When Life Doesn’t Look Like You Want

When Life Doesn’t Look Like You Want

Yesterday didn’t look the way I expected. Maybe you can relate.

By ten o’clock in the morning, I laid on the floor weeping in defeated surrender over frustrated plans for my first day with my newly homebound children. One stubbornly chose to clean her room rather than join me in kid-friendly yoga, while the other curled up in a ball of tears next to me, moaning because the movements were just too hard.

My best efforts to nurture their minds and bodies were failing. I had spent hours the night before, planning, organizing, and picturing the new rhythm of school at home we would embrace over the next six weeks. From the moment everyone woke up, however, it was clear that my expectations were not going to be our reality. I pushed, they resisted; I threatened, they melted down; I controlled, they rebelled.

It was too much, too soon. Yoga was the last straw–we all broke.

None of us were ready for life to look so different so fast.

Over the past week, one broadcast at a time, the things I depend on to keep my life stable, predictable, and healthy have all been shut down. It started out slowly, murmurs of disruption whispering quietly from places far enough away to feel removed from my reality. I mostly ignored the voices of fear and alarm, rationalizing that our quiet life was safe from the panic I saw elsewhere.

The murmurs grew into figurative shouts almost overnight. A mild discomfort stirring inside of me spiraled into uneasiness that threatened to morph into full fledged anxiety as I became more and more aware that I am not in control of what’s happening all around me. 

All at once, my life suddenly looks nothing like I expected.

Catapulted into the role of an educator, reorganizing my days around engaging my kids’ hearts and minds, and feeling ill-equipped and unprepared.

Fasting and praying and trusting God to provide what we had planned to raise at a now cancelled fundraiser, believing my husband’s job will remain stable.

Stripped of the outlet to move my body and teach other women to dance, to sweat, to persevere, to fight against the forces that threaten our mental and physical health.

Disconnected from the community that helps me process the big feelings all this stirs up, isolated out of fear of infecting others or contracting a sickness I can’t see and can’t fight.

Wrestling with shame over the number of tears I’ve cried already, over the sense of failure in realizing I have no idea if I have what it takes to survive this.

Life is harder than I feel equipped to navigate successfully on my own.

I’m fully aware that there are so many others struggling for reasons that seem bigger, more significant, more legitimate. One friend is facing a potential loss of her business; another has been blocked from traveling to bring home her almost-adopted daughter. And those are just two stories–people everywhere are facing unprecedented challenges that stir up real anxiety, real pain, real uncertainty. 

No matter how big or small the interruption looks for you as compared to anyone else, we cannot escape the fact that our reality has been altered indefinitely. Comparison does nothing to soothe the ache of disappointment that comes when life looks different than we want it to.

We are all reeling a bit, knocked off-balance and unsteadily trying to step forward into a world where nothing feels certain. In the midst of so many unknowns, here’s what I DO know:

1. I can’t do this alone. Left alone with my thoughts and fears and frustrations and feelings, I quickly work myself into a spiral of hopelessness. I realized yesterday that now, more than ever, I must reach out to my people in creative new ways. Technology has the potential to steal my peace, but it can also help me build a bridge of connection–Marco Polo, Voxer, FaceTime, Google Hangouts and even strategic social media, I’ve never appreciated you more!

2. I must get outside. I need the sun to shine on my skin, the fresh air to open up my lungs, my eyes to lift off of the screen and up to the expanse of sky, to the beauty of the world beyond the often constricting walls of my house. The moment you step outside, I’m told, the stress hormones in your body immediately begin to dissipate–I need this now more than ever.

3. I must practice healthy rhythms. My physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health all need extra attention when life spins out of control. Exercise is a non-negotiable. Quiet time in the afternoon helps our whole family reset. Nourishing meals remind me to eat for fuel and not for comfort. Protecting time to pray and meditate on Scripture shifts my focus and calms my heart. Without these practices that bring life, my days feel chaotic, anxiety spikes, and my soul shrivels.

4. I must prioritize both gratitude and authenticity. Choosing to name the gifts in this moment–even when I have to grasp to find them–builds my capacity for joy. But I also need to make space to admit what is hard, or I risk missing the chance to encounter God in the places I need him most. Telling the truth about where I’m struggling releases the hold of discontent so gratitude can do its work. I need both.

More than ever, I’m resolved to fight for the practices that help me thrive. The stress inherent in this season threatens to trigger either panic or despair, which could easily morph into full-blown anxiety or even depression. (Ask me how I know.) 

I’ve learned the hard way that I cannot neglect self-care when life presses in on all sides.

After a run in the sunshine, this morning brought with it new hope, new perspective, and new resolve to find the gift in this forced slowing. Today I didn’t coerce my kids into adhering to my schedule but decided to savor the freedom of releasing control. And we all breathed a little easier. We laughed a lot more, too. At the end of the day, I’d choose joy over control every time.

What practices help you stay grounded when life feels unsteady? I’d love to learn from you!

Finding the Hidden Magic

Finding the Hidden Magic

I think we can learn a lot about life from going to Disney World. I spent a day in the Magic Kingdom last week with my husband and some friends, and I Couldn’t. Stop. Smiling. The fun, the food, the fantasy, the FIREWORKS—I may or may not have cried a little when Tinkerbelle flew from the castle—everything there really does feel a bit magical.

Corey and I were in Orlando for a Young Life conference that happens every four years. We had five days that allowed us to taste heaven on earth, as the planning team showered us with surprises around every corner and excellence in every detail. Kind of like when you go to Disney World.

While in Florida, we spent one day with some friends at the Magic Kingdom. One of the friends we went with is mildly obsessed with all things Disney, and he served as our unofficial tour guide through the park. KJ used to work at Epcot, so he had a behind-the-scenes perspective I’d never heard. He was like a kid in a…well, like a kid at Disney World. His excitement was contagious, and I’ll admit I caught the bug!

IMG_1939

We learned all sorts of new factoids that only increased our wonder at the creativity and purposeful strategy of Disney:

Did you know that when you walk down Main Street U.S.A., the streetlights gradually become more and more modern-looking, as if you’re walking through time?

Did you know that in every room, there is a “hidden Mickey” silhouette somewhere to be found?

Did you know the path slopes slightly uphill as you walk into the park, so that when you’re tired at the end of the day it’s easier to walk out?

Did you know that delicious smells are strategically blown into public areas to create a positive emotional experience?

Did you know the sidewalks on Main Street are red so you feel like you’re walking down the red carpet?

Seriously. This place is so fun!

I learned so much about Disney by spending time with someone who loves it and seeing the park through his eyes. Magic is in the eye of the beholder, and he saw magic around every corner.  My excitement for each thing we saw, rode, or experienced only grew because his enthusiasm was irresistible! Appreciating the attention to detail, care, and story behind every attraction increased my joy as I discovered a purpose deeper than what was immediately visible.

I fell in love with Disney because I understood the lengths Disney had gone to make my experience magical.

It’s kind of like real life.

The more we are able to look beyond the surface circumstances of our lives, the deeper we can gaze into the details that weave our story together, the more our amazement increases at the Storyteller behind it all.

The more we know God, the more we will love Him. The more we see the story behind what He’s really doing, the care He puts into providing for every detail, the unexpected joy that comes from witnessing His creativity all around us, the more we will respond in awe and wonder.

The more we understand that nothing in life is random, the more we will be on the lookout for the “magic” behind everything we experience—no matter how deeply hidden.

Real life magic may look like building a snow castle with my kids in the front yard, or it might look like hope for change in an area of past struggle. Magic may come in the form of an unexpected conversation with an old friend or in the beauty of sharing your story with someone who needs hope for theirs. The more I look for magic in real life, the more I find it in real life moments.

I want to live my life like I experienced that day. Yes, I realize that Disney World is not real life. But maybe, just maybe it’s a taste of the life we were intended to live. Life filled with wonder, delight, appreciation for the unexpected gifts in each experience. Life that is unhurried and open to the possibilities in front of us, holding loosely to our plans and accepting interruptions expectantly.

I’ve been thinking about heaven a lot lately. It’s on my mind and in my prayers as I study more and more about what the Bible says is coming “soon.” I just heard an illustration about eternity as a rope that goes out of the room and down the street, and our life here on earth is just two inches of the whole length. There is so much life to be lived beyond what our eyes can see. But our experience in the real magic Kingdom—the one that lies just beyond our current life—depends on our willingness to believe the One who designed it is a trustworthy Guide.

I’m still reveling in the glory of our week in Florida. Even greater than the day spent at the Magic Kingdom was the rest of our time gathering with Young Life friends from all over the world, refocusing our hearts and minds on the One behind the work that we do. A room full of 5,000 people who love Jesus enough to spend their lives making Him known really did feel like heaven on earth.

IMG_1893

I’m treasuring the words of affirmation given to us all by the beloved Jen Hatmaker: “This is a really good use of your life.” Thanks, Jen. I want to use my two inches of rope well.

I learned last week that we must train our eyes to see what we want our hearts to adore. Our focus matters. The more we look for God’s fingerprints, the more we see them. Real life magic is everywhere, for all to see. And the more we see the beauty of God’s hand working in all things to draw us toward Himself, the more we will love Him!

May we all find tour guides to help us discover the real life magic all around us. And may our hearts overflow with delight at the wonder and beauty on earth designed to draw us toward eternity. I’m willing to bet there are fireworks in heaven.

IMG_1879

Joy in the Aftermath of Christmas

Joy in the Aftermath of Christmas

As all the holiday hoopla draws to a close this week, I’m finding myself tired. Really tired.

Christmas has a way of sneaking up on us. A minute ago, summer was ushering in fall and kids wore fresh new wardrobes and excitement about what the school year would bring—and then we blinked and it was Thanksgiving and the season of family gatherings and holiday festivities and frenzied calendars and days full to the brim of so many good things. And then we blinked again and it was over.

In the midst of all the Christmas prep, baking cookies that I didn’t really want to eat and shopping for presents that I meant to get weeks ago, I found myself wondering why in the world is the most joy-filled time of year also the most stress-filled? 

Wasn’t my heart supposed to be overflowing with celebration and thankfulness and constant worship of the One we celebrate?  I wanted it to. I really tried to make myself focus on the right things. But I still got sucked into the hustle. I lost my joy because I lost my focus.

So often joy gets snuffed out by the pace productivity requires. I am as guilty as anyone of pressuring myself to death to make every year the Best. Christmas. Ever. There’s a lot to fit into days and weeks that only get shorter as night comes earlier.  Just think of all we expect ourselves accomplish in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas:

Christmas cards to order, address, and send out—extra time required for adding meaningful notes.

Coordinating schedules with loved ones to find a way to fit in time for everyone who wants it.

Advent calendars with activities for each day, intended to point hearts toward heaven.

Christmas parties for every job, exercise class, activity group, and social circle.

Gifts to think about, shop for, purchase, and wrap for family, friends, teachers, mailmen, and hairdressers.

Cleaning house and doing laundry in preparation for company, or packing up your life to travel elsewhere.

Menu planning, grocery shopping, and food prep to make special meals that both bless and impress.

Cookie baking and treat making for neighbors and friends—extra time required to write words of love.

Crafty creativity for those extra loving homemade gifts—which take extra time to create.

Elf on a shelf. When do those parents sleep?

School Christmas programs, performances, and concerts galore—plus any extracurricular festive entertainment unique to this season (Nutcracker, anyone?).

The list goes on and on. We are experts at filling our time with extra things—and extra pressure to do it all—often leaving ourselves feeling frazzled and empty, relieved when all the shenanigans are finally over. I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me before this year that all of these extra things take extra time to complete.

The build up to Christmas is enough to bring us to the end of ourselves—and steal joy right out of the celebration.

The truth is, Christmas comes anyway. Whether or not I’ve checked everything off my list. It comes when I’m most worn down by my failure to live up to my holiday Pinterest board standard. It comes when I’m tired of plans to attend one more event and would rather just stay home in my pajamas. It comes when I’m surrounded by people and just need a moment to myself. It comes when I’m weary from all the preparation, when I feel like I’ve let people down, when I didn’t love well or engage enough or smile like I meant it.

Christmas comes, even when I am focused on my own weariness instead of the One who made himself small so I wouldn’t have to earn his approval.  It doesn’t depend on my performance, my thoughtfulness, my baking skill, my procrastination, my attitude.

Christmas comes when night is the darkest. When we have the least left of ourselves, Christmas comes to bring hope to the stressed out, worn out, burnt out. Christmas comes every year whether we’re ready or not.

Christmas comes, because Christ came. He said he would and he really did. God keeps his promises, regardless of our ability to keep ours. He promised before we even understood how much we needed it that he’d make a way for us to get out of the pit of self-destruction, self-absorption, self-pity we are all trapped in. He knew before we ever started trying that we could never achieve perfection—he would have to do it for us. So he came.

A couple days after Christmas now, I’m sitting in the wreckage of several cumulative weeks of hustle. The tiredness from traveling and sleeping poorly, the extra few pounds accumulated through stress eating and eggnog lattes, the weariness of an introvert constantly surrounded by people without relief, the spiritual fallout of losing margin in my daily rhythm.

But as I flip through photos snapped during different moments of this hustle-and-bustle season, I remember there was joy in the midst of the crazy. I choose joy in this moment by I focusing my heart in gratitude for those moments. Joy and thankfulness come hand in hand.

Looking at these pictures reminds me that Christmas isn’t a once-a-year experience–it’s an invitation to  joy.

It’s an invitation to joyful hope that comes from receiving the gift of being loved just as I am.

It’s in invitation to joy-filled freedom that comes from believing my worth doesn’t come from delivering an admirable performance to anyone watching.

It’s an invitation to joyfully abundant life that comes from focusing on things that last forever instead of those that are over in the blink of an eye.

Christmas invites us to remember that Jesus came once and he is coming again. Ready or not, he will come. May our lives reflect the joy of knowing his promises are true and his love is trustworthy. Because joy is a matter of perspective—and knowing the Source of joy means it can never be taken away.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.