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Christian Living

Saying “No” to the Good.

I’ve been sick this week, which means I am further behind on my writing goals and further behind on my other goals and commitments. And the house is a disaster. So as we (hopefully) jump back into our regular schedule, Evan and I have been talking about how to be wise with our time. We’ve also been talking about how to make time for connecting with people–probably because we spent a whole week talking about connection on our podcast, Epic Every Day.

So how do you make time for things?

I’d argue it’s impossible to talk about saying “yes” to thing without talking about saying “no.” In Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend talk about how we are all gardens, metaphorically. There are four types of gardens or people: 1) the garden with no walls, 2) the garden with no gate, 3) the garden with a gate that keeps out the good and lets in the bad, and 4) the garden with a gate that lets in the good and keeps out the bad.

For a person with no walls, they don’t have a “no.” They say “yes” to everyone, so anyone can come in and pick the fruit in the garden. This person often doesn’t have any fruit left to feed themselves so they’re starving all the time. They also don’t have time to cultivate the garden so there’s not loads of fruit for those who wander in.

The person who has no gate doesn’t let anyone in at all. They keep their own fruit, but miss out on the joy of relationship. Personally, I believe that results in another kind of starvation.

Then there are the people who have walls with a gate. Some of us are raised in such a way that we don’t know how to keep the bad out or how to let the good in. We don’t know how to let people love us. We don’t think we’re worth protecting so we just let bad people wander in and steal our fruit. We’re the people who automatically assume a criticism is about us (and personal) but can’t accept a compliment to save our lives.

Obviously, the person to be is the one with the last garden. Even if you’re in this place, you’ll have a tendency towards one of the other three–something that you came from or that you can slide back into. People with the last garden believe they’re worth protecting so they keep the bad stuff out of their garden and let the good in. They let themselves be loved and joyfully give to those God has called them to give to.

Our time is an indicator of what kind of person we are. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to be someone who does exactly the things God’s called me to do. I love doing what God’s called me to do because it’s fun and life-giving. It feeds my soul. It creates margin even in the midst of doing it. On the other hand, it’s also hard and takes energy to do.

For me, I don’t usually get sucked into letting the bad in. I used to be there, but I’ve grown past it. I am, however, way, way, way more likely to get sucked into focusing on the good over the best. You know what I mean–when you do something that’s not bad but it’s not the best use of your time? Scrolling through Facebook, extra housecleaning, messing around with my phone, organizing my recipe cards, reading, checking our finances more than once a day, liking people’s posts instead of hanging out with the person in real life… the list goes on and on and on. Some of it is just stuff that is the best when I do it at the right time–for example, we organize our finances and have a money meeting on Fridays, but sometimes I’m tired and avoiding other, harder things so I’ll check mint.com just to “categorize the latest receipts” (even when there aren’t receipts). It’s not a bad thing to do, it’s just not the right time to do it.

So often, it’s the good that keeps me from doing the best. I can rationalize the good in order to avoid the work that comes with the best. I might not be as fulfilled as if I engaged in the best, but I don’t have to work up the energy either.

Connection is like that: we’re too busy doing all those “good” things or we’re too busy engaging in the “good” relationships or we don’t have good gates so we let people in who suck us dry. It takes work to say “no” to the good and and to go after the best.

But really, is the “good” good? I mean, if it keeps us from our best, is it good? Or does it become bad?

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Christian Living

Being the Right Tool for the Job

The past few weeks have been unusual schedule-wise for us. My kids were complaining this morning that they just want a week where we have a normal schedule where we do school in the normal order 🙂 You know it’s bad when the kids are whining because they want to do more school!

I have to admit it’s been stressful for me as well. I love our normal schedule–mostly because we have structured our normal schedule in such a way that it pushes us forward in our goals just by following it. Normally, I get time to work on my writing six days a week. Normally, we work on our podcast. Normally, the house gets cleaner from week to week rather than deteriorating.

Anyway! Talking about being centered on our podcast, Epic Every Day, this week has had me mulling over how I’m doing in that area. Being centered is about living out of the essence of who God has made you (and me) to be. It’s about making sure you know yourself well and the things you do are the things you were designed to do. For instance, if you’re a screwdriver, you shouldn’t be pounding nails into a wall. If you’re an introvert, you’re probably not called to do a job with lots of people.

This idea was such a revelation to me. I was so used to doing what needed to be done regardless of whether it was the best use of my time. God has designed each of us with certain natural talents–for example, not everyone is energized by writing so not everyone takes the time to learn the necessary skills. Writing is something I’m passionate about and, hopefully, getting better at. It would be a waste of time for me (and for the person who received my work) to draw for a living. It’s not something I’m naturally talented at–nor am I willing to put in the time to increase my skills. It would be better for me to do the writing and for someone else to do the illustrations.

Proverbs 17:24 says, “Sensible people keep their eyes glued on wisdom, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth” (NLT). It’s wisdom to do the things God’s made us to do. We know that when we look at a tool. When my computer’s graphics card died (again!) this week, I didn’t go looking for pliers because I needed a mini screwdriver. Tools are not interchangeable, and neither are people. In the Church, we need our eyes to see and our ears to hear–we need everyone to do the job they’re designed for (1 Cor. 12) so we can all thrive. My life is better when you do what you’re called to do, and your life is better when I’m faithful too–whether we see the immediate effects or not.

So what are you called to do? What are you naturally talented at? Or what are you passionate about? I’m naturally talented at gathering information and I’m passionate about natural health, therefore, I know a lot about natural health stuff.

One way we can keep our eyes glued on wisdom is to write down what we’re supposed to be doing and then look at it regularly. I find I do much better when I have a sticky note of goals on my calendar and read through it out loud every day. It’s amazing how keeping my eyes on the finish line can motivate me 🙂 Besides, as my tai chi instructor likes to say, you can’t hit a bullseye if you’re looking at the wall the target is on–you have to focus on the bullseye.

Another way is to look at your schedule: is your normal schedule structured so that it will push you forward towards your goals? Do you have habits that create progress in the areas where you doing what you’re designed to do? If this is a struggle for you, I highly recommend reading JB Glossinger’s book, Sacred 6. It’s definitely helped bring this into focus for me!

Bottom line: Be the right tool for the job, and if you’re not, let someone else do it.

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Christian Living

Failing well

I recently started working through Lysa Terkeurst’s Bible study “The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands.” I’m really enjoying it!! I definitely needed to hear the importance of prioritizing this week.

In session 3, she talks about the difference between an error and an end: “An error is an unintentional mistake; an end is a termination,” (p. 89). She was talking about how fear of stepping out of God’s will can paralyze us. We get stuck in the belief that failure means an end–a mistake from which there’s no recovery, no way to fix the mistake. I have to admit that’s my tendency. I think it comes from having had situations where relationships ended no matter what I tried.

But errors are unintentional mistakes that God redeems. If we’re trying to follow God and we don’t do it perfectly (who does?!), God is able to redeem that error into something beautiful. He can use it to change our lives for the better and to change others’ lives for the better.

I’m reminded of the net under tightrope walkers. If they make a mistake, the net is there to catch them, to keep them safe. And then they can try again. There’s a freedom in knowing one doesn’t have to be perfect.

It’s like Carol Dweck talks about with a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset is one where you believe your brain can become smarter, you can learn new skills. You make mistakes because you know that it creates new neural pathways in your brain, allowing you to come closer to attaining your goal.

We’ve been talking about surrender all week on our podcast, Epic Every Day, and how it takes guts to surrender to God. It’s not easy. Mistakes are a place where surrender comes in handy. It brings God’s redemption into play.

And it aligns us with what’s already true–we can’t make any situation (mistake or not) come out right, regardless of how hard we try. I often hold myself to the standard of making things come out the way I think they should, but it’s a ridiculous standard. I am as incapable of directing circumstances as I am of directing the wind.

Obviously, that isn’t to say that our actions don’t matter. They do–they matter more than we can understand. We don’t have time to waste on getting caught up in inanities, in the busyness of life. We have to do the things God has called us to do. We have to apply the CSC’s (being calm, surrendered, centered, connected, & complete) or we’ll miss out on freedom and abundance and peace. Those things are worth fighting for–at least for me.

Lysa references Proverbs 3:5-6 and argues that the opposite of trusting God is trying to figure everything out on our own. She has three different spectrums as a measure of where one is at with trusting God: what degree thought about the situation, what degree you’ve prayed about the situation, what degree you’ve entrusted the outcome of the situation to God.

As I was placing myself on those spectrums, it was definitely convicting. I often pray because I’m trying to convince God to work in my situation, rather than praying out of trust. Or I’ll get stuck trying to piece together every possible scenario and what the best thing to do about each of them is and forget to pray.

That’s not who I want to be. I want to be someone who makes mistakes well because I am learning and growing and because I believe God can redeem them, rather than someone who avoids acting out of the fear of making mistakes.

So what about you? How do you handle mistakes?

Failing Well

Christian Living

Taking the Jack out of the box

Last week was really busy. We had stuff going on every day; ironic that we spent the week talking about calm on our podcast.

Anyway, as I was attempting to find calm in the middle of the craziness, my knee-jerk reaction was to blame my lack of calm on my circumstances. Isn’t that what we do? If the cat wasn’t sick… if I had more energy… if my schedule was less packed… etc., etc. It’s so easy to look at stress and blame circumstances.

There’s a problem with that though: stress is a heart issue. Applying a circumstance change to a heart issue doesn’t solve anything. It’d be like a doctor giving you headache medicine for your cough. Yeah, they’re both medicine, but it’s not really going to help.

Somehow just recognizing that I was applying the wrong remedy to my problem has made a big difference. When I feel myself getting stressed, I can take a second and ask what’s causing the stress. Instead of telling myself that it’s due to something I have no control over (e.g., having a sick cat) and then being doomed to hang out in the stress until the circumstance change, I’ve been looking for a second answer. Maybe I’m actually stressed about something else and the cat is just triggering my stress. Or maybe I had a bad experience with sick cats.

We all carry baggage of some kind. You might hate vanilla scented candles because your grandmother sprayed vanilla perfume on every blessed thing in her house. Our previous experiences with something can cause it to have more emotional weight than what the isolated thing should weigh.

I’m such a huge fan of EFT/Tapping for working through that stuff. Even if you don’t have PTSD, we’ve also had smaller traumas throughout our lives–it’s just the nature of living in a broken world. And all those smaller traumas are often what’s actually causing our stress. About a year ago, I added Tapping to my morning routine and it’s made a world of difference–it’s now my go-to tool any time I feel stressed. Sometimes when I start Tapping, I’ll find myself saying statements that I didn’t realize were connected to my stress. It’s an amazing tool both for figuring out what’s going on in your heart and for dealing with your heart problems. If you’re not familiar with Tapping, you can check out a tutorial at www.eft.mercola.com.

I’ve been thinking about Ruth and how we need the kind of determination she shows. In Ruth 1, Naomi gives her a couple opportunities to go back to her father’s house. Ruth could have stayed with her family, in her hometown, living with people who were just like her. Instead, she chooses to leave all that to move to a different country where the culture is vastly different. She chooses to take Yahweh as her God.

Dealing with heart problems is hard. It’s not the easy road by any stretch. However, heart problems will just keep coming up every time your circumstances trigger them, until you address them. It’s sort of like a jack in the box–turning the handle may cause the “jack” to jump up, but it doesn’t put him in the box. Take the jack out of the box and you don’t have to dread circumstances.

So, just to recap: stress is a heart problem. A heart problem requires a heart solution–not a circumstances solution. And looking into our hearts, solving the heart problems, that requires some serious determination. I pray God gives you (and me) a dose of the kind of determination Ruth had.

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Christian Living

How do you know what you know?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a crisis of faith that involved how you know what you know. I remember in college when we were covering epistemology (how you know what you know) coming down for breakfast one morning and announcing I was having an existential crisis 🙂

It still makes me smile even though it felt so serious at the time. How we know what we know is a serious matter. It’s the underpinnings of everything in a lot of ways. How do you know that you exist? How do you know that I exist? How do I know that this computer exists? What about the library table I’m blogging from?

And what about the Bible? Without a solid method of figuring out what’s real and what’s not, there’s no reason to hang onto the truth found there. These no reason even to believe in a God or in truth itself. And from there, we all devolve into not having any best way to live, we’re ships adrift in a strange sea without a compass.

I hope you can see why it’s important to know how you know what you know.

So how do we know what we know?

We don’t. Not without there being someone who can tell us what’s true. We need a third-person perspective on the nature of reality in order to know what’s true. Like the fish in a fishbowl. They don’t even know that they’re in water because it’s what they live in (I actually expound on this in my book, Tales from a Spacious Place). Or like the characters in a book who can’t know everything. It’s impossible for us to know everything about our universe. We need someone to tell us about it. We also need a creator who created the world to have coherence with our senses–a world where we can learn about what’s true through what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and feel (sixth sense sort of feeling). Without that, I may perceive this table as smooth and hard whereas you may perceive it as fluffy.

This is why God’s transcendence is one of my absolute things about God! Transcendence means He is completely other than everything else. He has a true third-person perspective on reality. He created the universe and knows all there is to know about it. He is outside of our “water” (time), and able to see things from the beginning to the end. He knows people’s hearts. There’s nothing that He doesn’t know.

Which is why we can know stuff. He provides methods for us to learn about His creation: our senses, the Bible, and inventions He’s given us the materials and ingenuity to create (microscopes, telescopes, x-ray machines, etc., etc.).

This week on our podcast, Epic Every Day, we got to talk about how all truth is God’s truth. That’s such a huge part of my worldview. If I didn’t believe God had created ways for us to learn truth, I think I would never get out of bed. My soul shrivels up when I’m not doing things that matter, and I’d go nuts if I had no idea what was important.

One of my friends and I were talking about how confusing it is when your parents tell you something is both true and not-true. It leaves you unsure of your own judgment. If someone you trust tells you that something is white and you think it’s black, you question yourself. If they consistently give you conflicting information, it’s impossible for you to trust that you’ve got things right at any given time.

Some of you have had parents like that. But God isn’t that way. He tells us truth. And that gives us the foundation to be able to explore, to study, to learn, to grow. To do things that matter.

God is also a God who listens, so if there’s something we don’t understand, He’s more than willing to answer. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV). I’m continually in awe of the fact that God doesn’t tell us how dumb our questions are. He doesn’t make little sarcastic comments when we ask for help. He’s patient and tender with us, like a loving Father with the child He delights in (Prov. 3:11-12).

I love that we can ask God to tell us about life!

Knowing how I know what I know is why God’s transcendence is one of my absolute favorite things about God.

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Tales from a Spacious Place excerpt (fish in water)

“Some restrictions can free you,” I began, like a bored student parroting back a set of half-grasped words. Then understanding came in a blinding flash. I sat stock-still, amazed. “You’re talking about things like music lessons or physical training, aren’t You? If you restrict yourself by practicing or training, it actually opens up new possibilities. It creates freedom to do things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to accomplish.”[i]

“Yes!”

“But then not all restrictions free you,” I added, thinking back to injustices, like slavery, which were often within the realm of legality.

“Right. Think about physical training. Suppose a person trained to fly like a bird, using only his body. He could spend his life strengthening his muscles and studying birds, but would those restrictions help him achieve his goal?”

“No.” I snickered, then realized I’d done things that were likely just as foolish.

“And would his life be fulfilling, or would it be wasted?”

“Wasted.”

“Do you see that this person is less himself? The wrong restrictions dehumanize you. So, as you were saying, not all of them are freeing—”

I ground my teeth. “And now, I suppose, we’re back to how to determine which ones are freeing and which will suck the life out of you.” I didn’t want to talk about it!

Jesus smiled at me. “There are fish in this pond.”

I blinked at Him a few times, then decided to just go with it. “Yes, yes there are,” I said, noting the many ripples disturbing the water’s surface. The fish were in a feeding frenzy.

“Do you suppose the fish know they need water?” He asked, idly slipping His fingers into the pond.

“I have no idea.”

He stood up and held out a hand. “Let’s go find out.”

I gulped. “Um, okay, sure.” I took His hand.

 

I began to shrivel and shrink. It was an unpleasant sensation, like being squished into a box much too small. Then all at once, I was a fish, out of water. It was exceedingly uncomfortable.

I flopped about, my gills gasping for water until Jesus unceremoniously plopped me into the pond. I gulped deep breaths of water. Much better! What in the world was all that near-suffocation about? I swam a bit and was delighted to discover how well my new fins and tail worked.

Jesus dove in after me, now a fish Himself. “So what do you think?”

“If I’m going to be a fish, I prefer to be a fish in the water rather than out,” I said primly.

“Why’s that?”

“Fish are not designed to breathe air!” I slashed a fin downward, trying to emphasize my point, but mostly just flailing.

“So?”

“They can’t function well without water. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the vast majority of fish can’t survive outside it.”

“Aha, I see you’ve found another freedom-enhancing restriction.”

I didn’t have anything to say to that. I floated there, my mouth opening and closing repeatedly as I cast about for a suitable reply. None came to mind. My only hope was that I just looked fishy, not ridiculous.

Jesus waited a few moments, then asked, “Shall we go find a fish to chat with?”

I tried to nod, and off we swam with Him leading the way. Here, flecks of something glimmered in the sunlight and the water was comfortably warm. Though it was murky, I found that I could see clearly enough. In fact, near the surface a plethora of bugs lingered. I thought hungrily of dinner, then brought myself up short. I may have looked like a fish, but I refused to eat like one.

The farther down we went, the gloomier and chillier it became. After a bit, we found a large fish swimming purposefully along with an air of self-importance.

“Excuse me, sir, could you spare a moment?” Jesus asked.

The fish looked us over and apparently decided we were worthy of his attention. “I suppose so. You are not denizens of our fair country. You must be from the other side,” he said, as though uttering a shrewd pronouncement.

I wished I’d had a fish-sized monocle to hand—or flipper?—him. It would have perfectly completed the picture of his pomposity. I stifled giggles lest I offend his self-importance.

“You’re right, we aren’t from around here. Would you tell us about your country?” Jesus asked pleasantly.

The fish bobbed up and down in the water. “Of course. It is always wise to familiarize oneself with the locality one is visiting. Our country is a delightful place, almost magnetic. Obviously, you must be aware of this fact since you, too, have been drawn here. Food is plentiful and so are neighbors. There are plenty of the right sorts of fish who make their homes here.” He seemed to swell ever so slightly. “I, myself, am a fish of some standing in the community and can recommend a hostelry, if you so desire.”

“Actually, we were wondering if you could tell us more about your country. Where are its borders?”

The fish stared at Jesus for a moment, as though trying to ascertain if his intelligence was being insulted. Apparently he decided that we must be applying to his magnificent wisdom, or perhaps were merely impaired in some way. In any event, he answered the question kindly. “The borders are, of course, the murk and the standing stones.”

“And what exactly is the murk?”

“The murk is part of the shallows, where the world is smaller.”

“Where the shallow water is?”

“Water? What is that?” he asked.

“Water. The liquid medium we’re moving through. Separate from the air.”

The fish’s eyes bulged out even more. “You’ve been talking to those frogs, haven’t you? Well, I’ve no time to waste on nonsense. I should have pegged you for that sort of fish immediately!” And with that, he harrumphed away, muttering something about troublemakers.

“I think that should be enough. Would you like to stay here, or shall we find somewhere warmer to talk?” Jesus asked me.

“I think I’m ready to be a human again, preferably one on dry land,” I said, thinking longingly of sunshine. The water was mostly dark now and getting cold as the sun continued to sink.

“Okay, let’s go somewhere more comfortable.”

Jesus swam toward a pile of large rocks in the middle of the lake. I wondered if these were said standing stones. He headed for a small tunnel in their midst, and I hurried after Him. The tunnel abruptly darkened, then I found myself standing, once more human, in a narrow hallway with Him. He opened a door in front of us and invited me in.

[i]       Keller, “Absolutism.”

Christian Living

Love lives differently

This week on our podcast, Epic Every Day, we’ve been talking about starting new things. As I was reading through my journal, I was reminded of this great chart Priscilla Shirer has in her Bible study on the Sabbath, Breathe. If you haven’t done it, I highly, highly recommend it!

Priscilla starts her book with a quote from Harriet Tubman: “I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.” Isn’t that the truth? A person has to know they’re in bondage before they can get free. And sometimes, the only way to tell whether you’re in bondage to something is to take a break from it. Can you go without coffee for one day? Can you go without computer games for one day? What about sugar? Or TV? Or [insert your go-to method of dealing with stress]?

So often, we are slaves and we don’t even know it. It’s an excellent strategy for keeping us ineffective and unproductive in our faith.

Anyway! Priscilla has this great chart in Breathe. Take a look (& take the time to read through it slowly and thoughtfully):

Slave hoard–Free people give.
Slaves live fearfully–Free people live lovingly.
Slaves live with closed fists–Free people live with open hands.
Slaves live from a posture of lack–Free people live from a posture of abundance.
Slaves live from a  stance of deficiency–Free people live from a place of holy expectation.
Slaves never think they have enough–Free people believe that whatever they don’t have, God will graciously, miraculously, and abundantly give in His timing.
Slaves keep going–Free people can willingly discipline themselves to stop.

Breathe, p. 76

 

Slaves live out of fear. Fear is one of the big reasons I don’t start new things. It’s scary to do something outside of my comfort zone. Uncomfortable by definition. But that’s not who God has called us to be.

Re-reading through this chart, I found myself wondering what new things I would start now if I was living out of love rather than fear. I mean, I have things on my radar to start if we ever have the finances to do it (for example, a trauma house or a scholarship for natural health). But what about now?

Maybe it would be as simple as being a little more open in my relationships. Or maybe I’d be a little more relaxed about my schedule–that’s definitely something I tend to hang onto with a white-knuckled fist. Or maybe I’d jump into something insane like actually publishing my second book (it’s been languishing on my computer). There are loads of things we could be doing at any given moment. You don’t have to do what you did yesterday–you could quit your job and join a circus. I wonder what we’d learn about ourselves and what God’s called us to do if we were a little more open-minded about how our lives could change.

There’s this great clip of Will Smith talking about fear and skydiving. He points out that so much of our fear is leading up to the thing. We wreck our lives being terrified of things that haven’t even happened–missing meals and sleep and not enjoying time with the people we love out of dread for something that we aren’t doing in that moment. And then, often, we find (if we do the thing we’re scared of) that it wasn’t as scary as we made it out to be ahead of time.

So how about you? Where are you living out of fear? And what would it look like if you were instead living out of love? What new things would you start?

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