Monday, September 20, 2010

I Am Just Me

My mind and heart have been wrestling as of late. I feel called in different directions, pursuits, passions, talents, and careers. I often pray fervently as I consider the conversations of my heart and the arguments of my mind. I search His word for some purpose, something that can provide a clear arrow one direction or a clear arrow the other. In the end, all I find are the continual callings of the Lord and the passions He has laid upon my heart. However, something seemingly more binding than the Lord has been stepping in to stop my dreams or to hold my passions at bay. It seems that the voices of people echo in my ears more and more these days, the voices of people of radically different opinions. I have people tell me that my beliefs are so liberal and are not God's design, that my actions are destroying my chances of being the woman God called me to be. I also have people tell me that my beliefs are far too conservative and that I am limiting myself from ever becoming who I was meant to be. I have friendships and acquaintances that love me and care for me, but only if I conform to who they want me to be, who they envision me becoming, or who they think they can change me into. While I am a strong and stubborn person at heart, I will be the first to admit that the voices of those people echo through my mind as I wrestle with career and future decisions.

A few days ago, I finally just sat down and said 'enough.' I am done with trying to become a me that people want me to be. My fears of what people think or what they will think or what they are thinking about are doing nothing but holding me back. My allowance of their voices to carry so much weight in my decisions in life are doing nothing but making me an indecisive person. My temptation to go with the people's opinions is doing nothing but drowning out God's opinion. I am God's child and that is who I find my identity in. My heart is being continually shaped by His grace and that is what defines me. My life is a reflection of His power and His love and that is what people are to see. It does not matter where I am called to serve His kingdom or what He has gifted me with as far as talents and passions go; all I need to do is learn to use what He has given me entirely for His glory. And while many people may have good and honest intentions in saying or coaching how they do, their opinions may just lead me away from who I was called to be. I am me. I will always be me. I have always been me. And that me will never be the me you want me to be; it will always and only be the me that God wants me to be.

See, I do not fit in with the stereotypical woman ideal. I do not plan on getting married. If God brings a godly man into my life in the future and He leads me then towards marriage, then I will probably consider getting married. But, I am not and will not plan my life around that. I have never really felt the desire or calling to learn the techniques of providing and running a home. Can I do it? Yes. But do I do it as of now? No. Instead, I desire a fast-paced and challenging career life. I love to learn and work. After many years of prayer, I still feel strongly called to a career that will most likely place me in a leadership position and will require full-time commitment on that level. Can God change my passions for that? Absolutely, but He has not yet. To some, this may seem like I am entering a man's realm rather than staying in the designed household realm for women. But, let me show you the flip side. I certainly do not exhibit the ideals of a worldly woman either. I greatly respect and recognize the leadership of men, as God has given them a role of leadership in family and in the workplace. I do not seek a career simply to prove to the world that I can do it better than a man. I do not look for ways to hold power over men that is just sickening and horrible. Let's put it this way. . . I am neither. I firmly and completely believe the living radically for Christ means not letting stereotypes lead your life, and that is what I stand on.

When I look around me, I see so many people that befriend others simply because they fit a stereotype or some preconceived ideal. I tell you. . . It makes me sick. My heart just sinks when I see someone probing someone to become something they are not. Friends are not people who coach you to become someone else; friends are people who will stand by your side, no matter who you are or who you will become, and probe you to pursue God with every piece of your heart. Each and every one of us, man or woman, will be called somewhere, somewhere different than the person sitting next to you. And it is not our job to stand in the way of that calling (unless of course it is something completely against biblical standards); instead, it is our job to support, encourage, advise, and listen as the person seeks to pursue God with his/her all towards that calling. I don't know about you, but I know that with me, I desire people who love me for me. Yes, God will continue shaping and changing my heart, which will in turn shape and change my future. But, in the end. . . if you can't love me how I am now, you won't love me in who I become.

I am radical. I love my Lord, and I seek to love Him with all my heart, mind, and soul. And while I realize that my decisions in life may not sit well with certain people, that is not my concern. My concern is that I use the gifts, the talents, the passions, the directions, and the paths that the Lord has laid before me, and that I use them to further His kingdom with every breath within me. I may not be designed to be a household runner at heart. . . but He can use my drive for a life of stress and career to bless others at His will. I may not be designed to naturally adore and simply seek to be around all children. . . but He can use my passion to lead people and to teach people in ways that will show His love to others uniquely and beautifully. I may not be the type of person some of you envisioned me to be. . . but He will continue to draw me closer to the me He envisioned me to be. My definition of living radically for the Lord is simply to follow Him, in all I do and in all I dream of doing. If your calling is to be a wife and mother, I am so blessed to know you. You ladies bring balance and gentleness to this world that I would sincerely miss otherwise, and I want you to know that so it does not seem like I am undermining that path in any way. I just am simply not called that way, at this point and time in my life.

Basically, the message that I want you all to take from this: when you get to know me, I hope that you get to know the real me; I hope you don't get to know a vision of who I can or will be. When you get to know me, I hope you see the Lord's hand moving in my life much more powerfully than my personality or my position in life. When you get to know me, I hope that you do not try and classify me in some stereotype. When you get to know me, I hope you become inspired and feel completely comfortable to be the real you. When you get to know me, I hope that my life on the inside matches my life on the outside. No matter what I choose to do or where the Lord calls me in this world, I hope beyond anything that my heart will be nothing but that of a godly woman pursuing an intimate and all-encompassing relationship with her Lord and Savior. That, my friends, is who I want to be.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Trading Dark for Dawn

You know those late night phone calls? The ones that happen at two or three in the morning and you roll over groaning because you know it cannot be good? I get those a lot. The home phone, the phone that we are all lazy in the household and merely look at it waiting for mom or dad to answer it, has only done that a total of five times that I can consciously remember. My cell phone? Well, it has done a little more than that, but still, the times can be counted under about thirty. So, when I say that I get those phone calls a lot, what phone am I talking about? My heart actually.

The phone that never seems to stop ringing. There are just those nights that no matter how many times I roll around and mess up my once military perfect covers, I just can't sleep. The ringing becomes so annoying that laying there is not doing much good. So, you guessed it, I find a blanket and start roaming the halls. My fingers grasp all the night-lights that like to keep the house lit up like a helicopter pad. For the next hour, those night-lights are going to be unplugged from their source of electricity so that I can peacefully navigate my way through darkened halls, stairways and places where seeing your hand in front of you is just not possible.

I like a dark house. I like to stay up late into the night and sleep through the daylight. The darker my surroundings are, the more cloaked and mysterious life seems to be. There is just something about the darkness that fascinates me. Perhaps it's the fact that walking in such blackness forces one to rely on the confidence of footsteps. Or maybe it's the fact that tiny little flaws cannot be noticed to bug you or cause you to veer off course. What about that feeling that there could be someone around the corner that you will not be able to see until it is too late. How about the silence that penetrates everything around you and magnifies every barely noticeable sound? Maybe I will never know why the darkness fascinates me. . . maybe I will never see the light. . . maybe, just maybe I am too afraid to let go of the darkness.

As much as we may like to think otherwise, we live in a dark world. How often do we, us humans, grab a blanket and wonder around the halls at night? How often do we place a trust that cannot be seen or built on the unknown places shrouded by darkness? You remember those night-lights I unplug at night? When I am done wondering, they are still lying on the ground. Only because I have seen and memorized all those places do I know were exactly to place my fingers to grasp the light again and put it back in its source.

There will be times in this life where the darkness seems more appealing. There will be times in our lives where the world calls our heart, within the darkness that already surrounds us, annoys us so much that we dare to climb off the safe path and traverse the walkways unlit. Our hearts' fingers will grasp those lights that remain in our soul and unplug them from the source. It happens. It happens when we chose to go our own way. And in our own way, the darkness leads us astray. Pretty soon, your memory will fail. Your fingers will not find the source. You will be standing there holding a unplugged night-light in your hand. And you, yes you, will not know what's around that corner and will not trust anything but your feet and will not see the hideous flaws as you pass them by.

But, it does not have to end in such a frightening fashion. There is and always has been a dawn waiting to rise and light up your path, but you have to wait for it. There have been so many times in my life when I think I know best. I do not chose to wait out the ringing or to hang up on the caller as quickly as I can. My dreams lie right and front of me. And though God closes doors, I feel that I have the power to open them. Unknowingly to me, I am not opening the doors nearly as much as I breaking through the door. It has taken me so many runs in the darkness of the night for me to realize that maybe I do not know best; maybe dawn is better than blackness; maybe, just maybe, God actually knows what He is doing when He shuts those doors.

My dreams are big, but God is bigger. My hopes are broad, but God is broader. My desires sparkle, but God sparkles more. Before you answer those late night phone calls when you feel that your dreams are falling apart, before you traverse the halls unplugging your very soul from His light, before you get lost and forget about the hope of dawn, let your heart rest assured that if God takes away your dreams, it is likely because your's were too small in comparison to His. Perhaps God knows a dream that would replace thousands of your's. The question is. . . do you have the patience to wait for it?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Life of Authenticity

I used to spend a good part of my days searching for the principles and the ways to implicate the definitions of humility, selflessness, love, grace, forgiveness, openness, and the list goes on and on. But, I could never get there. No matter which road I followed or what tree I chose to climb or what animal track I determined to pursue, I could never get there. I was stuck living a life where I would walk out into the world wearing my shroud of politeness, firmness, and understanding. My chest would rise as I took that deep breath before walking into the door with my smile that I hoped would last me for as long as I needed it. I was valued, thought highly off, and sought after. But, still, something was missing, something big. I was missing me. They were chasing the woman I wanted to be, just as I was. I was chasing authenticity; a heart that backed up every smile, word, and gesture; a hand that moved to help, nurture, and cultivate automatically; a mouth to speak words of comfort, grace, and forgiveness within a moment's notice; a head that filled with pure, praise-filled, and truthful thoughts; a life that simply, yet amazingly, lived only in the pursuit of Christ and nothing else.

I walk down the street and I see a business woman frantically fidgeting with her phone, trying to schedule her meetings within an impossible time frame. She throws me a pasted on smile, one I have seen so many times, and hustles to the next street corner. With that one look, she tells the world that she's not here because she wants to be but because she needs to be. I turn the corner into a local coffee shop and see a young man serving coffee as fast as he can get it in the cup and on the counter. My turn comes and he barely catches my eyes, avoids any conversation, and frowns the entire time he's taking my order. His gestures tell me that I am taking up his time and that this is not where he desires to be but where he told to be. Finally, I make my trip down to the nearest flower shop and there stands a woman, elderly in age, joyfully and agilely choosing the perfect flowers and arranging them gladly while singing her favorite song. Upon the ring of the bell, her head turns and a glint just shines from her eyes as she greets and converses with me out of her own doing. I ask why she would still be working here when it is clear that she need not be, and she just grins and says "But, honey, what else am I supposed to do all day? How am I serving people and living as a light in their lives when I'm stuck all alone in my home?" All I could think when I left that shop was "That's what I want to be."

Living a life of authenticity has absolutely nothing to do with where you work or what your talents are. It does not thrive on the money you make or the people you meet. It does not build a foundation on the conversations in which you display just how well you are connected to hotshots in this world. Your life is about you and God. Your life is about what you make of what you got. You can work the most dead end job in the world and still work it with a joy in your heart and gestures that cannot be matched! I look outside and I see birds that just spend their days chirping away. But, as I listen more closely, I realize that every chirp is a bit different than the next. Yet, they never cease. Their job is to provide song to the world and to liven the world with joy. And they do just that, day in and day out! I can go to church and people are singing loudly and out of tune around me with arms upraised, not because they have to be but because they want to be.

Authenticity does not grow out of some effort of ourselves to achieve the heart of perfection or live a life that cannot be critiqued. Authenticity is developing a character that cannot be denied because it is so real, so graspable, so moving, that it points directly to the Lord. It is developing a heart that cannot be shifted from being in the flow of the spirit. It is values that can be poked at from every direction and be found still standing and firm. It is a life the puts the Lord first and builds everything around it. It is a mind that longs to think on the praises of the Lord and hands the long to move in ways that joyfully display our servitude to Him. This life is not about building a reputation that needs to be kept constantly intact so that people can honor you more. No! This life is about letting God build a deeply set character that not a single person can claim is fake or guarded. It is about God shaping our hearts to become so amazingly real and touchable that we cannot help but be a light for Him.

One of our pastors said something that I will never forget. "I don't know about you, but at my funeral, whenever that may be, I don't want people just talking about how I was a character nearly as much as I want people talking about my character." I feel the same weight on my heart. I do not want to leave a mark on this world that simply says "I was here." I want to leave a mark on this world that says "I am still here." Because, an authentic person, a person who is entirely true to their being and lives out that trueness, giving to all others, does not leave this world all together. That person leaves fingerprints all over the people they touched in their lives, the work they completed in His name, and the places they walked through during their lives. That person shined so completely for Christ that their seeds continue to be cultivated by the Lord for years to come. It is not about what you bring into this world; it is about what you leave behind. And I challenge you, each and every single one of you, to live a life of authenticity. A life that is so real and so touching and so much of Him that your funeral will be a place of blessing. A life that cannot be contradicted or degraded because there was no end to your transparency and willingness to grow within that transparency. Let this life be lived for Christ with such boldness and openness that we become the very definitions of authenticity.

Monday, September 6, 2010

We Are Called to Be Ourselves

A couple days ago, an acquaintance of mine came up to me and said "I need to talk with you about Christianity." Of course, me being how I am said 'absolutely' and followed them to a quieter place to discuss it. And the conversation went something like this:

"I hear so much about 'becoming more like Jesus' and taking on the characteristics of the Savior from so many Christians. Yet, I am not looking for that. I am not looking for becoming somebody or taking on characteristics of someone else. I have tried that so many times throughout my years and it has never made me happier or more satisfied. Yet, Christian's claim that taking on the characteristics of someone else, this one person, is supposed to fill me up? I really don't get it. I don't want to become someone; I want to be who I am and stay that way."

"I see what you are saying, but I think you have it all wrong. God isn't asking you to change who you are; God is asking you to follow Him. Jesus isn't looking for a duplicate of Himself; Jesus is looking for someone who is willing to follow Him in achieving the same purpose in life. Sometimes people make Christianity more into a religion than the relationship it actually is. Religion demands you change; relationship gives new direction."

"Okay, so am I actually supposed to change?"

"No, you are not supposed to change. In fact, you cannot make yourself change. The change happens as the Lord shapes your life around His purpose."

While there was more to that specific conversation, this little bit started me thinking. I find so many Christians who are seeking change and cloaking themselves with rigorous schedules or enhanced knowledge simply to get further towards that change. Sometimes we naturally begin to equate 'becoming more like Christ' to 'changing who we are.' We make Christianity a religion rather than a relationship. We create expectations for ourselves that cannot be achieved by ourselves. And we deceive ourselves into thinking that God will help us achieve what we have now set out to accomplish.

Let me explain it this way: come to the Lord as you are, with the characteristics that you already possess, and continue to possess those characteristics throughout your relationship with Him. God is not going to strip the characteristics you already have in order to make you a brand new person, but He is going to give you a new purpose for which you are to use those characteristics for. Before you were brought into His grace, the purpose by which you lived your life by amounted to nothing other than self-fulfillment and sin. But, upon entering into a covenant with Christ, the purpose by which you live your life becomes one of glorifying Him and being a light to Him. Those same qualities you possessed before are the same that you possess afterwards. However, the purpose with which you implicate those characteristics and the goals in which you strive to achieve through utilizing those qualities changes.

If you are naturally sacrificial in nature, then you will continue to be sacrificial, but to a different end. If you are naturally an introvert, then you will continue to be an introvert but to a different purpose. If you are naturally a talker, then you will continue to be a talker but to a different message. If you are naturally a wood-worker, then you will continue to be a wood-worker but to a different result. Your identity and who you are will never be lost; they will be redefined. You can be your complete and total self with the Lord, but do not expect to stay the same throughout the relationship. God loves to let His light change people by the way of making each and every one of their individual characteristics be a magnetic to Him.

I know in my life I run across people who have completely different qualities and beliefs on certain issues than I do; they have different strengths or outlooks. Too often a time have I looked at their qualities and coveted them because I think they are better or more developed than mine are. Recently, I have begun to fully realize that if I took on their qualities, I would lose my identity and end up pursuing another identity. When we are walking with Christ, we do not lose our identity; we give it a new focus. My tendency to give up my life for another without hesitation is a gift from God that I can pursue all for His glory. Another person may view my attitude as reckless and that view can be used for the glory of God as well. We are not all to become clones to one another; we are to provide balance to one another.

That is why the body of Christ, the church, is so important; that is why fellowship is so important. Where others go one way, there is always someone else who goes the opposite way. And we need those people to occasionally knock sense into us and realize that we may not be using our qualities to the glory of the Lord as much as we think we are. The whole message of Christianity is not to change into another person but rather to let the relationship with the Lord of Heaven and Earth change the ideals that we so desperately pursue, to change the direction we are headed. So, we may all take comfort in the fact that we are not called to be someone else; that is religion. Instead, we are called to pursue something else; that is relationship.