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I’ve been struggling with anxiety attacks since the summer and it’s been dawning on me that perhaps the reason I am going through this now is because I was more of a control freak than I ever thought. I tend to be the kind of person who is really low-maintenance, I prefer staying in to going out, I’d rather talk to someone than sit next to them during a movie where no one can say anything, things like that. I always considered myself to be very mellow. However I do think with some of the damage I’ve experienced in relationships whether romantic or platonic, and just the stresses of family and life that I learned to be overly self-sufficient. To give a few examples of what I mean:

Growing up in school I remember drowning myself if homework to avoid the noise of my parents fighting. If I could immerse myself in that I could maintain an alternate focus and not be consumed with what was happening at home.

In my longest relationship (6 years) if I could keep thinking of ways to be a better girlfriend I could save myself from a breakup, he would stop cheating on me, if only I was better. If I was better this wouldn’t be happening. 

At work when I am cursed at or told problems are happening with my clients and am told I must be lazy or I must not be doing enough I would try to come in earlier, stay later, work from home when I was sick, or bring work home on the weekends to reassure myself that there was nothing more I could be doing. That their negative opinions of me were just wrong because look at everything I was doing right?

I think for most of my 20’s (as I mentioned in a previous post) I have been pruned. But you know what? Maybe it wasn’t always so melodramatic. It’s true that sometimes pruning involves cutting off perfectly good growth in order to create more of a harvest, but I think if we’re honest more often than not it’s more like we’re being uncluttered from weeds that were never meant to grow around and inside of us. I actually Googled why weeds are so bad when it comes to plants and Ask.com was pretty awesome at explaining this:

Weeds affect plant growth as they compete with the plant, eventually depriving the plant of its nutrients, food and water and in some cases light. Some weeds also harbour pests and diseases, which they transmit to plants. Some types of weeds are larger than the host plants, grow faster and spread rapidly.

That’s pretty deep when you pick it apart. Weeds compete with the plant, weeds starve the plant, weeds deprive the plan of light and can also carry disease and bugs. When I think of myself as a plant this makes perfect sense. In my life where there were many hurts and feelings of inadequacy or shame I allowed the weeds to grow. When I chose to occupy my heart and mind with things that are temporary and not a reflection of my worth as a person i.e. relationships, jobs, people’s opinions of me, etc I allow my growth to be starved, I allow them to take root, and I let them control me. To take up real estate in the soil that was meant for beautiful things.

This actually reminds me of a random Facebook message I got from someone I met in college. I met this wonderful guy because he was married to my roommate’s best friend and as a couple they are an awesome reflection of a great Christian marriage. I’ve saved it ever since I got it last April. Disclaimer: if I know you and you say something personal but beautiful in my presence I can and will use it #sorrynotsorry:

I was sitting in church this morning, and you popped into my mind to pray for So I asked God for something for you, and I actually got a picture in my mind. So here it goes I got this picture of a flower. Just a single flower. I saw it was drooping, but not in that dying flower kinda way. It wasn’t from not being watered but because it was sad. It was depressed. It was beautiful, yes; as beautiful as a flower can be. I feel like maybe the best way to describe it is to a sad looking person, with shoulders hunched and stuff. You can read it all over someone’s body – it was like that with this flower; like, its shoulders were slumped (if a flower can do such a thing). …Then I asked God why the flower was sad, and He showed me that it was because the flower didn’t think it was lovely. It had looked into the mirror, and didn’t think it was beautiful enough. THEN, I saw that the mirror wasn’t a mirror at all, but all the other flowers around it. It looked for it’s beauty and worth derived from the beauty of others; and saw other flowers that were taller, more colorful, more CONFIDENT, more curvy leafy thingys, etc… the flower was beautiful, but it didn’t think it was. It wasn’t even that the other flowers were bullying up on it – it just compared itself to them, their looks, their fragrance, their beauty; and thought itself not-beautiful because it wasn’t one of them… …Then he showed me that it was all because the other flowers weren’t supposed to act as the mirror that the flower viewed itself through…It was supposed to be the GARDENER! The PLANTER! HE, was supposed to be the mirror by which the flower saw itself. He planted it for such a good reason. He thought that it was beautiful. And yes, there might have been other flowers, but they were all different than it was – but IT WAS SPECIAL!!! It was a flower set apart, designed to be different. There was ravishing beauty in the difference!! …So when that flower decided to see itself the way that the one who planted it saw it; it stood up and beamed, it reached it’s leafy arms out a basked in the sun. And oooohhh my goodness, did that make the gardener happy

I feel like – and totally tell me if this holds true, that maybe you’ve had examples of people in your life – good people even, people that you respect and look up to – that you maybe have compared yourself to, and have graded yourself as lesser than they. Whether by success in career, or looks, or personality, or popularity; I feel there’s been this pressure to have to become like them before you can blossom. Like, it was a prerequisite of fulfillment. But I just want to encourage you that if you push into God – into Daddy – that He’ll give you the standard by which you should be measuring yourself. He is sooo well pleased with you and wants to change nothing about you, your personality, and spirit is just as He designed…and any of those those ‘faults’ that popped into your head, I assure you, that THAT is not how Daddy sees you – just how you see you. He has seperated all the faults, and mistakes, and ‘bad habits’ and all your other baggage from YOU; from how He sees YOU!! The measure that He holds you to is to the tune of Jesus, having redeemed you. You are gold. You are! Gold is gold. Gold is gold before it is refined, just as much as it is after. The refining process isn’t turning coal into gold…what’s that?! That’s not refining, that’s alchemy!! You are not coal, waiting to be turned into gold!…The ALCHEMY, happened at the cross… Refining, is merely removing any and all impurity from the gold, and thus purifying it. It’s removing the dross. It’s separating that which stains you and marks who you are – from WHAT YOU REALLY ARE!!!

So yea, Daddy, thank you for Jess. Thank you for this unique, special person who you knit together and unwrapped into this young adult named Jess. God, will you continue to show her, and keep revealing to her just, how, SPECIAL she is to you. To YOU, the maker of her. The lover of her. That you would show her … haha, that’s funny, I just lost the words, and got this uber feeling of ”it’s ok, I’ll tell her. There are some things that I want to tell her that only she hears…” so I’ll leave you with that. You’re in good hands.

I mean really? Are you kidding that that amazing vision? Even re-reading that fills my eyes with tears. I think often it’s easy to think “oh no I’ve been saved my entire life” or “I’ve surrendered everything there is nothing I’ve left out” and yet I’m trying even if through gritted teeth to see this season as being not only pruned but de-weeded? Is that a word? Maybe the anxiety I’m facing is the very fact that guess what? I’m finally free. There is nothing left to pluck out. Jesus is finally allowed fully to have everything I thought was mine. Things that helped pacify me when I felt unlovely, unworthy, or unsuccessful.

Hebrews 12:1 says “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely”. Let us allow ourselves to be unburdened even if the weeds that strangled us left us weak and in need of reviving. I pray this even now over my own life after an anxiety attack just this morning.

Jesus, just as your word says “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” –  Philippians 4 (ESV) 12-13. I relinquish control, I allow you to alter what you see unhealthy in my heart and mind and delete what you see fit. Teach me to receive more and more of your peace and to trust you in all challenges no matter what I face knowing you guard my heart and mind.

The Constant Gardener

I remember a few years back going to a different church than I go to now and hearing a message about being pruned.  I specifically remember it because even back then I knew I was already being cut back. But not in the kind of way where a plant still looks like a plant but just cleaned up from unruly branches or weeds–more like when you go to the salon and think you were clear in asking for a quick trim only to walk out with your hair half the length you started with. Something that you didn’t ask for, desire, or expect. At that time friendships I had were dying out, I was suffering with unemployment, I was struggling with how things were going and what I thought about myself, I wasn’t writing anything creative at all, and optimism in general was being snuffed out.

The Bible actually talks about pruning in John 15 when Jesus refers to himself as the Vine and His people as the branches:

1-3 “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.9-10 I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.16 You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

 

I know this passage very well just from being raised in Sunday school and hearing it a number of times growing up in church. But lately I find myself really torn by it. Over the course of my 20s I’ve given up so many things I actually cared about:

  • A relationship I felt God was calling me away from–even though it ended up ultimately being for my own good it was still an incredibly painful few years of a recovery,
  • A dream–of writing, having a career involving writing
  • A core group of friends–ever since high school and a loss of a particular close group of friends I found myself never quite in one group of friends or another and often felt really alone, out of place, and unwanted
  • etc etc etc.

Even though most of these things could still be in preparation for something greater it’s been years and I am still here waiting to see that regrowth.

 

In His Word God promises that if I abide in him, He will not leave my side. Then why is it that even though I am consistently trying to draw closer to Him despite my confusion and pain I feel more like the branch that has been thrown out to the fire than the one that’s supposed to be churning out grapes left and right?

 

Why do I feel so barren and broken?

 

Why do I feel so depressed and hopeless?

 

Why do I know in my Spirit that Jesus has not left me and loves me but in my mind and deep in my heart I still feel last on the priority list and forever ruined by all that has been removed from me?

 

I am writing this entry today after many 12 hour work days, after tears at my desk, after about six panic attacks this week from stress, after looking in the mirror at my unpleasantly thin figure from weight loss, and almost crippling sadness and grief. I do not feel my harvest and I do not see the purpose.

 

And yet strangely enough the weaker I get the more I can sense the shears coming out again to cut me down. Another new project at work, someone from church’s harsh words about my season being reflective of something I must have done wrong, or another subtle eye roll when you share another hard work week with a friend and you can tell they are tired of hearing about it. How much more can you be cut back …right?

 

I actually Googled pruning tonight when I got home hoping to find some additional inspiration for this and came across something someone else in the universe wrote about this topic:

 

http://rightremedy.org/elizabeths_pen/341.

 

The first thing that stuck out to me was this:

 

God just sees that we can bear more fruit…that we have more potential for greatness, so he wants to get our plans and ideas out of the way so He can bless us with His plan for our lives.”

 

I instantly connected with that part because it’s exactly how I feel and exactly how I do not feel all at once. I do not feel at all like I have the potential for greatness right now. I feel bitter, I sound bitter, I am angry and sad mixed together most of the time, more so than happy or hopeful or optimistic. I don’t feel like my fruit is anything worth eating right now either. In my mind it would be bruised or mealy, or otherwise unpleasant to look at or taste. But then you get to the part about Him wanting to cut out our ideas and plans out of the way so he can plant His own stuff and I get it. I feel it. It’s like a sharp pang in my chest and I know it’s true. I had wonderful plans and ideas of who I could be, or what my life would be like. And to a certain extent I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming about being a writer, or having a great marriage, or going on adventures or whatever, but when those things continued to die leaf by leaf off of my branch it’s like I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. Who I was anymore. And that’s kind of pathetic.

 

Most of my deep despair lately is feeling completely lost. Like everything I believed I was made to be like or do has not panned out. It’s like someone pulled the plug and I’m all shriveled up now with no idea how to plump back up. As stupid as they might sound I really do feel that way. I’m totally lost. I feel like I’m stuck in this career purgatory, I still feel like I’m watching people in great friendships for example and while I know people care for me, it’s not the deep I want to hang out with you all the time and talk to you kind of friendships. There are so many things my heart yearns for and yet it’s like everyone has long settled in to these things and I’m still trying to sort out which map I should use next.

 

But what really hit me was this:

 

“I’ll never forget what a minister once told me during a very difficult time in my life. He said: “Wow, Elizabeth…God must be impressed with you to allow you to go through something this difficult at such a young age. I was 47 before God thought I could handle something that heavy. He must really have big plans for you!” This man’s words to me totally changed my perspective about what I was going through, and I hung on to those words throughout that trial.”

 

And when I say I folded my laptop down and ran into the bathroom to take a shower and cry..I’m dead serious. Why? Because of the phrase “God must be impressed with you to allow you to go through something this difficult at such a young age”. It breaks my heart because I don’t believe it. I don’t feel it in my heart. Maybe over the years with all of the hardships I’ve endured, betrayals, feelings of insignificance, failure, disappointments I’ve allowed this rejection into my life. Like how could God possibly be impressed with me? Maybe once upon a time. But now? I feel like a total failure. I feel discouraged by my lifetime of Christianity only to feel like a total newbie when this wilderness surrounded me. How can He trust me when I feel like I don’t even know or really like what I’m seeing in myself right now?

 

It’s hard for me to believe this suffering will ever cease or that I will come out joyful on the other side but God does promise good for those He loves. It’s easy sometimes to accept the pruning of bad things out of our lives, or to accept Jesus taking all of our sin away, and other kinds of good housekeeping. But He is a constant gardener in my life, even when you think you have been groomed enough—especially when He starts to amputate limbs that you thought were healthy and even more so when He starts jabbing at the already painful infected bits. Have you ever had someone rub against a wound or poke a bruise? It’s like that. It might ultimately be for your recovery but it is the worst pain you have ever felt.

 

I do aspire to see this period of darkness with Ephesians 5:26-27 eyes where it says through this process “Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.” And you know what? I want to be made whole.

Don’t bury your talent

I’ve been thinking about my talents and dreams for the future a lot lately and how perhaps I am guilty of believing I cannot get more. I know I am capable of say a better job, or I am deserving of a great relationship, and yet if I take an honest look at things that I have accepted into my life–it’s probably pathetic in the realm of what God has planned for me.

I was thinking about this teaching in Matthew 25 (ESV). <—Let’s give it up for the English Standard Version. Pretty sure I’ve never read that version in my life. But more to the point:

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[c] and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[d] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[e] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter intothe joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

 

Now I know this is a story about investments but because I like symbolism and was an English Major (yay student loans) I decided to look into this with a different lens. What if Jesus is the man. What if on our journey to find purpose and calling and our reason to be here on Earth specifically as an individual Jesus poured into us specific talents some of us are beautiful singers, others are skilled laborers, yet others are very good with people and can fill them with encouragement and life. All of our talents are different. Some appear to have more talents, some are just really good at one thing, but each of us have been given a certain kind of and a specific amount of talents. And yet everyone does different things with them. Some are lucky to use them in a job and get paid for it, others do it as a hobby or to relieve stress and don’t think too much about it, others like me sometimes squelch that talent out completely by burying it in the ground so to speak. If you are faithful with the little skills and talents Jesus has given you, we see in the story that it is multiplied and blessed. However the one who did nothing with it out of fear, get’s nothing. If anything the Master is displeased because you were not a good steward of the investment you were entrusted with. Now I don’t think Jesus is exactly like this man in the sense that he is slow to anger and quick to forgive and full of love and good desires for us here on Earth, but I think the sentiment is valid. Why are you so fearful? Why are you holding back the wonderful gifts you were given?

I take this as a challenge to continue to work on my gifts even though I don’t know what they will be used for. I continue to volunteer my talents at my church because my firstfruits and best skills should be given to him before anything else and that doesn’t always have to be money but time, and skills, and yourself. Once you sow those things into His House and for His name “then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine (Proverbs 3). Then the blessings and overflow of those small talents will be multiplied.

 

Keep my eyes above the waves

I don’t know about you but I was more than happy to see 2013 disappear. While I made new friends, enjoy volunteering, and love the church I go to more often than not 2013 was a year of feeling disillusioned, lost, and hopeless. Like I was standing knee deep in the ocean and being knocked down by wave after wave. Before you know it you’re farther and deeper out than you ever thought you would be and you panic that you will not make it back to the shore. The sand is wet and your feet are sinking, the undertow is strong watery hands around your legs, and time slows down.

I was looking at this mason jar the other day that I made off of Pinterest. Basically you decorate this jar and you fill it with hopes, dreams, good things that happened, and at the end of the year you open it. Or visually you can see the amount of paper you filled up so tangibly you know you had a good year. You know what? I didn’t even fill it half way. I forced myself to count it today to just know how bad it was and you know? There were 13 pieces of paper. 13 for 2013. Literally. And although I know that the year was dry in the majority of ways–it reminded me that my perception is off. I only had 13 memories I wanted to write down that I was grateful or hopeful or proud of.

The Word tells us to be thankful in everything and I know more so than any other time in my life I haven’t been. It’s hard to rejoice when you feel so weighed down, it’s difficult not to feel like a total fool when you thank God for things that aren’t happening in your life, and it’s well, hard to actually mean it.

Although there is no evidence that things will improve and often times I am just going through the motions of saying thank you to God for things that I do not understand or have yet, I still want to be faithful in what I do not see. I want to continue to set the groundwork for thanksgiving so no matter what happens in the future good or bad I will be grateful first and foremost. My pastor once taught that “You can’t always choose what you walk through but you can choose who you look to”. In the midst of this tough season I can choose to be consistent in the song I sing in the storm, I can smile in the storm knowing it is just a shadow.

The shadow might blacken out the light but ultimately it doesn’t have substance. You can’t hold a shadow. And a shadow cannot hold you.

My prayer for 2014 is to see the waves, to see the debris floating around me, but to not let them discourage me. To not allow myself to be swayed no matter how far out the water carries me knowing that ultimately Jesus lifeguards the oceans I am in and will carry me back to the shore.