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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You're Ugly and You'll Never Be Good Enough

There's a scene in Gilmore Girls where Rory steals a boat.

I'm going to be pretty unapologetic about my references to this show now that the entire series is on Netflix. For those of you who aren't fans/obsessed with the show (now you have no excuse), the basic storyline goes like this:

Rory wants to be a journalist. She is graciously offered an internship at an up-and-coming newspaper. Then, during her evaluation on her last few days at the paper, someone in authority over her tells her she's not good enough.

Someone who knows, someone who is an expert in the very field she wants to pursue.

"You'll make a great assistant," he says. "But you don't have it."


It's dreadful to have those words spoken over you.


For years, Rory's mother and I have been perplexed by the actions that followed her conversation. Stealing a boat? How does such a type-A, people-pleaser take such a drastic turn? How does she allow her primal anger to take such a large hold of her that she commits a felony?

But now I understand completely.

Let me be clear: there will be no attempted felony in my future. I don't think. Tom Cruise hasn't busted down my apartment door to stop me from an impending crime, to date.

However, the last few days my head has been spinning with insecurity about every word I stroke along the digital page.

I had a conversation with someone in the words-industry who knows. Someone with experience. And while our conversation was productive, it was brutally honest. And what I carried away from it wasn't encouragement. Or motivation. It was a big coal-chunk of doubt.

This talent you thought you had? It's not good enough. Your degree choice? Irrelevant. All the people who you feared surpassed you in brains and beauty? They actually do it better. You were right.

I didn't steal a boat. But I cried in my car. Cried on the phone to my mom. Cried in the time between curling up in bed and falling asleep. Ugly, rotten, spoiled tears. Trying to resolve this embarrassment, this setback, this mega-frustration. Sucking on bitterness like it was a cube of salt.

Stealing a boat would've been a little more productive.

This is what happened: the insecurity spiral I kept coiled tightly around my heart unfurled, like a shaving in a pencil sharpener. I heard a word of criticism and my whole world collapsed. My insecurities reached out like the jagged limbs of trees, extending into the thoughts about my weight, talent, facial features, wardrobe, personality, you name it.

So, how does one work through these feelings?

If you're like me, you'll down two wrathful margaritas at dinner, order a plate of french fries and cap off the evening with a few Harry & David chocolates your friend brought you. And an episode of Parenthood. And maybe prayer. If you can rest your boiling over long enough to throw a few words up to God.




Recently I heard a story from the former president and CEO of Krispy Kreme. In the late 2000s a prominent business magazine listed the business among ten companies that would fail by the end of the decade.

The president, at the time, had the article embossed, and engraved two words beneath the article:


"Dead. Wrong." 


That's what I want to do. I want to emboss that moment where I carried away such doubt and hurt. And I want to stamp those two, powerful words over them. Dead. Wrong.

What strikes me as funny, though, after a whole lot of prayer and a five-mile long run (to counteract all the chocolate and margs), is that the Author of my story might be at work here.

I'm working on a fictional story about a young woman who would give up just about anything (friends, romance, social life, graduate school) in order to be a virtual relationship columnist.

Her climb to the top isn't easy. She pushes. She struggles. She's told, "no." And while she may think that she's got her career "in the bag," she doesn't see how her affections affect others. And how her writing becomes rough around the edges because the resentment in her life is working against her, not for her.

I woke up the next morning still needing to nurse my wounds, but also with a renewed sense of the character. A profound sense of who this woman was, an understanding of her motives, and a lot of fueling anger that, when mixed with caffeine, gave me Lightning McQueen-level word counts.

That's good enough. That's emotion. That's playfulness and professionalism in the world of written careers. That's how God works for the good in our stories. In our lives.

I would challenge each of you, if you've had a similar setback, in writing, ministry, Wall Street, scholarship, motherhood, sisterhood, friendship, theater, art, photography, whatever, that words of criticism spoken over you by a "person of authority" isn't the Ultimate Authority over your life and talents.

You were created for a purpose. You are being crafted, pruned, molded into fulfilling that role every day. God is at work. In our successes and our critiques.

Let the harsh words of the world grow strangely dim. You are good enough in the eyes of your Maker. You are worthy, you are loved, you are treasured.

And you don't have to steal a boat to prove it.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

We're Saving Space for You



"There's a space reserved on my bookshelf for your book," a girlfriend told me at lunch one day. "That means you have to finish it."

We spent our hour-long break at a hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant. We filled our crawling stomachs with food we couldn't pronounce, handed off by a waitress with a sloppy bun and paint-red lipstick.

It was a conversation that circled around faith and creativity. Where the two entities meet, and where they separate as far as the east is from the west. Like how magnets can have a force that either snap together or drive apart.

Lately, it's felt like the latter.

But when my friend spoke those words over me, I let out a breath. She was saving a sliver of space for me on her shelf. She was reserving a paperback hole that the imprint of my forever-dream would fill.

For the last few months, I've been all inhale.

I've been contests, and word counts and grammar (oh my!). I've been "sure, I'll edit that," and "need help? I'm your girl."

I've been a ball of yarn strung up with disappointment, setbacks, start-over-from-scratches; trying to do job, relationship, friendships (old and new), housekeeping, car maintenance, bill paying, answering texts, and long-distance running well.

Breathing in, in, in. All about the shallow movement of my chest, taking in every worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, insecurity all along the way.

Because it seems, in spite of everything, everything, my best just 

isn't good enough.

And my darling friend looked me square in the eye said she was saving space for me. She believed in me. The pressure released. She could see me crossing the finish line. Even though I was sure I was running toward a line that didn't exist.


This is Christ's message to each of us.

He sees the hurt. The seeming triumphs of the world. The heartbreaks. The rude awakenings in our lives. He hears our prayers. Our doubts.

He sees our most private failures. Our most habitual sins.

And still, still, still he saves a place for us. He knows we'll make it. He has to, right? Otherwise, what did he die for in the first place?

Through this season, with its ups and downs; its advantages and drawbacks; its advances and retreats, I've come to learn only one thing: it's time.

Time to close the chapter on the questions, the cynicism, the slowly peeling away from community with other believers.

Time to cast fear back into the water. Time to grab it by the gills and untangle it from my line.Time to release, because its weight is too heavy to carry anymore. 

I can't struggle with faith on top of everything else.


For those women out there with the same thoughts swirling around, the same abuses, the same insecurities about God and life and purpose and talent: time to breathe out.

You're not alone. Not with your illness, depression, questioning, bargaining or second-thoughting.

Don't reel in fear for another moment. There's a space for you. And only you. And it's held by a Creator who knows and loves it all.







photo credit: HAMED MASOUMI via photopin cc

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Friday, October 10, 2014

From Single-ing to Mingling: How to Take the Leap

Today's post is brought to you by the Single Truth Blog Tour. I had the privilege of meeting Allison, author of Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman  via Twitter a few weeks ago, and we quickly hit it off with our mutual pull-our-hair-out dating experiences.

Though Allison's book is about living the single life well, I wanted to also ask her a few questions about her transition from bachelorette to bride. Because while striking into the dating scene is a lot of fun, it can also drum up a lot of anxiety.

Especially if we've been hurt before.

So, grab yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy Allison's wisdom! I'll see you lovely ladies here next week.

(Pssst! If you'd like a copy of Allison's book, Beacon Hill Press is giving away 10 copies on GoodReads. Click the link to find out more!)


Prodigal Sister: Hey Allison! You've written this great book for single ladies. We love it! Can you tell me a little bit about your transition from being a single girl to being in a committed relationship?
Allison K. Flexer: Once I reached my mid-thirties and remained single, I no longer wanted to casually date. I had gotten to a point where dating wasn’t really fun for me anymore. It was more of a chore, and I was fairly sure I would never meet that one special person. 
God had been prompting me during my quiet times about saying “yes”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but soon after, I met the man who would become my husband. 
I'd known Michael since childhood (we grew up on the same street in the same hometown), but I hadn’t seen him in almost 20 years. We had an immediate connection. 
When Michael asked me on a date, I had to say, "yes."
In the process, I had to give up some of my fears and trust God. I had been hurt pretty badly in previous relationships and had a fear of rejection. From the beginning, Michael pursued me and never took a step backwards.

PS: Was there anything about your identity as a single woman you needed to let go of in order to be involved in a healthy relationship?
AKF: As a single woman for such a long time, I had grown very independent by the age of 37. I had managed my own life and taken care of myself for a very long time. 
I took pride in not relying on anyone else, and that was something I had to let go of.
Being in a healthy relationship requires letting the other person into your life and receiving things from them. It’s a healthy form of dependence where you open your life and make room for the other person. It may mean giving up some of the things you used to fill your time before that person came along, and that’s okay.

PS: A lot of women (myself included), when they wade into the dating game, can struggle with a fear of commitment. Are relationships really a mess worth making? 
AKF: Relationships are messy for sure. We can somewhat hide our bad qualities when we’re alone. 
Relationships make us aware of the messiness inside ourselves. But we’re designed to live in relationship, and yes, it’s definitely worth it!

A fear of commitment can look different for everyone. Personally, I feared making mistakes. Having made bad decisions in the past, I was hesitant to commit because I didn’t trust myself. I prayed a lot, felt peace that God was in it, and that prompted to me keep moving forward.
PS: Is there such a thing as "guarding your heart" too much?

AKF: I think that’s an expression that's been overused a bit. When a woman is seeking Christ and has an understanding of her great value and worth, I think guarding the heart becomes a natural byproduct. 

Understanding how much we are truly loved and known by God takes away the urge to carelessly give our hearts away. There were times when I made poor choices in this area, but I learned from each and every one of them. God will redeem our regrets!


 
PS: What would you tell a woman who has been single all of her life who was about to embark on a new relationship?

AKF: I would encourage her to make sure she knows her value comes from God so she’s not seeking validation from a guy. I would tell her not to listen to those people who say she’s too picky. 
Be picky. Don’t settle for less than God’s beautiful plan. Pray and seek God’s counsel in every step of the relationship. If you don’t have peace about a certain aspect of the relationship, pay attention to that.
PS: How do you remain true to yourself when you're in a relationship that's hopefully leading to marriage?
AKF: Honestly, I’m not sure it’s as important to remain true to yourself as it is to remain true to God. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and newness of a relationship and stop spending that quiet time with God. It’s important to continue nurturing your most important relationship—the one with God. Continue to seek his guidance as you move toward marriage.
PS: Is there anything from your single life that you grew to appreciate once you became married?

AKF: Marriage definitely gave me a better view of how God worked on me and improved my character through those single years. I use skills every day in my marriage that I learned from dating relationships I experienced or from those times when it was just me and God. I see how my prolonged singleness taught me to rely on God and built my character. It all prepared me for marriage.
PS: Is there anything you'd like to add?

AKF: In the book, I mention this advice I heard during my single journey: “The loneliest place is being stuck in a bad marriage.” Even though being single is tough and often very lonely, don’t compromise yourself or your values just to be in a relationship. Wait on God and know that you can trust him with your life and your relationships!







Allison K. Flexer is an author, speaker, and blogger who is passionate about communicating the love of God to others. Her first book, Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman (Beacon Hill Press), tells the story of her single journey and gives practical steps for letting go of the lies that destroy the joy and confidence of unmarried women. Allison was also a contributing writer for Fulfilled: The NIV Devotional Bible for the Single Woman. You can connect with Allison on her website at www.allisonflexer.com or on Twitter: @allisonkflex.



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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Keep Your Shoes On: For the Women on Unhallowed Ground



***
“Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding right outside your window is worth more than the most beautiful painting, and the crackers and peanut butter that you’re having for lunch on the coffee table are as profound, in their own way, as the Last Supper. This is it."

-Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines.

 ***

In the book of Genesis there was a burning bush. A voice from the Spirit. It echoed to Moses. It woke him up from his fugitive past. His complacent life. It called out:

Take your shoes off. You are standing on hallowed

ground. 

This was his big moment. This was the start of a freed generation. The thread that pulled along the cross-stitched pattern that ended oppression. Resistance. Slavery.

It happened on a day like any other. At least, that's how I see it. Moses had a regular job. A shady past. A broken childhood born from a generation of slaves. According to the Bible (and a certain DreamWorks production).

But what about those of us in this century? What is there for those of us who–unlike their claims to being Belle–don't have an animated movie that features our lives?

What about those of us who haven't heard that the ground we're standing on is meaningful. Those of us who know the earth is dusty, and who till the tired ground with our toes?



We're wondering where the miracles are. Where are the

fires by night and the clouds by day to lead us?

One of the biggest complaints I hear about Christianity, and God–frankly, a complaint I've had myself sometimes–is that He seems absent. The ground in our lives is just ground. It's just something to stand on.

When we enter social arenas, when we throw parties or bump into people at the local shop, the question is always "what's new?"

What are you up to?

How's work?

How's your relationship? Your x, y and z?

It's all remarkably the same as the last time we've talked, I tell them. I reply with "same old same old." Nothing new. Content at times. Scared at others. And incredibly, incredibly impatient for the first sign of a burning bush in my life.

Because it's all unhallowed ground, it seems.




I think about Moses. And how he must have felt before he knew his story would turn into an epic. I wonder if he was happy, or if he wrestled with his purpose, too.

I wonder if he was more awake to the miracles unfolding all around him. And I wonder the same for us. If we just haven't woken up to them.

I wonder if the miracles, the signs, the wonders God is 

giving us have been swallowed whole by our addiction to 

the mundane.

Because we can't see past it. We can't imagine a future without it. And we keep stamping around like there's nothing sacred there.

There must be.

One night about a month ago, I sat next to an artist at an event I was reporting on. I told him about a children's book character I've been working on but have no illustrator for. He promptly plucked the pen and paper from my hands and in 30 seconds flat, drew a picture of the character I told him about.

I held the drawing in my hands thinking how remarkable life is. How in a conversation, an idea can turn into a reality. Or hope. Or possibility.

And I wonder if God speaks to us in more creative ways than he did In The Beginning. I wonder if He's trying to reach us in different ways.

I wonder if we should wriggle out of our heels more often. Because our meaning, our purpose, our passion is as close as the dusty ground beneath us.

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