Monday, June 25, 2012

Who are you...really?

In order to write a graduate school entrance essay, I had to watch a film called Paris Je T'aime. It had several film vignettes on it. I was supposed to watch them all, pick one, and write an essay comparing the themes in the vignette to my own life story. 
She was wearing a mask.

The one that stood out to me the most was the one where the young woman was wearing a mask. She drops off her baby at a day care center. As she walks away, her baby starts to cry which prompts her to go back and sing a sweet lullaby to her child. As she sings, her face is alive and full of love. She is living "in the moment", loving and caring for her own flesh and blood. Her face radiates with the love that only a mother has for her child. 

However, a transformation happens in this woman's face as she leaves her child and travels on the subway to take care of her employer's baby. As she walks in to begin her job for the day, her employer's own baby is crying in the nursery. The look on the young woman's face is one of quiet resignation. She blankly slogs in to comfort the stranger's child. In fact, she sings the same song to this child that she sang to her own. But, as she sings, she stares out the window at the city with no emotional interaction with this stranger-child. The blankness is her mask. Only she knows what her mask is truly hiding, but it is hiding something. Probably the deep emotions at having to leave her child to go take care of another. This mask, though, prevents her from living in the moment with the child in her present care.

Are you familiar with that blank look? That "mask"? I am. I have felt it all too often, that look in my soul. The blankness that hides my true feelings and emotions. 

For me, the mask began latching itself to my face and my heart when I was very young. It masked my true self in circumstances where I felt that reflecting my true feelings and emotions would be threatening. The mask shielded my heart from not measuring up, from not feeling good enough, from not being good enough. 

The mask did protect me during the devastation of my parents' divorce, and the emotional turbulence surrounding that. However, in recent years I have realized that the facade I had been putting on to keep the peace in many situations and with certain people, had deadened a part of my soul.

I had been using the mask for far too long and it had taken its toll. Anxiety, depression and high blood pressure had become too close of companions, and I began searching for the underlying causes of these uninvited guests.

It has seemed like a glacial process, but with a trusted Christian counselor and trusted friends, I have been peeling off the mask to reveal the real me underneath it. This is showing the people around me a new self. My real self. Some like it, and some not so much. What is important for me is that I am no longer living behind a false-self mask. I have been realizing what I have been missing for all of my life....a heart fully present. I am discovering a mask-free self that I am at peace with. I am realizing that the co-dependent mask I wore for years to appease others in my world cost me my authenticity. The mask masked my own voice. It only allowed me to speak approving words to those around me, to the sheer detriment to my own heart.

Do you see the underlying truth here? 

Wear the mask----don't be true to self. LIve with discord in your soul, causing anxiety, fear and a host of other negative emotions to brew.

Peel off the mask--be true to yourself. Speak truthfully about yourself and what you need and want. Live in freedom. Live in joy and peace.

I have been meeting true freedom from mask-wearing and it is sweet! It has taken a lot of hard work, and the grace of God working in me and through me, but the real me is emerging. As I have spent time in God's presence, He has been faithful to reveal what's been behind my mask, and healing me. I am truly learning to rest in the great person he has made me to be, and detaching from my false self. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How to live a joy-filled life

Today, my daughter turns 19. She has taught me a lot in her nineteen years.  In her honor, I've come up with the top 10 things that I've learned from her. Here goes.

1. Be yourself. She isn't afraid to just be herself, in whatever situation she's in. She lives carefree, and that is something to be admired. I tend to get bogged down in who I think others want me to be and stop being my real self.

2.  Believe you have something to say.  She started a book review vlog a year and a half ago. She has gotten some negative, and some downright nasty feedback at times. That does not stop her from just putting her two cents out there. 

3.  Don't take life too seriously. She started her freshman year at Iowa State this past fall. She met a lot of great friends from her dorm floor and at the campus ministry. Thankfully, she was very faithful to post pictures of her shenanigans all year on Facebook. From funny videos in the dining center to doing planking on campus, they had fun. My synopsis is that she had more fun in her first year of college than I had in all four years of mine.

4.  Enjoy the simple things. Trying on clothes as a four year old was an event for her. After slipping on each outfit, she would do a little dance in front of the mirror, kicking up her heels, or hand on her hip. This was an event worth celebrating! A week ago, she tried on a fancy dress, took a pic and posted it on Facebook. When she tried it on at home, she twirled in it to show her dad. Simply, joy!

5.  Don't let other people's opinions stop you. Even just to do a blog post, I have to push past the fear of what other people might think of my writing. Or my style. Or just me. There are so many things that Kara has done, or tried, that I admire. Recently, she took out her grade school water color set after seeing an idea on Pinterest. Next thing I know, she comes out of her room having water colored the Iron Man and Captain America emblems. And they are GOOD. Yes, she water colored OUTSIDE THE LINES, but it looks great. She doesn't let that bother her.  I would berate myself for coloring outside the lines and throw the thing away. I mean it. 

6.  Be hospitable. I tend to worry about the tidiness of my home. I use that as a gauge on whether or not I would accept for anyone to see it. Not Kara. She has had her two best friends over several times this summer. Our house is not Better Homes and Gardens perfect. Kara just says, "Mom, they don't care. Their houses aren't perfect either." You know what? I've really enjoyed having them in our home, and I'm learning that other people really do not judge me for having a few things out on the kitchen table that don't belong there. 

7.  Watch movies, especially Sci-Fi. You just might connect on a cool level with your dad and two older brothers. :)

8.  Hang out with people. Relationships are important to Kara. She cares about people, and it shows in how many people really like to spend time with her. She attracts people because of her kindness and her humor. I want to be like that. 

9.  Be a learner. Need a new keyboard installed on your laptop? If you are Kara, you watch a youtube video and teach yourself. She taught herself how to play a ukulele, and how to water color. She has gotten several viruses off of her computer by herself. She has written a novel during National Novel Writing Month. I don't want to shy away from learning new things.

10.  Love God enough to get uncomfortable. At Iowa State she took a class in prep to be a small group leader in her campus ministry. It was called Theology of the Gospel, and it was pretty hard core. They had to memorize a verse a week. They also had to find two people a week to give a questionnaire of the Gospel to. This made Kara very uncomfortable, but she did it. She approached a classmate to ask questions about their belief in Jesus. What an example 
to me! 

Thanks Kara, for what you have taught me in your nineteen years. Thanks also, that even at nineteen you have not forgotten how to live with a carefree and joyful heart. Don't ever let that slip away from you!

Love, Mom

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When your bowls don't match

I've always had this vague sense that I needed to be perfect. I must always show happiness. Anything less than that would cause distress to those around me. 

My kids must behave perfectly. Otherwise, others would think I don't have it together as a mom. 

My house must be perfect. Otherwise, people who might stop by might think I'm a slob.

I should be the perfect cook. Plan perfect meals for my family from all of the food groups. All the time.  In fact, absolute perfection would be to plan, shop AND COOK once a month. Period. No running to the grocery store every week, (or worse yet every day)!

My marriage should be the model relationship. Date nights once a week. Husband opens every door for me, and I should get flowers once a week. (This is just for starters! Poor man!)

Our yard should be immaculate. No weeds. No brown spots. Anywhere. (again, poor man!)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How to live unbridled

The sun is hot. The earth is parched and cracked and thirsty for rain. My masters have been harsh and unrelenting. They have forced me to pull a heavy plow through the cracked and dried earth. I am tired and weary from the workload that has been placed on my shoulders. Day after day the heavy yoke and harness has been strapped on. The bridle, with its blinders, has been slipped over my head and cinched into place. I cannot see my surroundings. Only the hardened earth at my feet.

The harness seems to get heavier each passing day. What makes it even heavier is the harsh criticism from my masters. "C'mon, clod-foot, pick up your feet! Let's move it!". With each chiding command, a strap from my harness strikes me on my back over and over. Somehow, my back never toughens under the strap-slapping blows. Sometimes my inner being cries from the blows to my furry equine skin.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Simply, words.

They have always been important to me. I read a book a long time ago called Words That Hurt, Words That Heal. That about sums it up. We can either hurt someone, or help to bring healing. It is our choice. It is my choice. I don't always choose well. Words are rarely neutral. However, simple words, spoken with kindness usually have the most impact.

One of my top love languages is Words of Affirmation. (from the book, The Five Love Languages) When someone compliments or affirms me, it goes straight to my heart. I feel loved. However, the reverse is also true. When I am criticized or put down, those words really hurt my heart. I don't want to hurt others with my words.

I find that even the simplest of words can make me feel (at the very least) noticed. Like a simple "How are you?".  And, when someone goes the extra mile to ask follow up questions? I feel important. 

What if we all asked, "How are you?" and then really listened for the answer? What if we asked follow up questions to that first one, to probe deeper? We could ask about job or family. (simple, right?) Or, "How was your day?"

If we know someone who is going through the same struggle that we had in the past, we could say, "I know just how you feel." People are craving to be understood.

We could try to look beneath rough exteriors to what might be brewing right under the surface. They may have just heard bad news. Instead of judgement, we could say to ourselves, "I wonder what is going on?" (and genuinely care). 

The Bible has much to say about words, so they must be important to God. He spoke the world and universe into existence by His Word! Matthew 12:37b says, "Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation."

Those are strong words, but they are truth. When we use our words to uplift and heal, we are sowing good seed into our lives, and we are like Christ. Our words can either help or hurt, and they are rarely neutral. How will you use your words? Remember...simple words spoken with kindness mean the most.

Your matters.

What's your story? If you are a living, breathing human, then you have one. Are you aware that just as God is the Author of life, that He is the Author of your story? He is in the business of writing each person's life to reveal something more about His divine story, A.K.A.: Himself. What an awesome thought!

This means that your story, the one with those heartaches and hopes that you'd maybe rather not talk about, reveals who you are to this world.

 Dr. Dan B. Allender says, in his book To Be Told, "Both your story and mine have unique characters, surprising plot twists, central themes, tension and suspense, and deep significance." 

As you contemplate your own story, God's desire is for you to join Him as co-author! Allender adds, "I am to keep writing [the story of my life] moving forward into the plot that God has woven soul." How do I do that?

I think this means we must live our lives with a discerning heart, ever aware that God is at work continually authoring our story, no matter what may be happening in our lives. It also means risking to tell our story to others. God desires for our stories to be told. As we tell our stories, the good, the bad and the ugly, we are transformed. And our story will be used to bring transformation to our listeners.

As you ponder your story, ask: Who am I? What about God am I most uniquely suited to reveal to others? How has the love and grace of God been shown in my life?

God, in His sovereignty, has see fit to intersect our stories with each other and ultimately with His story, the gospel. It is only in knowing our story and giving it away that we will discover the deepest meaning in our lives. 

Thoughts adapted from the book To Be Told, by Dr. Dan B. Allender, Ph.D.
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