Monday, April 30, 2012

Maybe I Am, Afterall

I've always thought to myself that I'm not an artist. I may be able to paint, and I may be able to draw a little, but by no means am I an artist. An artist thinks, breathes, lives to create. An artist lives to breathe life into an empty, lifeless piece of clay or blank canvas. And although there are times when I am drawn to the blank, creamy whiteness of an unmarked piece of paper, I don't live for that. It's not my life, and I certainly don't feel an absence when I go for days on end without touching a pencil to paper.

But lately, there's been a box of watercolours sitting on the top of my shelf that seems to catch my eye every time I open my closet doors. They've barely been touched, once opened for an art project a year or two ago. But lately, every time I see them, something stirs within my heart. I need to paint with those, I think. I need to hold those watercolours in my hand and allow my heart to pour onto the white paper.

And so today I gave in, and I made my way to the art store to buy watercolour paper and some new brushes. I waited excitedly in the lineup (which just so happened to be incredibly long), wondering what I'd paint with my new supplies. And so tonight I finally pulled up my laptop for some inspiration, opened up the empty book of paper, and dug out my watercolours. And my heart is stirring. It's asking me to open it up, to discover what's trying so desperately to get out.

And then I think to myself,

Maybe I am an artist afterall.

Maybe Afterall, 9x12, Watercolour

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Letting Go of Self-Made Props

“For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. You need not look at that only in a negative way. You wanted to give your heart to others, and you did so quickly and easily. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.” (Henri Nouwen)

Today I met with one of my wisest professors. She has been a source of love and guidance for me through every class I've had with her, and she's opened my eyes and heart to see the world and people in a different way. She's shaped who I hope to be as a therapist, and has been an example of grace and poise in my life and in the lives of others. She has a way of seeing things before you even see them, an incredible insight into our deep, dark souls. And that to me is amazing.

So today I sat across from her in her office, and we talked about my life and my future plans. But quickly, she allowed me a space to share a huge weight upon my shoulders: I am one who walks around with much guilt. I am one who feels guilty for leaving home four years ago, and still wrestles with that weight. I am one who feels guilty when I can't fix what I hope to; I feel guilty when I share my hurt, knowing very well that my hurt causes the person who hurt me in the first place to feel pain too. I am one who carries guilt because I can't seem to set up boundaries that need to be in place, because God forbid, I offend the person who is overstepping them.

Guilt, guilt, guilt. It follows me.

But, my professor opened my eyes to something wonderful. "What is the guilt trying to say to you, Angie?" she asked. "It's not telling you that you've done something wrong. So what is it trying to warn you? Why is it yelling at you, trying to get your attention?"

And I sat there for a moment, wrestling with that question. I've found my identity and role as being the solver. I've found my identity in being the one that holds it all together, even if this was done unconsciously. And I can't be that person anymore. Not in my family, not in my friends' lives. Because that role is not even really mine to take on anyway.

I can't solve everything. I can't be the superwoman everyone may need me to be. I can't feel others' emotions or pain for them. I can't be present always, no matter if people want me to be or not. I need to remind myself: I am weak. But He is strong.

I've depended on others' needing me to shape who I am. And although this isn't entirely negative - it's not - but as Henri Nouwen writes in the quote above, I need to let go of this role. I need to trust that He is all I need. I need to give myself the space to find out what my identity is without being a pleaser. 

And that realization is a scary one, because it is uncovering a whole new layer of who I am, an unfamiliar one. And although the journey and process will be painful, the outcome and reward will be simply wonderful.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Needing the One who Knows All

I have a confession to make.

I like to run.

Not in the "let's-go-for-a-nice-run-outside-while-it's-still-nice-out" kind of running, or the "did-you-know-I-burn-12,000,329,310-calories-when-I-hit-the-treadmill" kind of running.

No, I run away from the unknown. Because the unknown terrifies me.

I like safety, I like comfort, I like having answers. I like to know what I'm going to say before I say it. I like being able to offer answers in a world of unknown. Because here, in the world where I have answers and knowledge and all those lovely things, it is safe. It doesn't require much of me.

But it's in places of unknown where much is required of me. In those places I am most vulnerable, offering up a humble reply of, "I don't know," and trusting that in my weakness, He is strong.

But I still do it. I run away from the topic of homosexuality, because I just want to avoid the inevitable question, "But doesn't the Bible say that because I love another man I'm sinning against His Word?" I run away from the topic of knowing what God's Word says about divorce, and yet knowing that no matter what it says, it never seems the right answer amidst heartache and pain and unfaithfulness. I want to run away when a Believer dates a non-Christian, because although the Bible warns that darkness has no place with light, and that we are not to be unequally yoked, my answers seem weightless in the light of the imminent response, "But you can't judge my relationship - who am I to judge their beliefs and whether or not they believe in God? Who am I to tell them that I can't be with them, just because their beliefs aren't the same as mine?"

And in those questions, in those unknowns, I sink backwards towards where it is safe. Back to my world of knowing the answers, of knowing where I stand, of just simply knowing.

But I have to think sometimes. I'm not sure that's where God always wants me to be.

I'm not sure if He wants me to live my life in the safety of my comfortable place, in the place where I understand everything.

I don't think He thinks less of me because I know so very little. I don't think He's disappointed in me, when in those times of confusion, when I just don't know or have any answers, I surrender my not knowing up to Him.

In fact, I think He may love it. Because if we didn't know so very little afterall, we'd never need the One who knows all.

A Lovely Paradox

In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul writes:

We are troubled on every side,
yet not distressed;
we are perplexed,
but not in despair;
but not forsaken;
cast down,
but not destroyed.

I read those words last week and they've made an impression on my heart ever since. There is a lovely paradox in these words. And I've wondered since then, what kind of a religion or faith will promise those things? We are promised we will be troubled. We are promised we will be perplexed. We are promised we will be persecuted, and even more, we are promised we will be cast down.

But yet.

We will not be distressed.

We will not be in despair.

We will not be forsaken.

And we will not be destroyed.

What beauty in those words.

As I've walked my journey these past couple years, I've wrestled with that great, big, ugly question of why. I've wondered: isn't my Christian life supposed to be good? Isn't God supposed to take away my horrible circumstances, and have everything fall into place the way it's supposed to happen?

But God has gently shown me I've got it all wrong. Life is tough. And although I've looked, there's nothing in the Word that says it will ever be easy. Or the way we want it to be. And when I choose to follow Him, I will be persecuted. I will be cast down. I will face adversity at every corner.

But through this darkness shines a great light, and sometimes I wonder whether or not that light can shine as brightly without walking through darkness. Through that suffering I am offered promises that are so great. That to me are worth walking through trials and pain to see the beauty of my Savior.

For I will not be distressed, even in times of trouble. Even when life goes nothing like I've planned, and anger and pain and heartache chase me wherever I go.

I will not despair. Even when I feel the world has fallen from underneath me, even when I feel my head has not a warm place to rest at night. My hope rests in Him.

I will not be forsaken. For even though my closest family my forsake, He will never leave my side.

And most importantly, I will not be destroyed. For the power that rose Christ from the dead lives in me, and neither pain nor death nor trial can ever take that from me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pornography is NOT the Problem

As many of you may or may not know, I have been researching for my Honors thesis in the area of female pornography use and its effects.  It's been a highly enlightening journey as I've spent hours reading, researching, and writing. I am not done writing, although the research part is finished.

During this journey, what I have found is a heartache deep within me for the devastation that pornography, or any sexually explicit material really, causes. It destroys and distorts something God created uniquely and inherently beautiful. It dishonours He who created love, and brings shame and pain to those who walk in its path. It never satisfies what it claims to satisfy, for lust is never satisfied. It always leaves us wanting more.

And yet as I've read statistic after statistic, as I've read cries from woman who are broken by their addiction, as I've read the beautiful redemption stories of Christ redeeming those shattered by pornograpy's grasp: I am reminded that pornography is not the problem.

Let me explain myself when I say this. All the research I have read is good. All of it! It sheds light on a dark, hidden area so many of us struggle with. But unless we deal with the heart, taking away the pornography will never heal anything. It's the same when men say that if women were to be more modest, it would prevent them from sinning lustfully in their hearts. One man commented on an article that I read that men are designed with a deep desire to "see a woman naked." (And that is directly quoted!) And therefore, "While not good for the women, the Taliban understood how to keep men from having sexual thoughts ... cover the female with layers and layers of heavy cloth. The most sexually pure time I ever experienced was the summer I spent living among a strict Islamic society." (You can read the original article and find this man's comments here.)

And I am reminded, Women are not the problem here. 

Pornography is not the problem here.

It's something so much deeper. So much harder to deal with. So much of a painful process of being broken and vulnerable before the only Healer, of opening our hearts up to the painful sin that resides there and letting HIM make us clean. If we forget to deal with the heart's sin and deal only with the outward behaviour, we are missing a huge part of the picture here. We need to recognize that struggles with porn and lust and any sin is a heart issue, and allow God to cleanse our hearts and make us pure ... and then the outward behaviour will follow suit.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Kindness In Its Rarest Form

There's a man who walks the streets of our town. He wears an oversized coat, giant rain boots, and always carries a garbage bag. With thick glasses and an unruly mop of white hair, he walks through the town, picking up garbage and chatting with whoever crosses his path.

This man has fascinated me since we've moved here. I've only been home a handful of times since the move, but I'm curious to know his story. What is it that causes him to pour kindness into the community around him? As far as I know, years ago he and his wife and daughter were in a car accident. He lost both his wife and daughter on that fateful day.

And now, he fills his time serving the community. Just this afternoon, he walked by our home, noticed a dishcloth that had fallen off the line, picked it up and came over to hang it back up in its rightful spot. I watched him from the window limber slowly over, his age showing as he made his way across our porch. And I couldn't help but swell with gratitude for the small act of kindness towards my family.

It's just a dishcloth, maybe. But it made me think about the acts of kindness I do. Do I look for thanks? Do I do them to be noticed, to be appreciated for my good works? It seems to me that this man shows kindness without ever asking for thanks. He does it without regard for whether or not there is a woman peering at him through a window noticing as he walks up to her porch; he does it not so I would run out and thank him. It was selfless. It was pure. And it was kindness in a rare form.

He doesn't even know it, but by picking up that dishcloth he challenged me to pursue kindness in that rare form. To show kindness not because one deserves it; not because I deserve thanks in return. But show kindness because it is rare. Because it is precious. Because it is lovely.

Ephesians 6:7 - "With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hidden in Disguise

I've been wondering something lately. Having turned 22 a couple months ago, and never been in a relationship, there are many times that I have questioned why. I've looked ashamedly at my past and hidden it away, failing to mention my never-been-in-a-relationship status. I've looked to the Word in search of encouragement for my long-standing singleness. And I've blissfully eyed Matthew and Mary on Downton Abbey, hoping some day a Matthew might come into my life!

But lately, God has been pulling on my heartstrings with a few thoughts. What if my lack of a relationship has been a blessing?

What if God has protected me from heartache for a reason? What if, the entire time I've thought God had forgotten about me, He was intensely looking out for my well-being?

Maybe it's been the breakups that have surrounded me in my friends' lives lately, but I can't help but being grateful I haven't experienced regretted kisses, or stolen moments of intimacy, or intertwined lives that never break easily. I can't help but be thankful for my single status, for the fact that my heart had been safeguarded by the one above who will know when it's the time for me to share. Sometimes, it seems, God's greatest blessings are in disguise ... and I am thankful for the times when he pulls back the curtains and let's us see.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Little Lesson from Nehemiah

I hate waking up with the feeling that something is wrong. I had waking up being reminded of the brokenness in my life. I hate that weight on my shoulders as I climb out of bed, the punch-in-your-stomach kind of feeling that something is just not quite right.

But this morning, as I woke up to those feelings once again, my mind wandered to the prophet of Nehemiah. I love that guy. If you've never read that small book in the Bible, do it: right now. He is a man of God who carried a great burden to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt. And this burden he cried over for forty days. Forty days! Day and night he wept for the burden that had been placed upon his shoulders. Day and night he interceded, and woke up every day with the same reminder: something is just not quite right.

And he reminded me: maybe I've been hating this feeling for so long I've failed to appreciate it.

Maybe what I should be doing instead of praying to be rid of these feelings is to pray a prayer of thanks instead. Because it is good to be reminded when something is not right. It is good to be reminded of the pain that surrounds us. It is good to be reminded, like Nehemiah was, to intercede.  Charles Spurgeon wrote, "When God puts a burden upon you, He puts His own arms underneath."

Nehemiah was never once alone carrying that burden. Every morning he awoke to the reminder that something was wrong, God met with Him there. Nehemiah wrestled with that burden, interceded for that burden, and as He did, God put His own arms underneath.

He put His arms underneath.