The Most Important Person on the Planet is… You

I have been stuck in a trap of thinking of things I am not.

I am not like Jen Hatmaker, hilarious and irreverent, yet profound.

I am not a mommy blogger (even though I’m a mommy), who pins recipes and gives tips on organization or healthy meals.  ha!

I am not a great housekeeper.

I am not a fearless Christ follower, like I said I would be.

On and on it goes.  I’m not like my friend, who writes profound things about being a cancer mama.  I’m not a huge-platformed anybody.

But here is where I stop those ridiculous comparisons.

I am learning, remembering, that there are things that I am.

There are things I can do, things that I love.

I have strengths and weaknesses that are unique to myself.

There is no one else exactly like me, even though there are kindred spirits out there.

There is no one else who can tell my story, even though there are people who could relate to it.

I shouldn’t give up when someone else writes something amazing that I didn’t.  I should just write, create, paint, knit — whatever — because it’s part of who I am.

I am myself.

The one and only.

Who are you?

You are unique, and there is no one like you.

No one else has your story.

If you don’t share it with the world, no one else will.  And the world will be a poorer place for it.

We need each other.  No one is nonessential.  Replaceable.  Unimportant.

The world’s message to us is that there is always someone better, more important, more worthy.

Well, guess what?  That message is wrong.

In God’s economy, everyone is essential.  On purpose.  A crucial part of his plan.  An integral part of a larger body.

You have a voice, and you have a part to play.  Your part may be “small” in this life, but in the scope of eternity, there are no bit parts.

God sees every action, every bit of good done in secret, every tiny act of kindness.  He sees you.

And He says you have value that is so immeasurable that gold and silver weren’t enough to pay for you.  No, you are worth the very life-blood of God Himself.

Read that again.

You are worthy, beautiful, broken, redeemed.

And He has given you a voice, and a purpose, and something you are good at.

It doesn’t matter what your thing is.  Just do what you are made to do.

The world needs you to do it faithfully.

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Just Add Sunshine

Apparently, the posts about the Emotional Train Wreck and Mind Control were for me.

I sooooo needed to hear them again, to really mull them over.  Writing about them made me realize that I’ve been almost completely emotion-driven over the past months.  I’ve been letting my feelings dictate what I do.

“I don’t feel like tidying up tonight.”

“I don’t feel like cleaning the toys again.”

“I hate this stupid laundry.”

“I’m so tired of arguing with my children.”

Well, no wonder everything has been so hard.  I’ve been talking myself out of things before I even begin.

 

Writing about being powerless has also made me realize that the concept I used to love had become another burden.  I loved how when I admitted my powerlessness to change and finally gave up, God stepped in and helped me.  I guess I had assumed that I only needed to be powerless once, and then everything would be smooth sailing.

It turns out that I am powerless to even enjoy being powerless any more.  I didn’t even want to go back there.  I was feeling ashamed that I was so powerless, so unable to keep on walking in the truths I’ve learned over the years.  I couldn’t embrace the concept because I hated that I needed it.

Oh, the silliness of it all.

 

Realizing how I’ve been letting my emotions drive me, how I haven’t been monitoring my thoughts and kicking out the bad ones, how I’ve been striving to improve myself on my own without actually working to improve — well, it all added up to me surrendering to God.  Again.  I don’t know how I’ll keep doing it every day; I wish that one act of surrender would blanket my whole life, but it won’t.  I suppose I need to accept that, too.

A couple days ago, the sun came out.  The worst of the winter days are behind me, and I can see the hope of spring ahead.

 

 

Mind Control

Oh yes.  I said it.

We are going to learn to control our minds.  If you haven’t been following along, read yesterday’s post, The Emotional Train Wreck.  Or not.

Either way, here we go.

I love this concept.  It was so new to me when I first heard about it.  I had no idea that I could control my thoughts.  Didn’t thoughts just pop, unbidden, into my mind?  How could I control something that could pop?

The short answer?  Practice.

The long answer makes more sense.

When I learned that by controlling my thoughts and putting them in the engine of my train, I could control my emotions instead of having them control me, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  (ha. ha.)  But I had never been disciplined in any area of my life, ever.  In fact, I think it’s one of the things I still struggle with the most.  (Right up there with self pity and greed.)  So how could I learn to control anything, let alone those random thoughts?

Well, I found the answers in my Bible.

 

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect His will really is.

Romans 12:2

That verse told me a couple things:  that I could be become a new person by changing the way I think; that part of that change comes from being different from “this world”; that when I think more like God thinks, I’ll see glimpses of the bigger picture and start to understand that He’s actually pretty awesome and not a big, mean killjoy who dooms all His followers to become missionaries in hot, dry places with weird food.

Also, it’s not me who does the transforming.  It’s God who does it, as I let Him.  He doesn’t force me to change; He helps me to change.

 

…God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

I learned from that verse that even though I lack self-discipline, that’s okay.  I don’t have to manufacture it on my own.  God has given me the spirit of self-discipline.  If I rely on His Spirit in my life, He will provide it.  As a friend of mine says, I do my 2% by showing up and being willing, and God does His 98%.

 

Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness.  Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.

1 Timothy 4:10

I find that verse about spiritual training so encouraging.  We don’t start out ready for a marathon; we have to practice running, bit by bit, building up our stamina, our muscles, our lung capacity.  It’s the same with spiritual training.  I shouldn’t expect to excel at self-discipline overnight.  I need to keep practicing it, even though I’m so feeble at first.  I need to keep practicing putting my trust in God, turning to Him when I’m in need, remembering to reach out for help… The list goes on.

 

…When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23

There it is again!  Isn’t it lovely?  Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.  If we are living now by leaning on the Holy Spirit, He will give us the self-control we need.  And that includes controlling our minds.

In more practical terms, it looks like this:

A strange, negative thought jumps into my mind.  Instead of letting it slip by and join the chorus, I examine it.  What was that I just thought?  Where on earth did that come from?

Then I judge it.  I measure it.  Is it worth keeping and entertaining, or should I throw it out?  I use this standard to decide:

Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent or worthy of praise.

Philippians 4:8b

If the thought fails that test, I know I can discard it.  But how, exactly, do you discard a thought?

Well, Jesus told a really bizarre-sounding parable that warns against leaving a “house” empty.  It had to do with casting out demons, and how getting rid of one and then cleaning out the house but leaving it empty was a bad idea because then it would just come back with all its friends and everyone would be worse off than they were before it left.  What I take from that parable is that if I’m kicking out a bad thought, I need to replace it with something good.  I can’t just leave a void there because who knows what will fill it.  I need to choose what goes in there.

So, let’s say I’ve just thought something depressing like, “It’s too hard.”

If I’m vigilant, I’ll eventually (or quickly) realize that all that negativity bouncing around in my head is bringing me down.  I’ll say to myself, “I’m thinking It’s too hard.  No wonder I feel so hopeless.”

I may even say out loud, “It’s not too hard.  That’s a lie.”  Sometimes, saying it out loud is the best thing to do ever.  Darkness always flees from the light, and bringing a bit of hopelessness outside of myself really shines the light on it.  And then I can see it for what it really is: a lie.

Then, I’ll replace it with a good thought.  I find that replacing it with its opposite, true thought works best for me.  In this case, a good true thought would be

I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13

And then I mull that one over in my mind for a while, repeating it, savouring it.  And actually asking God to help me live it.  To give me that much-needed strength.

And He always does.

Always.

He has never, ever let me down.  I may forget in the next minute or so what I just did, how I just triumphed.  But God doesn’t leave.  He is there, waiting for me to reach out to Him again.

Moment by moment.  Minute by minute.

I triumph one minute, and then fail in the next.  And I don’t always remember to reach out right away.  But when I do, He’s there.  Helping me train.  Encouraging me to grow stronger.  Giving me a strong talking to when I need a pep talk or I’m off course.  Giving me a gentle acceptance when I’m frail and weak and genuinely too tired to run.

The LORD is my shepherd;

I have everything I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths,

bringing honour to His name.

 

Even when I walk

through the dark valley of death,

I will not be afraid,

for you are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff

protect and comfort me.

 

You prepare a feast before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You welcome me as a guest,

anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

 

Psalm 23

 

 

How to Avoid The Emotional Train Wreck

I need to talk about the Emotion Train now.

It’s a big deal for me.  Learning this was… eye opening.  Liberating.

I was always controlled by my emotions.  If I was feeling sad, or blue, or angry, or frustrated, or listless, or restless, or just generally on edge, I would wonder, What’s wrong with me?

Surely, I thought, that I wouldn’t be feeling that way unless something was wrong.  But I always assumed that the wrongness had to do with my circumstances, or the people around me, or the heaviness of life.  And I would either try to fix the sense of listlessness by doing something new, like changing my hair colour or buying new clothes; or I would wallow in the emotion, listening to music that echoed my feelings, treating everyone badly, and justifying all my nastiness in the pursuit of making myself feel better.

I was led by my emotions.  I sought them out, like prizes.  If I was upset, I sought happiness.  And when happiness eluded me, I got angry and impatient.  And so I fed my anger, and the whole world reacted badly to me.  So I felt hurt and tried controlling them, so they’d behave in a way that would make me happy again.

Then, one day, I learned the truth about emotions.

The truth is this:  Emotions are not the truth.

Let that roll around in your mind for a minute.  Emotions are not the truth.

Too esoteric?  What does it mean?

Let’s imagine a train.  The train has three parts:  an engine, a passenger car, and a caboose.

The engine drives the train.  The passengers are along for the ride, and the caboose brings up the rear, just following along and enjoying the trip.

There are three workers on the train, and they each get to sit in one of those train cars.  They don’t share.  They are Emotions, Thoughts, and Actions.  Only one of them can drive the train.

If you let Emotions drive the train, then Actions follow in the second car, and your Actions are wholly emotion-driven.  Thoughts are hanging on in the caboose for dear life, wondering where on earth we’re going here and hoping Happiness can take over because Anger is a terrible driver.

Let me fill you in on a secret:  our trains were never meant to be Emotion driven.  When we let Emotions drive our Actions and Thoughts, we have no control.  We’re just along for the ride, and it’s bumpy.  Really bumpy.

But when we put our Thoughts into the engine, Actions and Emotions fall into place neatly behind.  And guess what?  We can control our Thoughts.  And our Thoughts, in turn, control our Actions.  Then, our Emotions sit contentedly in their place, merely remarking on the scenery of life.

Try it.  Next time you’re feeling down, ask yourself not “Why do I feel this way?” but “What am I thinking right now?”

If you’re repeating my personal litany of I’m not good enough, I’ll never be good enough, It’s all too much, I can’t handle it, I need help, Why is no one helping me?, I give up, then guess what?  I bet you’ll be feeling horrible.  I know I do when I think like that.

Tomorrow, more on the amazing idea that we can control our thoughts.

When Life is Too Hard

I’m becoming more aware of my thoughts again, now that I’m writing about them.

I’m not just coasting along anymore.  I’m noticing things.

Specifically, I’ve noticed that I say one certain phrase to myself, over and over and over again:

It’s too hard.

Somehow, I’ve incorporated that hopeless little thought into everything.  It’s a good reason not to try, I guess.  To explain why I’m so tired.  Why I should just give up, and why that’s okay.

It’s too hard.

But, darn it, when I look at it in writing, it looks stupid.  A tiny, little, lame excuse for not trying to live my life to the fullest.

It’s too hard.

Who cares?  Why do I care that it’s too hard?  Why don’t I just do it anyway?  Why don’t I do it because it’s hard?

Why don’t I tell myself, If it’s too hard, then it must be important.

Why don’t I start to say, If it’s too hard, then God will have to do it through me.  I get to see Him be strong in my weakness.  

Why don’t I acknowledge that life will always be hard?  If I can really let that sink in, and accept it, then I can move through it.  I can decide to live in the difficulty of life.

The messiness.  The annoying arguments of my children.  The recurrent conspiracy of the dirty dishes and the pile of laundry.  The husband who is less than perfect, just like me.  The time that gets away from me because I spend too much time feeling sorry for myself that I can’t just do what I want to all the time.  The constant battle of my mind of worthiness versus despair.

Life is hard, darn it.  And I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Everyone must have stuff that’s too hard for them, some of it big, some of it small and insidious.  But all difficult.

God didn’t give me my temperament and then leave me to drown in it.  It is what it is, and I believe there’s purpose in it.

So, do you hear me, stupid “too hard?”  I’m giving you your notice.  I’m spending one more day fighting against you.

And with God’s grace, I’ll remember to say no to you tomorrow, too.

It’s Hard to Be a Mother with Depression

Usually, life is so busy that I can forget about it.  Until I slip and let myself get overwhelmed.  And feel my sanity slipping…

Then, the recriminations start.

“You’re a terrible mother.

I pity your children, who have to grow up in a house that’s so imperfect.

You’re too messy.  How can you teach them to clean when you obviously can’t?

I bet they’ll be scarred for life.

What if you’ve passed on some mentally-ill gene to them?”

And so on.  The problem with thoughts like those is… I entertain them.  As I write this, I know they’re not true, that they’re overly pessimistic and therefore not to be taken at face value.  But man, when I’m tired and already discouraged, they sure do pile up and make me feel worse.

The truth of the matter is, I’m a pretty average mother.  I have my good moments, and I have my bad ones.  Everybody does.  It’s just that few people pin their messy houses on Pinterest; heck, most of us won’t even let our friends in the door if we haven’t tidied first.  I learned years ago that if I lived like that, I’d never have people over.

But still, I wonder.  I wonder what they really think of me when they see my messy house.  Do they go home and shake their heads?  Feel bad for my husband?  Pity my children?

It’s those thoughts that drive me crazy.  I start down that path, and suddenly self-doubt rears its ugly head, and the negative recording starts to play in my head again.

The longer I let it play, the louder it gets.  Soon, it drowns out all reason, and I start to wonder if the kids wouldn’t be better off without me.  Their grandma is so much tidier.  She’s not scatterbrained and preoccupied.  And on.  And on.  And on.

If I let my mind go down those paths, I become paralyzed, angry, frustrated.  Even the tiniest mess looks huge.  A pile of dirty dishes — that it would take only 15 minutes to clean — suddenly seems like a mountain.  I want to hide under my covers.  All the clutter conspires to choke the breath out of me, and all my confidence disappears.  My husband comes home after working hard all day to find that dinner’s not started, the house is a mess, and his wife is near tears.

I don’t much like those days.

I’m replacing the recording today.  I feel silly telling myself affirmations that don’t seem to be true, but the more I say them, the more true they become.

I can look after the house.  (And voila!  I suddenly don’t find the dishes so daunting.)

I am a good mom.  (And suddenly I feel like hugging my children.)

I like my home.  (And what do you know — it’s not as messy as I thought it was.)

I’m a great wife.  (And I want to call my husband and tell him I love him.)

I’m a good cook.  (What’s in the freezer?)

My children will be okay.  (If they do get depressed, I can certainly understand and maybe even walk them through it.)

I’m not a failure.  (And then I remember that no one can be perfect at everything.  I decide to focus on my strengths instead of my shortcomings.)

I think I’ll also add a favourite verse to the litany:  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (from Romans 8).

God knows I am dust, and He doesn’t condemn me.  If He’s okay with me being dust, I can be okay with that.