Always Remember the Good

Here’s something you probably don’t know about me (or if you know me well, you know this to be a fact): In normal circumstances, I am quite the pessimist.

As in cloud-over-the-head, storm-on-the-horizon, always-expecting-the-worst kind of pessimism. Growing up, I rarely saw the good in things. If you asked me to name one thing I was grateful for, I couldn’t tell you. My mind was so consumed with the things I wasn’t grateful for that I couldn’t even acknowledge the good things in my life.

And I wonder why I had so many problems. I mean, really.

The thing is, there are always going to be challenges and less than pleasurable circumstances in this life. Sadness will come and go. Financial trouble will grace the doors of your home at some point. Job troubles will fall unexpectedly in your lap. You will be tired, depressed or just plain moody at times. Your health may not always be the best. Circumstances may not always turn out the way you think they ought to, but in the midst of all that trouble, there is still good.

When we focus on the negative, it becomes all we see. The dark places crowd out the light, and our minds go there. To the dark places. To the negative places. To the places with no hope, no joy and no promise. To the places that make us forget that there really are good things in our life.

So we sit and wallow in our own little world of self-misery. We question God, asking Him why He allowed this to happen. We complain to those around us, attempting to spread our misery everywhere we go. We lose hope in the future, doubting that things will ever get better. We live in auto-pilot, always waiting for the next shoe to drop.

And on-and-on-and-on the cycle goes.

The only thing that can break the cycle is thankfulness. The purposeful acknowledgement of the good in our lives. Because – no matter who you are – there is always good. There is always something to be thankful for.

We just wrapped up the Christmas season and are well into the New Year. As the newness of the year begins to wear off, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns. It’s easy to forget the joy of last season and the excitement of something new. It’s easy to feel defeated in the face of things that just seem to always stay the same. Getting stuck in our rut becomes easier than embracing a journey of change. Wallowing in self-pity becomes more comfortable than opening our eyes and seeing the good.

Because there is good. There’s plenty of good, no matter how much bad surrounds you.

When I recovering from my eating disorder, I was challenged to focus on the good things in my life. The things that I enjoyed. The things that I was thankful for. The things that would make my life – eventually – good.

And if I’m being honest, it was hard. Acknowledging the good things in life after being conditioned to see only the negative is challenging (for want of a better word), but it is so worth it.

Life becomes easier. Challenges seem to shrink, even if just a little. Frustration becomes more manageable. Your emotions become just a little more stable. You become more enjoyable to be around (at least, that’s what the husband tells me).

Seeing the good in things doesn’t change your situation; it simply gives you a different perspective. It allows you to take a step back and look at things realistically, without the hindrance of erratic emotions or irrational thoughts.

Wouldn’t it be nice to begin this new year the right way? I’m not talking about starting a diet or new workout regimen. I’m talking about making some soul changes. Changes that matter. Changes that will not only improve our lives but make us better people in the process.

Changes that matter.

So as we begin this year, let’s not forget the good. Let’s remember that there is always something to be thankful for, no matter how dire the circumstances.

Lessons from an Old Philosopher on a Saturday Morning

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seems as though my whole life I’ve been on this unending quest to find beauty.

Growing up, I always thought that if I could just change that one thing about myself, I would be beautiful. Over time, that one thing became one more thing and before I knew it, I wanted to change everything about myself. My weight. My body. My face. My personality. The way I spoke…. you get the picture.

However, every time I succeeded in changing that one thing, I still seemed to come up short. I looked in the mirror and still saw everything that I lacked – beauty.

I wish I could say that I’ve dismissed the search to move on to more important things.

I haven’t.

Here’s the thing – I think we are all hardwired to search for beauty. We just make the mistake of searching for it in the wrong places.

For me, I mistook true beauty to mean physical perfection. If I could get down to a certain weight, I was convinced that I would be deemed “beautiful”. If I could fit into a certain size, I was convinced that the world would see that I was “beautiful”. If I could look into the mirror and see the face of a polished movie star looking back at me, I was convinced that I had reached my final goal: “beauty”.

Beauty is a lot more complex than I originally thought it to be.

Even when I met my goals, I still found myself lacking. I still found things that could be improved upon. I still saw bits of “ugly” underneath the things I deemed beautiful.

So, in an effort to reach my final goal, I kept changing. I kept searching for the one thing that would finally allow me to earn the right to be called “beautiful”.

It took a long time for me to finally realize that I’m never going to find that one thing. Because that one thing doesn’t exist. It never did.

Being beautiful doesn’t mean meeting today’s standards of physical beauty. It doesn’t mean transforming your body to appease the masses. It doesn’t mean neglecting yourself.

It means finding yourself.

Knowing who you are and what you are about is the most beautiful thing in the world. Think about it. Who are the people you admire the most? Are they the celebrities that walk in and out of your T.V. screen? Are they the popular kids in your class who seem to have it all together? Are they the people you find yourself envying as you walk on by?

Or are they the people who don’t have a care in the world? Are they the people who have defined themselves by who they are and nothing more? Are they the people who love unconditionally, who care deeply and listen closely? Are they the people who have allowed themselves to be made whole from what was originally intended to break them?

To me, the latter are more beautiful. The ones who don’t care what other people think of them. The ones who keep going despite the obstacles in their way. The ones who redefine what it means to be beautiful.

These are the people I want to know. This is the person I want to be. If at the end of the day I can say, “I am who I am” and not be afraid, I will know that I have finally reached what I’ve been searching for.

To search for something you already have is pointless; but to be the person you were meant to be…. That is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Perfection and It’s Ugly Face

I have to admit, I’m nowhere near having it all together. If you thought I did – I’m sorry to burst your bubble – but it’s the truth. Perfection does not live in this house.

I still lose it every now and then.

Take the other night, for example. I was making tortilla soup for dinner, and I made a small mistake. Ok, no, big mistake. As in putting the wrong spice in the soup. Not only the wrong spice, but 10 times as much as should go in the soup.

Yep, big mistake. It tasted awful. Josh can vouch for that.

So there I am, standing in the middle of the kitchen, crying because I messed up the soup. Ok, it was more like momentarily sobbing, but who needs to know that?

Knowing that dinner was a lost cause at this point, I poured the whole steaming pot down the drain. And then cried again over the ingredients I just wasted. Down the drain.

(Did I mention that we’re not exactly rich?)

Y’all, I was so upset. My crying and pity party went on for a good 20 minutes until I realized how ridiculous I was being.

Alright, it may have been pointed out to me how ridiculous I was being.

Anywho.

I’ve been thinking about that night all week, wondering why I was so upset over a dinner gone wrong. I turned over every possibility until I realized it all came down to perfection for me.

You see, I’ve struggled with perfection all my life. If everything in my life wasn’t perfect (or at least – didn’t appear perfect), I fell apart. I couldn’t handle letting everyone see my faults and failures. I couldn’t let anyone see that I was human in case they decided to write me off.

It never occurred to me that I actually end up written off because I don’t show my faults. Whowouldathought?

I have had a lot of expectations for myself over the years. Be the perfect student and make the perfect grades.

Be the perfect employee and never make one, single mistake.

Be the perfect daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend and keep the peace.

Be the perfect wife and cook amazingly all the time, clean the house like I’ve done it all my life (ha!), excel at all those domestic duties.

The thing is, these expectations of perfection that I have for myself only end up costing me in the long run. I’m the one that freaks out when I make a mistake. I’m the one that spews my insecurities from said mistake on others. I’m the one who is let down time after time because I fail to reach the goal of perfection.

I’m the one that pays. Every. Single. Time.

Now, don’t misunderstand, expectations are good and healthy…until they get in the way of your perception of yourself and others. Expectations are put in place to encourage us to meet goals to the best of our abilities, not to tear us apart when we fail to meet our goals perfectly. It’s good to have remorse. It’s healthy to feel apologetic when we mess up. But to completely crush our sense of self worth?

No, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Not at all.

God is utter perfection. If you read the Old Testament, you’ll see that we were required to attain perfection to gain access to Him. So, take heart, it’s inherent to our beings.

But here’s the deal, that was the Old Testament. Before Jesus. Before the sacrifice of the Perfect One. For us.

We are no longer required to be perfect. There’s mercy now. There’s grace. All of our imperfections were nailed to the cross when Jesus took the punishment for us.

So there is no need to punish ourselves when we fall just short of perfection. It’s only rehashing what has already been done.

Do you struggle with perfection? What do you do when you fail to measure up to your standards (or the standards of the people around you)?

Share your stories below and let’s tackle this issue together.

Because He Did, We Will

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I have experienced many seemingly hopeless moments in my life. Some have been self-inflicted, and some have been circumstantial. The void that comes with both is unbearable.

As the new year rolls around, I reflect on all these memories – both good and bad. I remember the pain of loss – of friends, ideals, dreams and stability. I remember the tears – of joy, sorrow, renewal and deep, unrelenting wounds. I remember the hopelessness that made me want to end life again and again. I remember the defeat of trying to get better. I remember the struggle between body, mind and food. I remember the joy of conquering my deep-set desires little by little. I remember the satisfaction of a job well done. I remember the love that I am finally able to feel – from family, friends and God. I remember the taste of sweet, delicious victory and the defeat of another night lost. I remember wondering if I could ever cling to the promise of  hope.

I remember my unbelief – in God, myself, others and freedom. I remember bitterly lashing out at God for the state of my life. I remember the lonely days – days in treatment, days in hospitals, days surrounded by love but unable to feel it. I remember the abandonment I felt from God – year after year.

And I remember the moments when I knew that God not only existed in the world, but in my life as well.

Yes, there have been many moments, many memories. And there will be many more. That is a guarantee.

There are many things I want to do in this new year. Things I want to accomplish, goals I want to set, memories I want to make. However, as I think on all the “to-do’s” the year will bring, my heart cries out for something more. Something that matters. A theme not only for this year, but for every year that you and I are on this earth. A rather unexpected theme. A two-word hope statement.

Jesus overcame.

This phrase has the power to completely transform my life and the way I look at God. It is the single breath of hope that I long for. It translates into freedom.

Jesus overcoming means that I will overcome. It means that trials don’t have the power to steal my joy. It means instability does not have the right to steal my peace. It means losing does not disrupt my contentment. It means that seemingly hopeless situations do not diminish my hope. It means that though I may lose everything of importance to me in this life, I am not without. Jesus will remain. Steadfast. Strong. Sure.

Because He overcame, I can overcome in this life. By His power, I can overcome each and every temptation. I can overcome the familiar battle of food and weight. Because Jesus overcame the grave, I can overcome mine. I can overcome the desires that drag me down, the envy that rots my soul and relationships, and the depression that jumps in at any given moment. I can overcome the fears that seek to paralyze my life, the defeat of broken dreams, the frustrations of life and the uncertainties of the future. I can overcome because JESUS overcame.

As I reflect on years past, I see how He has enabled me to overcome. There have been many sweet, sweet victories. He has brought me so far and for that I am thankful. So as we start out this new year, remember that Jesus overcame. Remember where you’ve been and how far He has brought you. And remember – because He overcame, you overcome. Each and everyday.

If you doubt (as I have many times), remember that Jesus overcame the grave – ultimately, death. He can overcome even the smallest situation in your life – so expect it. Wait for it. Pray for it. Have others pray for it.

And as you wait, reflect and share on the things He has already overcome.

Stability in the Unknown

There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. As I talk to friends and family, I’m more and more aware of the fact that there is not much assurance anymore. I’ve known people who’ve lost jobs, spouses, friends, family and themselves in the recent years. I’ve known people fearful of every minute, not knowing when their stroke of good luck will come to an end. I’ve known people who are scared to death to make a change in case it doesn’t work out. I’ve known, I’ve seen and I’ve heard about the troubles and uncertainties of life, and I’ve experienced them too.

I don’t know about you, but as soon as I start feeling as though something in my life is about to get a little unstable, fear instantly strikes. My mind conjures up more instability. My thoughts portray a future that will never again be bright. I stop trusting in the things I know God can do and take the matter into my own hands.

If you’ve ever tried to “fix” things,  you’ll know it doesn’t exactly work out. I can honestly say that every time I turned to myself for the solution, things haven’t ended so well. I usually just end up making a big mess of things and regret trying to solve the problem in the first place. It’s a lose-lose situation, really.

When I finally turn around and give the situation to God, things always work out. And I mean always. I am never let down because God can do miraculous things out of some awful situations. Me? I can just make an awful situation somewhat bearable.

So why – after learning this lesson time and time again – do I keep trying to be Mrs. Fix-It? My track record is by far in need of some improvement. I can’t even think of the last time one of my plans was even mildly successful. And yet… I still try to come up with the solutions on my own.

Stupid, really.

Let this be a reminder to all of us that God is in control. He’s pretty big; I’m sure He can handle things all by himself. And – to be perfectly honest – I feel better just knowing that He is personally involved in the situation. My situation. Your situation. Every-single-life-that-is-now-living’s situation. I know this sounds corny, but He’s got it all in His hands (enter overused – but true – Sunday school song).

Sometimes we just need to rest in the knowledge that He is God and nothing gets pass Him. His eyes see what you are going through. His ears hear what is going on around you. His heart feels what yours is feeling right this second. His hand will intervene. And always, no matter what the outcome is, it will be for the better because it’s all in His plan.

Now that, to me, is what I can call stability. He is unchanging, all-knowing and forever loving. What kind of earthly stability would ever be able to give you all that?

As far as I know and have seen, nothing compares.

Be Intentional.

I’m not the person I wish I was. There are many things I’d like to do with my time to show people I care, but too often than not, I let the time pass me by and let those ideas stay just that – ideas.

I’ve realized over the past year of so that I am not intentional. About anything. I let life do it’s thing. I try to go with the flow. I test the waters and too often than not – the levels aren’t right so I say, “Maybe next time.”

The thing is – there won’t always be a next time. A lot of the times, the opportunity is standing right there and if you don’t take it, you don’t get that moment back.

And then you’re left with regret. Lots and lots of regret. Regret over words you didn’t speak that someone desperately needed to hear. Regret over an act of kindness that needed to be extended. Regret over not showing how much you love the most important people in your life. Regret over how often you let those moments pass by without a word or gesture.

I’m realizing that the regret doesn’t have to be there. I can change it. I can make sure that I follow through with giving the love others need.

Just by being intentional.

Another Lesson Learned

I have to admit, there are still a lot of lessons in life that I need to learn. While I’d prefer to learn other – easier – lessons at the moment, I’m stuck with this one:

Contentment.

I really, really hate that word. In fact, there’s only a few words I hate more. Words like laundry and taking the dogs outside to do their business. In the snow. To return and get the house all dirty. Again.

But I digress.

Contentment is a foreign word to me. My life has always been about waiting for the next thing. When I was eight, I was already looking forward to going to college. Summer comes and I’m already looking forward to the holidays. The holidays come and I’m already looking forward to next year’s holiday season.

(Yes, I am a bit nuts in the head.)

The point is, I spend most of my life wishing for the next big thing. And, I never realized it was a problem. In fact, wishing and hoping was what got me thru most of my life. Half the time it was my life-saver. When I’d fall back into a state of depression, it became my coping mechanism. I learned to get through the day by looking forward to the future.

And it worked.

The only thing is, it has become a way of life. A not-so-healthy way of life, I’m finding out.

Funny thing: I’m married to a live-in-the-moment type of guy. So, as you can imagine, our views on contentment (or lack thereof, in my case) don’t really mesh. While I’m dreaming and planning for the next exciting “thing”, he’s just enjoying the moment, appreciating the time we have now.

His approach has taught me a lot, actually. It’s made me rethink life. It’s made me realize that life is not just a thing to “get through”; it’s meant to be lived in-the-moment. It’s meant to be appreciated – whether you’re in a mundane stage, exciting stage, challenging stage or excruciatingly painful stage. Life is meant to be lived…not dreamt away.

Not that I’m saying looking forward to things is wrong. Believe me, I’ll always be a dreamer.

But there’s this thing called balance. And I think if I learn to be content in the moment, the things that I look forward to will be so much sweeter when I get there.

New Beginnings

Everybody needs a fresh start every now and then… In my life, I’ve seemed to have quite a few.

Every year around this time, I started a new year of school. It was by far my favorite time because, instead of going to the same room, seeing the same people and reviewing the same material, I got a brand new start. I felt the freedom of beginning again. I relished the blank slate that awaited me as I walked through the doors. Sometimes I even went so far to change my appearance just because I could. It was a new year, and the world was full of possibilities.

When I came back from treatment at Remuda, I was faced with new beginnings again. Unfortunately, I did not make the most of those and fell right back into the need for yet another new “beginning”.

Leaving Mercy Ministries was my next beginning. It was a time of change for the better, understanding of myself and love for others. It began the process of transformation in my life, leading me along a path to find out who I really am and what I am doing here. It was a challenging time of freedom and victory, and I treasured my chance to start anew.

Moving to Colorado was certainly a new beginning. It was a change of scenery, change of perspective and change of self. I was challenged with problems from the past. I was tempted with desires with which I had become unfamiliar. I was introduced to foreign concepts such as driving in the snow, four actual seasons and a new community of “non Southerners”.

And then I was introduced to some amazing people who have made an incredible difference in my life. One of those people being the man I now call my husband.

My last new beginning (for now) was a week and three days ago. Never would I have imagined that my wedding day would be as important as it has become. It was the day of a new journey, healing from the past and acceptance of the future. It was the day I made the change of living only for myself and choosing to instead live for and beside someone else. It was the day I realized that my place in this world was not just for me or Josh or even my family – but it was for something so much bigger.

It was for God.

Since then I’ve steadily noticed that everything is changing. This isn’t just a new season for marriage – it’s a new season in general. So many things are changing. So many dreams are starting to take form in my mind. So many long lost desires are coming to the surface, and I can see opportunities to make more of them concrete.

In the next month or so, this blog will be changing. Not only will I have the opportunity to write more regularly (like I originally intended), but I will also have the opportunity to give more of myself to it. This blog, as little as it is right now, is a dream of mine. It’s the challenge to myself to make a difference and speak honestly with the world. It’s my yearning to write something that people connect with and are challenged by. It’s my way of extending my hand to people I cannot see and helping them along.

Because in the end, that’s my desire : to help. There are a lot of causes that I am passionate about – some that I’ve personally journeyed and others that I am simply aware of. My heart’s desire is not to focus on one or the other; my desire is to help no matter what.

So wherever you may be in life at this moment – whether you are at your new beginning or still journeying through the same old same – know that your life has purpose, you have opportunities for change and you always have a second chance.

The Uncertainties of Faith, Part 1

Doubt is more than not believing; doubt is the fear that what you believe may be wrong. For a long time I lived afraid. I was afraid that I was wrong, afraid that my beliefs were more make believe than logical. I was afraid of being wrong-yes. But even more afraid of being counted as a fool. To me, Christianity embodied stupidity. I did not understand how masses of people could believe in this God of the Bible. I did not understand how they could live their lives for someone whose existence could not be proven. Yes, there is the world around us. I never believed in evolution or the Big Bang Theory. But I didn’t really believe in God either. I guess you could say that I never really thought about it. I blocked it out of my mind more than anything. It was easier that way. It is often easier to ignore Christianity than to go against it. I found that when you go against Christianity, you go against the very presence inside of you. I do not know an atheist who has never considered Christianity to be appealing. The fact is- the idea of a loving God is appealing. More so than any other fact. But it is also scary.

It’s easy to convince yourself of something. When I was younger, I convinced myself that I was a good singer. No joke- I thought I was going to be the next Britney Spears. I spent most of my time in my room imagining a massive audience in front of me, hanging on my every note. I studied Britney’s life and became obsessed with learning how to become famous. I even tried to sign up for voice lessons to improve my “natural” gift. But then one day I had to wake up to the truth: I can’t sing. I can carry a tune, but that is about it. I’m pretty sure my singing career would have landed right before it had even lifted off.

You see, I convinced myself that I was a good singer even though the facts were staring me right in the face. I lived in this imaginary world, believing imaginary truth. Isn’t it easy to convince yourself of something? I eventually grew up and realized how absurd my thinking was. However, this world of make believe was not over just yet. What I didn’t know is that I would struggle with the make believe long after I left Barbies and Disney behind.

One of my biggest objections to the Christian faith and God himself was that very issue: make believe. I thought that Christians had something good, but they were severely misguided. Christianity to me was believing in a false God to make you feel good during the hard times. It was like a mental illness. I was convinced that Christians somewhere along the way became deluded and created this God to make themselves feel better and now it was just something that they believe.

I didn’t want to believe in something fake. I wanted to believe in reality. I had spent too much time in my own life believing in false ideas and realities that I was through. I was burnt out on fairy tales. I knew that the Prince would never come for Cinderella. I knew that Sleeping Beauty would never really awaken. I knew that the Beast would never turn into the handsome Prince. And I knew for certain that the Ugly Duckling would always be just that- ugly. I didn’t want false hope; I wanted truth. So I ran from Christianity like the plague. On the outside I looked like every other person in the youth group. I attended. I sat in the blue plastic chair for an hour and stayed awake. But on the inside I was screaming. I wanted to argue against everything that was being taught. I doubted every story in the Bible and rolled by eyes at the predictable Christian sayings. I couldn’t stand being around Christians for long; they got on my nerves. I didn’t want to associate with people who lived deluded lives. I wanted truth, so I searched for it. I searched and searched and searched.

And eventually ended up right where I started off: God.

Security in Security

It’s been awhile, a long while, since I’ve written. I wish I could say that it was because my life got busy (which it did) or that my brain couldn’t process enough to even write a blog post (which, on most days, it couldn’t). The truth is: I purposely held back. You see, writing to me is an honest thing. I can’t sit here and write a generic post; it’s just not who I am. When I write, I express every thought and emotion and let the reader completely see me for who I am.

That’s been the problem. I haven’t wanted anyone to see who I am.

Because I haven’t liked who I am in the first place.

Insecurity is a funny thing. It starts out as a little bugger that solely affects you, and then it turns into this life-consuming monster that leaves it’s dusty fingerprints on everything and everyone in your life.

I’ve been so insecure lately.

Insecure about my job.  Insecure about my role in life (whatever that happens to be in the moment). Insecure about my future. Insecure about my past (and people finding out about my past). Insecure about the way I look. Insecure about the way I act. Insecure to the very last bone in my body.

I haven’t been that insecure in a very long time. And it’s taken its toll.

I’ve avoided people and places that could very well be beneficial in my life. I’ve responded in ineffective ways to many, many things in my life only because I didn’t have the confidence to take on what I should. I’ve tried to attain perfection to ease all of the insecurity in my mind, but perfection-after all-is not perfecting. It’s more of a coverup to let the insecurity steep.

What, then, replaces all the insecurity in the world? (This one is a DUH.)

Security. 

Security is the only thing that can override insecurity in any way. All the other attempts I’ve made (and believe me, I’ve made many) have only been false hopes. I have to find security in my life before I even start working on my insecurities.

And that security can only be found in one thing: Christ.

I’ve tried to avoid the whole “find your security in God” thing because, well, I guess I’m a rebel like that. I don’t like people telling me what to do, and if it has anything to do with God, I generally take a lot longer to grasp it than most.

I still have so many issues there too. Believe me, I do not have it all figured out.

I do know this, though: Since I’ve put the slightest bit of faith in God, my insecurities have lessened. Yes, it may be by a tenth of a tenth, but it’s still less.

And I’m willing to take that small decrease.

It’s not easy to trust God, especially with all the “facts” in your head about yourself and your life. But turning over even one thing could make a significant difference.

It could be deciding not to conjure up the worst-case scenario about your job. Or it could be choosing not to take the opportunity to put yourself down when you make a mistake today. Whatever it is, however big or small in your eyes, it could make all the difference today.