"What matters most is to complete the journey."
- Lailah Gifty Akita
I've been called tenacious, resilient & determined. Yes, I've been all of that much of my life. But when spirit crushing moments happened by those I trusted, I experienced something new: defeat. The wind was stopped and my sails fell. I never experienced such emotionally crushing blows before from people and places unexpected. I had never tasted what it felt like to be so crushed that getting back up was like trying to walk to the moon. Little things that used to roll off, flattened me. I felt like the mole in whacka-mole.
It's been almost ten years since those events. The journey back to strength has not been easy. It has been harder than all the muck that molded me to be resilient and tenacious. It seems the older I get the harder to press on feels. I often feel tired of the fight, the race, the journey.
But I press on. Trudging along, feeling occasional bursts of energy or a gust of wind giving me a boost. Then flat. That has been more the norm. Burst, flat - repeat.
What struck me profoundly is, that which gave me such drive in the past was fear fueled by anger. Determined to prove my value and worth to those who repeatedly wanted me to believe I had none. When I found myself surrounded by others who spoke value and worth to me I flourished and let my shields down. It was at that moment, I was cut to the core.
It would be easy to conclude that life would be much easier with shields up. To reclaim anger and fear and assume that determination, resilience and tenacity would return. But the truth is, those attributes have never left. They're still within. It wasn't anger and fear that fueled me. It is the core of who I am that fueled me.
Our value and worth - those things never change since birth. It is our journey that alters the truth at times. It shadows the truth of who we are. Fearfully and Wonderfully made.
Many don't believe in the things unseen. The battle between light and dark, good and evil. It is all around us. Dark attempting to swallow up the light and evil, distorting the truth. What we see is based on what we believe. If we believe we have no value, then no value is what becomes our truth.
"You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth?"
- Galatians 5:7
There is a darkness, an evil that wants to kill steal and destroy. We each have a unique purpose on this earth, in this lifetime. What has cut in on you today, robbing you of that truth?
I was thinking about the importance of finishing well. Maybe you have been dealt some very challenging blows and you too have felt like giving up. Maybe the boat you're in has been crushed and battered and the sails have been torn down. Stand up and get in a different boat.
And when the wind dies down in that new boat, get out and walk on the water.
Keep going no matter what.
Our circumstances and situations do not determine who we are or what we are. It's all external. Who we are is internal. Life is a battle and sometimes a hellish journey. But nothing, absolutely nothing happens to us that we are not already equipped to face and to emerge victorious.
WE CAN do all things through CHRIST who strengthens us!
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:7-8
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes starts the tone of this book with “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Wow... right about now one would be encouraged to slowly close it and tip toe away. When I first read this book, I saw it as sort of a depressing downer thinking the writer must have been in a serious funk! Subsequent times reading it however, I saw more and more of what I believe he was trying to convey. Each time God opened up this text to meet me in new places, where I was ready to hear and receive. Things like reminding me that there is so much more in life that is important than a career, to helping me let go of earthly things that entangled my focus toward God. What I got out of it those times was that in comparison to relationship with God, everything is utterly meaningless.
"My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind" Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
God brought this thought of "Everything is Meaningless" to me once again a few days ago, at the end of a three day fast. This time it had a much different meaning. It spoke to my core. Something that had been plaguing me all my life, like a thorn in my side that would not only not go away, but was always festering under new circumstances and situations. A feeling of being invisible.
"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens" Ecclesiastes 3:1
During the fourth of July week, at a campground with my dog, God spoke to me to have a three day fast. I hadn't heard Him ask me to fast in years. So, excitedly I said YES! Anticipating something amazing to learn and grow deeper with Him as in times past. Then, as I put my imaginary pom poms down, I said, oh wait... what is the fast? He asked me to forego three things that I had put too much emphasis on.
When God says to stop doing something in the form of a fast, He is never going to tell us to stop doing or eating something that has no significance to us. For me, it was sugar, coffee and humbly admitting, before bed television watching. In 2008, He had called a year long fast for me for those same three things. It was the most powerful year of depth and growth in my relationship with Him I had ever experienced. I knew if He was asking this of me again, it was going to be significant. But I also knew it wasn't going to be easy. The minute we are told we need to stop something is the moment the want increases. It is also the moment transformation gets underway.
"a time to tear down and a time to build....
a time to keep and a time to throw away...
a time to tear and a time to mend" Ecclesiastes 3:3,6,7
The first day of the fast began Wednesday, July fifth. Immediately God began showing me how I had associated meaning to the things He asked me to fast from. How coffee aligned with relationship, socializing, community, warmth, laughter, peace... all things that had been present the first times drinking coffee (or my sugar filled chai latte). I found I also associated drinking coffee with productivity and purpose. I had used those things to fill times of loneliness, frustration, boredom and confusion. They brought peace, calm and a sense of significance. Temporarily. In my soon to be released book, I discuss the power of belief and meaning assigned to the things that make us feel good. It is a powerful work of the subconscious. For example, many will eat when feeling stressed because it makes them feel better, at least momentarily. But is it really the food that makes them feel better or what they believe about the food that provides the comfort?
It is amazing what we can discover if we ask ourselves (or have God ask us) what does this 'thing' mean to us? In a world full of a myriad of addictions, the origin of them all begin with some meaning we assign to the feel good satisfaction we seek. Sadly, it evolves from there. The greater or deeper the meaning, the harder and more hidden it becomes.
By the end of the week, there were many other things God showed me from abstaining from these things. One thing was for sure, I was beginning to see every'thing' was meaningless in a whole new way. It was this last morning however, that God made it all very clear to me for this season.
I woke to prepare for my quiet time, getting back to basics of reading my actual bible, not my techno bible (I had been using a tablet or my phone for the past six months and missed the actual holding of the book). As I thought about sitting in my favorite quiet time chair reading my physical bible, journal and pen in hand, I also visualized coffee in the other hand. With it came memories of amazing times with God. My first inclination was how was this going to be a good time without my coffee (I know lame right? How often though do we actually question the habits we do and why?) In this moment came the epiphany.... God simply said. "It is just a beverage - It has no meaning".
"For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil" Ecclesiastes 12:14
It was this last day that the work of the fast began to unfold the deeper hidden things. At that simple statement by God, everything that I had put meaning to, to satisfy something deeper, things in essence that were meaningless in and of them self, began flashing faster than lightening in my mind. Then God spoke this:
Meaning is not found in things.
It is found within.
Once we know our meaning,
only then can things safely offer substance and context.
Perspective - When we know who we are, we are secure, safe and settled within. No longer do we need to seek things (or people) to provide meaning to or for us. We can simply freely have them in our lives to bring context and enjoyment. A cup of coffee is just a beverage. It has no meaning. It does not make the bible reading any sweeter or any more spiritual. Food, substances, television, relationships or any other substitute we seek to find meaning, heal a hurt or fill a need does not satisfy. It leaves an emptier hole that demands more and more to satisfy. It is all meaningless. Utterly meaningless.
"The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride." Ecclesiastes 7:8
The grand finale of this time of fast came the day after the fast ended. What did all this have to do with the long standing feeling of being invisible?
My invisible feeling was from being dismissed, ignored, and neglected. I didn't have a need to be visible for accolades, recognition or status. I have had all that and it too was meaningless. It was much deeper than those things. It was about wondering if I mattered. Was I of any value to anyone? Does anyone care about what is important to me? Many never knew that was a plague I suffered with. Many assumed they understood but few did. It was a longstanding wound from childhood that, although I attempted to suffer through it, it often reared its head in a self fulfilling invisibility prophecy - I would isolate and withdraw. Not speak up for myself if pressed. Feel I couldn't tell others no if they demanded something of me. I would disappear into the shadows, silently. Only those who took the time to really see me, saw.
When God said to me a few years ago that He "sees" me, years of pain lifted and I began to step out and risk being seen. When situations occurred that felt familiar, I would shrink and weep silently. But refused to hide.
Through recent situations and this fast, God chose to use them to stir this up in ways I could not ignore. I believe Just so He could meet me and fill the gaping hole I tried to fill with meaningless things.
Settling in at church this last night, the pastor said we were going to discover what it meant to live as one, how to be in relationship with others, I sat on the edge of my seat. This was it. I just knew it. And it was.
The situation the pastor shared was "my" story and it cut to the depths of my soul. His young daughter was dismissed by friends and feeling alone and rejected. She went to go sit on a bench in the school yard that was solely for the purpose for those who felt abandoned and dismissed. This bench, with a person sitting on it, was meant to be a signal for others to come and reach out. But, no one came. No one saw her.
He shared how he wanted more than anything to fix this for his daughter. To go talk to the school, the parents and the kids who hurt her. But instead, God spoke to him for how to speak to her heart. He simply said, "I love you and I am with you".
God spoke those words to my soul and I now had a complete sentence. "I see you. I love you. I am with you".
"The more the words,
the less the meaning,
and how does that profit anyone?" Ecclesiastes 6:11
What a powerful reminder that not only can no one fix what is hurting or broken in others but everything we try to use or set in place to ease the pain, it does not satisfy. Everything is meaningless that we try to use to bring meaning to and for ourselves. Meaning comes from within. From knowing who we are and whose we are. It is the most beautiful and long lasting thing we can ever acquire. If today, you like me have felt or feel invisible or dismissed. Feel that you do not matter. Look up and look within. Trust the voice of God who says, I see you. I love you. I am with you.
"She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her:
"You are the God who sees me,"
for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." Genesis 16:13
I was thinking this morning how we all face difficulty and tragedy differently. Some go to anger and demand retribution, some go numb or dissociate and block it out and pretend nothing happened. Some go to God to try to understand, to find forgiveness. Some resort to substances, sexual activity or forms of extreme behavior. One thing we all have in common is we try to find some way to ease our pain. To remove the discomfort. To find peace from stress. Calmness from chaos. Understanding from confusion.
I don't believe there is anything more painful than to feel helpless and powerless over situations and circumstances. The same is true in feelings of powerlessness over thoughts and emotions. Things at such a deep levels a person can't consciously sort it out. Feelings so intense they at times overpower and overwhelm. Confusion and despair rattling around in a persons head that suck the life out of them. That level of pain can also drive a person to anger, hostility, numbness, dissociation and to their knees, crying, pleading and begging God for peace. For Shalom. Whether internal or external, our challenges to process life can be hard to say the least.
One of the hardest yet most powerful ways to help others who are in the midst of difficulty and lacking peace, is for them to hear compassionate stories of those who went through the storms of life much like theirs, and emerged out of the ashes and into peace. Hard for those who share because it might mean exposure, recalling something painful or taking the risk of rejection. For the one hearing, it does more than any amount of education, medication or sedation. It does more because it gives hope. You are in front of them because you got through that thing, that situation, that emotion. Hope is something that keeps people alive. People need to know that they are not alone. They need to know that what they are experiencing is not foreign or unique to just them. They need to know that they can get through this thing, feeling or situation, one way or another. After all, you did.
We see statistics on suicide every year. Every year some category increases. We put labels on why we think it happens. Much of that is effect and not cause. Depression. Illness. Stress. Anger.
A kid is bullied in school and takes his and even others lives. Is bullying the cause or the effect? His parents put him down and don't affirm him. His peers reinforce those harsh words. He then believes he is worthless and that it is others fault he is worthless. Cause and effect. What if another peer befriended him? What if his parents affirmed him for his individuality and unique personality? What if he was surrounded with hope and encouragement that he can accomplish great things? What if he had a peer who took the time to speak life to him? What if he believed he had value, worth and purpose? What effect might that have? Hope. One person taking a moment to share hope to another.
Our lives are not wasted. Our bad experiences are not just unfortunate events that we are to just chalk up as such. Our past difficulties can be the lifeline to someone else. We are not in the world for or by ourselves. We need each other to survive.
If today you have hope, share it. If today you got through another painful situation, celebrate it. If you overcame a challenging thought or feeling, hooray for your victory! Don't bury your painful past in the sand. Don't hide your scars. Don't run from the things you keep trying to forget. Look around you. There is at least one person who needs to hear YOUR story as only you can tell it. It is and was YOUR hope. Be open, available and ready to breathe life into someone who crosses your path today. You just might be the one to point them to the path of peace. The path you found.
"Do not withhold good from those who need it, when you have the ability to help."
Don't forget to pick up a copy of my book, "Confessions of a Feel Good Addict"
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