The one about my tired arms

“Hi friend, just praying for you tonight as God brought you to mind. Praying for a new job that abundantly provides for all your needs & uses your gifts with a purpose that makes you excited to get up in the morning & go! Excited to see what it will be!”

The text came at the perfect moment. Nothing particularly had gone wrong that day but I still felt a general malaise. A malaise that had been increasing over the last 2 months. Every afternoon when the moment came to get into my car and make that long commute I could feel the cold fingers of it creeping over my shoulders. Every evening when my writers block seemed to be getting worse and not better I felt its creeping breath on my neck. Every morning when the resumes went out and nothing came back I felt the shadow of it darken my vision. I had gotten so used to the feeling that it was a shock when these words broke through the malaise for one second and I felt my weak spirit lift its head.  Continue reading

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The one where I’m more than enough

Life seems like a series of contradictions lately. It’s as if life teaches me one thing followed immediately by the phrase “but not all the time” or “not in every circumstance.” It can be a little confusing and frustrating.

“Be open; but protect yourself too”

“Love who are you, your personality, you character, your attitudes, but don’t be content to stay exactly the same your whole life”

“Accept criticism even when it comes from places you don’t trust; but know that some criticism you can throw right in the garbage even when it comes from those you do trust.”

“Strive to grow in your faith and in your ability to worship and trust God, but don’t worry when you feel like you’ve been in the same place for months at at time”

“Don’t over think everything, but don’t turn off your instincts”

“Don’t worry about everything, but have a healthy concern that you are making the right choices.”

Back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes it can feel like a tug of war in my mind. I like things to have a simple answer. If something is the right thing to do I want it to ALWAYS be the right thing to do. I’m great with living in the tension as long as it’s not a situation directly affecting me. But the thing is, most of life isn’t a simple yes or no. Most of life is found in the tension. In the moments where I decide what is the right approach. And here’s the best/worst part. Sometimes I’ll choose wrong. And you know what?

That’s okay. I’m not always going to pick the right thing.

I can’t live my life worrying about all the choices I have to make. Because what is that worry really hiding? It’s hiding my need to be perfect. I’m not perfect. I’m going to make a LOT of wrong choices. So what! That’s part of life. The biggest thing I’m learning right now is how to accept my imperfections. Acceptance doesn’t mean I don’t strive to be better; but it means I stop acting like the things I want to work on in myself are always bad in every circumstance. Taking care to make the right choice isn’t always bad. Being cautious with how open I am with others is healthy. Working to became the best version of myself I can be doesn’t mean taking out all the things that make me interesting.

I’m not too much. I’m not too little. I’m me.

And that is more than enough

 

 

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The one about confronting the mean

Does anybody take pride in being a mean person? I’m not talking about “I don’t take crap from anyone” “I don’t let anyone push me around and if that makes me mean so be it” kind of mean. I’m talking about the kind of person who dislikes people for no real reason. Who is not just jealous of other’s people success but actively hopes they start not succeeding. A person who smiles a little inside when something goes wrong for a person she doesn’t like. Maybe genuinely evil people take pride in their meanness, but most of us pretend those parts of us don’t exist. We push it down and put a smile on our face and pretend that we are nice. But that doesn’t change anything. The mean is still there. Silently waiting for an opportunity to jump up in front of your face and remind you that sometimes you are really not a nice person.

I had a moment like that today. A moment where the ugliness of my thoughts startled me. Did I really just think that? About another human being? What is wrong with me? It was like a mirror was held up in front of my soul and it was not a pretty sight. It always seems like those moments and thoughts come up right after I’ve decided to pat myself on the back because of how kind I’m being. I went out of my way to help somebody, or give somebody a kind word, I must be a really nice person. Look at how compassionate I am. Look at how good I’m getting at keeping my mouth shut.  And then BAM I’m reminded of how far I really have to go.

I think the trick in confronting my “mean” is to walk the line between self flagellation over my mistakes, and letting myself off the hook too easily. I’m not the first person to indulge the side of myself that can be petty and jealous. We all do it, and we all do it way more than we probably like to admit. But, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s a part of myself I should be proud of or indulge myself in. The next time I start getting on a high horse about my own behavior I hope I remember the capacity I have to make the wrong decision, to hope for the wrong things, to indulge the mean. I am trying not pretend that the mean part of me doesn’t exist or that it is somehow not the “real” me. The same person who cares deeply about people and is very sensitive to the needs to others can also be rude, prideful, and yes mean. This doesn’t make me a bad person. It simply makes me a human being.

So here I am admitting it in the public square that is the blogosphere. My name is Janelle and sometimes, I’m a really mean person. I get jealous and worried that other people are going to outshine me. I think other people have it much easier than me. I dislike people for ridiculous reasons. I hold grudges. I get mad over silly things and I can be very impatient. The good news is I’m not afraid to confront my mean. The better news is that when I confront my mean I’m able to beat it, even if it’s only temporarily. But hey, I’ll take the small wins every time. Give me enough small wins and I’ll look back and see that I’m further than I was a month ago.

I’m not afraid of my mean. That isn’t all I am. I’m also capable of great warmth and compassion. When I love people I love them wholeheartedly, would do anything to help them, and root for good things to happen in their lives. I can be burdened with a need to help those I know have it much worse than me. I get over my ridiculous reasons for not liking someone. I admit that I’m mad about something silly and let my grudge go. When I confront my mean I free myself up to notice the good in myself too. I’m not either/or. I’m both. Today I was a little mean. That’s okay. Tomorrow is going to be different.

How about you? Do you confront the mean in your own life? Have you ever had a thought that startled you in its meanness? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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The one where all will be well

One of the few good things about my long commute to work is how much time I have to listen to things in the car. Usually I pick podcasts because it makes the drive go quicker (I’ve listed some of my favorites here.) But, sometimes I like to put my windows down, my ipod on shuffle and let fate pick my music. Over the past week or so a certain song seems to come up almost every time I’m driving. Around the 5th or 6th time I started really listening to the lyrics and had kind of light bulb going on moment. The song is called All Will Be Well and it’s by The Gabe Dixon Band.  I first heard the song a few years ago when my friend Heather made me a mix of new music. Parks and Recreation, of my favorite TV shows, also used it in a montage last year and it was amazing. But even though I’ve known the song for a few years, this past week in particular it seemed to really stir something in me. I kept listening to it over and over again. The song would end and I would immediately repeat it. Take a listen before you read the rest of what I have to say. Continue reading

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The one about God’s “perfect will”

I’m a bit of a control freak. (I know this fact comes as no surprise to those of you who know me.) I like to have things go the way I want them. I plan things to a minute degree. Being a worrier and a control freak often go hand in hand especially in moments where I feel out of control. Learning to let go and not worry so much is something I am constantly working on. I find it’s the hardest to let go during periods of transition. When I’m in a place where I’m making decisions about my life I can feel my blood pressure rising as I start to worry about the inevitable ways I will screw up my choices. There’s one phrase in particular that if I hear it during the times I’ve just described I will lose my mind. I’m talking about the phrase “the perfect will of God.”

Christians love to talk about God’s perfect will. It comes up in prayers. (Lord, we just pray that you will bring about your perfect will.) It comes up when talking about jobs. (Lord, is this job in your perfect will for me?) It comes up in relationships. (Is this person God’s perfect will for me?) For those of us who like to be in control at all times, the idea of a perfect will of God just might be the most stressful thing we have ever dealt with. What if I make a wrong choice? What if I take the wrong job? What if move to the wrong state? What if I marry the wrong person?

What if,

What if,

What if,

I’m in a time of transition in my life. (Ugh, I hate that even typed such a cliche sentence, but it really is true) And sure enough the need to constantly be in control is becoming an issue again. What if I choose the wrong thing and then my whole life is screwed up? When I start to spiral like this I try to remember the most comforting debunking of God’s perfect will I’ve ever heard. During college I had a Bible professor who brought up this very topic. He first asked how many of us had dealt with the pressure of choosing God’s perfect will in the past. After some discussion he used the following illustration to shatter all of our illusions about God’s will.

God’s will is like a playground. When you take a child to a playground you don’t tell them “Okay, you need to swing on the swings for twenty minutes. Then you need to go down the slide eight times. Only after you do those two things can you go on the jungle gym.” No, instead you tell the child, “You can play on anything at this playground for as long as you want, just don’t leave the playground.” That’s just how God is with our life choices. There are certain parameters he sets up like a fence around a playground. But, that fence encompasses a giant space. He looks at his children and he says. “Go play. Go play and have fun.”

How freeing was this analogy for me? I almost did cartwheels out of the classroom that’s how awesome I felt. Now, when I start to feel anxiety creep up when I have to make a big decision I remind myself to just play on the playground. I no longer believe there is a perfect will for my life. I believe there are lots of good choices and whichever one I pick becomes God’s perfect will for me. Are there some choices that might be better than others? Possibly. If your child isn’t that great on the swings and chooses to spend their time there instead of the slide that might not be the best choice. But does it ruin their life? Nope. There’s room for correction. Everything doesn’t have to be set in stone.

So, I’ve got some decisions I have to make soon. The part of me that needs to feel in control is freaked out. But the part of me that is secure in my creator’s love for me reminds the rest of my brain to relax and enjoy this part of my life. Go and play on the playground. It’s going to be a great day.

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The one about running out of words

This isn’t the first draft I’ve written. It isn’t the 4th or the 5th. It’s more like the 11th or 12th. I look at the last time I wrote and I can feel the panic clawing its way to the front of my mind.

“It’s been almost two weeks since you’ve written.”

“If you want to be successful at writing you have to write!”

“Why can’t you write?”

“Think of something!”

“Think”

“Think”

“THINK!!!”

Ideas float from the recesses of my mind to my fingers and I start to type. Before I’m even two paragraphs in I’m deleting everything. It isn’t right. This isn’t what I want to say. And all the while that phrase haunts me. If I don’t look at it, it won’t be there. If I ignore it, it’ll go away. Even now, even in this space where I’m talking about it I don’t want to write the words.

Writer’s block

Supposedly when you put something in writing you take away its power. Not the case today. Looking at those two words is not making me feel any better. If anything I feel worse. What if I can’t think of anything to write ever again? Obviously this is a hyperbolic statement. Of course I’ll be writing again. Soon the thoughts will flow smoothly and quickly from my head to fingers to my computer screen. But beneath the hyperbolic is a fear that seems all too real.

What if I can only write when things are going poorly in my life? What if the very fact that I’m happy in most areas of my life right now means that I don’t have the ability to create good work? What if I can only write about things that outrage me? What if I’m only an “issues” writer? 

I don’t believe that to create good art you have to be tortured. But when a period of writer’s block like the kind I’m in now hits me, I start to wonder if I’m the exception to that rule. It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I can be driving around running errands and think of five or six blog topics. But when I sit down to write them I’m unhappy with every paragraph, every line, every word. For me writer’s block isn’t the absence of ideas. It’s almost having too many ideas. Too many ideas and none that jump out at me. There have been days when my fingers barely pause on the keyboard and when I stop to look at the word count I’m blown away. And then there are days like today when I’m laboriously trying to get more than 500 words on the page. My fingers hurt. Not from rapid typing but from constant suspension over the keyboard waiting for the words to come. And they just won’t.

I honestly don’t know what happens next. I don’t know what is going to snap me out of this writer’s block. I have no tried and true actions that jump start my mind. I’ve heard some people say that to get through writer’s block you just have to write. Even if it’s horrible write. Write whatever is in your head and don’t delete it. Just keep writing. So that’s what I’m going to do. The perfectionist in me finds this really difficult, but I’m going to do it. That’s what this is. This is me forcing myself to get something on the page. It’s not much but it’s something.

Any of my readers who are artists of any kind when you struggle with your own “writer’s block” what are the strategies that help you defeat it? Leave your thoughts in the comments. They will be much appreciated!

 

 

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The one about biting my tongue

Nobody has ever told me I need to be more assertive. Nobody has ever told me I need to speak up more. I’ve never been told “you let too many things go.” I once had someone (yes it was a boy) tell me that when I got married I would pick up a dirty sock my husband left on the floor and yell “You left this dirty sock on the floor! This means you don’t respect our marriage!” Zero to 60 in fifteen seconds. To be perfectly honest, that criticism stuck with me for a long time. It was always there to pull me out of a really great mood; to remind me that at the end of the day I have a big mouth and I make a big deal out of every little thing.

But lately, I’m not as bothered by this aspect of my personality as I used to be. I’m realizing that I would rather be the woman that needs to learn how to stay silent than the woman who needs to learn to speak up. I was raised in a family that didn’t just allow my opinions to be heard, they insisted on it. We are a family of talkers. If someone is upset we talk about it, doesn’t matter how big or small the situation. If it’s enough to upset someone in the family, it’s important enough to talk about. As I’ve gotten older I have realized that I do need to learn to let things go. Every Facebook status doesn’t need my attention. Every misogynistic comment doesn’t need my rebuttal. Sometimes the sock on the floor is just a sock on the floor. Sometimes I will find myself so mad about something and when I sit down and really think about it I realize I’m not just making a mountain out of a mole hill; I’m making an erupting volcano out of an ant hill.

So yes, part of my maturation into adulthood is learning how to be quiet. I’m learning that waiting a minute to let someone else speak can be just the encouragement the shy person in the corner of the room needs to make herself heard. I’m learning that small issues don’t always grow into big ones. I’m learning that silence has its own kind of power. Yet, even so I’m still glad that this is the strategy I have to learn. Listening instead of speaking. Letting things go instead of picking things up. Releasing small things instead of ignoring big things.

I’ve come to this conclusion because I’ve watched people I respect and admire choke back their thoughts because they don’t want to rock the boat. I see relationships falling apart because one partner just can’t get up the courage to tell the other partner what is bothering her. I see people calling something a small problem when really at best it’s a medium size problem swelling to gargantuan size because they “don’t want to fight about this.”

“If we ignore it, it’ll go away.”

Maybe

“I want to say something but this isn’t that big of a deal.”

It isn’t?

“I’m going to look petty.”

So what?

“This shouldn’t bother me. I’ll just get over it.”

What if you can’t?

I’ll be honest, I tend to hear these sentences mostly from the women in my life. That’s the stereotype right? Women make a big deal out of everything. We’re always upset about something. All we want to do is talk talk talk. Of course behind every stereotype is some truth, but are we okay with living in a world that teaches a woman her first instinct should be to doubt herself? That when she’s upset about something the first thing she should do is make sure it’s okay for her to be upset before doing something about it?  I’m not okay with that. When I watch people I care about struggle to make their voices heard, I’m thankful all over again that silence is a skill I have to practice. I stay silent not because I’m afraid to speak. I’m not worried that my opinion might offend someone. I’m not worried that I’ll lose a relationship. My silence comes from thoughtfulness and respect, not fear.

Learning to be silent is a process. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m doing better than I was. I’m having more success at it now than I’ve ever had. I think it’s because I’ve stopped feeling bad that my gut instinct is to speak up. It’s good that I care. I’m learning that being quiet can be its own form of caring. It’s caring enough to let someone else speak. I know I’m going to keep getting better the more that I practice.

If I could go back and tell the me who first heard that sock statement anything it would be this. Okay so the point you have just heard is not completely invalid. However, the dude that said this to you is a jerk whose MO in life is to avoid avoid avoid. You can take this advice with a GIANT grain of salt. Someday you will understand that when you are in healthy relationships, romantic and otherwise, silence won’t be demanded from you as some sort of power play. Rather, it will be asked of you by people who have your best interest at heart, love that you aren’t afraid to say your opinion, and want to help you grow into the most complete version of yourself that you can be. With those people silence isn’t a choke hold; it’s a gift.

So with that I will close out this entry on silence (clocking in at over 900 words I know, I see the irony) by opening it up to my readers. Are you a person who needs to learn to be quiet or a person who needs to learn to speak up? Which do you think is harder to learn and why?

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