A Blossom of Hope

Over the past few weeks, I have tackled some deeply personal issues, and I hope I haven’t caused any of my readers to neglect my posts in search of something more “happy” or “flowery.” I hope by sharing my experiences through reading Unglued that I can give my readers a realistic portrayal of who I am and share my personal journey toward finding who I am in Christ.

As I learned in reading Lysa’s book, coming unglued isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, sometimes it takes coming unglued to finally find perspective and maybe even find joy during times when everything seems hopeless.

My friend Karen had a meaningful experience just a few weeks ago, and I’d like to share it with you. It had been a difficult few weeks for Karen and her family, and stress and fatigue had taken over and she was feeling frazzled— even unglued. She decided she simply had to get out of the house for a few moments, so she headed out to the flower beds to water her flowers.

She was so focused on her task that she found it was yet another chore in her endless list of things to do. But then, her eye caught something unexpected in the grass nearby. Somehow, in the midst of the late summer heat, there was a lone dandelion growing tall and proud in the grass. Now some would tend to see this dandelion as an unwelcome intruder— a weed to choke out the beauty of the flowers. But in that moment, Karen saw the beauty in that simple dandelion. She stopped what she was doing and simply looked at this unexpected gift, for in that moment, hope sprang up in her heart.

She later told me that she prayed and thanked God for sending this measure of hope through the sudden appearing of the out-of-season dandelion. To Karen the dandelion wasn’t a weed that spoke of the stress of the day but a blossoming flower of hope. May the unexpected presence of something simple like the dandelion remind you today that God works in unexpected and wonderful ways. Don’t ever forget that He is working even in the smallest details. Be comforted in that promise today!

Building Barriers

I glanced up from Lysa’s book with a resigned sigh. “That’s me,” I whispered. “I’m an emotional stuffer who builds barriers.” I knew this fact to be true, but just seeing it spelled out on the page of TerKeurst’s book Unglued really brought this realization into perspective.

Over the years, I have found that I often stuff down negative emotions simply so I don’t have to deal with conflict or confront the hurt. I can remember the day my family and I drove away from the home we thought we would live in for years to come. My father had just taken a pastorate in southern Minnesota, and we had sold the home in order to move on to this next phase in our lives. We caravanned down the road away from the house that afternoon, and I was riding with my mother. It was quiet between us, largely because I remember not really having anything to say. I wasn’t ready to leave home; I had become too attached.

My mom finally commented on the silence; I’m sure she was used to my talkative nature and knew something had to be wrong simply due to the fact that I was quiet. “Are you okay?” she asked me. “I really have no idea where your head is at right now. You haven’t said anything about any of this.”

She had hit the nail on the head, so to speak, without even having to explain herself. She knew I was struggling with my emotions due to the move, but there was more under the surface. You see, I had left some close friendships in recently transferring out of Crown College, and I was hurt over some conversations I had participated in with fellow classmates. I had also experienced my first date in the history of my young adult life that Spring, and facing the reality that the relationship didn’t work out was largely disappointing.

I was broken and burdened, and my mother knew it. I wasn’t able to communicate my feelings that day, but her concern opened the doors to exploring my emotional state and how I could move past these painful circumstances even as I moved geographically two hours to the south.

A few years ago, I truly began to realize that in addition to stuffing my emotions under the surface, I also build barriers. It was the day of my Hazelnut Tree Christmas concert, and I had just taken a phone call from a disappointed acquaintance. I had been helping this person with a project for several months, and I had thought things were progressing well. But the voice on the other end of the line told me that the opposite was true. This person was not happy with the progress made, and I was hurt by the sudden shift in the course of our progression together as a team. At first, I didn’t realize what I had done wrong; by nature, I am a people-pleaser, and in that moment I realized I had not pleased this person.

I hung up the phone and simply cried. I was hurt, disappointed, frustrated, and a myriad of several other emotions. Two friends were there with me that day and they instantly could tell that something was wrong. They surrounded me with love and let me know that I could work past this. They reminded me that I had a concert that night and that I couldn’t waste time focusing on what had gone wrong. It was time to bounce back and fight for what I loved and valued. I have always said that music has given me a means to work through the hard times, and so that night, I gave one of the strongest performances of my life. I was focused, driven, and willing to share my heart through music even though I was broken inside. It was the most liberating feeling to move past the pain and channel my frustration into an energetic performance that others could enjoy.

A few months later, I was blessed to make a special friend, but it took me awhile to warm up to the prospect of a meaningful relationship. To this day, I can remember my friend recounting the day we first met. She told me that from the beginning of our first conversation she could tell that my guard was up and that I wasn’t about to trust someone I just met so readily. I think my reason for having my guard up was due to the disappointing situation recounted above. I had been burned before and I didn’t want to open myself up to someone who could potentially hurt me. My heart had become so hard to the idea of building a connection that I turned away in fear.

In her book Unglued, Lysa talks about God working to chisel away the hurt and fear that has built up around a person’s heart. I found in reading this particular section that I probably build barriers and harden my heart because I am insecure. I am thinking that I am probably reacting the same way when it comes to dating relationships, and this is most likely why I am still single. I have a long way to go before I can open my heart to a potential spouse, so until then, I have to work to tear down some of the walls that are keeping me from being secure in who I am and what I can become in Christ. I long to be set free from this insecurity and let the Lord work in my life to make me the person He has called me to be.

In closing, I would like to share a poem that Lysa includes in her book. I think it serves to bring everything into perspective better than I could put into words.

“In the still air the music lies unheard;
In the rough marble beauty hides unseen;
To make the music and the beauty needs
The master’s touch, the sculptor’s chisel keen.
Great Master, touch us with Your skillful hands;
Let not the music that is in us die!
Great Sculptor, hew and polish us; nor let,
Hidden and lost, Your form within us lie!” (Mrs. Charles E. Cowman).

From Panic to Perspective

“You’re breathing just fine,” the nurse told me.  “You’re just panicking.”

I heard this consolation so many times over the course of eighteen months that I just couldn’t stand to hear it again.  I had been battling with severe allergies, and often I found myself in the doctor’s office or emergency room, wheezing and breathless, frantically trying to communicate that I couldn’t breathe.  But time and time again, friends, family members, and even the doctors told me that I wasn’t having trouble breathing; I was just panicking. 

Now, I quickly differed in my opinion.  I simply couldn’t take in enough air.  I do admit that my weakened breathing often led to a panicked response.  In the times when I started to wheeze and found each breath to be a struggle, I could feel the panic rise to the surface of my mind.  I had to get some air, and when I couldn’t find relief, I began to hyperventilate.

It took a long time before the doctors finally found the right course of medication to start me on the road to recovery.  I also moved to a new residence to avoid some of the potent allergens, and eventually, I found that I was turning a corner toward better health.  I no longer had to struggle to breathe, and the panic symptoms no longer rose to the surface. 

In the months that followed, I found I could use my breathing struggles as a standard of sorts.  In the times when I became stressed, frustrated, or scared over some of the most insignificant things, I remembered how I had come through a great battle with my allergies, and then my momentary struggles didn’t seem quite so difficult.  My allergies brought perspective to some of the ways in which I panicked in the face of fear.

In Unglued, Lysa TerKeurst recounts how she found perspective in a panic moment of her own, and I found myself relating in many ways.  In one day, Lysa’s computer and cell phone both completely crashed, and it wasn’t long before her dog had an accident all over the carpet.  Now, I don’t have a pet at home, but I do resonate with the frustration that comes with technology.

In April of last year, I was preparing to give a concert at my church to celebrate graduating with my Master’s degree.  My friend Lisa was helping me get ready that evening, and we decided to take our last few moments before the concert to read a devotional online, hoping that I would be able to find some calm in the face of my nervousness toward the evening’s events.

Instead of calm, however, I found complete and utter panic!  I had just accessed the website for the devotional when my computer went crazy!  Instead of a nice, calming devotional, a program imitating an inti-virus software opened up on the screen.  I instantly knew this was a virus, so I frantically tried to close out of the unwelcome site.  But my computer was frozen on that terrible page, and I watched as this malicious software claimed to scan my computer for supposed threats.  I screamed and yelled at the offending program, and I found that I was quickly becoming unglued.  This couldn’t be happening!  Everything that mattered to me was on that computer— my writing, music, school papers.  I had dealt with computer viruses before, and I knew that there was a huge chance of losing everything; it had happened before. 

My friend Lisa quickly ran to my side and assessed the situation.  She clicked on this link and that link, trying to get the program to shut down.  As she tried to troubleshoot, she remained calm, asking me questions about what had happened leading up to the virus taking over.  By this time, I was far from calm and crying hysterically.  It was then that Lisa turned around in my desk chair and prayed out loud.  She asked that Satan would no longer have a hold on the situation at that moment, and as if in response to the spoken name of Jesus, the malicious program shut down. 

I was still shaking when Lisa and I came together in a long hug.  I had let something as simple as a virused computer take control of this all-important day.  I was almost certain that Satan had tried to gain the upper hand in destroying my sense of calm before this important evening, and for a moment, it had appeared that he had won the battle.  But in the end, it was God who had won the war. 

A few months later, my computer hard drive crashed.  You might be thinking that I became completely unraveled in that moment, but that isn’t true.  The experience with the virus on my computer months earlier had prepared me to see a computer for what it was— only a machine.  So when my computer wouldn’t start up that morning, I calmly walked over to the phone and called a friend who would know what to do.  Although I ended up having to get a new computer, I didn’t panic over all I had lost in terms of documents and files.  Instead, I considered the idea that my computer crashing really didn’t matter in the scheme of things.  It was actually a blessing to get a new computer because I was able to start over.  Ten years from now, I don’t think I will remember the computer virus or the hard drive crashing.  Instead, I will remember how I learned about perspective and what truly matters in life. 

Why I come Unglued

Before you start to think that this post will be a running list of the reasons why I come unglued (thanks to the title)— think again.  Instead, I would like to share some real-life, nitty-gritty application, so here goes…

I was angry.  I had let my frustrations build up inside of me to such a degree that I erupted in the ugly cry— you know, that awkward moment when you just can’t get a grip on your tears because things have just completely unraveled beyond your control.  Well, that’s where I was that day, and it was all in front of someone I looked up to and considered a valued mentor.  To say that I was embarrassed would be an understatement.  To make matters worse, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, letting me know that my emotions had gotten the best of me and that this time I had gone too far.

My friend and mentor was kind enough to sit down in front of me and calmly help me rationalize what I was feeling.  We talked for about an hour, working through why I had responded in such a way and what we could do to move beyond the anger.  I left our conversation completely exhausted, and the tearstains were still there as evidence of my meltdown.  I had come completely unglued. 

And then there was the day when I was confronted for something I didn’t do.  I was confused about the blame cast my way, so I stood there dumbfounded while I was accused of something that came as a complete surprise to me.  When I was asked to explain my actions, I found I was so frustrated by the injustice of it all that I simply backed away.  I mumbled something about having a lot to do, and I walked away from the confrontation. 

At first I thought I had done the right thing by walking away and avoiding the conflict, but I quickly realized that I had hurt the other person by fleeing the scene.  I later apologized for any disrespect that I might have communicated, and although the relationship patch-up wasn’t perfect, I did my best to smooth things over.  In that moment, I was seeking to take the shattered pieces of our relationship and glue them back together, but sadly, we never regained a stable connection.  I became unglued, and it cost me in the long run. 

As I read Lysa’s book, both of these circumstances came to mind, and I realized that I mainly became unglued because of three core reasons: anger, fear, and loss of control.  With each encounter, I took a situation that was out of my control and lashed out in a response that was just as out of control as the circumstance.  Lysa’s book asked me to consider the opposite truth; I love the way she articulated the following: “I can face things that are out of my control and not act out of control” (23).  Wow, what an incredible but simple truth!

As I considered the situations I have just recounted, I came to realize that I have a great deal to learn about how I respond to situations that are outside of my control.  I find that when I am no longer in control, I become fearful and it’s hard for me not to panic.  Next week, I’ll talk more about panic versus perspective, but until then, consider why you might come unglued.  Consider how you might work past those out-of-control moments and find that God is the One who is in control. 

The Mirror (Repost)

January 9, 2012

We have now moved past the first week of the New Year and 2012 is off to a running start.  Many people are making resolutions and trying to stay on track.  A news story caught my attention recently when it stated that only 44% of people who make New Year’s resolutions will actually keep them and end up making a change.  With such a discouraging statistic, it’s pretty safe to say that New Year’s resolutions don’t really work. 

But what about having the desire to make a change spiritually?  What would it take to be successful in such an endeavor?  Well, I’m about to find out. 

In my last post, I talked about striving to mirror my relationship with God in all that I do.  So what does this commitment look like in action if I were to put it in place for 2012?  While others are looking into the mirror in order to measure weight lost and gained and physical appearance, perhaps I could look into the mirror and be reminded that I am called to reflect Christ.  Instead of focusing on my outward appearance and seeking to look presentable on the outside, I could look deeper and check the condition of my heart. 

Just last week, I found myself needing to check my attitude and consider if I was truly reflecting Christ in my words and actions.  I was frustrated and feeling as if I was being used as a benefit to someone else.  Nothing that I seemed to do merited any sense of gratitude from this person, and personal resources were implemented as a means to make things easier for this individual.  But did any of this benefit me?  No.  It only made me angry, and I quickly regretted opening myself up to being trampled upon, in a sense. 

Finally, I snapped.  I went online and vented to a friend via Facebook chat.  But instead of feeling better about releasing pent-up frustration, I came away from our conversation feeling worse.  What had I gained from sharing my burden with my friend?  Nothing.  I should have been wiling to serve another with a cheerful heart, but instead, I was succumbing to an attitude that was far from Christ-like. 

I have heard it said that there are certain people in our lives that can be referred to as “Extra Grace Required.”  I would definitely say that I was dealing with one of those people, and in that moment, my goal to serve in 2011 and my projected goal of being a mirror in 2012 suddenly collided.  How could I serve someone who required extra grace on my part and still reflect Christ’s love?

So I drew in a deep breath, took a step back, and closed my mouth.  I wanted to complain about the injustice of the situation and demand I be repaid, but instead, I did my best to quietly serve this person even though my heart wasn’t exactly in it.  It wasn’t easy and I’m still frustrated over what happened, but when I think about where my words of negativity could have taken me, I grimace.  My attitude and thoughts were far from mirroring Christ. 

Needless to say, I learned my lesson, and I am in need of a constant reminder of what it means to reflect Christ in my life.  So as a reminder, I now have a small hand mirror on my desk, and in glancing into its reflection, I am instantly reminded to check my attitude before reaching out to serve. 

I am still learning what it means to reflect Christ while serving, and I’m sure you will read more about this in the weeks to come.  But for now, I pray that my ramblings have caused you to check your own heart condition.