What We Hold In Finds a Way Out

What We Hold In Finds a Way Out

I knew exactly what I wanted when my mom told me I could pick out my first pair of real earrings. I was four and strands of my blonde, static-raised hair were all that reached counter level at the local five and dime store. I stretched my pointer finger toward the two tiny balls and said “I want the smallest ones.”

Two minutes later I clutched the white paper bag that held my prize for taking good care of my newly pierced lobes. I could hardly wait to remove my training earrings and replace them with a dainty set made from real gold.

We ate dinner at my grandparent’s house that evening and I danced around the table, tilting my head left to right so everyone could see my new jewelry. I spent the night at that little house next to the Central Pennsylvania woods, and when I woke up, my grandfather discovered something missing.

“What happened to your new earring, Angie?” he asked.

My fingers moved quickly to caress the backs of both my ears and thinking my grandfather was playing a trick on me I laughed.

“They’re both right here, PapPap!”

He came closer. His eyebrows furrowed with concern as he softly squeezed my earlobe between his pinky and thumb.

One of the tiny balls had tucked itself deep into the hole and with just eight hours of sleep, the newly pierced flesh sealed what it thought needed healing. The stem and back were in their proper places, but little glittering ball was stuck inside a layer of skin.

Our faithful family physician, Dr. Stark, took our frantic phone call that Sunday morning and agreed to meet us in his office so he could remove the earring. The smell of rubbing alcohol on cotton as he swabbed my ear was strong and so was his voice when he  told me not to move. The earring needed to be cut out from my ear with his scalpel and the procedure would have to be performed without a numbing agent. Any flailing or wailing could result greater injury.

I remember my mom holding my hand as I laid flat and stiff on my back staring at the ceiling light while my vision blurred. I know I was terrified, but I don’t recall a stitch of pain. My mother’s retelling of the story, however, testifies to its presence. She recounts that I wrapped my fingers tight around hers and remained silent and still as tears slipped fast and full from my eyes … rolling down my face, cheeks, and chin. I didn’t move or whimper, but the pain still found a way out.

Our strongest emotions have a way of escaping. The feelings we take great care to hold in eventually work their way to the surface; advertising our brokenness. And that’s often when healing begins.

The way emotions come undone varies from person to person. For me I’ve noticed a trend concerning the two feelings I often try to bury deepest: Fear and sadness.

When I try to hide my fears they usually escape through an eruption of anger. Commotion often triggers my anger faster than anything. So if I’m in the kitchen and meat is sizzling in the skillet, a fan is buzzing, the television blaring, and children chattering, I become unhinged. I snip and snap and say things I regret. Then I apologize for my outburst and say I had no idea what came over me. But if I really take a moment to reflect, I know exactly what happened … the eruption usually sprang from a river of fear.  The fears aren’t always the same, but the results usually are.

When I attempt to muffle my sadness it trickles out through fatigue. If I wake up on a Saturday morning barely able to move or make simple decisions, that’s a pretty good sign that I’m stuffing a heartache. Sometimes it’s a fresh hurt and other times it’s an old, nagging pain I had thought healed ages ago.

Fear and sadness touch every human regardless of social status, religion, or ethnicity. As a Christian, I have the tendency to askew those complex emotions with quippy sayings, or even a quick recitation of scripture instead of dealing with them. I tend to stuff them deep down on my insides because letting them out makes me feel as though I’m failing Jesus.

But Jesus knows the crushed world in which we live. He knows His followers will encounter terrifying circumstances. He knows those who love Him will be pecked apart by loss and earthly defeats. He knows.

And Jesus doesn’t tell us to snap out of it. He tells us to come to Him. I love how The Message paraphrases Matthew 11:28-30.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Coming to Him and allowing Him to work through our twisted sufferings is when we can embrace the peace, joy, and mercy we need.

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Disclaimer: Please know that I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t refer to scripture or a Bible-based mantra such as “Choose Joy” when you’re struggling. Doing so genuinely often helps frame the situation with the right perspective … I’m just encouraging you to not simply recite a memory verse as a way to brush off your trouble. Instead, take a moment to let the truth run through your veins and allow your spirit to come to Jesus for what it needs.

Heart Wide Open

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Freedom was the word I chose as mine for 2014.

I prayed on it. I dreamed about it. I wrote down titles to twelve blog posts that I could write on the subject.

It’s a wonderful word, isn’t it?

Freedom.

The anthem of America, William Wallace, and every person who traded the sharp, digging claws of sin for the soothing balm of grace.

Freedom is packed with promise and hope. It smacks down shame. It rusts the chains wielded by emotional bullies like guilt, fear and regret. It testifies to healing … but it really wasn’t mine in 2014.

I selected the word, but I didn’t embrace it. Honestly … I didn’t even reach a finger toward true freedom. Last year, I lived another word instead: Closed.

A cocktail of loss, doubt, and depression dizzied me. Agitation and procrastination ruled my heart and mind. Exploring my true identity in Christ, which was my goal of the year, required facing parts of myself that I didn’t want to see. So I closed my eyes.

Even though cultivating community is my passion, investing in new relationships after moving to city number 10 in a span of 14 years, scared me. I felt too worn … too broken … too needy to bring the energy necessary to create meaningful friendships. So I didn’t try. I closed literal and metaphorical doors.

I closed even more last year: my creative side, my willingness to be silly and play with my kids, my sense of adventure … my Bible. I kept them all shut tight more often than I cracked them open. It was as though instead of stepping into a new year, I fell into portal that whisked me back to the fragile, frightened girl I was years ago.

In every direction I looked I saw piles of unhealthy patterns I either helped create or allowed.

That’s not to say I spent the year in bed, hopeless and without a second of laughter. There were beautiful moments in 2014, but I didn’t breathe them in like I should have. I didn’t permit them the power they deserved as I would have if I had allowed myself the freedom to enjoy the blessing  without bracing myself for a curse.

On the 363rd day of 2014, I wondered if I should give the “Word of the Year” decree another go. My initial answer to that question was a firm “NO!” I’d just fail. Then I thought about it some more and decided that I should give freedom another chance. But freedom doesn’t feel like the right word for me this year. Even though as a child of God and a follower of Christ, freedom belongs to me and will be a part of my life … there is another word I need to dwell in this next spin around the sun: Open.

This is the year for light to shine truth on all the shattered spaces within me that I shuttered instead of tended. Now is the time for me to hand my raw, ravaged heart to Jesus for examining, cleaning, molding and strengthening.

Open both scares and excites me.

Open is vast and messy and unfastened. It’s overflowing with paradox and possibilities; because being open allows you to pour yourself out while you’re being filled up. Open leaves me vulnerable and fertile for change. It’s the open places in ourselves where hope roots and thrives.

I don’t know what specific events will occur in 2015, but I know the basics. Elation and agony will both show up here and there. They might even mingle. There will be belly laughs and gut-wrenching sobs … wins and losses … waves that welcome and those that say goodbye.

And I am determined to face each circumstance with a heart wide open. Ready to learn. Ready to teach. Ready to grow. Ready to feel free.

About Those Mean Girls: Things I Want My Daughter to Remember

Dearest Daughter,

You are officially a fifth-grader. Your smile is bright as you head to school, and I’m excited for you. It’s an important year, and you’ll learn more about world history, algebra, and grammar.

I’m also a little nervous about this year. Fifth grade is Big-Time. Junior high is only two years away and you’re taking classes you’ve never attended in previous years. Other things are changing too, such as your likes and dislikes, and even your body. Sometimes these changes can make a girl feel scared, confused, and lonely … even if she is surrounded by friends.

Sometimes frightened girls can say and do things that hurt others. I hope you don’t experience this within the next year—or ever—but you more than likely will, so this is what I want you to always remember when it comes to the mean girls.

You Never Have the Right to be a Mean Girl

Remember this well, little love: Regardless of the circumstances, you do not have the right to be mean to another human being. It doesn’t matter if you’re retaliating against someone who hurt your feelings or if you’re trying to prevent others from being unkind to you; permitting yourself to act in a mean-spirited manner is never OK. Using ugly, flippant words and mannerisms—even for a short time—can change you. Meanness often is used as a shield to protect feelings, but it can make your heart so tough that it forgets how to forgive, embrace gratitude, and even love.

So don’t—not even for a minute—entertain the thought of telling that girl (you know, the one the other kids tease) that she can’t sit next to you at lunch. Don’t roll your eyes at someone for liking a hobby or trend that doesn’t float-your-boat. And here’s the hardest don’t of all: Don’t ever, ever call another human being a nasty name. Not even if that kid says something that makes you feel useless … even if she says your mother is ugly … even if she picks on your little brother. Never repay unkindness with unkindness, because you can do better than that. You were created to do better than that.

Know Who You Are and By Whom You Are Loved

A mean girl is a bully, and lying and belittling are her most damaging weapons. She’ll tell you that you aren’t as good as her. She’ll say you’re not pretty enough, rich enough, funny enough, smart enough, or popular enough to join the spirit club, play with her at recess, or audition for the solo in chorus. She might turn up her nose at those new high-top sneakers you adore so much. She might laugh if she finds out that you still have a favorite Disney princess. And saddest of all, she might hate you because you love Jesus.

Don’t believe the lies, and don’t allow the lies to change you.

Daughter, you are beautiful. I’m not just saying that because I’m your mom. And I’m not saying that because you fit the bill for what society says is beautiful. You’re beautiful because the maker of all things beautiful says you are. Trust me: If a being created the formula to design and maintain gravity, he’s a heck of a lot smarter than even the most intelligent girl in your class. And not only is God brilliant, he’s incapable of telling a lie and he says you’re wonderful, cherished, and forever loved. He created every cell in your body—the ones you were born with and the ones yet to be made. And being who God made you to be is more than your right … it’s your responsibility. Your true value cannot be measured by the number of friends you have, shoes you own, or calories you consume.

Mean Girls Are Wounded Girls: Respond with Love

Instead of returning unkindness with unkindness, extend grace, show mercy, and respond with love.
Because a girl who’s mean also is a girl who’s wounded—not with a skinned knee or sprained ankle, but a bruised heart.

I know this well, darling daughter, because I’ve been both the victim and the mean girl. There was a time when I was so weary from rejection that I treated a co-worker with malice. I spoke harsh words to her with a curt tone. I cut her off before she could finish her sentences. I publicly questioned her intelligence while feigning my innocence. I did all this because she reminded me of the girl I used to be. She was uneasy with who she was and eager to please others, and I misjudged her meekness for weakness. I felt powerful making her feel small until I realized what I was doing. Then I felt plain sick.

Want to know what opened my eyes? She spoke love to me. She timidly, yet bravely walked into my office one day and said, “Angela, please tell me why you don’t like me. I think you’re smart and funny … and I really want to be your friend, but you won’t give me a chance. Why?” Her words were kind, strong, and true.

I didn’t have an answer for her, just a sincere apology.

That woman forgave me, became my friend, and even sang at my wedding.

If a girl says or does something with the intent of hurting you, there’s a good chance that she’s doing it because she’s hurting too.
It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it fair. But it does make sense. Emotional wounds tend to fester and tamper with good judgment, but love, kindness, and gentleness are all agents of healing. Even if kind actions don’t result in a new friendship, they will prevent bitterness from spreading in your heart. They will protect your soul from deeper wounding.

Press On

Should you feel the sting of meanness, you’ll never hear me tell you to shake it off, but I will encourage you to find your voice and press on. Don’t give up on God, humanity, or yourself, no matter how hard it gets. And always remember, you are never alone.The unconditional love of your Heavenly Father is the most important gift you’ve been given, but also remember how dearly you are loved by your earthly parents.

Remember that I will always be here for you.

I will always believe in you.

I will always cheer you on.

Love Forever,
Mommy

Author’s Note: I’m not the only mom who has tackled this subject by writing a letter/blog post to her daughter. Lisa-Jo Baker, author of Surprised by Motherhood  wrote a beautiful letter to her baby girl a few years back titled What I Want My Daughter to Know About the Mean Girls. I encourage you to read it. It’s lovely.

The Truth About Enough: For When We Need Rest

This post is part of the Finding Spiritual Whitespace Blog Tour that I am a part of, along with a group of soulful, journeying kindreds.

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One of the most difficult challenges I face as a woman is the onslaught of mixed messages about what it supposedly means to be a woman in our culture, as well as suggestions about how I could improve myself.

From magazine covers to TV ads to Pinterest, I’m constantly confronted with ideas about how I can do better – how I can look younger and hotter, host better birthday parties for my kids, spruce up my home, improve my children’s chances of getting an Ivy League education, please my man in the kitchen and the bedroom, or climb a few more rungs up the corporate ladder.

The moments when I ignore the call to be more and allow myself to feel comfortable with who I am – quirks and all – are often interrupted by a seed of doubt that sprouts fast and tall. Contentment and peace disappear.

Suddenly, my skin doesn’t fit the way I think it should.

I notice faint evidence of wrinkles on my 40-year-old hands, and panic rushes over me. Have I done enough for my age? Will I do enough in my lifetime? Do I even have what it takes to be enough?

Is there even such a thing as “enough”? Because truth be told, I often crave more than what I’m given, too.

Someone compliments my smile. But while I respond with warm words of gratitude, inwardly, I wish I had Carrie Underwood’s bright, toothy grin.

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My boss recently promoted me, and the opportunity both thrills me and rewards me. But fears of inadequacy also take hold, and I worry I don’t have what it takes to live up to the challenge. I’m afraid I will blow it. I also wonder how much further along I’d be right now if I was smarter, savvier, and hadn’t taken that six-year career sabbatical a decade ago.

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After spending an entire Saturday cleaning my house, my fingers collect wads of dark purple dust I missed along the stairwell. Then I remember I also forgot to wipe down the ceiling fan blades … and the baseboards … and I remember that load of laundry souring in the washing machine … and that I forgot to thaw the chicken I had planned to bake for dinner. I wish there was another Angela, because 24 hours isn’t enough for this Angela to accomplish it all.

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My son’s sticky lips land just above my eyebrow as he rushes outside to play with his friends. “You’re the best mommy in the entire world,” he shouts before slamming the door. Yet I remember snapping at him and his older sister only minutes earlier, and failure hits me hard. I try to shoo the negative thought away, savor the moment, and tell myself that I’m not a bad mom, only to defeat the positive thoughts with words of chastisement for not being better.

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During these times, I need to remember that I am both enough and not enough at the same time. It is only when I accept the beauty behind that paradox that I am able to breathe, rest, and allow God to replenish my weary, fragile soul with lavish grace.

Here’s the truth about ”enough.”

Because of God’s love and mercy and through Christ’s dwelling inside you, you have a purpose in this world, and you are the only one who can fulfill that purpose. Therefore, in that way, you are enough. You are smart enough, gorgeous enough, and woman enough to be who you were created to be. You are enough for the light of God’s love to shine through you and your broken places. You are enough to make a difference.

But, you’re not enough to meet every need in this world. In fact, you’re not even enough to meet every need of your family members, or your friends, or your boss and co-workers.

And that’s OK. Because that’s by God’s design. Not one of us made of flesh was created to be perfect this side of heaven. Our bodies will fail us. Our hearts will deceive us. Our minds will confuse us.

Just as I need Jesus to make me completely whole, so does the rest of the world. When we try to function as Jesus instead of simply living to show His love, we exhaust ourselves even further. We frustrate ourselves with the knowledge that we’re not the be-all and end-all, when in fact, that truth should set us free and bring us rest.

In her debut book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace, Bonnie Gray takes her readers through her journey to find soul rest. Bonnie’s writing is as lovely as her heart, and there is godly wisdom on each page.

Something she wrote early in the book resonated with me quickly and remained as I read the ensuing chapters: Bonnie once felt suspicious of rest:
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In her debut book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace, Bonnie Gray takes her readers through her journey to find soul rest. Bonnie’s writing and heart are lovely and there is Godly wisdom on each page. Something she wrote early in the book resonated with me quickly and remained as I read the remaining chapters:Bonnie once felt suspicious of rest.

I’ve had to make my own places of rest to shield myself from the world by planning well, solving problems, and pleasing others. It’s the kind of rest that is easy to check off, but it locks p my heart. Even trusting God became a test of my resolve. Rest became a battle to run away from the things that break me — instead of allowing the brokenness to bring me to him. All this running is exhausting. Because whenever I stop to face the silence, I have to face the truth. I am suspicious of a restful life. I don’t believe it can be mine.

When I try to be enough in the ways I was not intended to be, I become suspicious of not only my ability to rest, but my worthiness to experience it.

But I am worthy of spending time in the spiritual whitespace that unifies me with love and sets me free to be myself.

I am worthy of rest.

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista.com who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. I’m taking the journey to find rest through this guidebook and invite you to read it too. You can get a copy HERE.