Friday, August 31, 2012

Saturday Night And Sunday Morning

I had quite an interesting experience this past weekend, and it's taken me this long to process it enough to write about it.

On Saturday night, I went to a bar to listen to a band play. As I listened and sang along from my seat, I did what I love to do: people watch. I watched real life unfold. I watched as couples danced {by the way, I was very jealous...I can't dance} and friends celebrated. I also watched as some tension grew. I paid attention to the way the music {along with the combination of alcohol} affected people. Thick emotions were on display. I can only describe it this way: the later the hour, the grittier the emotions.

In complete contrast, a few hours later on Sunday morning, I went to church. As I stood in the choir loft and sang, I looked out among the congregation. I people watched again. {I know...shame on me!} Some seemed to be in full worship mode, hands raised in the air. Some showed no emotion, blank stares on their faces. Overall, I think the mood waivered between contentment and apathy. Yet, the overwhelming feeling was that of pristine. Pretty building...pretty people.

I feel as though I'm failing miserably at describing the polar difference between the people in each setting. Yet, we're all very much the same. We're all searching for a love that never fails; for the fulfillment of dreams; for purpose. And as my friend so eloquently says, We all want to know and to be known. We just have different ways of searching...and different places of looking.

I still can't balance the two scenes in my mind. Why won't the church go into the smoke-filled, alcohol-flowing, emotionally-gritty bars? Why won't the world enter the pristine buildings full of people with painted smiles? I guess it's because there's no connection between the two. There's rarely gritty, real emotion displayed among the church. And there's no need to hide raw, real life behind a smile when in a bar.

I think I know which one Jesus would choose to enter. And I think He'd be the gritty salt the church is supposed to be.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Walking Through Stress

I had my six-week evaluation with my doctor about my leg yesterday morning. I went in confident that I was coming out of the boot (so confident that I carried my right flip-flop in my purse). After reviewing my x-rays and examining my leg, the doctor gave me the all clear! Before I could even ask, he commented, I guess you want to know if you can run again. I responded, How long? Much to my delight, he said I could start running in limited increments on a treadmill because he didn't want me immediately pounding the pavement.

Now I'm not a treadmill kind of girl, so I just made the assumption that he meant I could start walking on pavement and build up to running soon. So I put on my running clothes and shoes yesterday afternoon and hit the track. I can't even tell you how excited I was to be back in that attire and moving! However, it was definitely a little frustrating to only walk. I wanted to run so badly, but knew better since my leg was tingling and weak from lack of use.

I was talking with my husband after my walk about how eager I was to run. He said, You've got to walk before you run. It's true. I've got to strengthen my leg by putting limited amounts of stress on it before I can take off running.

We often view stress as negative. But I'm learning it can be positive when we allow God to use it to make us stronger. If we never deal with stress, we never learn how to do things better. We'll remain weak and never realize the full potential God intends for us.

Little by little, we can walk through stress until we're strong enough to run.

Monday, August 27, 2012

One Word Update

When this year began, I had no idea what it would hold. The challenges have been harder than I ever imagined, and the joys have been more beautiful than I ever expected.

In January, I chose a word on which to focus this year: healthy.

As I re-read my One Word post, I realized my focus has wandered. But I can't say that's a bad thing because my focus has been primarily on fulfilling the dream and desire God placed inside me. I just wish I'd done a better job incorporating health into the busyness of the last five months.

With four months remaining in the year, I'm refocusing on getting healthy. I'm hoping my leg has healed enough to be able to run again soon. I'm still trying to figure out how to leave the past in the past {much easier said than done}. And I'm reminding myself that I was created to give God glory.

When December 31 arrives, I don't want to be full of regrets. That's not to say I won't have any, but I want to make decisions that will result in fewer than if I'd not been mindful of them.

The past eight months have been beautiful, messy, challenging and fulfilling. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next four hold!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If You're Grieving...

Just yesterday, two different friends, during two separate conversations, told me I needed to let myself grieve over some circumstances that can never be changed. Then last night, I read a very timely post about grief from blogger Shelly Miller that left me in a puddle of tears. While her post is about physical death, she addresses grief in such a way that it's universal. I couldn't have said it any better, so I thought I'd share it here: For When You Feel Guilty About Your Feelings.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Shame, Grace And Acceptance

I've been writing quite a bit over the last few months about shame. I don't know that any of those writings will ever see the light of day. I don't know if they're meant for publication at a later date. What I do know is that writing them has been a form of therapy for me. Every time I write from a different angle or perspective, parts of me rise up that have been long that I was unaware existed, but somehow knew needed healing.

Shame rooted itself deep within me at an early age...not because of anything I'd done, but because of who I believed I was. I wasn't aware that it was shame until about a year ago. When I realized that shame was the possible issue, I started reading about the effects of it. Almost every effect of shame had some grip on me.

The most consuming area of shame in my life has been that of spiritual/religious shame. I've never felt capable of measuring up to the holiness of God. Yet, that's what so many spiritual leaders teach: good behavior, pure thoughts = holiness. Well, if you haven't figured it out, I'm a mess who just finds it difficult to behave and have pure thoughts. {I assume that's true for most of us, even if we don't admit it.} With every act of misbehavior, and with every unpure thought, shame grew.

Over the last year, I've been working though the process of identifying the roots of shame so deeply buried in me. While I'm still working through that process, I'm beginning to look for the healing. I read something recently that may be the game-changer. In his book, Shame And Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve, Lewis Smedes says:

The point is that the grace of God comes to us in our scrambled spiritual disorder, our mangled inner mass, and accepts us with all our unsorted clutter, accepts us with all our potential for doing real evil and all our fascinating flaws that make us such interesting people. He accepts us totally as the spiritual stew we are. 

We are accepted in our most fantastic contradictions and our boring corruptions. Accepted with our roaring vices and our purring virtues. We are damaged masterpieces, stunted saints; there are ogres and angels in our basements that we can hardy tell apart and that we have not dared to face up to. For the whole shadowed self each one of us is, grace has one loving phrase: you are accepted. Accepted. Accepted. Accepted.

Even as I read those words as I typed, accepted is a difficult word for me to buy...because acceptance has always been based on my behavior. I'll borrow a phrase from an old hymn: being accepted just as I am is a foreign concept to me. Although I've said it to others countless times, and have written it here on my blog many times, it's still difficult for me to sit down and live in the knowledge that God loves and accepts the whole of me.

I'd like to wrap up this post with a nice, neat bow and tell you that shame is no longer a part of me. But that's just not true. I'm finding that healing from shame may be radical and instantaneous for some, but for most, it's as much a process as the discovery of the roots of shame...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Unfinished Places

There's an area in my front yard where grass won't grow. It's the shape of a large triangle underneath three trees. My husband and I have been talking for quite some time about landscaping that area so it won't be such an eyesore.

A couple of months ago, we bought landscaping bricks and fabric to begin the process. We had a great idea in our minds of what the area would look like when completed: vibrant reds and greens atop rich, brown mulch. My husband cleaned the area, laid the fabric and the bricks...until we ran short. We never got any further. We became busy with summer plans, and our front yard remains unfinished.

God created us for a glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. He enabled us to fulfill that purpose by placing dreams and desires in each of us.

We are works in progress. God sees the finished product, while we can only imagine it. What we see clearly is the unfinished work of the present. It can be disheartening...this knowing that we are meant to be more, to be beautiful. Or it can be the catalyst that causes us to labor through the ugly to fulfill our God-given dreams and desires. It's a reminder that as long as we have breath, God is not finished with us. We are not meant to be stuck in our unfinished places.

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Daughter And My Goal

My middle child, a bit of a creative writer already, asked me last night: Mom, don't you write to help people? I replied, Yes, I hope to...that's my goal.

Then that same creative, inquisitive child asked me: What's the hardest thing about life? Oh my. I had to stop and carefully choose my words before I answered. After thinking for a moment, I answered: Being yourself.

My questioning child didn't stop there. She then asked, What's another hard thing about life? I immediately knew my answer, but had to bite my tongue until I could find the appropriate way to answer. I finally said, Being nice to those who aren't nice to you.

My goal when I write here is to be myself, to share what I often find hard to verbalize, and to do it in such a way that {hopefully} others will gain something from it. However, there are times when it's just hard. There are times when I agonize over phrasing so as not to offend anyone. There are times when I spend an hour writing only to chicken out of clicking the Publish button because I fear what others will think. Still, unfortunately, there are those who are just going to find issue with anything I write.

And therein is the hard part of life: continuing to be myself and do what I know I've been called to do in the face of opposition. Part of me wants to do what's easy: give up and return to people pleasing. The other part of me knows I'll be miserable if I do.

So when my daughter's final question was, Mom, can I write a blog too?, I was aware that I am setting an example to her. The question I ask myself is this: Do I want her to see me quit what I know God has called me to do in order to please a few people? The answer is a resounding No! My hope for her is that she learns to pursue her God-given talents in a way that fulfills her dreams and helps others despite opposition.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

No Texting While Driving Law...And Grace

One week ago Alabama enacted the no-texting-while-driving law. For someone whose phone is practically connected to her hand, this law has been a hard one to follow. But each time I've grabbed my phone to text, my girls have been quick to remind me that it's against the law. They even threaten to tell my husband if I proceed! Tattlers!!

Before last week, I lived in text-while-driving freedom. It probably wasn't wise to do so, but there were no laws preventing me from it. Now every time I see my phone while I'm driving, I'm reminded of what I cannot do.

I use that ridiculous analogy to illustrate the freedom of grace and the bondage of the law. Because of Jesus, grace is available. Unfortunately, many Christians focus on the law, which leads to focusing on behavior...not only their own behavior, but everyone else's too. These are the same ones who run to God with I did my part, now make them do theirs! {Tattlers, anyone?}

Focusing on behavior is like trying to walk with chains on the feet. The constant focus is on not falling. In addition, it keeps you from walking, even running in freedom.

Jesus fulfilled the law...the entire law, not just the Ten Commandments. He fulfilled the Old Covenant, and in it's place, established the New: grace.

...then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Thy will." He takes away the first in order to establish the second. Heb. 10: 9, NASB

When we live in grace, we live in freedom...freedom to love Jesus passionately. We don't have to focus on our behavior {or anyone else's} because our focus is on Jesus. Yes, we will absolutely stumble...and sometimes fall...{and, no, I am not saying grace is a license to sin}, but Jesus is the provision for our mistakes. He made the way for us to get back up and continue walking {even running} in grace.

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. Rom. 6:14, NASB

Note: I've not even touched the tip of this law/grace iceberg. For an in-depth, easy-to-read, fabulous explanation, I recommend Grace, The Forbidden Gospel by Andre van der Merwe. You can download it for free here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Costly Mistake

Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas needed a near-perfect score for her routine on the uneven bars to win her third gold. I was certain she could do it. Then, I watched as she made a small, but costly mistake in her routine. As she finished and scored in last place, the commentator said: When you try to be perfect..., you're living on a razor's edge.

In Gabby's interview immediately following her performance, she admitted to being physically drained. She also said, I made a little mistake and I paid for it. Still, she had the confidence to say that she planned to finish strong in her last event.

We know Jesus was the only perfect human. We know we can't be perfect, and that Grace covers us when we fail. Still, so many of us resort to attempting to measure up to others' standards and ideas of perfection instead of doing our personal bests. Eventually, we become so weary from trying to live a people-pleasing performance that we end up hurting ourselves. We limp away, trying to hide our bleeding hearts.

The important thing is this: recognize our mistakes, learn how to do things differently next time, get back up, and try again...but try only with our personal bests in mind. Others' standards {including their critical comments or praises} don't matter. What truly matters is recognizing and having confidence in God's steadfast love for us.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fatal Attraction

I don't like that I have this ridiculously strong attraction to all things Christian and church. I don't like that I feel drawn to read other people's opinions about said subjects. I honestly wish I could turn my head and walk away from it all. It annoys me that I can't resist the urge to open the Bible to find out what it says about the things I read and hear. I can't make my mind quit wondering what Jesus would really do in certain situations.

I've read a lot of people's opinions this week alone. I've shared several of them on Facebook and Twitter. Many others have made me the point that I've said, If they're a Christian, I don't want to be one. I don't want to be identified with them. The arrogance, name-calling and self-righteous attitudes of many Christians I know have been sad to read and hear this week.

Yet, I keep reading and listening. I think it's because I can so closely identify with those attitudes. Mine used to be the same...until Grace swept in and radically changed my life. I think I can't stop reading and listening because I'm hoping Grace will do the same for them.

And that is the paradox. I'm finding it hard to have grace on those who might need grace more than they realize. I want to shake them, wake them up, and scream at them for being so merciless and graceless. After all, we are the church. We're the very ones who should be showing the world who Mercy and Grace is.

So I sit here waivering between this strong attraction to read and study, wanting to walk away from all things Christian, and trying to figure out how to offer grace to those who act just as the Pharisees did. I won't pretend: it's a tough spot I find myself in. It seems this strong attraction will end up killing my spirit. I think the only answer for me is this: open hands in surrender. Surrender to Grace...over and over and over. Grace saved me before, and will continue to.

My One Thing

I went into the recording process knowing very little. I'm a singer, but have only had a total of four voice lessons. I'd never been in a recording studio until I began this project a couple of months ago. To say I was intimated is an understatement. Fear reared its ugly head a few times. Fearful thoughts occasionally pestered me:

I don't belong here.
I don't know what I'm doing.
Why in the world am I here?

In addition, I woke up with a scratchy throat on Monday that lasted well into Tuesday evening. There were a couple of times while I was singing that my chest felt like it was on fire. While I was excited to be fulfilling the desire God placed inside me, I was tired and weak.

A friend and her husband are preparing to move to Uganda as missionaries. At the end of their promo video {click on Wilbanks Family}, her husband talks about knowing the one thing God has called each of us to do, and doing it. As I watched, the tears flowed uncontrollably down my face...because I know my one thing is this music project.

While our "one thing" may be the deepest desires of our hearts, they're usually the most difficult to accomplish. They don't happen without the enemy trying to defeat us or destroy the task. But the power of Holy Spirit working within us is greater than the tactics the enemy uses.

All that to say...the fear, intimidation and sickness I felt were simply arrows meant to make me give up. But in my weakness, He gave me strength. And I'm thrilled with the outcome up to this point. There's more work to be done, but I'm looking forward to the day when I can share songs of grace and restoration with you all!

Taking a break...
Studio engineer, Eric Bates

Producer, George Vinson