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Friday, April 15, 2016

Friends with the Martian

One of my girls came home from college a few months ago and we talked about friendship. Having walked through transitions with friends, both of us. We sat on the couch in my safe place and talked about seeing differently, having the hard conversation, showing empathy. It is all such a journey. 

I sigh and look up and feel my palms open. To be in relationship with people is to live with arms open wide. To be a gracious and kind, humble and serving friend, co-worker, daughter, sister means to live with open palms. I want to close my fists and hold tight, but deep calls out to deep that there is something more whole and free. 

I read The Martian a few months ago. The movie was good, but the book was exceptional. It is a fantastically scientific book, full of tense moments and space humor. There was this one sentence early on in the book that I kept reading over and over again. I still see it in my mind now. The astronaut Mark Watney (aka Matt Damon) is stranded on the planet Mars and as his team on Earth works to get him home, they begin to describe what kind of person Mark is and what kind of asset he is to their team. He's witty and a jokester, resourceful and a genius. But it's this sentence that hits the core of who Mark is..

Mark not only fits in well with any social group, he's a catalyst to make the group work better.

A catalyst is a person or thing that causes an event to happen. In this case, the event is that the team works better. The group is more successful because of Mark's presence. He makes his team of astronauts better. This sentence gets me. It makes me teary just thinking about it. I strive for this. 

Make others better.

Lose the expectations. We all have named or unnamed, fair or unfair expectations and standards in our mind that we hold above other people. We expect them to call, come over, help with this, ask about that. And when they don't, we are crushed. These expectations often aren't communicated, and so unknowingly, we have set people up to fail. And when we set our friends up to fail, we fail. It is an exhausting way of life. Let's agree to lose the expectations. Let's be open with one another, let's meet halfway, let's talk it out. Let's stop expecting perfection and start showering each other with grace. See differently. 

Assume the best. There will come moments when you have a choice. You will have heard something about your friend or you will have experienced a moment of hurt. Maybe it's all legitimate. But what if we chose to believe the best possible thing about one another? What if we chose the truth? To take people at their word, in the purest way possible? What if there was no more gray area or weird reality confusion about this or that? What if we just chose the best and consequently, chose freedom? Sometimes thoughts can create a reality that is dark and isn't even real. Tell those lies that enough is enough. You're choosing the best. 

Be motivated by love and kindness. Let all your words be seasoned with grace. Let your actions be a reflection of love. Let your reactions be that of kindness. Value the image of God in one another. I don't think this has always been my natural tendency, but I really deep down long for it. I have a natural instinct to fight for things and to fight for people, but I've tried to discern where kindness fits into the fight? But I'm learning that the valuing of people is the fight. That when we fight for the goodness in people, all people, we are fighting to elevate the Image of God before anything else. 

No one is defined by what they do. This is a big one. It's the best news I think I have ever heard. We are not defined by the good things we do and we are not defined by the mistakes we make. We are defined by something far, far greater. Our identities are eternally cemented in who God says we are. Let's choose to operate by this. Let's choose to see this about people, to choose personhood over performance. It's how we want others to see us because it's how God sees us. The core of who we are has nothing to do with what we do, praise the Lord. But the core of who we are should affect what we do and how treat people. Let's act like we believe this. 

Onward and upward, just as the Martian would do. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Celebrate Steps

About a month ago, I went on a retreat alongside my team. It was one of the richest and most refreshing few days, yet it was also provided some of the most challenging examinations. We talked about the inner life and emotional health. I came back exhaustingly freed, emotionally drained, and yet it felt like the beginning of a very significant journey. A few weeks later, I received some break-your-heart feedback and I feel as though I am rebuilding as God is refining. 

What I have learned in the midst of the rebuilding is the power of steps. 

We talk about it a lot as a team, what it means to celebrate steps. We value the steps other people - whether it be students, parents, or leaders - are taking in their relationships, their faith, and their identities. We work to make awareness of steps an integral part of the fabric of what we do. If we fail to see the steps, we fail to see the work God is doing all around. If the big picture is our only sight, then we miss the goodness happening right in front of us. 

There is the seeing, and then there is the celebrating.

I don't think I've ever done a good job of celebrating the steps in my own life. 

I have places I'd like to be, I know God is doing a work in me, and the big picture can feel so huge. I have a vision for my life and I feel great joy at where I see the road of my life. But to get there feels like a mountain. And then there is the gym I need to get to, a Sabbath I need to take, schoolwork I need to keep up with, a job I need to do, friendships I need to maintain, a family I need to keep in touch with, meals I need to cook. All of it makes you not take any steps at all. The gaps are glaring at times, but I genuinely see the areas where God is present and asking me to lean into Him. 

One of the biggest encouragements from our retreat was the relief that I could move forward. I was equipped to acknowledge all that God had revealed and all that I needed, and then take it one day at a time. 

So, I've decided to let myself off the hook to see the steps. I've decided discouragement at not achieving the end result is no longer allowed. I've decided "enough" is no more. I've decided celebration. 

I walk once a week at the Riverwalk. I cannot get myself to the gym enough at this season of my life at the frequency I want. I used to live in that tension. But I do know that physical health is important, movement is critical. So now, I walk. I count it as soul care and I get outside. I throw comparison to the wind and I walk. Sometimes I have a companion and the conversations have been so life giving. My walks are a buffer between work and school and it has left me light and ready to tackle the next shift of schoolwork. 

I say yes to game nights. The other day, some friends invited me over for a game night. I looked at the number of pages I needed to read and felt the crunch of responsibility. But my new step now is to value friendships and so I chose to go. I laughed harder than I had in a really long time. The pages went unread, but I just read them another time. Friendships have often fallen to the wayside because time feels sooooo critical. The big picture is to cultivate genuine friendships, but the step is saying yes to game nights. 

I don't use my phone on Saturdays. This one makes me laugh, because my friend Kendall is always reminding me of this one. I am learning I can put the phone down, I actually prefer to put the phone down, and I can choose Saturday to lay on the couch watching SVU with my mom or spend it organizing, cleaning, and running errands or spend it out and about or traveling to see friends. Sometimes things can wait, and that doesn't mean excellence has to be compromised.

I practice vulnerability. In recent bouts of shame, I have sent text on text on text and have been met with surprisingly tender responses. It has left me all weepy and has relieved so much of the pressure I couldn't find ways to relieve on my own. I am communicating better - with myself, with God, with others - which has helped me become more aware of how to navigate through such strongly felt emotions. Each expression of vulnerability makes me stronger and puts quite a bit of fuel in my tank. Shame loses power when shared.

I see these steps and I celebrate. 
Life is full and I am learning to live it as such. I am learning there is much truth to the cliche of life as a marathon, not a sprint. We are journeying and each step takes us closer to home and closer to the heart and character of God. Change is deceiving and process is weird, but we move forward!

I have a really sweet friend who is so good at remembering this. She has such an awareness of God and hardly ever sees small things as coincidences. She sees them as divine appointments. She actually just texted me as I sat here writing, about how she felt moved by the Lord as she sat in her room reflecting on the day. A resounding yes. God is so good. He is honored in the journey. He is present in the moments. 

And then, of course, one of my favorite visuals..
How do you eat an elephant? 
One bite at a time. 

Savor and celebrate those bites. 
Savor and celebrate the steps.