heals before falling off.

There really is no guarantee in our lives that we won’t get hurt by the people around us – especially the ones that we love the most. And just like when we get physically burned, sometimes these emotional burns will scar more than others.

I think we can learn a lot from the line “feel the burn.” We can spend our entire lives building up brick walls, cementing ourselves away from society, vowing to protect ourselves from pain, but it won’t change anything. What you’ll find is a closed in space. Honestly, you’ll probably get claustrophobic. And when the fire catches up to you, even bricks and stones can’t stop it.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s something really exhilarating on not holding your pain, in dealing with it, letting it hurt for a little bit and then letting it go. It may seem like a more painful route, but what we’re doing is allowing God to be in control of our situations, our heartaches and our disappointments. We may not be able to handle these flames, but God can.

Sometimes the most painful thing in these ‘fire’ moments is having to acknowledge that things are out of our control. We can’t control the way people think of us, how they treat us, how they love or don’t love us – it’s out of our hands.

I’m not saying we should be superman. I’m not saying if you take certain steps, you can avoid getting hurt altogether. The Bible tell us that this world will bring us troubles. We will walk through fires but God’s promise can give us hope. Yes, we may walk through fires, but we will never have to walk it alone.

The more I think about being a burn victim, the more I see how often it’s me that’s been putting myself in this cast. I’ve let the critics hurt me. I’ve cared more of what others think of me than what God thinks of me. I let myself feel abandoned when people don’t make time for me. And the more I let myself wallow in it, the more vulnerable I am to being hurt again and again and again.

So, I’m trying something new, I’m going to start embracing the fires. The hurts. The disappointments. I’m accepting these as my moments to learn from them and hopefully one day I can pass these lessons on to others along the way. And when the flames come in, I won’t continue to fuel it with my bitterness. Instead, I’ll lean on my loving Father who is walking in the fire with me.

And of course, I’ll check myself for matches.

One Tweet Won’t Change Your Life

There’s a plaque hanging in my house that reads in gold letters, “’One Shoe Can Change Your Life’ – Cinderella.”

img1I like the plaque because the story of Cinderella is one of my favorite fairy tales. I like that whole “someday your prince will come” idea, it gives me hope that I’m not going to die alone surrounded by cats and spiders. (I would never own a cat, but I feel like cats and spiders belong in the same category of singleness, don’t you?). I know there are a lot of girls like me who hopelessly embrace the romance of the story and for good reason, because like I’ve said before, we all deserve an amazing story.

I love a good story. Funny ones. Emotionally heart wrenching ones. The ones that make you laugh so hard that you cry. The ones that restore a glimmer of hope in humanity. Stories about Pandas or macaroni and cheese. I love them all. The key is the person telling the story and when you’re in the midst of a good storyteller, listen up because it’s going to be a good one. I’ve mentioned before that when I meet couples, I love hearing their story. The good ones are always nice, well rehearsed and almost synchronized conversations where the couple rehashes their “how we mets” all the way to their “and the rest is history.”

For the most part, these stories make me happy. But sometimes, it makes me anxious and a little bit annoyed because I’m still in what seasoned couples refer to as “The Waiting Season.” I think waiting can give us a form of cabin fever. What’s worse is that no matter where we turn, couples are making us vomit with their hand-holding-giggling-hysteria. But one of the dangerous things about the vulnerability is that in a haste of our impatience, we try to take matters into our own hands.  And with the help of social media, we start writing our own fairy tale.

A little while ago, I began harboring a crush on one of my friends. For the purpose of this story, we will call him Sherlock Holmes. My crush on Sherlock was one of those stupid, schoolgirl crushes. Everyone who knew about it knew nothing would ever come from it, but I had to do some good ol’ self sabotage to figure that out myself.

On occasion, Sherlock would innocently message me online and we would talk about what it was like to have a killer mustache, his recent mystery case, his pet peeves about Watson and why he is so ridiculously awesome. There was a pivotal moment in our friendship when I started finding myself developing a crush on Sherlock, then after that, I couldn’t talk to him without blushing and making inappropriate Asian jokes. I could tell Sherlock didn’t return the sentiment, but I made the excuse it was because he didn’t really know me. And if he knew me, he would love me, I was sure of it. (Cue crazy girl music).

When Sherlock began following me on Twitter, I saw it as an opportunity to shine. Each tweet became a calculated 140 character attempt to prove my worth to him. Even Facebook photos were posted in hopes of catching his eye. Maybe if he sees I play tennis, he’ll like me. And so, naturally, I had a tennis photo shoot. Maybe if he sees I can wrestle a bear, he’ll like me. And so, naturally, I had a photo shoot wrestling a bear.

And after that, I posted a photo of me recovering in the hospital.

My attempts may sound a little over-the-top, but we are all guilty of this in one way or another. Nobody posts things onto their social media outlets in hopes no one will see it (that’s what diaries hidden in mattresses are for). We do it to be seen and heard and accepted and wanted. We look for validation through the amount of ‘likes’ we get and add up our self-worth based on the amount of followers we’ve accumulated. What’s worse is that we have somehow convinced ourselves that we must prove how awesome we are through the many outlets of social media. We over compensate. We’re extra charming and funny and brilliant, yet down to earth, but here’s the brutal reality – one Tweet won’t change your life.

It turns out, people don’t really fall in love through social media postings. Trust me, I asked around. I came to the realization that during my Twitter desperation, I had became an obnoxious robot version of myself. Honestly, I don’t want my story to be about having to prove myself. I realized that I don’t need to put my heart on display for Sherlock or any other guy out there. I deserve better than that, so do you.

If you’re a single girl, you’re probably looking for that magic life-changing shoe to unlock your cage of singleness, but that doesn’t mean we need to change who we are. Even Cinderella didn’t take her glass slipper and knock Prince Charming over the head with it until he saw she was right there in front of him. There are greater things in life to invest our time in like intimate quiet times and deep relationships, these things of substance far outweigh the Tweet that you just posted.

One of my sweet, wise, Godly male friends said, “The kind of girl who will win my heart isn’t the girl from the magazine. She will be the girl so in love with God and chasing after Him that I will have to run after God just to stand a chance with her.”

There’s the secret ladies. The kind of man worthy of sharing a story with you isn’t the one left behind picking up your lost glass slipper. He won’t be sitting behind a computer trying to “figure you out” through your Tweets or suddenly realizing how awesome you are because of the cute photo you posted on Facebook.

No.

The amazing guy – yes, the one people like Nicholas Sparks write epic stories about – is the one that owns a pair of good running shoes. He is the kind of guy running after the same great author of Love and not getting caught up with the distractions of social media. As he’s running, he’ll suddenly look to his left and see you running by, and like a line out of a great story, he’ll look down at your feet and say, “You should probably go ahead and kick off those glass slippers so we can run a little faster together.”

I think Cinderalla was onto something with her shoe theory, because that sounds like a pretty great story to me.

God Doesn’t Need a Publicist

There is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Nashville people claim offers the most delicious sushi in town.  The place is so small it only fits two, four person tables and if both are occupied, don’t count on getting in for at least an hour.

The owner of the restaurant is a very unhappy man.  However, people aren’t there for the friendly, southern service, they are there for the mouth watering sushi.  The process of waiting and ordering your food is an experience in itself.  If you’re not ready with your order the second the owner asks, he’ll skip you.  If you ask for substitutes, he’ll ask you to leave.  And don’t even think about leaving a tip.  You have just essentially slapped him in the face.

You’re sort of at his mercy when you’re there.  Once you walk through the doors into his restaurant, you’re making an unspoken agreement that you are about to eat the cheapest, most amazing sushi of your life, but in exchange, you’re not going to have a warm, fuzzy conversation with the owner about your hopes and dreams.

One time I brought my friend Courtney to the restaurant.  Courtney spent a few years living in San Francisco and I wanted to prove to her Nashville could compete with her high sushi expectations.  Everything that could go wrong went wrong during our visit.  First, we told him we needed more time to decide what we wanted to order.  Strike one.  Second, we said our meal was ‘for here’ and not ‘to go.’  Strike two.  Then, we tried to pay before we ate.  Strike three.  Lastly, we overpaid, tried to leave a tip and was asked never to come during his lunch hour again because we completely wasted his valuable time.

A lot of people see God this way – as an angry, restaurant owner who serves incredible, free grace to his customers.  People line-up in hopes to make the cut into heaven, but live in fear of His unpredictable wrath.  But it’s all too good to be true.  This offer of eternal life comes with a catch, a set of unspoken rules you must follow in order to gain admittance.  He’s terrifying if you cross Him, and even if you don’t, He’s cold and distant.  Do what He says, don’t make eye contact and maybe you can live (eat) in peace.

Recently, a friend of mine told me she hates God and she couldn’t possibly fathom why at my age, I was still “into that God stuff.”  I spent the entire weekend with her and endured all her backhanded remarks.  I listened as she told me all the things that were wrong with God and how I probably wouldn’t date any of her friends she wanted to set me up with because I think I’m better than them.  At one point during the weekend we walked by a cross and she asked me if I needed to stop and take a picture of it.

“Why do you hate God so much?” I asked her.

“Why should I love someone who has never done anything good for me?” she snapped back.

“I’m not saying you should, I was just wondering why.”

My friend started telling me about what it was like growing up in her family andheart how she felt forced to go to church as a child. She said she was never given the option to choose God, but merely told she HAD to believe in Him or else she would go to hell.

This is why I started thinking God needs a new publicist.  There are a lot of people just like my friend who have come to hate God because of Christians like me.  I don’t blame them in the least.  When they look at Christians and the church, all they see is a greedy marketing team, sleazy advertisements, poor sponsorships and inconsistent messaging.  None of these things even come close to God’s character or show who He really is.

A lot of people hate God because of the bad publicity people give Him but it doesn’t seem fair.  If the publicist of an actor got arrested for drunk driving, nobody would assume the actor agreed with people driving under the influence.  If the CEO of a firm was caught embezzling money, nobody would assume one of the company’s clients supported his/her decision to break the law.  Yet when it comes to God, many people find it difficult to distinguish between His voice and His publicist’s.

I think about the owner of this sushi restaurant and how despite his reputation of being inappropriately rude, people still come by every day to order his famous sushi.  They know in advance that they may be yelled at, embarrassed or lectured, but to them, it’s all worth it because when a product is that good, it speaks for itself.

God is a lot different and better than this restaurant owner.  He isn’t rude or impatient.  Instead, He loves every single person unconditionally and in every circumstance.  You don’t have to be a regular customer or follow a certain protocol, He just asks that you come as you are.

The unfortunate reality is, in this lifetime, God will always be misrepresented.  There will always be someone putting words and ideas into His mouth and there will always be people who project the hurts afflicted by others onto Him.  I used to think God must spend a lot of time figuring out ways to redeem Himself; but I’ve realized that’s the beautiful thing about Truth and Love – it can speak for itself.

Me and My Drums

Screen shot 2012-12-25 at 6.21.12 PMThis Christmas season there has been a song that has stood out to me and it’s the song, “Little Drummer Boy.” Not a normal top five on the Christmas rotation songs, I realize, but then again, maybe that’s another reason why I love it so much.

In the song, this little boy has the opportunity to perform for baby Jesus. Can you imagine? The pressure! The anxiety of wanting it to be perfect! I remember as a kid having to perform at my annual piano recital. Year after year I would have the same terrifying fear of messing up, forgetting the piece and making an embarrassment of myself in front of my family and the other American strangers sitting in the audience. Reality would sink in all too quickly as I would fumble through my piece, sometimes not even finishing the entire song before I sheepishly walked off the stage to face my disappointed parents.

So, if you can gather from my traumatizing piano story, if given the chance to use my talents to entertain baby Jesus, it’s pretty likely that I would choke under pressure or just pass on the opportunity all together in an effort to avoid any chance of disappointing him. Why? Because truth is, I don’t feel like I’m good at anything. I can’t play piano. I can’t sing. And as my failed audition video proves, I can’t play drums.

I bet that’s exactly the sort of thoughts that would have gone through this little boy’s head in this hypothetical story. All the other shepherd kids probably had the most beautiful voices and were harmonizing along to the chorus of angels that had just visited them. But not the little drummer boy. No. He couldn’t sing and he sulked on the side wishing he could give something, anything of meaning to this precious King.

I think this is a common lie that gets whispered to us: You aren’t good enough. You can’t do anything right. You’re not as good as everyone else. We’re told that to be something great we have to do great things like everyone else. But if you think about it, if we’re all great at the same things then it’s not that great after all.

Seems like the little drummer boy understood that although his gift may be a little different, even unconventional, from the rest of his peers, it was a talent to be proud of. I think that’s why we’re called to simply come as we are. We don’t need fancy words or high achievements, we don’t need a Heisman trophy or even a successful job. All He asks is that we bring our best and the best thing we have to offer is ourselves. What’s the God-given talent you possess? Are you a good cook? Do you make people laugh? Are you a good listener? It may not be the traditional gift you hoped for, but whatever it is that you bring, it is enough.

I used to wish that I had a better singing voice; even something remotely audible and pleasing to the ear would have been nice. I also wished I was smarter in school,  that I was more athletic and that I had more success and accomplishments in my twenties. But those things wouldn’t have made me more or less of who I am. They are merely add-ons to the perfectly made person I was created to be.

Think back to this hypothetical story of this little boy. His mother probably dressed him up in his finest outfit (I’d like to think he wore a cute little bow tie). He watched as the people with riches brought in shiny gifts, rare and magnificent pieces from a far off land. He watched as his brother played the violin perfectly while his sister sang ever-so beautifully. Now, it was his turn. People were confused, some even scoffed, Drums? Who is this hooligan who wants to cause a ruckus in front of royalty? This is just noise! There’s nothing beautiful about drums!

The little boy sighed. All eyes were on him. His tiny hands started to make a beat. He knew he didn’t have much. No gold. No frankincense. No voice of an angel. But you can bet he was going to play the heck out of these drums!

We can spend our whole lives trying to claim the spotlight and we will be fools trying to do so. I hope this Christmas you realize your worth and all the things you’re so talented at. Ask yourself – what would you bring to your King? If our lives are the stable, our opportunity to give our best performance for baby Jesus, are we doing it, are we giving our best?

If you’re not there yet, don’t worry I haven’t been confident in following my talents either. But that’s the wonderful thing about Jesus – we can start right now, to come as we are, grab our drumsticks and start living the way we were meant to live. This Christmas, ask yourself this: if given the chance to make Jesus – our Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace – smile would you do so with all you’ve got?

So, what’s stopping you? Play on.

Merry Christmas to you all.