Thursday, September 8, 2011

Confessions of a 20-Something: I don't know who I am


We hear all about how adolescence is about finding out who we are, what we like and how that prepares us for adulthood.

Well, today, as a twentysomething, I'm making a confession: I still don't know who I am.

Some days I see the Laura who loves people, who is gentle and kind, who smiles, laughs and encourages others. She is a blessing to people and she's glimpses of the woman of God I aspire to be one day. But the problem with this Laura is that she's transient. Oh so quickly she can turn into depressed Laura, anxious Laura, angry Laura, or worse yet, destructive Laura who can take out her frustrations on herself and others. On days when she gets up grumpy and continues through the day with short remarks and a frown, she scares me. And I don't know who she is. So many times I think to myself, she can't possibly be me. I don't even recognize her!

I know she's not the Laura God created me to be. I know she's not the woman of God who mentors and counsel's teens; who advocates and educates youth leaders about the hard issues in mental health and society. I cannot help by stand back and stare at her, appalled that she is a part of me.

In my mind I can visualize the strong, joyful woman I want to become, and sometimes I catch reflections of her in myself. But reality is stronger and many days I can't imagine how I will ever be able to breach the chasm that separates my selfish sinful heart from softening into a woman after God's own heart.

But even in the hard days, the times of defeat and discouragement, I press on. It may not be today, tomorrow, or even months from now, but one day I am confident that GOD will mold my heart into a vessel He can use. I will keep trying, keep pursuing, keep seeking until I change--because I've learned it's not so much the finished result that will satisfy me, but rather the daily journey to get there.

**Ally Spotts is hosting a blog series where twentysomethings are sharing their confessions. Check them out here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Quarter-Life Crisis

There are dishes piled up in the sink, and papers strewn all over my bedroom floor. But the piles are unnoticed as I sit here typing as tears trickle down my cheeks.

What is going on you may ask? Well, it’s simple really. I’m having a quarter-life crisis.

I have been feeling the isolation, questioning and confusion for months. I watch incredible people take earth-shaking risks and find God’s blessing, and people who drop everything to do what they love. They know it’s not easy, but as they follow God’s call, they have found peace, strength and adventure.

And I want it to. My heart longs to hear the Spirit’s soft whisper of guidance and direction, to know that I am following His lead, not leading Him! I desire to live each day trusting that the provision will always be there, that even in the hardest of times, He will always take care of me.

I long, overall, for community. Tonight, my two wonderful friends, sisters and housemates (though one has now struck out on her own), went to a church that strives to create an environment of belonging in the local area. They are the true essence of a community—a safe place that reaches inward for communal strength from their God, then rushes outward to spread that love to everyone they come into contact with. And it is a beautiful sight.

And it makes my heart ache to be a part of such things. To interact with people outside of the church office where I work. To reach teenagers outside of the church building where I serve. To get OUT into the community and love on people who desperately need Jesus’ love shown to them.

So I am on a search to find God’s heart, and to find my place in His plan. To dream with Him and to live out those dreams every day of my life for the rest of my life. It will not be easy. It will not be comfortable. It will most definitely not be safe. But God never told us it would be simple and fun. The Bible doesn’t promise us a happy, secure life. Yes, it says we should be filled with the joy of the Lord, but even that can happen during a trial.

I am determined to move away from stagnation and get out of the rut. Who’s with me?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Quitting Life and Other Lessons from DreamLand

Recently, I discovered I am not a 9-5 girl. In other words, I am not an office girl. A one-job girl. A sit here all day part-time or full-time girl.

I have too much energy. Too many dreams. I want to change the world, love teenagers, start programs, and write books at the beach. I want to take photographs, organize people's closets and speak to befuddled parents and youth workers. I want to shine light into the darkness and bring unspoken issues that are full of shame into the spotlight.

And besides, the 9-5 routine makes me feel stuck. I am a forward moving girl. I hate standing around. While I enjoy the stability of routine, I hate stagnation. I want freedom, new experiences, and the liberty to find my destiny--every day of the week!

I do NOT want to sit at a desk for the rest of my life. I don't even want to do it now! If you know me, don't get me wrong--I love my job. I just don't love my job. I enjoy working in ministry and I like the behind the scenes typing and organizing. I'm good at it. But I believe God created me for bigger things.

I came to this conclusion after realizing that I live for the weekends. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are my only days when I do not have the same work routines and I dream of seeing my house, cleaning, shopping, going places and hanging out with people. It's adventure time.

The four to five days in between are, well, dreaded and dragged through. Sadly, if I am not enjoying four days out of seven, I'm missing more than half of my life. That's a scary thought folks! I dread going to bed because I dread getting up in the morning. On some occasions, I want to just give up and quit everything.

Part of this comes from my overdoing personality that takes on more than I can adequately handle in a healthy manner. But even when I try to simplify and reduce my commitments, there is little satisfaction. Last week I found the blog of a 23 year old lady who quit her 9-5 job to live her dreams as a freelance photographer/graphic designer/blog designer, and let me tell you, I so wish I could be her! The funny thing is, I think God is using all these influences to shape me--to prepare me for a life so totally opposite 9-5. It might start sooner than I think. It might take longer than I think. I don't know what God's plans are. But I know I am ready for a change. For a radical revolution to the next step in life.

I have been told by adults and mentors that they expect nothing less from me than changing the world. Two other adults have told me that they want to be like me when they grow up. I know on every level that God has huge things in store for me. And that scares me out of my mind. But I also know that God's adventures, while radical and crazy and oftentimes, seemingly impossible, are the exact places we need to be, and I'll take that any day.

Today, I wish I could quit everything and live my dreams. And guess what? There's no telling when that will happen!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Wisdom to Decide

Recently I have been faced with some very life-changing and directing decisions. The impulse decision-maker I am is tempted to make a split-second choice, but I know wisdom follows another road. One of patience, of prayer and seeking. It is all too easy to conveniently "forget" to pray about a big decision, and then I find myself (again) a few months later trying to scramble around and pick up the pieces after the situation exploded in front of me. Thankfully, I have not been burned too badly, and instead have learned some valuable lessons.

1. It's okay to wait. I am not, by nature, a very patient person. I want what I want when I want it. The little girl inside me has yet to learn the true gratification from delayed response. She knows that patience is a virtue, but she would rather not wait! Most of us have some work to do in this area, and God keeps chipping away at our impatience. In the end, what has been patiently waited for is usually always better.

2. It's okay to slow down (even stop once in a while!). I am a do-er. I cannot sit still for very long without looking forward towards the next activity or project. It is very difficult for me to remain completely present in the moment because my mind is always two to three steps ahead of me. This past week I began to realize just how much I miss by not being fully present. I do not aspire to live my life this way! So, I am learning that it is okay to put things on hold and relax--to wait on the Lord and enjoy what He has given me NOW--not what I want to receive two years down the road!

I have much to learn on this life journey, but as I have been gently nudged by people who are very important to me, I have to learn to let go and let God take control. These decisions are not ones to be taken lightly, and though there are times when you have to jump in and take a risk, there are other times when God wants to teach wisdom and discernment. And it's okay to slow down enough to hear the directions!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What If We Were Real

Today I listened to Mandisa's new album "What If We Were Real" and while all the songs make me want to get up and dance, the title track really stuck out to me.

From the first line, I felt like she was speaking directly to me...

"Well I'm tired of saying everything
I feel like I'm supposed to say.
I'm tired of smiling all the time,
I wanna throw the mask away."

So much of the so called "Christian life" has been made out to be one big masquerade, where church is the place for people with their lives together. And yes, followers of Christ are supposed to be a little more together than the rest of the world, but let me tell ya, we are all messed up and full of faults. And some days, even after being a disciple of Christ since childhood, I come to church in a puddle of repressed tears because I failed to be perfect that week. Yet, we fear judgement from people around us, so we keep holding everything inside.

I think it would be a glorious day if we just let it out.

"We keep trying to make it look so nice.
And we keep hiding what's going on inside.
But what if I share my brokenness,
what if you share how you feel.
What if we weren't afraid of this crazy mess.
What if we were real?"

Let's imagine a world where there was no pretending. Where the mask wasn't necessary, especially at church or with Christian friends. What if we opened up and let ourselves be vulnerable. Do you think it would deepen our friendships and lessen the burden of life?

Will you take a step of faith with me today and be a little more real?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bleeding Hearts: the secret shame of self-injury

“by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)

The shouting from yet another argument rung in my ears. Feeling torn, broken and misunderstood, through dripping eyes I glanced at the drawer where I knew a razor lay. "Just once this time..." Muttering, I grabbed the blade and began to run it across my arm. Not once, but over and over again.

Finally the blade dropped and I bandaged my wounds as a sense of relief came over me. It would be temporary, but it was the only way I knew to control my life and let out the anxiety and pain.


Today is Self-Injury Awareness Day.

Most people are at a loss to understand why people choose this form of release to deal with stress in life. Why would someone purposely hurt themselves? Most self-injurious behaviors start in the teenage years when an individual is overwhelmed with circumstances in life and views self-injury (SI) as a way to deal with the pain without hurting anybody else. This is not the reality of it, though, and as one friend told me upon retrospection, "I wish more than anything that back then [when I started self-injuring] I had known how destructive it was."

So what exactly is self-injury? SI is an impulse control disorder used to temporarily calm out of control emotions and anxiety. It can include compulsive cutting, burning, carving, re-opening wounds, hair pulling, scratching, nail/finger biting and skin picking. While studies show that 14-39% of teens have self-injured at least once, the numbers are assumed to be quite higher, as it is a secretive behavior. One very strong correlation that has been found is in abuse victims. Close to 60% of those who self-injure have endured some type of abuse. Sexual abuse is particularly damaging to children and teenagers and many victims turn to SI as a way to punish themselves or literally cut out the imperfections and shame brought on by abuse.

The psychological foundation for SI lies in the belief that the emotional pain they are enduring is too much to handle, but physical pain is manageable, so covering inner pain with outer pain redeems them.

But there is hope. While SI can become an addiction, even that can be broken when replaced with healthy coping alternatives. I suggest starting by creating a list of 10 reasons not to hurt yourself, and countering that with 10 things you can do instead. Keep adding to the list and try to practice alternative methods.

For further help, please check out these resources:
To Write Love On Her Arms
Live Free Journey
S.A.F.E. Alternatives
Scars that Wound, Scars that Heal
Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut
Inside A Cutter's Mind

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Through the Fire

"Be strong in the Lord and never give up hope
You're gonna do great things, I already know."

-"The Words I Would Say" by Sidewalk Prophets

I used to wonder why the world felt so cold and dark around me. Why I felt like I was drowning without anyone left to listen and save me. I used to cry myself to sleep feeling completely alone in the depths of despair, to quote Anne of Green Gables.

A few years later, I learned a very valuable lesson. There is a reason I was allowed to feel such deep pain.

See, even the darkest night gives way to dawn. The angriest storm still creates a rainbow. And the deepest depression can open the doors to the greatest joy.

"Even the night shall be light around me; Indeed the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day" - Psalm 139:11-12 (NKJV)

God knew that my pain was for a greater purpose, so He allowed it for a season. Not in spite, or to get enjoyment out of my suffering, but rather as a discipline for a greater good. I was going through the fire so that I might come out pure and filled with beauty.

In the past few years I have been learning to overcome depression on a daily basis, and have begun to experience true joy. I never could understand before that one can only feel as high as they have been low. I had to live through the darkness to truly appreciate the light. And it is WONDERFUL light!

If you are in the midst of the fire, take heart. While you probably can't see a bright future, know that your darkness has another side--one of joy that is literally out of this world.

Never give up hope--you have so much ahead of you. This I know to be true!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Little Things

It's easy to become obsessed with the big picture--the huge, dynamic things in life that are successes and accomplishments. But in the search for the big things, we often overlook the little things and instead let ourselves become overwhelmed when big things don't work like we think they should.

For instance, this week I became overwhelmed by the amount of homework I'll have in the next four months, and completely ignored the fact that I will be speaking at a church worker's conference next month and assisting in running a young adult's retreat soon after. I let the possibility of stress and insurmountable odds take away the joys of living each day.

See, the little things matter too. When was the last time you saw success in the little things? Maybe it's cleaning and organizing your room, or finishing reading a book you've been working on for months, or simply doing the dishes and admiring your clean kitchen. These are the tiny things that make a difference in your day to day attitude and perspective. Don't forget them, because when the little things fall into place, the big things will too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lies, Lies, Everywhere.

Society does a big injustice to young people, and women of all ages. It's what I call the Cover-Up Lie. Some days I still fight to reject it, but overall, I'm getting better at recognizing the untruth and rejecting it.

I'm speaking from a girls' perspective, so here's the deal. From a young age, girls are told what to look like, what to wear, how to act and how to please. We learn that pink is a norm and black is a no-no. We learn that dolls are acceptable, but fire trucks are not. We learn that the toy stores are split right down the middle--one side of the store is pink, and the other blue. We learn from princess stories and fairy tales that we are to be dainty, delicate and fall into the arms of Prince Charming, who will one day come into our lives and sweep us off our feet.

We are spoiled into thinking that there is an effortless happily ever after if only we'll let ourselves be rescued. You can see it in the dress-up clothes, the make-up salon sets for three year olds and the cell phones six year olds carry around. It's in the core of the Bratz dolls and Barbie's unhealthy and unrealistic proportions. As plastic surgery and cosmetic sales shoot higher each year for younger and younger girls, it's apparent that society's view of beauty is very different from what God's.

"I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made" - Psalm 139:14

The problems started in Genesis and ever since Eve was lied to, we've been in a destructive pattern. See, people speak from the lies they have been told and believe about themselves. So if a parent tells a child they are worthless, that child grows up believing that and ends up telling their child they are worthless and so on. This makes a lot of sense, especially when insecurities are present. Women have been told by parents, peers, advertisements and society in general that they are not beautiful until they plaster their face in make-up. And even when we know this isn't the truth, it's still hard to fight off.

Insecurities are where Satan slips in and starts whispering lies, and because we often believe it's ourselves talking, we agree with the lies.

I'm not good enough.
I'm not very pretty.
I'm not like her.
I'll never amount to anything.

Every time we agree with the enemy, we're giving him more power to infiltrate our lives. Instead of going along with the lies, we have to learn to recognize them and fight back with God's truth. Pray what the Bible says about your situation.

"But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" - James 1:4

When we talk to our heart and fuel our lives with God's truth, we take the power out of the enemy's hands and willingly align ourselves with God's will. Only there will His power shine through us and we'll find freedom. The battle for truth is difficult, but it's what creates an inner beauty that radiates to everyone around you.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hidden Years

Most people have heard the quote "All of life is a stage" and to a certain degree, it's true. But what we tend to forget is that in everyone's life there is a phenomenon called Hidden Years. They are the days, months and even years when we aren't being seen and praised for our accomplishments and talents. The times when we work behind the scene without recognition, and the times when we are growing and stretching beyond our wildest dreams.

God has a special plan for hidden years. I came to understand this after looking back at my teen years when I was hidden away from society, deeply in pain, yet growing in my knowledge of Christ. I didn't understand at the time what was occurring or why nothing made sense. I wrestled endlessly with God, asking why He had allowed the pain to happen and why I was so lonely and unable to connect with people.

The answer was so simplistic, and to this day I still marvel at it. I hid you away so that you would later be seen better. I silenced your voice so that later you would be heard louder. I allowed depression so that later, you could feel true joy. You didn't talk then, so that you would have something to talk about now.

Wow. But it's true. Because I was so quiet as a child, the fact that I am now a speaker and able to socialize makes my story that much more powerful. I have had countless conversations with others who have or are struggling with social anxiety and am able to connect on an empathetic level. I have been blown away by God's mercy and the fact that, while I don't control my life--He does. And He happens to know what's best for me!

"You are complete in Him" - Colossians 2:10

I tend to get caught up in the details of life--the faults, the failures, the tiny imperfections that each one of us has. All the while, missing the greatest joy--the big picture of saving grace that makes us whole.

Embrace the fact that God has a plan far beyond what you can see today and you'll find beauty you never dreamed existed!