The Only Way I Can Vote…

I took a walk this morning to grab a cup of coffee from the cafe across the street. I noticed that the air is getting colder, the leaves are slowly changing. This morning was the start of a perfect autumn day.

But I found myself frustrated, clenching my fists, telling God that this whole election thing has got me in knots.¬†I know what everyone is telling me I should do, but I don’t know the right thing to do.

Just as I prepared to cross the street, I heard him whisper,

“You are not accountable for your nation, you are accountable for yourself.”

Instantly, all of my frustration fell off in the middle of that street and I knew what the right decision for me is:

I cannot vote for either of the main candidates in this election.

Believe me when I tell you that I have wrestled over this. I have prayed, sought counsel, listed the pros and cons. I have not made my choice without weighing every single possible outcome.

Here’s the thing: yes, maybe my country is seemingly going down the toilet. Either way, it’s likely that both candidates are going to make some detrimental decisions for this country.¬†But¬†I am not going to answer to God for those things.¬†

I am going to answer to God for the state of my heart when I stood inside of that voting booth. 

He will know whether or not I was pure in my choice or if I violated my conscience. He will know if I stuffed down all of the truth that stirs in my gut every single time either of the candidates speak.

He will know if I am compromising my Godliness for my Americanness.

He knows¬†that I am not trying to be reckless in my decision, He knows that I simply cannot violate my own heart by bowing down to those that tell me I have to choose “the lesser of two evils”.

He will not hold me accountable for the decisions of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He will hold me accountable for mine.

I will vote. I will honor the lives given for that right. But I keep in mind that their lives were given so that I could make the choice I believe is right. Not the choice that the church tells me is right, not the choice CNN or FOX tells me is right.

At the end of the day, I live with my choices and mine alone. My ability to look at myself in the mirror is worth more to me than the White House. My personal conscience is worth more to me than the Supreme Court.

I love this country and I care about its future. Whatever the outcome, I will pray for my President. And I will continue to believe that God honors those that honor Him. So, in this decision, I will do what my conscience says honors Him.

I will write in my vote and it will count. The name I write will not become President, but it will count¬†because I did not deceive myself into thinking it’s noble to¬†sacrifice¬†my conscience and the truth for the “better of my country”.

They say we¬†have to save our country, right? We have to gain back its greatness, don’t we?

“But¬†what do you benefit if you gain America,¬†and lose your own soul?”

 

 

 

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Pour a little salt in the wound (forgiveness pt. 2)

I got an e-mail from one of my readers about my last blog post on forgiveness. Our stories are similar, it felt like I was reading an e-mail from myself a few years ago.

I started asking¬†myself what the most valuable thing I’ve learned on this current road of forgiveness has been and I instantly knew.

Clean out your wounds along the way.

Keep the dirt out as much as possible.

Choose to be kind¬†and love in the face of those who you’ve connected to your heartbreak.

Don’t pile¬†on top of the hurt¬†by acting rude, indifferent, or fake. Don’t embrace¬†any opportunity to deepen the bitterness.

Start by immediately making your interactions with the people who’ve hurt you positive, loving, and pure. Even (and especially) if they don’t respond in the same way.

Keep the mess out. It’s hard, I know. It’s pouring salt in the wound. Every time you have to choose to love that person when you want just want to punch a wall, it stings.¬†

But you don’t want to find yourself finally healing from the initial injury only to realize you let the wound get infected by all the things that came after.

So leave your cold shoulder and eye-rolling at the door. Keep the wound clean.

It hurts now, but it will save you later down the road.

This is something that God spent years building in me. I’d be sitting with crossed arms and clenched teeth and I’d hear him whisper:¬†Reach for a hug. Give a compliment.¬†Offer them a cup of coffee.

I would sit there and squirm in my seat. I would tell God all the reasons why it was a bad idea. I would tell him how I shouldn’t because¬†it wouldn’t feel¬†genuine.¬†But he’d say it over and over again:¬†Love isn’t¬†just a feeling, kid.

You love them, because it wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t.

So get up and do something with it. You have got to move. You have to move this seemingly impossible mountain with a little step of faith. You have to bring a stone (and it can even be a tiny one) and start rebuilding these burned bridges.

Salting that wound kept me alive.

If there’s one thing I’d tell myself when that whole process began is:¬†it will be worth it. Not because it will produce miraculous and instantaneous results, but because it will teach you more about love than anything else.¬†That passage about turning the other cheek won’t just be a nice little sentiment. That phrase will get so deeply rooted in you that before you know it,¬†it will be the only way worth living.

But the deeper you want to be rooted in love,¬†the¬†more ground you have to break through. You’re going to have to dig and push. You are going to hit some rocks in your heart and in theirs. It’s not going to feel good, this loving in hard times is not¬†a quick process.

This thing isn’t a sprint. Forgiveness isn’t even a marathon. It is¬†more like a triathlon. It has different legs.¬†You might get really good at one part, and then suddenly realize you’re entirely out of shape when it comes to another. Don’t lose focus. Don’t decide to stop going just because you can’t¬†master it all at once.

It’s going to take time.

So, clean the wound along the way. Don’t let time scab this thing over while letting infection take root.¬†Don’t deepen this thing with passive-aggressive comments, avoiding eye contact, or sarcastic stabs. Don’t let that pain become the first domino that starts knocking over everything else you’ve built with them.

It will hurt. You will want to¬†avoid the pain that comes with keeping it clean. But when you get a chance, I promise you won’t regret¬†pouring a little salt in your wounds.

 

 

To Be Honest

My breakfast yesterday morning was a sleeve of saltine crackers in the Publix parking lot.

I woke up with a headache that could make a grown man cry. I swallowed three Advil before crawling out of bed and slapping Icy Hot on my forehead. That isn’t something I would normally do, but¬†desperate times and all that…

I finally managed to take a hot shower, throw on my worst outfit and drive to the grocery store. I entered with wet hair, baggy basketball shorts, and a tight grimace on my face.

And then I went and sat in my car. I sat there pitifully eating a sleeve of saltine crackers, drinking a Coke Zero, and telling God that I had officially hit an all-time low. 

I haven’t figured out what it means to have order in my life. That’s just the raw and honest truth of it. There was a time in my life that I had order, I had peace, I had a schedule, a plan, a routine.

For weeks my¬†phone has blowing up every five minutes with demands, questions, events, meetings, plans, and I’ve been on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I’ve realized I don’t know what it means to be honest.

Part of this comes from growing up in the South, where being blunt is somewhat forbidden (especially for little girls). It can often be labeled rude, and does not make you appear hospitable or agreeable.

You must aways find the perfect way to¬†send your regrets, which means–¬†the only acceptable reason for not going to something or doing something is because there is another life-or-death commitment/event that you cannot miss.

So, from a young age I learned not to say no because¬†I didn’t¬†want to do something, or do not have the¬†capacity for it. I believed you must only say no if you’re saving orphans or helping old ladies at the grocery store.

And the church did very little to help me with this. There’s a notion of always having to do¬†the Christian thing.¬†There’s the right thing and then there’s what the church calls¬†the¬†Christian thing and they, I’m quickly learning, do not always coincide.

So, here I am, a bold and blunt individual who very clearly understands where she stands on most things, but who has been muzzled by “polite” southern culture and doing¬†the Christian thing.

This is where chaos and being covered in cracker crumbs comes in. Rather than¬†realizing that honesty will always trump presentation, I find myself making the dumbest excuses and telling everyone “I’ll get back to you” as a way to give myself ample amounts of time to figure out what the¬†polite and¬†Christian thing to do would be.

And then, begrudgingly, I will do that. Even if I hate it. I will inwardly whine the entire time. But at least I’ll have the false feeling of comfort that comes from believing¬†that¬†I did¬†the polite and Christian thing (and knowing that Dolly Parton would be proud).

However, killing your honesty in order to make others happy is poison. One day, you’ll look around your life and see nothing but piles of perfectly formed excuses, all of them¬†lies.

Saying I can’t¬†or I don’t want to¬†is not rude and not un-Christian.

This is a truth that I’ll probably wrestle with for the rest of my life. I’ve spent twenty-four years of believing the opposite, so it will probably take a while to re-learn a different way.

Neglecting our health and sanity and refusing to be honest about where we are is what breeds chaos in our lives. We find ourselves unable to say¬†yes and no to things because we sacrifice what is necessary for what is acceptable to others.¬†We can frequently find ourselves lying, but convinced that it’s for “the good reason” of not hurting someone else.

I’m terrified to disappoint people, to hurt them, to let them down. I am terrified of being bad at commitment.

This became clear to me when I was in a season of attending three churches in the same day. I would go to a 10 am service, drive twenty-minutes and go to a noon service, and then eat lunch and then drive thirty-minutes and go to a 6 pm service.

This went on for months. I spent so much money on gas and so much time sitting on pews that it’s a miracle I didn’t end up homeless and in a back brace.

All because I didn’t know how to disappoint people. I didn’t know how to accept my limits. I didn’t know how to be human. I didn’t know how to say I can’t…”

What I’m seeing is that running away, making excuses, and just being¬†polite aren’t my only options and they’re certainly not the best ones.

Learning to be honest, humble, and human is¬†what’s required of us. We are to be loving in our responses, but that doesn’t mean lying to spare feelings or to make others happy. It means sometimes simply saying,¬†I can’t or I don’t want to and knowing that our reasons won’t always expand beyond that.

I’m also¬†realizing that all the hiding and the time spent making up excuses will drain you from actually doing the things¬†you need to do.

I’m trying to¬†become a person who¬†answers honestly. Knowing that it might not get praise, it might be disappointing, and it might not be agreeable, but I’m learning that loving people by granting them my honesty truly is the¬†best policy.

Don’t Lose The Good Parts

If I hadn’t decided to become President of the United States, I’m quite certain I would have settled on becoming a professional boxer.

I once asked for a punching bag for Christmas. While in hindsight, that probably should have been cause for concern, it seemed perfectly normal at the time.

I’ve always been a fighter.

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fighting something: injustice, pain, grief, feelings, God, people…

Lately, I’ve been trying to put my gloves down; because it seems my fighting has sometimes caused more problems than it’s solved. Fighting is my gut reaction; it’s always been my default answer, how does a person get rid of that?

God caught me in my car today. I was tightening my fists on the steering wheel, my shoulders were tensing and I was thinking of all the things I want to say or do, the things I wish I knew how to handle right now. I tried to shove it out and down. I kept telling myself, stop fighting, you’re not allowed to be a fighter anymore.

‚ÄúYou‚Äôre just fighting the wrong things‚Ķ‚ÄĚ He said it so calmly.

My grip eased, ‚ÄúWhat should I be fighting?‚ÄĚ I asked.

Fight the fear. Fight the insecurity. Fight the walls you build.

Stop fighting the people that intimidate you, tear you down. Stop fighting the people that you’re desperately seeking approval from. Stop fighting people and start fighting the problem.

Fight the need to be right. Fight the fact that you hate to be weak. Fight the laziness. Fight the apathy. Fight your perfectionist tendencies. Fight the need to prove yourself. Fight the lies that have been stuck to you since you were little.

 It seems that God hasn’t been trying to take the fighter out of me, but now He’s showing me the right things to fight.

We don’t escape who we are; we can’t run from it or push it down. I’m a fighter and I’ll always be one. And sometimes that serves the world in beautiful ways. So, I’m learning how to overcome the weaknesses that accompany that, without losing the good parts of who I really am.

Whatever those things are that often seem to weigh you down and create pain in your life are likely something that God put in you for a really good reason. Those parts of you that you can’t shake, those glaring weaknesses, maybe it’s because they also have the potential to be some of the best parts of you.

Don’t lose the good parts. I think that’s what I’m getting at. Don’t throw out the good just because everyone (including you) is so disheartened and fearful of the bad. There’s no part of your weakness where¬†God can’t show up with His strength.

What Have I Lost Along The Way?

I was up to my elbows in household cleaner and water when God said something that nearly sent me to the floor,

“It’s good to see you in sweatpants again.”

It sounds so ridiculous, but I knew exactly what He meant.

I practically ran out of the building. My chest started pounding, my eyes were about to spill over. I drug the hem of those sweatpants through the mud and got quickly into my car.

The next two hours were spent with me driving, crying, and my ears filling with all the things that I’ve forgotten about over the last eight years.

All because I asked him one simple question this morning, “What have I lost along the way?”

I never expected Him to answer me. I never thought He’d come that close again, sound that sweet, I never expected him to not condemn my sweatpants.

That was one of the things that had gotten lost along the way: the belief that He would always come, and that when He did He would have something good to say.

I’ve been waiting for that exact moment for the last three years.

I waited for that moment in the darkest nights, in places I never should have gone to, with people that I don’t even know anymore. I waited for Him, I waited for one little sentence that I could have never formed on my own.

I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t waiting for some earth shattering revelation. I wasn’t waiting for the right things to line up.¬†I wasn’t waiting for a person or a place.¬†All this time, I was waiting for Him to talk to me about my sweatpants.

Because a few years ago someone stood in front of me and told me that it was a terrible thing to see a human wear sweatpants. They said it was lazy, unattractive, they said it made a person look worthless.

Though they probably didn’t intend for it to, that idea dug itself inside of me. Not because I have a love obsession with sweatpants, but because the words the enemy made me hear were,¬†“it is¬†a terrible thing to be comfortable with yourself.”

This was said to the girl who lived most of her life in jeans, t-shirts, with her hair pulled back. For me, it had never really¬†been due to laziness. Honestly, I was just child-like for most of my life and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me exactly as I was. I thought I looked just fine. I thought I was pretty cute (and I was).

Even though sometimes I cringe at my bad haircuts, high-water pants, or rolled socks, I was a darling little child. I was innocent, pure, and beautiful, as all children are. I was unashamed of a plain face, I was unashamed of the clothes that I chose. I liked them and that was really the only reason I needed to wear them.

I let the enemy¬†tell me that was a terrible thing, and that line grew until all the little demons whispered and said,¬†“oh you, you have no value for yourself.”¬†

So, I stopped wearing sweatpants until about six months ago.

You should have seen the first pair I chose to put on. They are the most atrocious pants that have ever existed. They are frumpy, oversized, covered in paint, and an awkward length.

My friends (as they should have) told me they were terrible and I should never ever wear them again.  I waited for pain, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was laughter. I told them that I was going to keep them forever and wear them shamelessly.

Because it wasn’t about the pants.¬†Even this morning, scrubbing that countertop,¬†it was never about the pants.

It was about picking back up all the things that I’ve given up, that I once so deeply loved. It was about the years I spent changing myself to please someone else.

It was about that moment that I let someone try to make me a whitewashed tomb. That I let someone tell me my outside was more important than the inside.

It then became about the times that people told me to shut up when I spoke the truth; when people told me to skip past the pages with the Jesus who turned over tables.

It became about all the times that I believed sweatpants made me ugly or that telling the truth made me cruel.

God never said or thought those things about me.

While that shouldn’t have surprised me, it did. Though it seems like basic Christianity to know better, I had never realized it¬†before.¬†God never hated my sweatpants and He loves when I tell the truth.¬†

This morning, God did the thing I’ve been waiting for. He did a¬†miracle, one He promised me years ago that He would do.

A bush did not catch on fire today. I did not walk on water. No lepers were healed.

But today, some things that were dead came back to life. Early this morning, a girl who’d been wrapped the grave clothing of expectations, condemnation, and words of hatred finally heard a loud¬†voice. And He called her forth and unwrapped from her all the things the darkness tried to make her wear.

I Heard Him Whisper

I’m still a little surprised I heard Him.

Over the sound of buzzing lights and a thunderstorm brewing outside, I heard Him whisper.

I slipped off my socks and shoes. My bare feet standing on a dirt covered floor, I tried to follow His lead.

It’s a little bit of an awkward thing, if I’m being honest, to be invited to dance with one who is bigger than the room you’re in.¬†You can’t exactly wrap your arms around Him.

But I think that’s what I’ve always liked about God: I can’t take over, take control. I’m far too small to take the lead.

I keep thinking about this time that my sister and I tucked ourselves away in this barren cabin in the mountains of Tennessee. We spent hours in silence, waiting for God to show up.

He showed up when we were hiking and face to face with a black bear. And while there were others standing by in awe, I was trying to figure out the best way to get off of the mountain. I was drawing maps and making exit plans, all the while yelling at those who thought this terrifying being was something remarkable.

While I was angry, (and thought everyone had seemingly lost their minds) I envied them. I craved the ability to trustingly stand shoulder to shoulder with something that had the power to crush me.

When a thunderstorm comes, my Dad loves to go out on the porch and watch God do his work.

I always tell him to come inside, it isn’t safe to¬†stand so close.

But barefoot and whirling around that room as thunder echoed, I told God that I didn’t want to run from Him any longer.¬†Though my knees might always knock, I wanted the risk of loving a God¬†that could¬†flatten me.

To love something that’s big enough and mysterious enough to prove me and all of my ideas wrong. Someone who, just by showing up, shows me that my grandest plans are weak, at best.

I think that’s the kind of faith I’ve always wanted. To love something that just might cost me everything. I want to stand as close as possible to something I can’t control and¬†resist my instinct to run away.

There will always be moments we never saw coming.

When our feet are taken out from under us. It’s that moment when you’ll wonder if God is going to break you. He could, you know. He¬†could choose to break your heart.¬†He could make a whole big lesson out of something precious to you. He could deny you all the things you keep telling him¬†are the best thing for you.

But what we choose to do with Him will define the season.

Sometimes you go on a long walk and rain starts pouring before you make it home. You can always duck in somewhere, take cover, hope it passes, and try to make it home later.

Or you can just keep going. You will get soaked, but you will make it home.

I want to get where God’s taking me, even if it doesn’t always go exactly the way I planned. I want to keep believing it’s all because He loves me. I want to stand next to Him, to be close enough to hear Him breathe, to whisper.

I want to accept that whispered invitation,¬†even if I’m left with dirty feet and stumbling around when¬†He seems¬†too big to follow.

The Burden of Acting Free

I want to see you laugh again. That kind of laughter that used to swallow the world.

I want to see you look at the world with a sense of wonder. Even in your brokenness, you always saw the wonder.

Did you know there’s a difference in being free and¬†acting free?

When you go through the motions of pretending to be free; when you get louder, prouder and bolder, you are not far from danger, my dear.

You’ve been taken from one kind of prison and thrown into another. Because the burden of having to keep up the appearance of freedom, is even heavier than the one of trying to create a facade of perfection.

It will steal the life right out of you. This show of acting like you’ve let it¬†all go & there is absolutely¬†nothing holding you back.¬†

Oh, sweet one. I wish you could see that you’re in a scary scary space.¬†You’re using your energy to draw a room to believing that you’ve reached the pinnacle of liberty and license. The truth is, now you’re bound to a life of striving and a life of deception.¬†You keep saying that you’re free and yet it’s taking every muscle you have to convince the world.¬†That’s not freedom, it’s a life that breeds exhaustion.

Freedom isn’t something you have to convince others of.¬†And it’s not something you have to convince yourself you have.
Freedom just is. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, it just is. Freedom is not tied to opinions of others, or even opinions of your own.¬†Freedom can go home and¬†be okay with that. Freedom can have a night out on the town.¬†Freedom means that whatever choice you make, you don’t have to do it for the sake of¬†convincing anybody or anyone.¬†Freedom acts on its convictions and is¬†free to do so. That’s why freedom is so beautiful.¬†Freedom is free to make it’s choice¬†based on what it believes.

Freedom is not a mask or a costume. You don’t just put her on and wear her to the ball.¬†Freedom sits in your fingers and toes and makes your choices.¬†Freedom holds your head up when you’re in a room with no one but yourself.¬†

Freedom comes from who you are, not what you do.

You can climb mountains, dance in the town square, buy a funny hat or hug a stranger and¬†appear to be free.¬†But free people don’t use those things to define their lives. Those things are not the things they announce or take pride in.¬†Freedom doesn’t know how to be proud because freedom is released from the burden of having to impress.

Freedom doesn’t have to explain itself or pat itself on the back. Freedom just smiles quietly at the end of each day and feels the contentment of a full life.¬†Freedom smiles, oh she smiles and even when she’s sad she smiles.

She smiles like you used to when you were under those orange street lights or when I saw your face shining through the windows of the kitchen, your hands washing dishes in soapy water.

Freedom laughs when people are looking, when they’re not, and doesn’t know the difference.

Freedom says hello and she’d like come back in your ligaments and limbs. She wants to fill your stomach and teach you how to laugh again, how to stay and how to walk away. Freedom wants you to know that she never really went away.

Freedom wants to come home and rest in your bones. Welcome her with open arms. Oh, and you don’t have to announce her arrival, believe me, she’ll make her presence known.