Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dizzying Thoughts

"It's all in your head."

The voice threatens to overwhelm, to defeat my paltry effort at activity today, today when I am most definitely dragging, using every ounce of energy to pull myself - stroke by stroke - across the pool.

The dizziness comes.  I must stop, I think, as I move - pull, kick, glide - down the lane.

I begin to resent, to let the already negative energy I've been battling all morning take me even further down the rabbit hole.

I hate this.  I've only just begun.  How could I need to stop so soon?  Why won't my body cooperate?  I don't like the message it's sending me.

"It's all in your head."

The words come again, but, this time, there is only a shadow of the former darkness.  I can still see the face of the one who used to tell me that as a child.  He meant well.  He was trying to toughen me up, to teach me to push through mental battles and succeed in spite of weakness, limitation.  He wanted me to learn strength.

I continue to swim, even when I know I shouldn't.  I'm succumbing to the old lesson, the "push through" lesson, the "don't listen to yourself" lesson.

Then, the voice comes again, but it is softer, gentler, different yet the same.

"It's all in your head."

It is in my head - the message, the trigger, the flashing light I need to see before I move past the point of no return.

I am dizzy; therefore, I must stop exercising, whether I want to or not.

But it's more than that; somewhere along my journey I have had to learn how to flip a switch inside my head, to turn my thoughts over on themselves so that a new way of thinking comes out on top.

As I swim, I think: "thank you, God.  Thank you that it's all in my head.  My thoughts do matter, and I need to listen to them."

So I go gentler, move slower, think softer thoughts toward myself, my abilities, my limitations, my weakness.

I think...I can't push through, and I shouldn't.  The lesson here is to listen, to honor, to obey the voice inside me that is a gift from my Maker, to embrace my weakness.  To give up rather than go on.

The lessons of my youth were meant well.  Everyone wants their children to be ready for what will come (and we all know that pain, challenge, stress will come).  But they were ill-conceived, missing the key point.

I can not push through; there simply isn't enough strength there.  And if I try to force the issue - whatever the issue may be - on my own strength I will ultimately do much more damage than if I had never tried at all.

It's when I embrace that holy truth that I live a much fuller life, a much rounder one, more complete, more perfect.  I am, eventually, able to go farther and do more than I ever was, not because of my own strength but because of the strength of the One who binds me.

I'm not saying I'll be able to swim a triatholon any time soon, if ever.  Who knows?  But I am saying that I'll be able to keep swimming, one arm in front of the other, legs kicking behind, because I chose to stop today. 

If I had "pushed through" and hurt myself in the process, it would have taken me weeks to recover (trust me, I've tried that...many times, actually).  Instead, by treating myself kindly and honoring my ability to know myself, I will swim again, maybe even tomorrow.  If not tomorrow, then definitely the day after. 

My recovery time is shortened because I no longer fight to succeed in spite of weakness.  I let myself be weak and don't deride myself for my limits, even when it's hard, even when I want to. 

I repent.  I say "thank you" when I want to complain.  I trust that He knows even when I don't understand.  I float when I can't stroke until the energy comes back again and I move forward.  This is a good feeling.  Good in my bones, good in my muscles, and, yes, good in my thoughts.

After all, it is all in my head.

What messages do you need to "flip" upside-down today?  How do you need to "go gentler" with yourself?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

How badly do you want it?

This post could also be titled, "careful what you wish for."

My husband, my dear, sweet, amazing husband, is working tonight.  Like he has every night recently, even on Sundays, his one day off per week.

Tonight was supposed to be our date night, but he got stuck at work.  He hasn't seen the kids for three days because work has pulled him out of town.  When he is in town, he works nights, so he rarely sees them anyway.  He and I see eachother in the morning, when I'm leaving to take the kids to school, a kiss on the cheek as I walk out the door.

Am I complaining?  Maybe.  Just a little.  If I'm honest.  But I'm also just sharing.  Because I'm so proud of him.

He's willing to make the hard sacrifices in the short term to get where we want to be, as a family, in the long term.  That's what love is (sacrificial).  And that's what a husband does (provide).  Even when it's hard.  Even when it hurts.

I have to be honest: we've had a love/hate relationship with money since we got married.  At times, we didn't think it mattered, so we ignored it.  At other times, we loved having it and spent it like crazy (trips to Vegas anyone?).  At still other times, we've had none, and I do mean none, and we've had to learn how to appreciate it for what it is:

A gift.  And a tool.

We've also had an ambivalent relationship to 'provision'.  At times, we've felt like it's our job to 'get her done'.  At other times, we felt like God would provide no matter what we did or did not do.  At still other times, times like now, we know it's both more, and less, complicated than that.

Now, after nearly a year of unemployment and living in the absolute hardest circumstances either of us have ever experienced, we are both so grateful for work.  Any work.  Even work that keeps us apart.

Our journey has humbled us tremendously.  We no longer treat money with disrespect.  Nor do we seek after it as if it is the goal.  We have grown up.  We want money because of what it can do for us, and what we can do with it.

In the last year we have been given countless gifts.  The neighbor who showed up with groceries when we weren't sure how we were going to pay our mortgage, much less buy food.  The friends who wrote checks to cover medical expenses so I could stay healthy and thrive, not just survive, during this season of being uninsured.  Parents who came to our aid through gifts and short-term work.  Anonymous church parishioners who asked our priests to give to a church family that needed it, without ever knowing our names or telling us theirs. 

Looking back, it's surprising that we were as poor as we were.  Why?  Because we lived life to the fullest.  Truly.  Every single thing we needed, and many things that we simply wanted, showed up at exactly the right moment.  If you had been watching from the outside, you probably wouldn't believe me if I told you we were on food stamps, and CHIP, and unemployment, all because we couldn't find work and had to rely on help from strangers in order to survive.

Along the way, our hearts changed.  We learned how to trust the One who truly provides (every good and perfect gift comes from Him, the Father of Lights...James 1:17).  Now, when I think about the bills to be paid or the expenses I know are coming, I don't fixate on how to find a way.  I don't look for what I can do or what Justin can do.  Instead, I truly know, with all of myself, that we will have what we need.  And worrying isn't going to change that fact one bit.  All I have to do is ask (Matthew 6:33).

That doesn't mean we don't work or try.  I do my best to be a Proverbs 31 mom.  I try to manage our household with precision and efficiency, but also with balance, choosing the occasional splurge as an act of faith that I don't have to stockpile in order to be okay.  Justin goes to work.  I work from home in the nooks and crannies of my day, doing odd jobs here and there.  We do our part, making ourselves ready and available to be a vessel of whatever gifts He chooses to give us.

Does that mean we weren't 'doing our part' during the unemployment season?  No.  It's not that black or white.  You can't say "welfare is wrong" or "self-sufficiency is good".  Both have their places, their shades of grey.  Though we certainly would have preferred to be working and providing for our family on our own, we wouldn't have been changed if we had done.

We wouldn't know - like we do now - that all of our hard work matters not if it's not for the One who created labor in the first place (Genesis 4:2). 

Everything we have, everything we are, is because of Him.  If I need something, He will provide it (Matthew 6:25-34).  There is no reason to worry.

There is no reason to worry.

There is no reason to worry.

I can imagine that many of you are hearing "but..." inside your own head right now.  Yes, circumstances don't always agree with what we know to be true.  That's the deal.  Our circumstances might never change, but our perspectives will.  If we let Him change them.  I promise you that.  If you give yourself over completely to Him, choosing to believe even when you don't have faith, He. will. show. up.

And if we do let Him change our perspectives, our circumstances won't matter as much.  We'll find joy in whatever moment in which we find ourselves.

So what will you believe in? Facts and experiences you can't control or promises you can trust?

I've never understood a certain verse from Scripture.  In fact, every time I read it - which is often - it sort of makes me angry.  It goes like this:

"The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing."
Psalm 34:10
"How can that be true?" I think to myself.  I know many people who seek the Lord but who, from our limited perspective anyway, seem to be lacking in lots of good things.  Food, only have to look abroad, or down the street, or next door, or in your own house, to know that not everyone is taken care of in the way that I would want, or you would want, or we would want.
But I'm not God, am I?  I don't see everything clearly. 
I still don't understand it all, but I can tell you this...I'm thankful for this season of poverty and lack. 
I'm thankful that I had to wonder how we would feed our kids and cry out to God with everything I had.  I'm thankful that I had to confess our situation to our neighbors, shattering any delusion of pride or plenty.  I'm thankful that I got to experience life from a different perspective, one I've heretofore only witnessed as an outside observer, sympathetic and condescending, even when I wasn't meaning to be.
I'm thankful that I had to get to the end of myself, again, in a way I never thought possible, because it's there that I once again found God.  And now I know Him far better.  What's more, I trust Him in ways I could never have imagined trusting.  I don't need to understand as much anymore; I simply need to believe.
So yes, the lions may go hungry, but they will also lack no. good. thing.