Our Stories

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I love stories.  Fiction, non-fiction… I love them all.  I love getting lost in an imaginary world, becoming part of the main character.  My absolute favorite stories, though, are the everyday ones.  Normal people doing extraordinary things in their otherwise average lives.  Little stories that make me feel better about the people I share this planet with.  Stories that restore my faith in humanity, or make me feel like I’m doing better at this thing called life than I thought I was.  I need to hear stories of people who are struggling with the same things I am.  It helps to know I’m not all alone, and I might learn something from their story.

We all have a story to share, no matter how mundane we may think our lives are.  We all have stains and scars and victories and life lessons.  We all have wisdom, but we have to claim it.

We have to own our story… our whole story, before we can share it with others and make an impact in their lives.  And before we can find joy in our own journey.  If we run away from our scars, we spend our lives stuck in a mire of shame and pain and darkness.  When we share our story with others, we bring it into the light of truth and claim power over it.

In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”, Brené Brown says it this way:  “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.  Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy- the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.  Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Exploring the darkness is scary.  It’s hard.  I remember camping as a kid and having to find the bathroom in the middle of the night.  It was terrifying!  Not knowing what was hiding in the woods, out of reach of my puny little flashlight.  Tripping over branches and rocks in the path.  Hearing the strange sounds in the darkness.  I had to be brave. 

As we explore and embrace our own messy stories, we have to be brave.  There will be branches and rocks on the path.  Fear will get in the way and make it harder.  I believe that it is usually fear that keeps us from owning and sharing our stories.

We are afraid that if we really claim our whole story… the good and the bad… it will show we are not a good person, not worthy of love and joy. 

Oh, my friends, this fear is such a lie.  Just like my screaming voices telling me that I’m not good enough, that I’m a burden, that I’m too broken to do or be anything worthy of God’s love.  Lies.   You are worthy.  You are loved.  You are a child of God, handcrafted to a purpose only you can fulfill.

Psalm 139:13-15  New International Version (NIV)     13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  You are His creation. 

John 1:12  New International Version (NIV)    12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

YOU are royalty.  Daughters and sons of the Most High, the king of kings.

Jeremiah 29:11  New International Version (NIV)    11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

God has a plan for YOU.  For you, no matter how broken you feel.

Luke 12:6-7  New International Version (NIV)    6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

YOU are worthy.  You are not forgotten.  Don’t let satan tell you otherwise.

We are afraid that if we share our whole story, we might hurt someone we love.

A major part of my story is my parents’ divorce.  When I share that story, I am very careful not to paint them in a negative light.  But I’m honest about it.  I’m honest about how I felt and what I went through.  I’m honest about the forgiveness and understanding and love I have for both of them.  That honesty has allowed me to own that story.  To learn from it.  To recognize how it has shaped my ability to understand the hurt that others are feeling.

We all make mistakes.  We all have been part of someone’s story of pain.  But there is forgiveness and grace and love that conquers all. 

Fear of judgment keeps us from sharing our real stories, from being honest and authentic.

Society expects us to put our best foot forward.  We feel like we are supposed to have it all together and under control.  We have to be the perfect CEO, wife, and mother.  We can’t show our weaknesses, our messiness.  So we put on a happy face and pretend.  Pretend that we aren’t hurting or lost or just plain tired.

When someone asks “How are you doing?”,  we say things like:  “Fine.  Great!  Really well.”  What are we really thinking?  “I didn’t sleep last night, because my kid wakes up every hour and a half to ask for a snack or a drink or a story or a pony.  I wish my dog hadn’t peed in the kitchen right before I walked through with my socks on.  I was running late and didn’t have my best mom moment this morning.  I feel really trapped and stressed at work right now.” 

I want to challenge you.  Challenge you to answer honestly.  I’m not saying you should pour out your life story to the cashier at the local Walmart and every stranger you meet.  Just pick one person.  One person you feel safe with, and tell them how you really are.

There is freedom in authenticity.  Freedom from the bonds of expectations and opinions.  If we can find our value and identity in Christ, the opinions of strangers fade away.    

We must own our story to find our joy.  We must share it to find freedom and help another human in their journey.

When we choose to be brave, the story we share can change someone’s life.  If my friend hadn’t shared her struggles with mental illness with me, I may have never gotten the help I so desperately needed.  Her story changed my life.  Altered my course.

The story we share doesn’t have to be profound to make a profound impact.  Our everyday stories can change the course of someone else’s day. We can choose to share our failure and our messiness with others going through the same thing.  We can choose to say things like:  “We’ve all been there.  We’re all in the same boat.” 

When we find the courage to share our stories of inadequacy, we can comfort another person who really needs to hear that they haven’t ruined their life or their child’s life or their best friend’s life.  We all need this.  Every.  Single.  Day.  We all need to lift each other up.  To share our struggles.  To hear that we are not alone.  To hear that we are doing a good job, despite our mixups and our shortcomings.  To hear that we are worthy and worthwhile. 

There is a quote that says: “We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.”  I love this, but I would add to it.  We are all broken, that’s how the light gets out.

Embrace your brokenness.  Cherish your stains and your scars.  Share your story with those who need to see the love of God shining out through your broken pieces.  You. Are. Beautiful.

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More than you can handle…

“God will neimgresver give you more than you can handle.”  Have you ever heard that?  I think it is often said by very well-meaning people in the church.  They are trying to help and be a comfort to someone going through a hard time.  But is it true?  For a long time, I thought this was actually from the Bible.  Did you know it isn’t?  It’s not.  Nowhere does it say that you’ll never get more than you can handle.  That phrase makes me struggle.  I struggle with the “why” questions.  Why would God put me through this?  Why is there so much to handle?  Why is this happening to me? 

Much of what happens in our lives is the consequence of sin.  Some things, we do to ourselves.  Some things happen because of the sin of others.  God isn’t doing these things TO us.  He has given us the chance to make our own choices, and our choices ripple out into the world. 

Let me ask you a question.  Do you ever feel overwhelmed?  Like there’s just too much?   We can handle a lot.  There are many things that we have to handle every day.  It’s really easy to get overwhelmed.  To try to carry more than you can handle on your own.

So often, we feel as though we can’t ask for help.  That we have to be strong enough to handle anything life throws at us.  That, if we had enough faith, we could handle anything.  Society teaches us that needing help shows weakness, and we have to be strong.  God has something very different to say about weakness. 

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.  At this time, the church was a mess.  People were making horrible choices.  Bad stuff was happening.  God still had this to say to Paul and the church. 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  2 Corinthians 12:9

God says His power is made perfect in our weakness.  That we should boast about our weaknesses, not hide them.  When we are too weak, we have access to God’s great power.  It is ok to feel overwhelmed.  It is ok to ask for help.  One way to do this is to build a community around yourself of friends and strong believers.  Who do you have around you that builds you up?

Paul and Timothy experienced being overwhelmed.  In 2 Corinthians 1: 8-10, Paul writes this: 

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,

Paul says the pressure was far beyond their ability to endure.  They had been given far more than they could handle.  Did Paul ask the question “why did God do this to me?”  No.  He says “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  We aren’t expected to handle things on our own.  We can rely on God.  The God who is powerful enough to raise the dead has our backs.  We can depend on Him to deliver us .

The summer before 6th grade, my parents divorced.  They did it while I was away at camp.  When I came home, my mom had moved out.  I was crushed.  My whole world caved in on me.  It was more than I could bear.  I wanted to hide it, to handle it all on my own.  My best friend found out before I did.  More crushing.  I felt like there was no one for me to turn to.  I remember one night calling out to God.  I felt his presence in the room.  I felt him holding my hand as I finally fell asleep.  His strength found me in my weakness.  He held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own. 

As I began to give things back to God, my burden became lighter.  I still had the same things to deal with, but I wasn’t carrying it all on my own.  God wants to share our burden.  He also puts people into our lives to walk alongside us.  Find someone in your life that you can talk to.  Share each others’ stress. 

In your life, you will absolutely face far more than you can handle.  You can’t handle it all, but God can.  Ask for help.  And lean into the God who loved you enough to die for you.

Come play with me…

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Joshua’s mom watched him through the window.  She wondered what he was doing as he lifted his arms and talked to the sky.  His favorite things were set up around the backyard, and he appeared to be having a very serious conversation.  As he walked in the back door, she noticed his downcast look.  “What were you doing outside?” she inquired.  “I was asking Jesus to come down and play with me, but he didn’t come.”  Wow.  That got me thinking.

When is the last time I asked Jesus to come down?  Really asked Him.  Believing He would show up.  The Bible tells us to have faith like a child.  This is that kind of faith.  Expecting to look up and see Jesus.  Expecting the unimaginable.  The miraculous.  Expect God to do amazing things in your life.  Because He will.  You only need to ask.

Do I share my favorite things with my God?  Or just my requests and concerns?  We all know someone who can’t talk about anything good.  That friend who only wants to talk about their problems and what they need.  It’s draining.  We are called to a relationship with Jesus.  Relationship includes the bad and the good.  Take time to tell God about all the wonderful things in your life… and thank Him. 

How often do we miss the presence of God?  Jesus comes down to us in many ways.  Are we paying attention?  I wonder how often I miss it.  He is all around us.  We can find His presence in the words of a friend, or a stranger.  In nature.  In silence.  Amidst the storm.  We must learn to quiet our thoughts and feel His presence.  Easier said than done.  Believe me.  But also believe me when I tell you that the time and effort you invest will yield great rewards.  God’s presence brings peace and joy that do not depend on the circumstances of life.  (Phil 4:4-7)  Open your eyes to see Him daily.

Philippians 4:4-7 says:  4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

I know that Joshua will grow in his faith and come to understand that the presence of Christ in our lives is found in more than a physical form.  My hope for Joshua is that he never outgrows his childlike faith.  That he spends his whole life asking Jesus to come down to him.  My hope for you and for me is that we find this kind of faith.  That we go outside, reach up to the sky, and say “Come play with me.”

Victory Dance

victory dance

“Mom, what’s your victory dance?”  That stumped me.  I can honestly say that I didn’t know the answer.  My seven-year-old daughter was doing a killer dance in the middle of the living room.  End zone of the Super Bowl worthy dance.  The arms, the knees, the fists… it was going down for real.  And I didn’t know what to say.  Every fiber of my being wanted to get up and get down and put a big smile on that cute face.  But I sat there.  We all have moments like this as parents.  Moments where the words won’t come, and we just plain get stage fright.  Moments where we can’t find our victory dance.  Moments where we need to remember a few things.

Parents aren’t perfect.  And your kids don’t expect you to be.  You won’t always have all the answers.  It’s ok to say you don’t know.  It will teach them they don’t have to have all the answers.  It will teach them that it’s ok to be human.  To make mistakes.  Because they will.  And when they do, you want them to still love themselves.  Don’t try to be perfect.  Be messy.  Be real. 

Parents deserve grace.  There are so many pressures and expectations.  There are too many Facebook posts and Pinterest parties to live up to.  Resist the push to compare what you do to what others do.  Sometimes, we are just too tired to dance.  Kids understand.  Give yourself the grace they give you. 

Even parents can get a second chance.  Don’t let one stumbling block (or two, or ten) stop you.  Keep trying.  Keep going.  Dance the next time she asks.  Maybe even before she asks.  Make your mistakes and try again.  Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint.  Bounce back.  You’re a rock star.

Everyone needs a victory dance.  We all need to celebrate our success.  To enjoy this wonderful, messy life we live.  We need to dance and skip and run in the sprinkler.  To raise a kid well, you have to be a kid well.  Take advantage of those moments in your kids’ lives and connect with them.  These moments that seem so small will have infinite ripples in your relationship.

I’m working on my victory dance.  And it will be epic.  I’m going to get my arms, my knees, my fists… it’s going down for real.  And the next time I do something awesome, I’m doing it.  Right in the middle of the living room.  Or maybe even my office.  Everyone needs a victory dance.  What’s yours?

Super Heroes

Superhero kid

Something I’ve learned in my twenty-plus years working with kids is that they all need a hero.  Every.  Single.  One.  Someone to look up to.  Someone to pick them up when they fall.  Someone to be strong when they are weak and afraid.  Someone super… or even just ordinary.  Ordinary actions from an ordinary person become heroic in the eyes of a child.  There are a lot of things you don’t need in order to be a super hero.

You don’t need a mask and a cape to be a hero.  Even super heroes have weaknesses.  Kids aren’t looking for perfect, they’re looking for real.  And believe me, they see through the act.  Be yourself.  Be vulnerable.  Say you’re sorry when you need to.  You’ll teach them self-confidence and honesty.  The true character of a hero.

You don’t have to have x-ray vision to be a hero.  You don’t need to see through someone, you just need to see them.  And really look.  Are they hurting?  Are they lost?  Are they lonely?  A simple hug, a kind word, or a little guidance might be all they need.

You don’t have to fly to be a hero.  Kids can zoom around the room all on their own.  Sometimes, they fall.  Sometimes, life knocks them down, and they can’t get back up.  They need you.  The grown up.  They need you to pick them up and dust them off.  Bend down and offer them a hand.  Pay attention to what they are struggling with.  Be willing to admit your own struggles.  Lift them back up and watch them soar!

You don’t need super strength to be a hero.  A lot of things can be fixed with the right word from a real friend.  True strength is sticking with them, even when it’s not much fun.  Kids need that.  And sometimes, they just need super glue.

You don’t need super speed to be a hero.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Some heroes just need to keep showing up.  Keep showing they care, and they aren’t going to give up.  You’ll need patience.  Maybe a big dash of stubborn.  Hang in there.  I promise it’ll be worth it.

You don’t need super powers to be a super hero.  Be extraordinary in ordinary, everyday life.  Give a hug.  Smile.  Touch a hand to touch a heart.  Every child needs a hero, so does every adult.  Someone needs you.  Go be super!

Dodge Ball

dodge ball

I was having a conversation with a friend, recently.  For whatever reason, the topic of dodge ball came up.  We all played as kids.  Many of us have mixed (mostly bad) feelings surrounding these memories.  We’ve all been picked last for the team.  Missed the ball and lost the game.  Been beamed in the back of the head.  Cringed as multiple balls came for us at the same time.  Only a golden few ruled the world of dodge ball, and I was not golden.  As we discussed the many reasons why we would never play this game at a church kids’ event, I started to think of the many life lessons I learned while running in terror from an eight and a half inch ball of rubber.

#1  Don’t base your own self-worth on the opinion of other people.

Sometimes, you’ll be picked last.  Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s ok.  People will say hurtful things.  Laugh at us.  Leave us out.  We need to pull our value from those around us who care for us.  Ultimately, the most important opinion is that of our loving God.  He thinks we are amazing. 

#2  Our bruises make us beautiful.

Life is going to leave its mark.  Bad things will happen to you.  Sometimes, it’s the people we love most that cause the most pain.  All of the hurts we survive leave bruises in their wake, but these bruises color our story.  They make us who we are.  God uses them to make us beautiful.

#3  You can’t win every time.

You probably won’t win most of the time.  You are going to drop the ball.  Some of your failures will be hugely public and far-reaching.  The good news is God can redeem any situation.  He loves us in our success, and He loves us in our failure.  It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.

#4  Life doesn’t happen just one thing at a time.

When life throws a ball at you, there’s never just one.  Multiple trials come our way.  Many at the same time.  You try to learn to dodge the barrage of hits that Satan aims at you, only to discover that you can’t do it on your own.  Let God catch the balls and take the hits for you. 

#5  Sometimes you stand your ground.  Sometimes you run away.

Some fights are worth fighting.  Sometimes stubbornness gets you the victory.  When you can stand in front of a situation and take it head on.  Catch the ball and win the game.  When you are the golden one.  But not all fights are worth fighting.  You have to learn when to run away.  When to fall on your knees and surrender the fight to God’s will.  When to dodge to survive.

#6  Life can hurt.  A lot.  But live it, anyway.

Every once in a while, life smacks you in the back of the head and knocks you to the ground.  Hard.  Hard like you lost your job.  Hard like your kid’s heart is broken.  Hard like someone you love dies.  Believe me when I tell you, the game of life is still worth playing.  God has good plans for you.  Joy is worth the risk of pain.  Live every single ball-dodging moment to its fullest.

So, maybe dodge ball should be played.  Maybe the children of this generation need to learn these lessons.  Get a few bruises.  Keep their egos in check.  Maybe dodge ball should be played by kids… but I still don’t want to be in charge of the carnage.