Trading “Failures” for “Setbacks” – How God Spoke to Me Through Hillary’s Concession Speech

hillary

I’m a mess of emotions lately. Today is actually pretty good so far – I’m not anxious or down or terrified about the future. But just 3 days ago I was all of those things, and I’ve been swinging up and down emotionally for months now.

There are some legit reasons for this roller-coaster ride. For one thing, I recently turned forty-five, and I’ve noticed that my friends of similar ages seem to be spazzing out a little too with all the hormonal shifts. So that’s comforting. And being a mom of three while also running a nonprofit is justifiably challenging at times. Especially as we head toward fundraising season and the pressures of meeting our financial goals.

When you throw in a few recent disappointments, and the emotional distress of beating myself up about them, it can start to feel like life is too much. And I’m too little.

Luckily God is big. And he sometimes speaks in unexpected ways.

Yesterday I watched Hillary Clinton deliver an incredibly gracious, dignified and even inspiring concession speech to her supporters and to our country. I studied her body language and facial expressions as she spoke, and found evidence of strength and humility I didn’t expect. There was even a bit of tenderness in her demeanor, as she nearly teared up a few times acknowledging what she admitted was an incredibly painful experience.

And then she said something that reminded me that all truth is God’s truth…

“I’ve had successes, and I’ve had setbacks,” Hillary told the crowd in an impassioned voice, encouraging her supporters from the depths of her bruised heart. “This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

While Hillary and I may disagree on what’s “right” for our country, her words challenged me deeply, especially the first part of that statement. So often I face the disappointments of life from a shame-based posture, viewing them as “failures” caused by some devastating flaw in me rather than “setbacks” allowed by an all-knowing, ever-loving God as he works according to an economy so much different than my own.

But “setback” really is the better word-choice.

While failures weigh us down, setbacks remind us that there is something ahead, worthy of our continued pursuit. Because fighting for what is right IS worth it, not just for a politician, but for all of us, especially those who claim to know a power greater than any human, a love more enduring than time itself.

So today I will deal with hormonal shifts as they may come, but I won’t contribute to the emotional distress they cause by ruminating about my so-called failures. If God is big enough to speak through a candidate I didn’t vote for, he’s big enough to help me keep pressing on toward his purpose for my life.

And that’s just what I’m gonna do.

One mood swing at a time…

 

No More Hiding in the Weeds

hiding-in-the-weeds

Being busy has its benefits. When I’m traveling a lot, like I have this past month, its an easy excuse for not responding to emails in a timely manner, or for saying no to social invitations. It gives me a reason to miss church on Sundays, to skip posting on this blog on Thursdays, and to avoid pretty much anything I don’t feel like doing.

Which right now is a lot of things.

Weary of the responsibilities on my shoulders and scared about so many aspects of the future, I am in a season right now of wishing the world would just stop spinning for a bit so I could curl up in my bed with a good book and not come out for awhile.

There’s a clinical word for what I’m experiencing: depression. Low grade depression, I find myself wanting to clarify. But it doesn’t matter what type of depression it is or whether I fiercely resist the idea in the first place, it is what it is. And so the question before me is not so much “What?” but “What now?”

God’s answer seems clear: Slow down. Be present. Even – and especially – to the pain you’ve been too busy to feel.

The pain of losing the book deal.

The pain of learning I’d made a huge ministry branding mistake.

The pain of watching others stand on stages I thought I’d be standing on by now.

The pain of budgets not going according to plan.

These are some of my most recent “pains” – experiences I’ve walked through in just the past five months. But it’s what’s underneath – a lifetime of wounds that shape how I medicate new ones – that needs the most attention.

The pain of being the last one picked.

The pain of being forgotten.

The pain of being alone.

Being busy has been a great way to avoid spending time with my pain. It has also made it hard for me to hold others accountable when they hurt me out of their own busyness. As someone intimately acquainted with a schedule that feels out of control, I can objectively understand their lack of care for my need to be seen. To be heard. To be known. Most of the time I’m not even willing to ask for their time.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t need it.

“It’d be easier hiding in the weeds, away from people, away from pain,” my friend Laura told me recently. And she’s right. My busyness has often been a buffer between me and the pain I’m scared to face, even as it is an easy excuse to avoid asking for the help I need.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle which can only be stopped intentionally.

So these days I’m trying to be more intentional about speaking up when I feel hurt, and about challenging my own tendency to excuse my lack of care based on the constraints of my task list.

These days I’m trying to be willing to interrupt someone’s busyness when I need them so that they can see me. Because God says I’m worthy to be seen. And because they need me to see them too. The REAL them, with real pain just like mine, even if they’re too caught up in their own busyness to see it.

There can be no more hiding in the weeds for me.

Not if I want to be free.

Surrendering the Idol in My Pocket

idol-in-my-pocket

“I can see there are ‘pockets’ in you that need healing,” my counselor told me during our first visit three weeks ago. It was good news, actually. I’ve done a lot of recovery work over the years and at this point I’d rather have pockets of problems than be wearing a full-blown bodysuit of brokenness.

Progress…

The first pocket we’ve been emptying is shame. Specifically, shame related to feeling like I’ve let down someone I respect – a small yet important distinction.

The truth is, I don’t care what everyone thinks. As an author, speaker and ministry leader, I’ve heard lots of negative things about myself over the years from people who think I’m too outspoken, too aggressive, too thin, too busy, too fill-in-the-blank for their liking. It kinda goes with the territory.

And while I don’t love criticism, I’ve learned to shrug it off, especially when it comes from someone I don’t deem “worthy” of my respect. Unattractive as that sounds, I know I’m not alone in employing this pain-management utility. There are simply certain people we care more about impressing than others.

People we think can deliver the greatness we long for…

It’s in all of us, I believe, this desire to do something great. To be significant. To make a lasting imprint. We should desire these things because we’ve been created in God’s image, and he is nothing if not great, significant and lasting.

Like those who fashion idols out of wood, however, we’ve made talismans of people we think have the power to greenlight our future, or to stop it cold if we make one wrong move. When we lose their affirmation, our pockets fill with shame and fear, suffocating our hope that we will ever experience the greatness we were hard-wired to crave.

No man is worthy of such worship.

For those who have answered the call of Christ, laying down our idol of man’s approval is the key to the greatness we seek. We are most alive, and most powerful for the kingdom, when we disregard what is popular and choose to walk fully in God’s divine purpose and call for our lives.

The call to speak truth without compromise.

The call to love without being loved in return.

The call to risk rejection for what is right.

When we lean into the call before us, we become more of who we were created to be. More of who we want to be. And we remember God’s truth, that no man is big enough to silence our voices, and no idol can get in the way of what God wants to do next.

As long as we don’t keep it in our pocket.

 

 

When Air Becomes Breath – Finding Jesus in our Trauma

chihuahua

A few years ago I was involved in an accident with our chihuahua, Mercy. She had hopped into the car like she so often does, ready to travel with me to the store, when she was suddenly, violently, thrown to the floor and wedged into the corner of the still-open driver-side door.

The sound was sickening.

For a minute or two I didn’t understand what was happening, and I backed up hoping to free her. But she became further wedged, and soon stopped making any sounds at all.

Mind racing, hands trembling, I yelled out for help, but none came. Finally, I got out of the car and saw that her leash had gotten trapped under the front tire. One more inch backward and her neck would have snapped. Quickly I jumped into the car and pulled forward. As her leash went slack, her body dropped lifelessly to the driveway. Urine stained the floorboard where she had relieved herself in her distress.

Horrified, I took her limp body into my arms and rocked back and forth on the front lawn, crying out to God for a miracle. By that point it had been several minutes since she had gone silent, and I knew she might not make it.

And then she took a breath.

As her chest expanded, I was overcome with emotion. Choking back tears, I drove, shell-shocked, to the vet, where they set her broken leg, treated her lacerations, and kept her overnight for observation. She was banged up, to be sure, but she was going to be alright.

That night sleep was slow in coming. Every time I closed my eyes the accident played over and over in my mind like a cruel movie, always stopping at the most traumatic scenes…

Her body slamming into the door…

Her lifeless tumble to the ground…

The odor of urine mixed with sweat and fear…

Even though the vet had assured me that Mercy was going to be ok, my brain remained focused on the worst-case scenario. I just couldn’t shake the jumble of emotions I had experienced when I was sure I was going to lose her.

The next morning I called my friend Michelle, a counselor who specializes in trauma work. She told me that what I was experiencing was completely normal.

Our brains apparently have a tendency to park on the darkest scenes of what we experience in life. Without intentional redirection, this activity perpetuates our internal trauma long after we’ve survived the external event. Which means trauma can stick with us even when it’s not happening anymore. Even when we have nothing left to fear.

“Tell me what happened AFTER the accident,” Michelle coaxed, moving me past the scenes my brain had on replay. So I told her, about holding Mercy in my arms and crying out to God and feeling her chest expand for the first time. About going to the vet and learning she was going to be ok and having some anxiety about the medical bill, mixed with immense relief it wasn’t for a funeral. (Does one even have funerals for pets? I didn’t want to find out…)

“So in all that happened last night,” said Michelle, “where did you see Jesus?”

And I knew right when it was. The moment when air became breath, and life triumphed over death. Jesus was there. He was with us both – me and my silly little 8 lb. dog. This was the moment I needed to focus on. The thing I must train my brain to remember.

It’s been awhile since the accident now, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned. When bad things happen, the primary scene worth returning to is the one in which Jesus plays the starring role. Even if things don’t end up playing out the way we had hoped, Jesus is ALWAYS there. His scenes remind us we’re not alone. That we have a hope bigger than ourselves. And that one day life will triumph over any death this world can deliver.

These days, I still associate Mercy with the odor of urine, but now it’s because she’s decided to make the landing on our stairs her own personal bathroom. And in spite of how disgusting that is, and how expensive it’s going to be to replace the carpet with hardwood, I still can’t help but smile right now as I hear her snoring in the chair next to my desk.

Mercy is alive.

 

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(NOTE: My wordplay on the title for this post was inspired by a similar yet opposite phrase “When Breath Becomes Air” – a powerful bestselling book by Paul Kalanithi as he faced death at the young age of thirty-six. You should check it out.)

 

 

Disappointment Through a Different Lens

disappointment

I had my first counseling appointment in five years yesterday. It was time. Maybe even a little overdue.

If you know me outside of my work at FINDINGbalance, you know the last few months have brought some unexpected disappointments, not to mention the usual distress I experience each summer when my kids are out of school and my normal routine is tossed out the window.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my kids. But God wired me to thrive in seasons of quiet productivity. Which means I need an extra dose of his grace during seasons of unpredictability and chaos.

Make that a triple-shot…

So it was hard to know if my frequent unkindness toward my husband, followed by my out-of-character tears when we talked about it, were due to the normal stresses of summer, the cancellation of my book deal, the discovery that the logo we’ve used for the past 8 years at my nonprofit was triggering to a large portion of our audience, or some other underlying issue I needed to dig into.

Or maybe just a combination of everything.

What was clear was that I was unhappy, and my distress was creating ripples of unhappiness around me. Which wasn’t fair – or loving – to anyone.

“Maybe it’s time you get some counseling,” A.J. said to me one night.

It wasn’t a bad idea.

I’ve done enough recovery work over the years to know that asking for help is one of the very best ways to love ourselves toward a richer understanding of God’s movement in our lives. But I was also worried about finances, and especially about how I was going to find the “right” person to walk with me through this season. 

Given the work I do, let’s just say someone’s got to be pretty UH-mazing if they’re going to help me move beyond all the stuff I already know.

Luckily, God is more amazing than I am.

“We’ve actually met before,” said my new counselor at the top of our call yesterday. Even though I didn’t remember having met in person, God had apparently orchestrated that little moment eleven months and two thousand miles from our first official Skype appointment.

Of course he had.

By the end of our call, God had made himself known in other ways, too, and I was overcome by his goodness to me. By his love for me. By the hope of his promises to me – promises so meaningful they are worth the hard work of pursuing their fulfillment. And even the painful trials along the way.

This is the power of good counsel; it transforms our view of disappointments from jagged little pills to necessary growing pains. In times of disappointment we are reminded we must once again let go of our self-reliance and reach out for new life that only exists ahead of where we’ve grown comfortable being.

Because if we’re not growing, we’re dying.

I have fresh hope today. Even as I cringe at the thought of the “shame timeline” assignment I’ve been tasked with before next week’s appointment, I’m excited to see what God reveals through this process. Because I know more than ever that the tough stuff I’m wrestling through has a divine purpose.

Which totally changes everything.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. – Romans 8:28