I watched my inherited grandson playing with David the other day.  He had come up to me earlier saying, “I wanna make somethin’.”  Without wanting to unleash the box of craft supplies and its unholy possession of glitter and finger paints, I opted for the box of various gift wrapping supplies.  Tape, wrapping paper, scissors, ribbon, and a misshapen collection of bags to be re-gifted all jammed into one plastic bin. 

Sometimes, when life seems particularly out of hand, I think about this box stacked away quietly in a closet and say to myself, “see…you’ve got it together…you have a box at the ready for emergency gift wrapping situations.”  It never fails, however, and I usually end up needing to make a stop to buy another bag in route to an event where a gift is required because none of the ones in said bin fit the particular gift application.  Nevertheless, this box is a great source of pride and comfort for me.  I grabbed a bunch of things that had building potential.  “Here you go!” I said, in my most disarming sing song voice, praying silently that he wouldn’t see the demon glitter bin just underneath, “Go make something!”

He set to work with David’s oversight.  I busily set about doing adult things such as seriously considering getting some laundry done as I curled up on a chair to watch ‘Despicable Me 2.’  In between scenes of Gru learning to access vulnerability,  and my internal considering of the laundry, I watched two generations of men “make somethin’” from the raw materials of my valued wrapping box.  Good thing I have it…

The build project was rife with massive inefficiencies.  Time and resources were mercilessly wasted.  At one point, Trenton asked David to cut the cardboard tube, which once usefully held about 6 foot of wrapping paper (…that I might need at some point),  into three separate segments and then, realizing his mistake, taped them all back together again like it never happened.   Ribbon was wrapped around and stuck through holes, some intentional, some not.  He was focused.  His every decision was carefully weighed in the creation of what he said would be a “crane.”  He chattered away nonstop explaining his plans to David, talking through the project, and asking for assistance when larger hands were needed.  David simply stood over him, letting him think and then obliging with a cut or a tie off as the project demanded. 

David Beamed.

“Look at how he’s thinking through just how he wants it,” he said,  “All I did was help where he needed it, but it’s all his idea…his design…” more beaming.

I nodded in agreement that Trenton was indeed a very special kid, as the cardboard tube held together by scotch tape swung from miles of red Christmas ribbon in a kind of pulley system from my ceiling…a crane.  If it had been presented to you as a prototype for potential investment, you would have declined…strenuously.

I watched my husband, his Papaw, swell with pride.  I saw absolute delight.  If you’ve never seen another person delight in something or someone absolutely, I recommend you start looking for it.  You may need new friends.  You will most likely need a different family.

It’s the look I think God has when He watches us “make something.”  It’s Him huddled over us absorbed in the process of letting us do it, hoping we talk through the strategy and waiting for us to ask for help…because our hands are too small and we can’t reach the ceiling. He doesn’t mind the mess, and He doesn’t get snotty about the overuse of ribbon or needless cuts because He knows where there’s more, and has enough tape to fix it…He’s got a whole box. 

He just delights. With no agenda and no end in sight, He knows we have been created in the image of a creator and He simply likes to see what we come up with.

Perhaps without knowing it, at some point, most of us decided to make something.  We went to college, got married, or started into a career.  Maybe we were brave and tried something big and new, or maybe the normal things of life were enough of a project.  Either way, we thought we’d try.  We were given a set of raw materials, probably the box without the glitter, and now stand in a life of our own making, an ongoing construction site.

There seem to be a couple ways of going about it.  But mostly I think we miss the point.  For whatever reason, we don’t see God like Trenton sees his papaw.  Parents, friends, and churches teach us instead that there isn’t enough goodness in the box to be making sloppy mistakes, or that if God delights in us at all, it’s because we were already good at making cranes in the first place.  I remember growing up with the mantra that “God wasn’t interested in my happiness, He wanted my Holiness”… to this day I wish someone would say that to me again so that I could kick them in the back of the knee.  As an adult, I’ve had many shouting matches with those people in my car and, had they been present for them, they would have reconsidered their theology probably.

The good people I know are mostly afraid of making mistakes.  They stop short, limit their exposure, friend groups, and efforts.  They can’t even get to “I wanna make somethin’” because they don’t trust the God in them that made them “want” in the first place.  They hand the scissors back and say, “I’ll just watch you do it.  I don’t want to mess it up.”  While they make very few mistakes, I tend to think that God agrees with me when I roll my eyes at these kinds of people.

The rest of us isolate the whole process. We don’t want help because that would require a willingness to unclench our jaws and ask…like we don’t know what we’re doing or something.  We don’t chatter along openly like Trenton, communicating without taking a breath, asking for help when needed.  We hide our stupid little project until completely out of hand and then throw it back in despair, begging for the redemption of a mangled cardboard tube…or life…whatever.

The author Gregory Boyle says “How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have…the truth of God seems to be about a joy that is a foreigner to disappointment and disapproval.” How far is that from the God we learn about?  He doesn’t separate happiness and holiness; he winds them so tightly together that to strive for one is to be caught up in the other.  So that to be given life to its full is to mimic a creator, and be joyfully unafraid of building, and growing, and doing in a world that is marked by the failure to get it right all the time.

God put us first in a garden and, while we were still quite capable of choosing life or death said, “Go make something.”  He didn’t hesitate to give us authority, in fact, He insisted on it.  And when we bend to the twisted pursuit of our own holiness, there we go again, making a brazier out of leaves to hide the inevitable shame. 

I just sat there, on holy ground, watching Gru get married surrounded by minions, laundry forgotten, thinking that maybe life is easier than I make it.

  It was always supposed to be a conversation.  We have always been called to create.  The life, the relationships, the business, and the family you have sit in stagnation or wreckage for lack of a vision and the sense to ask for help.  And still, they can be unrecognizably resurrected when we get brave enough to co-create.  He wants you to use your head and He wants you to use His hands.  There is no waste in the mistakes.  He’s got enough tape.

The time I get to sit is rare anymore.  Most of my time these days is spent managing the gym I’m partnered in, working with the nonprofit my husband and I began, and coaching clients both in person and online through the labyrinth that is physical health.  It seems like a lot when I say it like that… especially when I consider how much I actually enjoy sitting and doing relatively nothing with a good book and fluffy blanket.  Alas.

  I wish I could say that I choose to read and meditate on scripture in the original Greek and Hebrew all while marking my Bible up with various colors of highlighter.  I wish that I worked more diligently on my writing or that I studied independent news media to keep an open mind toward the realities of current events.  Mostly, I don’t.  Sometimes I shop, sometimes I watch YouTube videos about how to do yoga for self-care, and then proceed not to do yoga for self-care.  Sometimes, like today, I get caught up in scrolling social platforms and get huffy, or envious, or worse…I start to compare.  

Today was particularly tricky because it was my own feed that got under my skin, and it’s just a bummer to be the source of your own disappointment.  It began innocently enough; I was trying to be productive… (It occurs to me that that sentence should be written on my headstone)…anyway…I was rolling through my Instagram looking for old writing content to move to a different page. 

It should be said here that scrolling to the bottom of one’s social media feed should legally require the oversight of a licensed therapist.  I felt things.  None of those things were that great.  

I don’t know who that girl was six years ago, but she sure was into fitness…and I don’t know who that girl was three years ago, but she sure was into Jesus.  Each frame is unforgiving.  Each little write up is a kind of sweet wound.  Kinda cute.  Kinda painful.  It’s not that I’m no longer into fitness or Jesus anymore…It’s just…different.  

I don’t mind admitting it made me a little sad that I don’t feel like I used to about fitness or ministry.  I know social media is the place where we all say things with lots of passions and agendas, but you get a different feeling when you live in between and long after the frames.  As I scrolled down through years of posts they exposed me as shamefully attention seeking all the way around to an unsophisticated saint.   Looking around for a therapist and finding none, I was left to my own analysis…”you seem kinda stupid” I said to myself and finished the analysis.

Five years ago, in a different marriage, scraping out my own business, I was a girl whose faith was placed in work ethic.   I had grown up in, and had grown out of, church. I believed in God, but was desperate for that God to turn his face away from me.  Up to that season in life, I had learned one thing about faith; whatever it was, I didn’t have enough of it.  I tried really hard to be religious.  I tried to fit in at church.  It always culminated with a big, fat, faithless, failure on my part.  So, five years ago, I had already resolved to lay low, spiritually speaking.  It was a pretty solid strategy.  You can see it in my posting.  You can hear it in my writing. It was a faith that kept heaven out of reach and hoped for God not to notice. 

Years of posts later, I’m different girl.  My current husband and I began a nonprofit ministry.  I had started life over with a new job…all the blessings.  The posts were from a girl steeped in faith.  The things I wrote and the way I thought dripping with scripture.  Faith had awoke in the wide-eyed kind of way one gets when falling in love with the childhood friend who’d been there all along.  Somehow in the space of three years’ worth of posts I had a heart that seemed to beat harder for the sufferings of others.  Somehow being closer to my own pain provided more empathy then than feels like I have right now.   I was quick to serve, energized, and full of the kind of optimism that thinks everyone should care as much as I did.  You can see it in my posting.  You can feel it in my writing.

I seemed like a much better person to me then, than I do right now. I seemed like an entirely different species from the girl of six years ago.  There’s always a bit of melancholy mixed with memories, and this was no exception.  Looking through the past,  I felt like my faith wasn’t what it once was and, if that was true, was it ever what I thought it was?  Yeah…that’s the kinda stuff I think about sitting around.

I don’t feel like I used to.  

I don’t rush to the side of a girl who thinks she sees demons in her room at 10 o’clock at night.  I don’t try to listen to every plea for help or attention.  I don’t push to get involved with other nonprofits because I think they might get me more connected.  I don’t get upset when I can’t give what is asked for.  When I can, I don’t get any feeling of chills or any such tingly thing.  Every one of our volunteers is a much better person than I am, and I am well aware we are nothing without them.  

I used to think everything was such a big deal.  That we were going to change the world by speaking love and life into those who were marginalized and abused.  That never really happened, at least not from my particular vantage point.  In the last three years I have been a guest in the lives of more than a few drug addicts.  I have been stood up on Thanksgiving for hours while the girl I waited for was sleeping off her latest hit.  There have been countless hours of portable workouts and church services, late night hospital visits, baby gifts, and prayer requests.  I have watched merciless cycles of relapse on repeat.  I have been disappointed by people I thought were different than I thought, and humbled by people whose goodness was hidden by what I thought was otherwise.  I am sometimes harshly judgmental of choices I think are foolish from people whose pain I can never fully understand.     I am often changing my opinion about what is holy.  And sometimes, I don’t think all the effort matters at all. 

I don’t think ministry is that big of a deal anymore.  I think it’s just a kind of living where you are in the midst of God in the space of others. It’s simpler and infinitely more difficult.  Every day, sometimes every hour of every day, I am surrounded by people of every kind and I can’t tell which is ministry or who is ministering to whom anymore. 

 I struggle to love, I’m selfish with my time, outcomes are seldom what I think they should be, and I’m often salty.  I can be discouraged by the smallness of what we do but simultaneously, uncomfortably overwhelmed by just how big that smallness really is. I am uncomfortable in church.  And in fact, I get envious and cynical when I see churchy people post or say what I think is vending machine Christianity.  I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t think it’s cute anymore. I can be a relapsing cynic. Like that girl I was so many years ago, I already know I’m not faithful enough, unlike her, I’m not interested in hiding or pretending but I’m also not jumping up and down shoutin’ Hallelujah,  joining a small group. 

The faith I used to have…both the kind that was barely enough to be called a mustard seed and the kind that thought anything good was possible have given way to whatever I have now.  It’s battle tired, sometimes skeptical, but daily renewed. It’s no matter what, and whatever I’ve got. It’s been broken down but it’s far less frail.  Its less flashy but more formed.  It’s not cute or post-able, because it simply is the thing that continues to believe God turns toward us even when He knows we don’t have enough.  

 The faith of the young biblical character, David, who killed a giant, had a kingdom singing his praises…It seemed like a big deal.  But keep scrolling and that same David, many years later, forced to his knees in repentance after moral failure, still had faith… It probably didn’t feel the same.   Yet, it was probably harder for an old man to trust that God would forgive him, than it was for a young man to trust for Gods victory.  His faith actually had to be stronger for him to hold to it in the midst of failure.  A young man full of hope and without as many mistakes has a different kind of faith. But faith over time is thickened and hard like a callous formed to fit the work. It is year after year that one experiences God in all circumstances and finds Him faithful enough to look at us squarely and say “this, still, is one after my own heart.”

What I realized was that much of my sadness over the kind of faith I used to have was just a faulty judgement of what my faith should now be…what it “should” feel like.     Faith, however, is more in the doing than in the feeling.  Sometimes it’s only strong enough to stand still, sometimes its hands in the air singing hallelujah, and sometimes it’s head down and do the thing again.  As the years go by, if you expose it to a world that makes hard demands, it gets tough.  It won’t feel like it used to but it will be stronger than it ever was, not on its own merit, but because it has seen who He is over and over again regardless of who you were.  It has always been small and simple, but it actually is a really big deal.

In conclusion, maybe be more productive in your down time.  And when you’re tired, don’t scroll your own feed digging up what you’ve already buried under years of filters and circumstance.  Expose the faith you have to things that might ugly it up a little bit, but just may toughen it up a lot.

Why do you do whatever it is you do?

I’ve been thinking about that lately.  The world stopped for a precious minute and we’ve all had time to ask ourselves for the first time in the history of probably ever why we do what we do without the eyes of the outside world expecting much.  We have had a literal minute of silence followed by a horrific noise leaving us all speechless, and Silence again.

So, no one is paying attention but everyone is watching.   What matters to you? What do you actually care about?  The world was stopped and now its inflamed.  Everyone is speechless with their mouths hanging open and I ask myself why and what next.

I love transformation.  I seek out people who want transformation.  My life has been a process of slow transformation, and transformation is the kind of work I do with my life.  While I make my living in the physical transformation of bodies, I get to be a part of the spiritual, mental, and emotional  transformation that is all part of a divided whole.

This picture feels like what we so desperately want.  This little girl, arms open wide, shamelessly joining in what she hopes to be good, and where she hopes to be included.  It may just be the warm up to a workout, but she’s all in.  She knows getting it perfect doesn’t matter, she’s already loved.   She has no shame in her.  She’ll do as much as she wants, stop when she wants, and take her shoes off at inappropriate times.  Those of us surrounding her are riddled with obligation, addiction, and bear the consequences of living past her age, but are quietly, desperately trying to get back to her.

While my job is training and helping run a gym and nonprofit ministry, what is it really that I want to do?  Strip down the logo and expose the foundation and what is it that drives me to keep trying?… It took me more than a minute of thinking and staring out of windows serenely, but now I know, when it’s all shut down or burned up,  my heart wants this:

To be a witness to transformation.  To invite strong women who have let life teach them to be small to embrace the bigness of their soul and to feel the even biggerness of God’s grace as they break things on the way. 

And to watch the boarders of privilege blend with poverty.  In the same room…Rich with poor, Weak with strong, sober with addicts…all the colors. To see the pious and the social outcast share life.  To live out stories that ground us to our knees in empathy for the load every one of us is carrying.  

You see?…Its never just a job or a place…or a gym.  It’s  where we meet together to accomplish a thing.  Where we sweat and struggle and lean into what is hard on purpose.  Its where getting to the goal demands getting rid of old habits, fears, and the weight of self-protection.  All in.  Everyone exposed.

I love transformations.  It’s part of what makes me love training the body.  I  love that moment we wake up to recognize that we have strayed far from the little girl who didn’t hide, and didn’t worry, and didn’t try to control.

It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of jail battling a 20 year drug addiction, or a soccer mom faking your happiness  worrying about what happens to your marriage when the kids leave home. It doesn’t matter if you are black, brown, or white.  A holy thing happens when you start to pay attention…and then you decide…and then you move. Transformation.

It’s really brave, really messy, sometimes inconsistent, and there’s no limit of bartering, begging, or re starting.  It’s all transformation.  It starts sometimes from your hatred for what evil or neglect or sabotage has happened to you…or the apathy you have allowed to happen.  And it tenaciously grows out of what is most hoped for, and the peace you long desperately to recover…and it’s all holy.

It’s a decision point.  A pain point.  The time you try again, or the time you decide NEVER AGAIN.  It wakes you up from numbness to see God, wrestles to break free, sits with failure, and reaches for salvation.

 It’s in the hard labor of breaking a sweat, the fear of not knowing what sober, or thin, or strong, or equality even look like.  It’s fragile and yet it’s terribly strong. 

Its why I do what I do, and no matter what I do, I look for its likeness.   And as long as I do things, I hope they are things that hold space for what is transformational.  Arms open wide, shamelessly joining in, already loved. 

Right now.  You as an individual may be at a pain point or a decision point.  The world has stopped a moment to get your attention.  What is it you really want?   A good body?…Peace on earth?…  all good things.   All things that need you to seize a moment and decide what happens next.  You get to be this girl in the picture, unafraid to say what is true but grounded into a deeper truth of her absolute rightness in taking her place on the floor.

What will you do with a world that is sick and burning or a body that is weak and dying?  You can go numb…or you can begin to move.  It’s my favorite thing…that moment of decision.  It’s the moment where you see your life as a thing that can change.  You have a body, a mind, and a heart that can transform. You are a business, a city, and a culture that can decide.  Arms open wide, shamelessly joining in, already loved.

 

“We Are the sum of every Yes that we utter”…

I just read that in the book “To be Told” by Dan Allender.  He is a thickly wordy, PhD in psychology kind of author who sees God in in the story of humans.  If you like that kind of thing, you’ll love Allender.

Anyway…The sum of every yes…what a pretty way to think about choices. The mundane and dramatic, leading to the total amount of who we are.   Saying yes often takes you out from where you are into a place you may be a little scared and unprepared to be.  The new job, the date, the move…it’s all yes and then hold on.  It’s a word said in a moment where hope outweighed reality.

Sitting here, taking perhaps a little too long to process one sentence, I am the current result of all the things I had the bravery or stupidity to say yes to.  I have used my time on earth in ways that have lead me here and until I’m dead, every decision I make, even in my response to another’s yes, will have an infinite number of possible outcomes…blessed and disastrous.  ‘Yes’ to a new business, ‘Yes’ to a speaking engagement, and ‘yes’ to committing to a life changing habit.  Yes is the reach before falling or flying.  Regardless of the outcome, yes starts the fire to cook or be cooked.

Saying No… that’s always there too.  But its power lies in subtracting and protecting.  It’s the thing we don’t do or believe in order to add value in another direction…another faith.  Saying no is saying yes to unchanging.  Saying no, is to hold the agreement that I’m not going that way, or, I’m not moving, but it doesn’t necessarily know which way to go.  It isn’t bad and may many times be necessary, but it only exists in the absence of desire and it seems static to the kind of movement that is the fallout of “Yes.” No is simply what’s left in the wake and the shadow of your yes.

All of our lives we make agreements.  We say ‘yes’ to more than questions.  We spend our lives deciding who we are going to believe and how we are going to live.  As we live, every Judgement held either for us, or against us, demands our” yes” to hold any power over us.  Every opportunity or challenge we say yes to is in keeping with who we have already agreed that we are. 

So.

Who do you say that you are?

Who or what has drawn a yes from your frightened lips in order for you to answer that question?  Do you even know why you said it?  Can you look back and see what it was that you wanted?…and did it go how you thought it would go?

I’ve said yes to everything from marriage, to divorce, to world travel, to nonprofit work, to business ownership, to marriage again. I’ve said yes to love, and yes to hate.  To wasteful thinking and to what I thought had purpose.

I’ve said yes to good things and bad, and each time was the result of who I agreed that I was, and what I believed would be fulfilling.  I’ve said yes to what I deep down just wanted to do and to what I felt compelled to do for others.  I’ve said yes many times…so have you…

I’m willing to bet each time led to movement. Disruption.  Transition. If you say it often enough, it will turn your life into something unrecognizable and that can either be very bad or very good. It depends very much on the quality of the yes’s preceding it.   When I have said yes to the things that God has carved into my heart and story, it’s always been miraculously disruptive.  You are the sum of a great number of agreements.  Still, every broken decision to agree with what is destructive offers the redemption of another yes.  That’s what grace is…grace is God’s yes.

So where does your yes come from and how do you harness it into what leads toward where you ultimately want to go?

It is your deep desire. Your gut place.  The longings in the heart and hope in the mind.

My unwise ‘yes’ is the result of unhealthy desire and sick hope.  Catastrophically bad decisions are bred in a hundred lesser malignant interactions before them.  Remember, you are the sum of your agreements and therefore the progeny of your dark desire as well as your productive hurt.  It’s why we need grace for others and ourselves in the face of a really stupid yes.  It’s why the next yes is important.

If I bring it down to a practical example, then the cake you binge on tonight is the result of saying yes to the futility of this day, like all days before it.  If you walk the weeks, months and years backward you might see a parade of agreements to body image issues, stress mismanagement, and self-medicating.  Binging on cake then, while common enough…is the sum of all your agreements to self-destruction. Even more seductively, It is your “yes” to comfort and your “no” to health.  It is acknowledging that the world is hard and unpredictable, and cake feels good.  Therefore, feeling good, comforted, social, happy, whatever…those things have your heart…and your heart says yes.

Yes, is a reflection of your value system.

Healthy or unhealthy, the thing you agree to do is a direct expression of the person you agree you are and the deepest desire of that person at any particular moment. 

I am a personal trainer, a weight loss expert, if you will allow such a glorified definition.  When working with anyone, I always ask why, and I continue to ask the same person the same question over and over again, sometimes for years… because most people don’t know their own answer, and many pay no attention to the story their life is telling, even fewer recognize when the two are in contradiction.  Most people don’t realize that they are already living out their highest current value system…they just don’t like the result.  They don’t like the sum of all their previous yes’s.  They hire me to sort it out.

Journeying through body change is essentially an exposure of beliefs, the reality of ones circumstances, inherent values, and integrity.  So it’s always seemed kind of cheap to dumb it down into a before and after picture, but it’s the language of the day so that’s what I sometimes do.  For me however, the point isn’t to get a shockingly magnificent body transformation that allows you to feel confident wearing the latest fashion thing if that doesn’t fill the emptiness of your soul.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t keep anyone from trying, and social media has infinite evidence of anyone tiring of that anytime soon.

Likewise our daily lives, our jobs, our families, our future hopes and dreams…all reflections of what we have said yes to…all the expression of who we agreed that we are.  Even our social media accounts are an artistic arrangement of the idealized self.  Its not entirely wrong but it is entirely damning in its exposure.

Yet I hope and I wonder, if I were to use a higher question,  if I were to acknowledge my creator, would my yes be the same kind as its been…or can it change?   Can I fix my heart on an unchanging God so that it changes my deepest desire? Sometimes beautifully hidden things come from the desire for love, adventure, meaning, or purpose.  When your heart says yes from your God given desire, however imperfectly executed, it’s usually overwhelmingly accurate.

As we enter a brave new world and leave quarantine, what relationships, what events, what commitments will get our yes?…what foods, what habits, what activities?  There has been an unexpected break in rhythm.  Life is different now and we have an opportunity to change our answer.

Who do people say you are?… and did you agree with them on purpose?  

Yes, to a different pace…that may be slower…or faster if you’re lazy.

Yes, to moving forward with bravery…you’re still alive… so maybe consider why.

Yes, to health in all its forms…try again… but be honest.

Yes, to knowing who God says you are…It may change every yes you say from now on.

If we are the sum of every yes, then what will that equal when all added up?  If you have lived through this, you are still most likely going to die later…most likely.  I think It’s not a bad question to ask yourself if you think you’ll like the answer…I hope. it’s yes.

If not, I hope you know that the numbers aren’t all in yet.  You can change your answer.  You can seek a God who says yes to who He created you to be and let each decision add up to something devastatingly miraculous.  He redeems years that locust have eaten, He is yesterday and tomorrow, He says Yes and Amen.

This girl doesn’t think she’s ugly. She also doesn’t think she’s pretty. This girl doesn’t think much about how she looks at all.

This girl doesn’t worry about your opinion of her pony.

This girl is not concerned with the adequacy of her clothing, or money, or ability…and she certainly isn’t concerned that her mother for some unknown reason, thought it necessary to perm her hair.

It would be years before she would fight for the rights to her own hair.

It would be years before she learned that she wasn’t loved by everyone; that she wasn’t safe with everyone.
It would be years before she was told how unworthy she was…how ugly, how stupid, how fat, how weird, how messy, how loud, how poor, and how different.

But this girl is wild. This girl will mess up your house and eat all your food. This girl knows clothing is an option, but not a good one. This girl is always dirty and mostly jumping on things. This girl is a perfect little hedonist. She wakes up to play, eats her fill without guilt, and rests without making excuses.

She hasn’t yet realized the things she won’t be good at…or that being an astronaut or a mermaid is off the table.
She doesn’t know that fractions are hard and that prom is, at best, disappointing.
She doesn’t yet know that her clothes, her looks, and her grades will determine who wants to be associated with her.

This girl doesn’t know what’s ahead.
This girl doesn’t know that to some she will only be a punching bag and to others she will only be a body.
This girl doesn’t know that she will make decisions from fear and impulse, that she will shamelessly grasp for attention, or one day helplessly claw for the unconditional love she was born to crave.

But, this girl…right here…she knows…every hurt and disappointment. She knows every disapproving Baptist look, and every girl she wished she looked like, She remembers every boy that punched her in the stomach or threw her into a wall…or worse…ignored her. Every time the longing to be included was met with exclusion.

She knows the pride, the anger, the bitterness, and the shame of being human. She may have been wounded, but she did her share of wounding. She may have been hurt, but she returned her share of hurting.

She knows the world is broken.

When she looks back on that tiny version of herself, she thinks she understands a little of what heaven is like…a little of what God is like.

We are born helpless into brokenness. We are born flawed physically and spiritually and from there, we tend to navigate poorly.
Some are allowed stability and ease; some are born into depravity, and many, are somewhere in between.
But in every childhood there still exists a kind of freedom unrestricted by self-protection, an ability to be present and a joy that is not yet mixed with sadness…that has to be close to heaven.

I love this girl.

I know what she’s in for and yet I still don’t know what awaits her. What I do know is that she is unconditionally loved and fearlessly accepted. I know that regardless of what is done to her or what she does, she is protected and forgiven. I know she will love and lose and fail and fear, but I know God is a good father who gives good gifts and doesn’t waste the suffering of His children.

And even if she suffered a little she would enjoy far more grace than is common. That girl rode horses and swam all summer. She traveled the world. She had deep friendships, good health, and sound sleep.

Bad will happen. Live long past childhood and it is inevitable. It is when we learn how dark the world is that we can truly appreciate what is light. If nothing has been bad enough for you then I find that nothing will ever be good enough.

This girl looks back on that girl with gratitude and perhaps a little loss, but looking forward, can only smile at the future and perhaps demand another pony…

Occasionally, my generally content, mostly grateful heart becomes generally, mostly unsatisfied.   I experience a laps in what most would consider “good character” and occasionally I feel what most would consider to be something akin to “ungrateful entitlement”…This bothers me about myself.  Perhaps I am confessing as a way to finally kill my private darkness with light, but I thought I’d tease out shameful behavior in a shamelessly public way. 

In these moments, I tend to think about what it is that I am and what it is I have and hold it against what I should be and am not.  Simply put, I compare what I have learned from the world around me as the standard of awesome, and recognize that I fall embarrassingly short of the mark…which, I suppose, is a normal human thing to do.  What unsettles me about this undesirable comparison is that without anyone else in the world to have anything different than what I have, I would never ever think to want anything else.  I have all that I could ever need, I am cared for, I have clothes, I have food, I have shelter, I am really, generally, fortunate.  I have crazy amounts of undeserved blessing.  I am every day humbled by grace and everyday blessed with abundance…and yet….The thought that other people might not think I’m blessed, or  awesome, or significant, really just nags at the ugly parts of my soul.  And whether you like it or not, I am going to assume that you do this as well…or social media as a dominating force in this culture would not be a thing. 

I sat at dinner the other night with my husband, and, as I generally do, asked him annoyingly weighty questions like, “If there were anyone else you could be, would you quit being David Storvick and go be that person?”….also, “how many burgers do you think I could eat before people started judging my ability to process emotions in a healthy way…?”

His answer, “No one…and, about four…” 

I agreed.

Of all the wealthy, fabulous, fancy people I have known, I wouldn’t ask to be any of them…so why would I envy what they have or feel “less than” what they are?

There are very few people I have met who, once knowing them, I would change places or circumstances with.  I have traveled to places of extreme poverty and obscene wealth.  I have known and worked alongside the struggling factory worker, the Pakistani refugee, the independently wealthy child of an even wealthier father, the missionary, the single mom, the trafficked orphan, and the spoiled brat.  I have spent time in Papua New Guinea, Israel, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, Cambodia, Ireland, Scotland, and Greece.  I have worked for family farmers and for wealthy sheikhs.  As I have watched their lives lived out, witnessed their character, shared their space, there is not one I can say has any more peace and purpose than I have.  I would not want their power, and I would not choose their path.  They are as flawed and floundering as I am.  They have perhaps different problems than myself, but they are all essentially hopelessly fighting their own version of discontent.

The very rich are as miserable as the very poor…except perhaps even more so because they have exhausted all the resources the poor can only hope for…and there is something in the hoping they have lost. 

One country is as corrupt and violent as another except where it benefits the powerful to keep relative peace.  While America is full of the fairly entitled and is mostly distracted by nonsense, I still like it the best, because the water is fairly safe and the infrastructure is mostly reliable.  So you see, there is no amount of being anyone else or living anywhere else I should possibly long for.

When I slow down enough to think about the “why” for more, I usually stop before the truth…not today.  

Why would I want more money? What would I do with it that would bring me more joy than I have right now?  It stresses me out to think of how to get it, keep it, and who to leave it to when I’m dead.

Why would I want to have a different body or be more attractive?  What is the point other than the manipulative power that comes from beauty…It is a currency that evaporates as soon as you are savvy enough to use it.  The value of beauty is that it is only ever valuable to others, and often enslaving to its bearer.   

Why would I want a bigger, nicer house other than the envy it incites and the status you’d assume?  I don’t like entertaining, and I don’t have time to clean it.

When I think about why, I am ashamed to think I thought it at all.  When I have all that I need, could the reason that I want more be that what I really want is for you to think I am more awesome than I really am?…gross.

Just as penance, I am right now laying what is true out there.  Quite literally, I have nothing.

The only material wealth I have had as an adult, I have had because the man I married is educated and a good provider.  There is very little that I possess that is due to my ability to earn what the world says I should have to be at such and such a status. 

This was never more obvious than when I went through a divorce a few years ago and was left with the nothing I had come into the marriage with.  (side note: if a lawyer divorces you, get a lawyer)

In a western world where most are entitled to so much paid vacation time, 401k matches, and weekends off, those things are only unicorns to me…magical, and above my pay grade.  I grew up quite poor, I have no formal education beyond high school, and the vocational path I chose has been a rugged series of roots and crevasses, and not the structured and predictable corporate ladder.  As a result, sometimes, while struggling over a particularly unwieldy root, I stare with longing at the lives of those who have what appears to be stability.  Deep down, I understand that there is no such thing as “safe” and that stability is a fantasy… but it is a fantasy I would sometimes very much like to get high and live in…sometimes.

So perhaps the discontent I sometimes feel is more about what I  want you to think of me, rather than what I actually think.  Could it be I am more concerned with you thinking I’m happy than actually being happy?  Could It be that what I want is respect whether or not I am respectable?  And is it possible that what I desire is honor, instead of humility in the presence of a God who gifts it all.   If that’s the case, and I’m afraid it may sometimes be… then I have some business to do with this particular character flaw.

I hereby release the effort to make you think I’m awesome.

I release my horrifying desire to be envied and honored and even elevated.

I release the image I wish you’d see rather than the reality of my reflection.

I release the strength I pretend to have.

I release the intelligence I project when I’m fairly uneducated.

I release the hypocrisy of projecting myself as a “good person,” when I know that I’m really not.

I release the god’s I’ve made of the worlds opinions, and the worship I give to temporal things.

 It is when I let my gaze drift that I find the discomfort of my discontent.  It is when I choose to look at a fantasy.   It is when I take my eyes off of the purpose of my own life and with no small amount of insolence ask God for more.  I have seen enough to know it’s a phantom…I should know better.  I should know enough not to chase wind.  Ecclesiastes says “All things are wearisome…there is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also… is from the hand of God.  For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?”

When I look for enjoyment from creation instead of the creator, when I look at shadows of perfection instead of a God who is perfect, when I chase wind, I always end up unsatisfied and weary.  In these moments, I remind myself of what is true.  I slow down enough to notice that I have all that I need and have been created to be nothing other than what I am.  There is nothing better…and that’s pretty awesome.