Level-Up!

Each year as I gain levels in this dungeon of life, I tend to pause and think of how far I’ve come. There have been many boss battles that I have narrowly escaped, and most of those battles were not won alone. As I ponder upon this past level, I recall some wonderful memories… and of course some not-so lighthearted ones tossed into the mix.

It’s strange to think that I am now at level 23. How did time pass by so quickly?

Sometimes, if I’m not careful, I can get stuck in stinkin’ thinkin’. Those moments can be dangerous, because I dwell on the “could have beens” and “what ifs”. I look at others besting dragons and making life seem so easily conquered and compare my successes (and failures) to theirs.

Thankfully, I have been blessed with wise parental units that encourage me through these self-defeating moments. I also have many trusted friends, some of which have been with me since the lower levels of the dungeon, others I have met along the way. These allies remind me who I am when I lose sight of me.

The 22nd level was no easy feat. There was more conflict than I had expected, and it took everything in my power to resolve things rather than run away and hide. In fact, more times than I can count, I did hide. I refused to face my fears head-on. That’s when I had to rely on the one who knows all- the mighty Dungeon Master (God). Even though I was afraid to move forward, He helped me put one foot in front of the other. One step at a time, we conquered each fear together. I still shake in my boots occasionally, but I can rest assured that I am not alone in this dungeon. I have my sword (the Bible) and the DM’s guidance to get me through. Sometimes I can look at the Walkthrough to get some helpful hints as well from those who have gone before me.

I had to learn to let go of things and people I held dear… and there were days where it felt like there was no point in continuing to the next battle without them by my side. At one point in time, I held on so tightly to them that it was as if my next breath was dependent upon their exhale… No human can be my life-force. That is way too much pressure for anyone to handle. So I have been learning to let go. It definitely has not been easy, but I must admit… it can be rather gratifying to let go of the past and move forward. I have gotten to the point where I can look back and smile at what once was, rather than break down in a puddle of tears at the thought of what might have been. I will always be thankful and grateful for the lessons I learned and the people that were my teachers, whether they are still around or we have parted ways.

Towards the beginning of this year, I wandered in darkness for a while. I let things cloud my vision and my thoughts, and though I had a flashlight to guide my steps, I still couldn’t see the path before me. I felt like I was blindly going through the dungeon, stumbling over both good and bad things as I went. Once I finally had the sense to take a leap of faith and turn off what little man-made light I was relying on… I discovered glow worms illuminating the way out. Now I am in the light and let me tell you, it is a glorious feeling to have somewhat of an idea where you are headed.

On the other hand, there were miraculous things that occurred on this level that I never would have anticipated. I met some fantastic travelers who were each on their own path. I am so grateful that our individual journeys have intertwined, whether for the time being or for more years to come. We’ve had many fun adventures together, and I am excited to see where we each will go as time continues on.

Recently, I set off on an adventure that is proving to be quite the blessing. This experience has been very eye-opening thus far, and I feel like I have finally found my niche in this world. I have hope again- hope that I haven’t had in 5 years. Acellus is a phenomenal program and just to be a part of something that is impacting millions of children for the better is special and so worthwhile. I still don’t know exactly what twists and turns lie ahead of me, but I am trusting that I am in this position for a reason. Thankfully, I don’t have to be in control- that’s the DM’s job!

With each boss battle I’ve walked away from, I’ve left with scars and ample lessons learned. I wouldn’t take back any experience, though, no matter how horrid it was. These scars, in their own way, are beautiful reminders that I have survived the very things that I feared I wouldn’t. Though some of those battles I never would have willingly walked into, I can honestly say that I am thankful for having experienced them. With each scar comes a story, and with each story is an opportunity to help someone else through the same battle without facing the same dangers, toils and snares that I fell into.

Level 23 is already shaping up to be full of surprises. So many unexpected things have already made themselves known… I’m excited to traverse down this path, and I’m thankful that I won’t be alone (because we all know it’s dangerous to go alone). Who knows what could be in store right around the corner?

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All Bottled Up

A few days ago on my way to work, I spent some much-needed time talking with God. This is something I really should spend more time doing… lately I’ve been so distracted. Most of these distractions have been on purpose.

See… if I’m busy, I don’t have time to truly deal with the complicated emotions swirling inside like the tempest that seems to be threatening to break me down at any moment. Though I realize that this is no excuse.

Work and fun events have been wonderful distractions. I am beyond thankful for this new experience- it’s a definite blessing. But I must admit, I’ve been pouring my heart into it so much that I’ve left no room for myself… or God.

I had the radio set to Air1 and was singing along to a song- I honestly can’t even tell you the name of it, which is strange for this musical personality. I was running on autopilot, singing yet not really feeling the music, driving the same route I’ve driven many times now. Suddenly, I felt compelled to turn the radio off. As I did, I looked to my right and saw the most breathtaking sunrise.

Hues of lush pinks and oranges blurred together amidst the clouds that were tainted purple and dark blue. The sun shone a reddish orange and hid behind dark, wispy clouds, barely peeping through. Rain was threatening to cascade down by misting every now and then.

Have you ever looked at the sky, wondering if God thought of you as His hand caressed the clouds, forming them into their billowing shapes? That He might have chuckled to Himself, knowing that with each brushstroke of color you would be in awe of His latest masterpiece? Have you ever just stared at the sky and smiled up to the heavens, nodding at His artwork, feeling as though He chose those hues and patterns just for you?

There was a sudden warmness inside of my chest, making its way up to my cheeks. I took every chance I could take to look at the miraculous scenery before me.

As I accelerated through the curves of the highway, taking in the changing leaves that were falling around me, I noticed another beautiful sight. A rainbow was just ahead of me. It was barely visible, like mine and God’s shared secret. It was as if He was reminding me as I poured my heart out that not only was He there, listening, but He was also in control.

“Okay, God,” I muttered, letting a sigh escape my lips. “I trust You… You are good. You are in control and You know exactly what You’re doing. I trust You to take care of my heart. I trust you to love me like no one else possibly could. I trust You to lead me, to grow me and to chisel away at my imperfections. I trust You, LORD.”

Saying these words out loud was harder than I expected. I had to keep repeating that same phrase, “I trust you, LORD,” so that hopefully it would sink in. I believe that God is good. I believe that He is good to me. He is for me, not against me. So why was I having such trouble truly entrusting everything to Him? He is capable of absolutely anything! Why was I struggling with giving my fragile heart over to Him so that He could mend and protect it?

It’s funny how simply seeing a glimpse of a rainbow or a brilliant sunrise can remind us that God is in control. He has us in the palm of His mighty hand, and He does have it all figured out. We have a purpose! We are not simply here just to exist. There is so much more to this life than we know… and the great thing is we don’t have to know it all. I’m pretty positive that if I knew every detail of what would happen in my life before it did, I would obsess over every little thing. I would become even worse of a perfectionist than I am now. I would fret over silly things, thinking everything had to be “just so” in order for it to come to pass as I was told it should.

God knows me. He knows I can only handle so much… and when I try to take too many things on, I become overwhelmed and stressed, sometimes to the point of getting ill. He only gives me little tidbits when He knows I can handle them.

Right now, my heart is still in the process of healing. I guess I didn’t realize just how broken I felt until a recent conversation with the Young Adults pastor of ParadigmKC. Through this conversation I discovered that for some reason, I had been subconsciously beating myself up just for feeling hurt, as though I had no right at all to my feelings… when I definitely do. And so do you.

No one, not even me, can write-off feelings. Real or imagined, they are going to happen. The important thing is to not look at life through the lens of our feelings. These feelings are fickle- they will not always be present because they can change on a dime. We need to look at life and different situations through the lens of God’s Word, which is unwavering in truth.

Honestly? If I looked at everything in this way, my feelings would not rule over my heart and decisions so much.

Another realization brought on by this conversation was that I haven’t been extending the same grace that has been bestowed upon me. I have been distracting myself on purpose to avoid dealing with the elephant in the room. Instead of addressing the heart issue,  I would rather run from conflict, bottling up my feelings, thinking that it would somehow make things better.

Ha-ha…. no.

I don’t know your personal situation, dear reader, but I can tell you from experience (and lots of it) that bottling up your emotions will not end well for you. Have you ever noticed that you never feel any better while you’re hiding your pain from others? That’s because in the end, the only one who is hurt or bothered by your whistling tea pot of emotions is you. You can’t expect things to get better if you keep how you are feeling to yourself. You’re no mind-reader! Neither are those who have hurt you. There’s a pretty good chance that they don’t even realize that they have hurt you and are moving on while you sit and stew.

Not helpful.

You might have the mindset that they need to be the ones to come to you and apologize for what they have done, which I completely understand. Hello! Been there. Practically made a banner and a Facebook page for it. However, the other party involved won’t always be the first to come to that realization. Sometimes, people just say or do things without thinking about what it might do to those around them. I am sure I’ve done this, and as you read this I’m sure you can think of a time where you’ve accidentally stepped on someone’s toes, too. 99.9% of the time, those who have hurt you didn’t really intend to do so.

Bottling up these feelings also gives the enemy plenty of ammo to use against you. So many triggers ripe for the picking! He hardly has to try to put you on edge or to get you to wallow in self-pity. With all of those emotions built up, you’re practically a ticking time-bomb, and Satan will gladly light the fuse.

So, how do we mend this sticky situation?

Prayer and conversation.

Eeek! I know. The confrontation stage of a discussion is never the most comfortable scenario. It can be extremely awkward and every fiber of your being will be wanting to bolt right out of the coffee shop you agreed to meet this person in. I’m right there with ya, friend. It’s not easy, but it is worth it! Every second of that uncomfortable, stomach-knotting and thumb-twiddling conversation means you are closer to freedom from those feelings… and closer to the possibility of reconciliation.

Step 1. Prayer:

Seems easy enough, doesn’t it? Au contraire! I’m not talking about spending a mere 5 minutes talking with God about how frustrated you are and then leaving it at that. Trust me, I’ve been the one to do that and it got me nowhere. When I say prayer, I’m talking about taking the time to really dig in deep in a conversation with Papa God.

  • Spend time writing down your thoughts and then speaking them aloud. God knows what’s on your heart, but that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want to hear it from you!
  • Pray for the conversation to go not as you want it but as God would have it go- He knows best!
  • Pray for your tongue, that it might not be on the defense- that you would seek to understand rather than to be understood.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” -Proverbs 15:1

  • Pray for the other person in this, that even if things cannot be patched up between the two of you that they would forgive you for your part in the conflict and vice versa.

Whoa, hold- up. Did you read that right? Yep! I said YOUR part. It takes two, my friend. Even if you had 1% or 35.6% in the conflict, you still had a part. Be willing to own 100% of your 1%. Even if that means apologizing for running away and pretending for weeks that you weren’t bitter, when in fact, you were.

  • Pray that God would help you speak in His love rather than in your hurt feelings. Separate your emotions from facts, here.
  • Pray that you could extend the same grace that God has given to us all. You may be thinking, “I’ve forgiven them. I just don’t want to have anything to do with them ever again.” That’s not true forgiveness, nor is that grace. What would we do if God had that same attitude towards us? Think on that for a moment. What if God forgave us of our sins, yet completely cut us out of the blessings of knowing Him? Praise God that He forgives us totally and opens the way for genuine reconciliation! He calls us to forgive others in the exact same way:

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:12

  • Pray that no matter the outcome of the conversation that you would walk away knowing you pursued the other person the way Jesus would have. That instead of fighting tooth and nail to avoid conflict, you ran towards it in an attempt to mend the broken bridge.

Step 2. The Conversation:

Be sure to have this conversation in private. Even if you have talked to others about this, ultimately it is between you and those initially involved. If you have tried to talk to the individual and they weren’t willing to listen, then it is okay to invite someone else in to help mediate.

Take a deep breath. Take your time- don’t rush into spilling your guts just yet. See if they would like to speak first. Be willing to listen and do so intently. Let the other person see by your actions that you are sincere in wanting to resolve this issue.

“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” -Proverbs 18:13

When it is your turn to speak, be careful not to let your hurt feelings take over! If it helps, have the facts of whatever occurred written down in bullet points so you can point out actual events rather than assumptions of what you perceived happened. This way, you can say, “________ happened this way, and because of that, this is how I’ve been feeling.” You won’t be over-exaggerating and you also won’t be letting your temper lead the conversation. You’ll simply be stating the effects these events had on you.

Though it may be extremely difficult, be honest with yourself and with them. If you truly have been having a hard time because of this issue, let it be known. You don’t have to go into gory details of the sleepless nights and tears shed, but let them know that you have been agonizing over the issue. They need to know your heart.

Now, take another deep breath. Prepare yourself.

Take this moment to apologize to them for your part in this conflict. It doesn’t matter if you think you are completely innocent in the matter- trust me, you aren’t. Set your pride aside and think, “What part did I have to play in this issue?” Think on these questions:

  • Did I bottle up my feelings for weeks on end, giving the other person the cold shoulder without explaining why?
  • Have I been avoiding them?
  • Have I made vague posts to social media without naming names about my pain and frustration?
  • Have I gone behind their back and gossiped about the issue and how horribly they treated me?
  • Have I called them names, whether aloud or in my thoughts?
  • Did I say anything cruel or snippy to them, whether to their face or in passing?
  • Have I dragged other people into the issue, baiting them to take my side even though they don’t know the whole story?
  • Have I ever, even once, thought to myself how much I dislike or even “hate” this person?
  • (Enter your own questions here- you get the idea)

Ask for feedback from the other person involved. Give them a chance to tell you how they feel the situation could have been handled by you. It may sting to hear their opinion, but sometimes we need a healthy dose of humble pie. We can learn so much from encounters like these so that hopefully we won’t repeat the same actions in the future.

“Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.” -Proverbs 18:2

Trust God throughout the entire situation . He will not give you anything you cannot handle! He will be with you as you speak with this person. He has already gone before you, so you have nothing to fear.

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” – Deuteronomy 31:8

Remember that you cannot expect them to approach the situation in the same way that you are! We have no control over how others act and react. What matters is how YOU approach the situation. You can either choose to do so in love or in anger, but it is my hope that you would go for the former. There is a good chance that they may come into the conversation prepared for a verbal throw-down, and you need to be prepared for that as well.

For example, I faced a situation in college where my roommate was prepared for just that. She wasn’t expecting me to handle it in love or maturity. I had written down all of my feelings and asked for her patience as I read it all to her. I was honest in how I felt, and by the time I finished reading, her expression and body language had gone from confrontational to apologetic and understanding. We ended up having a heart-to-heart and aired both of our grievances. We worked everything out and even laughed together by the time the conversation ended. Later on, she gave me a chance to “chew her out” because she believed that she deserved nothing better, which broke my heart. She is a wonderful individual that has had pain in her life, and I didn’t want to make her feel as I had felt before… God was telling me in that moment to give her grace. We aren’t as close as we were before, and we may never be. However, I can rest assured that the conflict was pursued whole-heatedly. I no longer harbor any ill-will or bitterness towards her as I once had.

Sometimes, these conversations don’t go as we would have liked. And you know what? That’s okay. If, in the end, the conflict isn’t resolved and you tried your hardest, there is nothing wrong with loving them from a distance. Yes. Love them, not curse their very existence for not resolving things with you. As I said, we cannot control how they react. We can only prepare ourselves and approach these situations as God would have us do.

Forgiveness is not easy. It takes daily commitment to forgive and to do so fully. Sometimes, it helps to think, “I forgive you,” any time you see or think of that person. To live out forgiveness and grace in our daily lives, we need to keep these things in mind after a conflict:

  1. I will not dwell on this incident.
  2. I will not revisit this incident or use it against those involved.
  3. I will not talk to others about this incident.
  4. I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

Forgiveness is a spiritual process that you cannot fully accomplish on your own. As you seek to forgive others, continually ask God for grace to enable you to imitate His wonderful forgiveness towards you. Seek Biblical counsel from others! We cannot go through this life alone, and sometimes we need help from others to keep us grounded and to remind us of how God would want us to handle these sticky situations.

Let’s be honest, sometimes our initial reactions to conflict aren’t the most “Jesus-like”. We are human, after all. It’s in those moments where we can be especially thankful for God’s grace. He gives us thousands of second chances to get things right, so it’s up to us to do the same towards others.

………

Even though it took some time for me to come to my senses, it is nice to know that God won’t give up on me. Seeing that sunrise and a glimpse of a rainbow that morning gave me reassurance that I don’t have to be in control. I am in good hands. I can only control how I go about living life and treating others. This conflict that I’m faced with has essentially been “dealt with”, but of course it takes more than a conversation or two to mend a hurting heart. Thankfully, it is also in very good hands.

I just want to encourage you today. If you get nothing else from this post, I hope this can sink in:

You are not alone, even in those moments where you feel as though you are. You are not the only person who has been hurt, and you are not the only human in this vast world who struggles with bitterness, loneliness, forgiveness and so on and so forth. We are in this together, my friend! And we just so happen to have a mighty God on our side who knows our pain- He has faced everything we will ever go through on this side of heaven. Don’t think that just because we can’t see Him that He isn’t here. Don’t underestimate Him! He warned us that we would face difficulties in our lives, but He also gave us hope: He has already won the battle. We are more than conquerors because of HIM!

So, even though we will face conflict… in the grand scheme of things, it is something so very small. In the blink of an eye, this too shall pass. One day, we will look back and wonder why we were so bent out of shape over something so insignificant in the light of eternity. Though it may seem big now, sweet friend, I promise you… it will get better.

“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

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