Forgiveness is more than saying sorry

Earlier this year I read a book with a leadership team about trusting people. In one section, it talked about the certainty that people will betray us in this life, because Jesus was betrayed. My mind was blown. If Jesus, God’s Son/the Word at the Beginning/our Lord and Savior/the Perfect Lamb experienced betrayal, so will we.

Yet when it happens, we act as if it’s this huge scandal and we can never trust someone again. Sometimes, yeah, it’s really awful. Forgiving someone isn’t easy because of what they’ve done and trusting someone new can be even harder.

I think this is where Jesus’ story of betrayal becomes even more applicable. In the Gospels, we learn about Jesus beginning his missions and selecting 12 disciples. These men weren’t randos He found on the street; as long as it had been planned that He would come for us, these guys were a part of it.

We don’t learn about the specifics of each of them, but we do know he called Peter first. More than helping spread Christianity in the beginning, Peter is probably most known for denying Jesus three times after he was told her would do it. Peter swore he would die for his Lord, only to deny knowing him thrice to save his own skin.

When Jesus walked up to Peter in his fishing boat, he wasn’t impressed by his fisherman’s prowess. He knew what Peter was capable of and needed him to be the rock upon which He’d build His church. In that moment, Jesus knew in His hour of need Peter would run, but He still saw his potential.

Judas was recruited as a disciple at some point, too. Can you imagine knowing you had to choose the person who would ultimately cost you your life and let him be an intimate friend? During His ministry, Jesus turned a blind eye to Judas’ stealing from their funds because He knew the greater plan in place. I asked can you imagine, but I cannot imagine in the slightest. It’s mind bottling.

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Jesus knew the part each of them would play in His life and death, but that didn’t change his feelings for them. Even if their eventual betrayal hurt him, He still loved them.

In the same conversation that would lead to Him predicting Peter’s denial, He left them with a new commandment:

“Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” John 13:34

Woof. That ‘just as I have loved you’ is filled with so many emotions for me. It’s the unconditional kind of love where He’s telling them I have loved you despite everything, and it’s your job to love others that same way.

Judas and Peter went on two different paths following Jesus’ death. Almost immediately, Judas felt the guilt of his actions and hanged himself. Peter, similarly racked with guilt, had the opportunity to speak to Jesus and feel the forgiveness first hand.

You’re going to deal with Judas’ and Peter’s in your life, both literally and metaphorically (although naming your child Judas is like thinking Jezebel is a good name). Sometimes people will hurt you and the relationship cannot be repaired. But that doesn’t mean you assume every single person after him or her will do the same. You don’t close off your heart because of what one person did.

Imagine if Jesus were like us. He came to Earth, gathered His disciples, and realized how truly terrible humans are. It’s likely He would’ve ascended immediately to Heaven and left us to our own devices, avoiding the horrifying ordeal of the cross. Instead, He loved us at our worst and called us to do the same with others.

Sometimes we throw away something too quickly because we’re hurt. In this case, we could be missing out on something great because we were too scared to forgive our Peter. Or too angry and hurt. Again, if Jesus saw Peter after His resurrection and was like ‘nah, I don’t want a jerk like you to feed my sheep,’ the world would probably be different.

Amen, amen, amen to the fact that Jesus is not like us and sees past the things of this world. He sees us, you and me, and writes a brilliant story for us. He knows it will contain heartbreak and betrayal, but He knows from experience the beauty of what it can bring to our lives.

Please know I’m not saying immediately forgive and welcome back everyone who’s hurt you into your life. That’s unrealistic and can lead to more hurt. I’m simply asking that you and I forgive like Jesus, which means we love like Jesus. We might not have the same relationship with a person, but we don’t harbor feeling of ill-will.

It’s about accepting that it’s likely everyone you know will hurt you at one time. When I look at my own life, I know this to be true. And I know I’ve hurt all those people, too. But I want to love like Jesus and not hold grudges or even tiny feelings of resentment masked by pretenses of forgiveness.

I get that it’s really hard, but it’s also really rewarding.

Be thankful, not sorry

I decided I would fast something monthly in 2018, mainly because I’m bad at choosing things to give up. I wanted a plan so each month I knew in advance what was happening instead of going back and forth and ultimately not fasting at all. Which is what I usually do. After doing some Internet searching, this is the list I created:

  • January: No social media
  • February: No Netflix
  • March: No necessary opinions
  • April: No negativity
  • May: No idle snacking or PTO
  • June Fast: Only Christian books and music
  • July: No sleeping in
  • August: No YouTube
  • September: No complaining
  • October: No curiosity (be okay with not knowing everything)
  • November: No music in the car
  • December: No diets or lists

Being in the penultimate month of the year, I’m actually excited to say I think I’ve done fairly well. Most months, with the exception of June and July, I managed to stick to my fast without issue and found it was much easier than I anticipated.

Then I realized it was November and time for no music in the car.

My original thinking for this was it’s November, so I’ll spend my time in the car praying and thanking God. And then last week I almost fell asleep while driving home from an event and remembered I need to be stimulated while driving or else I will fall asleep. If I had super powers, I’m sure my kryptonite would be putting me in a car and you just start driving. I sleep in cars. It’s kind of my thing.

More than the safety issue, it didn’t feel right. Partially because it sounds a little miserable (sorry God) and partially because I made this list a year ago and things change. I wanted to do something that was more impactful for my life now. So I decided I would spend this month saying thank you.

It’s not like I don’t already say thank you a lot. I’m a very well-mannered human bean. My issue is, like most women, I apologize for everything, and someday I fear I will apologize my existence away.

Sometimes you need to say sorry, like if you step on someone’s toe or accidentally open their stall door while they’re going to the bathroom. But most of the time I apologize when I should say thank you.

For example, I have to ask a lot of questions about where to find files at work because I’m really bad at finding things. Usually I apologize for being such a goof to my coworker, but the other day I took a different approach. Instead of groveling in my inadequacy, I simply thanked her for her patience.

When you apologize instead of saying thank you, you’re demeaning yourself. It’s an immediate arrow that points to you and lets the world know you did something wrong. Sometimes this humility is good, but too often it’s incorrect.

Here’s how I know it’s an issue. Nine times out of 10 if I bump into a woman at the grocery store, we’ll both begin a parade of apologies to each other. Nine times out of 10 if I bump into a man in a grocery story, I’ll apologize and he’ll either ignore me or say it’s okay.

It’s ridiculous and I want it to stop.

If I start talking about my feelings too much, I tell my friend I’m sorry for dumping on them. Or if I start to go crazy at a meeting, I apologize for being long winded. In both cases, I’m discrediting myself and putting the burden on someone else. It’s much easier to thank a friend for listening and thank co-workers for hearing my ideas. It’s so much nicer, too.

Similarly, I’m going to stop adding qualifiers to my thank yous. Like the other day I accessorized one of my work shirts well and received a lot of compliments. My response to every single person who liked my outfit was “thanks, but my skirt isn’t zipped.” The “thanks, but” will be the death of me.

Even if I don’t say it out loud, I think it. If you compliment something I’ve created, I’ll tell you thanks and think about how I’m actually not great and if you actually knew all the dumb shortcuts I took. But most of the time I’ll say “thanks, but it was actually easy,” instead of just accepting praise of my work.

If you’re like me, and I knew too many of us are, I challenge you to try this too. It’s November so be thankful, not sorry. Any time you’re tempted to apologize, decide if a a thank you works better. I’m positive you’ll find that most of the time it does.

Thank you for taking the time to read my writing each and every week. I appreciate your support and acceptance.

 

A half-review of a show about a half-witch

Basic review: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes the TGIF version you loved and douses it in hell fire and goat blood. If you’re a fan of Melissa Joan Hart, this might not be your cup of tea, but if you enjoy the occult and Riverdale, time to start bingeing.

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Sabrina kicks off her new series at a horror movie during the last week of October. Our young half-witch is about to turn 16 where she’ll sign the Devil’s book and renounce her mortal life. The first few episodes grapple with this understandably complex decision and the remainder of the season is the repercussions.

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We’re immediately introduced to Sabrina and her rag tag group of well-represented companions, including her boyfriend Harvey, and best friends Rosalind and Susie. It’s clear that Sabrina is a good friend who fights against injustice and inequality. This show is incredibly woke, if that’s something people still say.

Okay, so here’s time for my random thoughts and potentially spoilers because I don’t feel like writing a lengthy, spoiler-free and sensical review.

  • If I’m being honest, I don’t know why I watched this over the course of two nights. It wasn’t a bad show by any means. But I wasn’t frantically pushing ‘play next episode.’ There was tension, but no sense of I have to finish watching this. Fortunately my obsessive personality doesn’t need real intrigue to become obsessed.
  • I had to Google if the kid who played Harvey was at least 18 because I didn’t want to feel weird about my feelings. I really enjoy that his relationship with Sabrina is previously established and the first season wasn’t built on will-they-won’t-they. They were just two kids in love and I feel comfortable rooting for them to make it through the series (with teen dramas, you can never be sure and I hate to have my heart broken).
  • I love Sabrina’s character being so confident and aware of who she is. She isn’t having sex but there isn’t a weird pressure and she’s not portrayed as a prude. At one point, she takes off her shirt so Harvey can look for a birthmark, and he takes off his in solidarity. He doesn’t make it weird or try to sleep with her. He just literally checks for a birthmark. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super sensual, but he’s very respectful. A new entry for #notallmen.
  • I spent the first half of the season deciding if it was actually in the 60s or if it was modern day with that suspended in time feeling like Riverdale. Eventually we see Sabrina call Harvey’s iPhone and I breathed a sigh of relief.
  • Speaking of Riverdale, this is shot in the same perpetual sexy haze and it seems almost certain a crossover will occur.
  • Speaking of the sexy haze, one of the biggest complaints was how out of focus certain parts of the scene could be. My eyesight is too good for such shenanigans.
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All I want is for a boy as cute as Harvey to stare at me like this while driving so we can wreck and die and someone will write a love song about our tragic story

  • There were realistic conflicts in this story and believable resolutions. Sabrina raises Harvey’s brother from the dead only he doesn’t have a soul and is now just a zombie. Literally. Once she owns up, he decides to kill his brother and can’t look at Sabrina, which makes complete sense. Her friends find out through ghosts and grandmothers and immediately hear her story and accept her as she is, even when Sabrina tells them about Harvey’s brother.
  • I don’t understand how Sabrina accepts her witch life while also being a mortal. They praise Satan a lot. Like a lot. Normalization is weird.
  • There’s male witch named Nicholas who might be my third favorite character. He’s super into Sabrina, even offering to be her side boyfriend at her witch school, but he’s never pushy or conniving. He even stops other people from getting in her way so she can make things right. When all hell literally breaks loose in town, he goes to protect Harvey for her and does so admirably. He even convinces Harvey to forgive Sabrina. He understands eating another witch out of tradition is weird and doesn’t partake. I would give him a rating of #notallwitches. Nicholas loves witch orgies which apparently are a common thing but really wishes he could experience mortal love, something witches don’t really get.
  • This show is based on some rich witch lore, which I thoroughly enjoy. Salem is back as Sabrina’s familiar, only in this version he isn’t a human trapped in a cats body. Every witch has a familiar to help them and instead of selecting one, Sabrina puts a call out into the world and asks for one who could get along with her, because she doesn’t want to own him like that. Familiars are goblins in animal form and when Salem arrives, he seems like a very tall and awkward and he isn’t a properly trained  familiar, but he’s the best. I like him better than snarky Salem.

I realize there are about a million other plot lines I didn’t talk about, so if you want a real review you should read a real publication. Now for my predictions:

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The GIF above is one of the last shots of the season, after she signs to book and stops being a mortal. Her hair is lightened by all the power she receives and now goes to her witch school full-time. Here she’s winking at Nicholas, who’s upset to see how she’s changed. He liked the different from everyone else Sabrina, not this catastrophe. Prior to this, she says goodbye to Harvey after he tells her he wants to start again. It’s the classic ‘staying away to protect you’ because now she’s so powerful and doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.

Side note but the more I watch that GIF the more it makes me think of this:

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Back to predictions. I think Sabrina is faking it. Her plan before was to figure out how she can beat the devil, and it’s actually not unlikely because apparently she’s the strongest witch of all. She wants to keep her freewill and mortal life and get all the fun of being a witch, and dangit she will figure it out.

We’ll probably start season 2 and she’ll be this changed person, but it will be revealed to Ambrose or her aunts or something her real plan and she’ll be the Sabrina we all know and love. During this time, Harvey might find someone else, driving Sabrina into Nicholas’ arms. I’m okay with this because I really believe Harvey and Sabrina are end game. I think we’re heading to Sabrina becoming the most powerful witch and changing the rules and marrying Harvey.

My plan is now to continue watching, but then again that’s my plan for every show and to date I think I’m caught up with one show. There are just too many, you know?

Sexism is solved!

Attention: a man just solved the sexism issue and we can all go home and rest beneath our glass ceilings because our work is done. Thank you, man on the Internet, for your brilliant insight into our struggles as women and determining the cause.

“GENIUS MAN WHO SOLVED SEXISM: The fact that girls are torn away from their fathers is the problem. If fathers were in their lives, they would kick the guys ass. A positive father role model is essential for a girls emotional health. Male bashing of 99% of men for what 1% of men do is sexism. All racism, bigotry and sexism is wrong.

This comment appeared under a post from Girl Scouts of the USA. Specifically, this post:

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You wouldn’t believe (actually you probably would) how many comments appeared about this being political and objections from women who don’t really believe in sexism. Fortunately, even GSUSA got involved to be like ‘we can’t be an organization dedicated to girls if we deny the existence of these things’ and at my desk at work I was literally like

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Then I became J Lo reading the other comments pointing out to the doubting women that they don’t think they’ve experienced sexism because we’re programmed to think what we experience is normal. Which it isn’t.

Either way, back to the feminist hero who solved sexism.

First of all, sir, what are you referring to when you say girls are being torn away from their fathers? Is there some epidemic where liberal mothers are stealing children and running away to Canada? Also you imply that if girls had a father, asses would be kicked. Would the fathers kick the ass or would it be the girls who finally have the strength and bravery they need thanks to the loving support of their fathers?

I can’t speak for every girl, mind you, but my mother never tore me away from my father. In fact, she encouraged our relationship even though he was an emotional manipulator and definitely helped me develop a strong case of daddy issues. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard of any of my female friends being torn away from fathers, even if they were deadbeats and it definitely needed to happen.

Second, I do agree we need a positive father figure. I’ve seen first hand what happens when dads abandoned their daughters and toll it takes on them (or maybe these men were helplessly torn away?). I was lucky that I had one dad who really tried to screw me up and I had another father who did his best to make sure I grew up happy and healthy. I’m somewhere in the middle of a wreck and a functioning member of society as a result.

Will I agree it’s the end all, be all solution? Probably not.

Thirdly, you address the bashing of 99% of men for what 1% do and call it sexism. I’m not scientist, but if I did a study on all the men I’ve encountered and determined which ones behaved in a way that was sexist or unchivalrous, I’m positive it would be at least 60% who needed to be bashed because of their actions.

Even my wonderful, positive father role model believes that a bad driver is probably a woman. Which is a sexist comment, by the way.

Your ‘not all men’ argument is just the worst. It’s like saying ‘not all white people’ are racist. Obviously not every person, but enough that it’s a real issue. It’s also very generous to your sex that you would claim only 1% catcall, abuse, objectify, and belittle women. Clearly you’ve never spent a day as a woman and tried to do anything.

The worst part is, it isn’t just reserved for the really hot girls like you see in the movies. I don’t have to walk down the street with the wind blowing just right to get cat called. I’ve been as frumpy as you can get and still received honks and nods. Don’t get me started when I’m wearing a dress in my car. The truck drivers really love to let me know they enjoy my style.

For the record, I wasn’t even counting all those men in my previous estimated percentage. If you’re going to tell us ‘not all men,’ at least provide realistic percentages.

Finally, we agree on your last point that all racism, bigotry, and sexism is wrong. It’s also wrong for you, as a man, to comment on a post about women’s right and assume you have the answer for our problems. Which is unsurprisingly male-related.

The real solution is to raise a generation of girls AND boys who recognize that we are in fact equal and just because people have always behaved a certain way doesn’t make it right. It’s more than just women fighting for equality and men telling us we need father figures. It’s a concentrated effort for everyone to say we’ve been doing this wrong and we need to get better.

Here is the sexist thing I will say to you: for too long men have stood on top of the world and made a big ol mess of everything, all while telling women where our place in the world was. They created boys clubs to keep us out and assume we’re bra burners if we dare call ourselves feminist. We even have a president who can brag about grabbing women by their [word I will not say or use] and it’s fine because it’s locker room talk. Collectively, men are the worst. I have met men who seem to get it what most do not and they’re wonderful unicorns.

My last thought is if you have a daughter, which I hope you do unless you’re just trolling posts on Facebook, is to think about how you’re raising her. Certainly don’t raise her to hate men, but don’t let her think it’s only 1% who will treat her like she’s less. Always do your best to show her how she’s so much more.

And please stop trying to mansplain sexism.

Don’t let your heart be dulled

Have you ever experienced a mountaintop moment? I’m talking the kind where your whole soul feels like it’s on fire and you can’t wait to share the flames with everyone you meet. Maybe it was a mission trip or church camp that gave you a higher sense of purpose and you believe nothing can extinguish the joy you feel.

Until about two hours after you come down from the mountain and return to your real life.

My first time visiting a mountain top happened when I was 12 years old, the summer before I started seventh grade. It was my first time going to youth camp and my church chose Go Tell at Liberty University. For the first time in my lifelong church experience, everything clicked inside of me. I stood up with the other kids who accepted Jesus into their hearts and even felt a call to some sort of ministry. There’s nothing quite like the first time you experience true salvation and grace from Jesus. I was on fire.

I remember the seven-hour ride home and how excited I was to tell everyone about how I was changed. We finally arrived at the church and I practically jumped out the van so I could run and tell my sister my exciting news, only to see her face tell me now wasn’t the time. We grabbed my stuff and loaded it in the car and finally she explained her somber look.

While I was gone, my dad had tried to kill himself.

It was like I had summited Mt Everest only to descend too rapidly, causing altitude sickness and all the other horrible things that can happen to you when you push your body higher than it can handle.

I sat beside her and listened to what happened and felt all the fire that had filled me begin to smolder. Every detail was like another piece of sand tossed to extinguish it quickly.  I felt like I would choke on the smoke.

Within five minutes of returning from my mountain, everything changed and the reality of life set in again. I didn’t turn from my faith, but my relationship with my Heavenly Father stalled as my relationship with my earthly father began to deteriorate.

“Don’t let your hearts be dulled by… the worries of this life.” Luke 21:34

Toward the end of His ministry on earth, Jesus spoke about the end times and the different signs they would see. He warned His disciples to stay alert so they wouldn’t be caught off guard by His return. He knew how the worries of our lives can slowly dull our hearts.

I’ve never thought about my heart being dull, but when I think about it, sometimes it is. My faith becomes lackluster and my intensity is dampened. I’ll have a day of feeling so alive and ready only to be brought back down by the reality of what it means to be a human.

I can’t stop thinking about if I’ll have enough money. I obsessively budget and throw up a quick ‘please God’ toward the end of my tallying. I know I should spend time in prayer but I’ve been so stressed out I just want to watch Netflix. I’m worried about people thinking I’m an incompetent goon who’s a bad friend, but I don’t seek reassurances from my Father.

The Passion Translation takes the beginning of Luke 21:34 one step further:

“Be careful that you never allow your hearts to grow cold. Remain passionate and free from anxiety and the worries of this life.” 

To be dulled is one thing, but cold? If I made a list of the most undesirable concepts, it would definitely be topped by my heart growing cold. I want to forever remain alive and excited, but life is really hard.

If I allow myself to be too consumed with my own problems and concerns, I will lose the spark inside of me. It doesn’t just stay lit because I prayed to Jesus at age 12. He isn’t in my heart fanning the flames if I refuse to help. I have to fight every day against my own anxiety and remind myself of the fire I carry with me all the time.

We are guaranteed that life will not be easy. Even if you’re literally born with a silver spoon in your mouth that makes you a YouTube celebrity as an infant, you’ll still have something to worry about. Something that will distract you from what matters, and if left unchecked, it will make your heart dull.

I’m not asking you to simply say your anxiety isn’t real because that’s ridiculous. I understand why you worry because I worry. The key isn’t to magically rid yourself of hardship, but learn to hold onto your joy and remember how it can fill you.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34

Our hearts follow our lead. They see what matters most to us and make that their priority as well. When worry is your main focus, that’s what your heart will care about. It will love the control it feels like it has over your anxiety.

Keeping your heart bright and warm is a choice you have to make every single day. I’m going to do my best to choose joy over worry, treasuring what truly matters instead of what will quickly fade away.

Anything Could Happen

Do you ever do something really stupid, like go to someone’s profile you shouldn’t, see a picture you don’t like, and then proceed to read all the comments? You can’t even argue it seems like a good idea at the time. You know it’s a terrible idea. Yet on you scroll.

What are we expecting to find? Perhaps that picture of him with someone else is secretly a love call to you and you just have to find the proof. Maybe it’s not that radical. Maybe it’s as simple as you need to learn it’s his or her cousin so you can move on with your life.

And by move on, I of course mean continue to obsess over someone who may or may not even know of your interest and/or existence.

Usually, though, it’s not a cousin and suddenly all your hopes and dreams are dashed. I’ve found that usually it’s a picture on a beach. If they’re on a beach together, especially if it’s a piggy back situation, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

It feels like everything inside of you sinks. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s like there’s this weight of hope you’ve been holding at the top of yourself and suddenly it falls through you. It rests in the pit of your stomach and begins feeding you lies.

For me, the line is usually ‘of course he’d be with someone like her. Look at her long hair and normal sized forehead. Your hair looks crazy in the wind like you have a skullet. You’re probably too heavy to be lifted up like that. She’s wearing an appropriate amount of blush.’ Etc.

Then it can spiral even worse. Even though you didn’t really have a connection to this person, you just feel disconnected. Like your one hope is gone and now you’re left alone. The good news is you know alone, it’s all you know.

Writing this makes me feel pathetic because yeah, this just happened. And here I am whining with my words about another boy who barely knew I existed living a happy life. It’s not like we had anything or he’s my ex. He’s just a boy and I just had a crush.

I can remove myself from the situation and realize this doesn’t actually affect my life. I don’t really care about him. It’s just the idea of him that I like. Having an idea is better than having nothing, I guess. But now I can’t pretend in my head like this is a real possibility.

I guess I’m just tired of being alone and without an idea, it feels like this will be my permanent state of being.

But you know what? Screw that.

I’ve been boyfriend-less for basically a decade, but it’s been a great 10 years. I’ve had some hangs but looking back they were all idiots. Literally. I don’t have one good guy on my roster. That’s what happens when you worry about being alone and let any jerk into your life.

The past 10 years were exceptional because they weren’t about dating. I didn’t devote my life to finding these fools; I just let them in when they stumbled in my general area. Instead I devoted that time to my family, Sam (it isn’t fair to say friends in general), myself, and my faith. And you know what? I really like who I am.

How is this relevant? I like who I am and I don’t need someone else to validate this person. If I never meet someone, I’m going to be okay. I’m happy for other people when they find love in a very sincere way. I’m not bitter. I’m brave.

Is it weird to call yourself brave? Ugh.

As far as the idea goes, a person becomes an idea because you feel you have a lack of options. You cling to this one guy or girl because you need someone to pin your hopes on. Let’s get our hopes up for something real and good, not something largely made up in our heads.

Instead of allowing one person to be responsible for our happiness let’s remember that anything could happen, because anything happens all the time.

Now I’m going to continue my day while listening to Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding on repeat. It’s such a bop. Next time you discover your crush is in a new relationship, don’t let the sinking feeling keep you down. Turn Anything Could Happen up loud and remind yourself that their happiness does not mean the end of yours.

Anything is about to happen to you.

Just a reminder that you’re incredible

I want you to know how loved you are. By me, Jesus, and everyone else in this life. You are valuable and important. This world would not be the same without you. Thank you for waking up every day and bringing your special magic into life. 

Most of us don’t like receiving an endless stream of compliments. I meant all of those words, but it’s so easy for your brains to tell you I’m just saying that because it’s the introduction to this post. Or, even worse, if only I really knew you I wouldn’t believe that.  I know that because it’s the same struggle I face.

No matter how worried we are about what someone thinks about us, it could never be worse than what goes on in our own heads. Every compliment is immediately met with either an internal or external rebuttal. We don’t want people getting the wrong idea. We’re really just a steaming garbage pile covered by skin.

For a long time, I believed I wasn’t a good or worthy person. I let the words of others define me and began to doubt every nice word. As a result, everything I did felt fake. If I wasn’t a good person, surely every act of kindness and service must be a facade to cover the stench of the garbage within. I lived in fear that someday a vent would somehow escape and someone would get a whiff, exposing the real me.

Then I wrote a letter from God.

My counselor wanted me to figure out how God truly felt about me, beyond just the words I read in the Bible. Yes, I obviously believe those words are true, but do they really apply to me? I’ve done this, this, and this. I still struggle with that. God loves me, but He probably doesn’t like me that much.

I put off the assignment for weeks because I knew it would wreck me. I was about to face my Creator, and I knew it was going to be painful. I was forbidden to include anything I knew God wouldn’t say, which meant I had to erase all the negative thoughts about myself. They weren’t from God and I couldn’t bring them into the mix.

The process began with some journaling. Using ‘Who You Say I Am’ as a guide, I read specific Bible verses about who I am with God before Finally I sat down at my computer, said a quick prayer, typed a few words, and began to wail. I was ugly crying to the extreme.

What I journaled that fateful evening, March 22, 2018

When I dreamed of you, I knew what your life would look like. I saw all the joy, but I knew about the pain. It breaks my heart to see how you feel. To feel how you feel. There are reasons, of course, as to why I kept those hard parts in. I wish I could explain, but that’s not what you need. You don’t need answers. You need me. Well, that you get. What you need is to believe you are who I say you are.”

This activity brought God’s reckless love to my level and it hit me so hard. Even now, as I reread the letter, the tears begin to fall. It’s written in a similar tone to my own style because I honestly feel like this is how my conversation with God would go.

The letter continues by going over specific struggles in my life and a shame that’s followed me since childhood, but it ends with the words I know He has for all of us:

“I love you so much. I know you know that it was enough to send my son and all that, but I need you to know that that was a hard sacrifice, but when I pictured your face and you doing some sort of weird dance in public, I knew it was worth it. You will always be worth it to me. I know your dad left, but I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. When I showed Abraham the stars and told him his descendants would be as numerous as them, I knew which one was yours.

More than just love you, I like you. A lot. I never text Gabriel about how today you were kind of annoying. Every day I like you a little bit more, and I never like you less. You are special. You are known. You are understood. You are forgiven. Walk with me, and live loved.”

I share these words with you because this love and passion isn’t just for me. God sees all of your weird quirks and habits and remembers how He designed you to be that way. He thinks about how odd you are and it reminds Him that this sacrifice of His son was worth it. Anytime you think you’re less than perfectly assembled, think again.

“This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible! Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.” Psalm 139:6 (TPT)

Once I fully let in the love of God, these words hit home too. I never have to explain myself to God. He has the greatest understanding of me, and He knows. Whenever I think about my perceived inadequacies, I remember how perfectly designed I am, and I let them give me strength.

Friends, it’s easy to believe the lies, especially in a world that tells you to standout while constantly reminding you that you aren’t actually special. It’s easy to get lost in this confusion and assume you aren’t really that great in the grand scheme of things. I’m here to remind you that you are.

Jesus would go to the cross every time, even if it was just for you. He knew all the ways you would fall short, and He did it anyway. He died for you, for me, for everyone.

You, right where you are, are amazing. You are spectacular. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Life without you would be more dull. You shine with more colors than my glitter collection, and let me tell you, it’s extensive.

Remind yourself every day that you are perfect just as you are. God doesn’t make mistakes, especially not with you.

We love you more than you know.

Just like always

The title of this post is strange, especially when you consider it’s about my trip to Las Vegas which was anything but ‘just like always.’ Then again, it’s also about my brother, so it works.

Last week, I crossed the United States for the second time, this time visiting Sin City herself, Las Vegas. In 2009 during the height of Hangover obsession, I wanted to visit and see the sites like everyone else. Actually, my interest started much younger with Vegas Vacation, the Chevy Chase classic. Literally everything I know about Vegas, I learned from this movie.

Naturally, I landed and saw the Strip and assumed I would eat at the most glorious buffets and put a coin and machine and magically win a car. My only goal was to see Wayne Newton. Maybe ride in a limo and hang out of the sunroof.

Spoiler alert: None of this happened.

My trip to Vegas wasn’t based on my own interest, but that of my little brother. My angelic little baby decided he wanted to go to Las Vegas for his 21stbirthday. It’s not that I didn’t want to go but going there since I stopped drinking seemed ridiculously less fun. I mean you can drink on the streets in Vegas! It’s basically a dream for partyers.

Getting there is pretty inexpensive, but I quickly learned that’s because the city will bleed you dry. I budgeted for all my food and transportation needs while I was there, and it was ALMOST as much as I paid to get, stay, and leave there. I have a lot of reasons I’m thankful I don’t drink anymore, but Vegas prices might be at the top.

My actual view. Yes my hotel doubled as a castle.

Still, my room had a great view of the strip because we were just two hotels away from the end. It was like a scene from a postcard when it was lit up at night. This was one of my favorite things from the trip. See, I’m all about the bright flashing lights. Orlando is my favorite place in the world, after all, and Las Vegas is like Orlando took a shot of coke and ecstasy and covered itself in glitter. Aka my dream.

Mandalay Bay and the lot where the shooting occurred

The other side of our hotel had a more somber view. Mandalay Bay is the first hotel on the strip coming from the airport, which means I could see the lot where the 2017 Las Vegas shooting occurred. Our Uber driver told us it’s been blocked by curtains for a year since the tragedy with no real plans about reopening.

It’s easy to hear about something and even see footage but seeing the site and where the shooter placed himself was heartbreaking. Near the lot was a billboard that read “#VEGASSTRONG” and reminders of this unity popped up all along the strip.

We started the trip with a journey to Fremont Strip, aka Old Vegas. It was just as cool as everyone said. The screen over the street was brightly lit and occasionally there was a special show featuring an artist. We ate in a restaurant located just off Fremont in an old timey casino and I was in love. It made me so interested in the history of Vegas, like how did it get started? Did someone decide to create a city founded on debauchery?

Devan and his sisters ❤️

The next day was my brother’s actual 21st, so we had breakfast, walked the Strip, and then returned for a nap and to get ready. We planned to be fancy people for dinner. Naturally, my Navy-brother outshone us all in his suit. Dinner was Gallagher’s and then we danced at Coyote Ugly. It seems really trashy, but it was a great time.

She ended up drawing a thong. It was great.

On our last day, we gambled a bit and almost broke even. It wasn’t even super tempting to keep trying because you can smoke in casinos and it was gross. Oh! We also walked to In N Out Burger. Before leaving, we went to Tournament of Kings, a Medieval Times-esque show, and there were so many hot dudes. Sorry to be crass, but it’s my biggest takeaway. Also we were Ireland and our king was super attractive but really kind of a disaster in the tournament.

Babe status

The best part of the trip happened in between all of the last day activities. After we checked out of our room, my sister and I weren’t sure how we would spend our time. We bought a pack of cards (actually used in our hotel’s casino) and went to the food court and played Rummy. Soon, our brother joined, and we taught him. He was so bad at first, it made Kristi look good. We did this before and after Tournament of Kings and it was so much fun, even if we were deliriously tired.

If I’m being honest, my relationship with my brother is strange. Not bad, strange, just strange. See, he’s my half-brother through my father and for most of our lives, our dad was our connection. When we saw Devan, it was at our dad’s. As we got older and our relationship with our father began to fall apart, we made more of an effort to see Devan on our own time.

As the years progressed, we gradually spent less time together. Gone were the full weekends where we slept in bunkbeds and fought about everything. It became whenever he and I were both at dads or when Kristi was home from college and then when I was visiting from school or Pittsburgh. We moved to Buffalo and it got even harder. Now the little brat is in the Navy adding yet another city we have to factor into meeting.

This trip would mark the first time in more than a decade we’d spent this much time together. Honestly, it made me a little nervous. What would our relationship be like when it wasn’t just for a few hours, dinner, and a movie?

Even with the weird dynamics of going with his family, it wasn’t different at all. Fortunately for us, Devan is the sweetest and most sincere person I may have ever met. He’s only concerned about the rest of us and making sure we’re included. Obviously he’s a total goober, but that doesn’t take away from him being the best guy I know.

As we played Rummy together, it reminded me of something he used to say as a child. It was somewhere between his phase of smelling our feet and locking us in the bathroom. We would all be in our dad’s room watching TV and he would throw himself on the bed in-between us, sigh contentedly, and say ‘just like always.’

I’ve missed that comfortability as we’ve gotten older. The three of us, often plus our dad, used to lie on his full-sized bed and watch movies together. I’ve tried so hard to distance myself from that time and my feelings because of my relationship with my dad that I didn’t realize I was starting to erase Devan too.

Lucky for me, because Devan is so great, he loves me just as much as he always has, and it shows. I love that through everything, we’re all still important to each other.

Admittedly my dad has failed in the father department in a number of ways, but I’ll always be thankful that through him I have my baby brother. I’m so thankful that when we’re together, it’s just like always with us.

Vegas, baby. Bringing families together.

I don’t have all the answers

I like knowing things. Fortunately, I’m alive in a time where I can just ask my phone a question and learn the answer. I don’t have to wonder how old an actor is or when a book was originally published. The Internet is an information super highway that takes the wonder out of situations. Curiosity is cured with a quick visit to Google, with more than 5 million results in .04 seconds.

It wasn’t until a year ago I really began to think about how frequently I let myself live in a world of knowledge vs wonder.

One of my goals this year was to do a fast each month, and surprisingly I’ve been mostly successful. Naturally, I turned to the internet last year for ideas, and came out with some like Netflix, complaining, and social media. One of the strangest suggestions I found was curiosity.

What does it mean to give up being curious? Why is having questions a bad thing? In theory, a healthy sense of curiosity is the foundation of learning. Much smarter people than me have asked the right questions for centuries and solved problems and cured diseases. That’s the good kind of curiosity. I’m talking about the dark side.

With social media, nearly everyone in the world is accessible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a name and immediately began an in-depth online investigation. I’ll go through tagged photos and end up traveling through five people’s accounts across three social networking sites and realize I’ve reached posts from 2004.

Did learning any of the information in my creep session actually benefit me? Of course not. It just means I’m a creep who probably knows more than she should about a stranger.

Consider these common situations. Maybe you’re watching a movie and want to know the ending or who an actor is. Without thinking, you’ll pull out your phone and do a search online. When you’re with friends and you’re debating something, you’ll make someone look up the answer to determine who was right.

Technology like this is a gift that I think our culture abuses. In moderation, it’s an incredible way to learn more about what you don’t know and become a more informed human. In excess, it’s a way that we remove all the mystery in our never-ending quest for knowledge and control.

Solomon didn’t live in a time where he could Google everything, but the guy had a lot of answers. God gave him the gift of wisdom, so people came to ask him questions and he always had the right response. Turns out, knowing everything isn’t necessarily the key to being fulfilled.

“Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.” Ecclesiastes 1:8

After a long life and 1,000 women, Solomon was tired and a little cynical. The summary of the book of Ecclesiastes is ‘everything is meaningless.’ He married foreign women and followed their gods and the more he learned, the more he lost focus.

Even though it’s unlikely any of us will have 700 spouses and 300 concubines, we have similar opportunities to be distracted by the things we can know. Instead of wondering about something and let it go, we close the gap and solve the problem that likely wasn’t even important.

In my own life, I know this search for knowledge is because I have such little control over everything and like Eve in the garden, I want to eat from the tree of knowledge so I know things, too. This problem is about more than internet searches for me.

I’ve watched the finale to a show I’ve never watched just so I knew how it ended. I’ll watch award shows I don’t care about just so I can be a part of the conversation. I’ve binged shows I didn’t love so I could have conversations with people who are fans.

Perhaps my worst curiosity flaw is needing to know the end of a story. Most people are appalled by my lack of concern over spoilers. Regrettably, I’ve ruined movies and shows for people because to me it isn’t a big deal. I want to know how it ends so I can enjoy the ride. The moment-to-moment anxiety is gone because I know what’s going to happen.

Even this morning I went to Wikipedia to read a plot of a movie to make sure the dog didn’t die. It only occurred to me after I began writing this that I clearly broke my ‘no idle curiosity fast.’

We all want answers for different reasons, but I believe endless searching can put us in the same place as Solomon. Even when I know more, am I any more content or satisfied? Definitely not.

“The Lord our God has secrets known to no one.” Deuteronomy 29:29

We are never going to have all the answers. Even if I can Google most questions and learn the correct responses, I’m never going to be fulfilled by my knowledge. There will always be more.

This is why, October and beyond, I want to be more intentional about what I learn. It doesn’t mean I’ll never Google something again, only I’ll think ‘how important is this to know?’ and ‘what will I gain by learning this information?’

I don’t have all the answers, and I never will. I’m going to stop trying to know everything and enjoy the ride as it comes. Even if it means I have to sit through an entire movie and not know how it ends. Yikes.

#noidlecuriosity

That feeling of impending doom

Recently I was talking to a friend about anxiety and how we were currently feeling. She was in the process of getting on medication while I carefully weaned myself off* (*I cut it to half dose and then stopped cold turkey after three days). As we sat there comparing our reactions, she told me she was in the ‘impending doom phase,’ and it immediately made sense to me.

My entire life I’ve dealt with feelings of impending doom. As a child, something in me snapped too early and I realized just how fragile human existence is. Literally anything and everything can kill you. It’s horrifying.

One time I was going to take a bath as a child but stopped because I was sure lava was going to come out of the faucet. I’ve set alarms for various points throughout a night because I was sure the strange pain in my chest meant I was going to die. Sometimes I would go into my parent’s room and sleep on the floor because I was too afraid of everything that could happen.

These are just a few of the many ways I let this kind of anxiety get in my way. For a while, I believed this gut feeling of something bad is coming was a sign. Like maybe God was trying to warn me so I could be okay if I just listened.

This thought is reinforced by stories you hear of people who die tragically after telling someone they have a weird feeling. Relatives and friends will say they told someone to not do this or that because they felt it was a bad omen, and then the worst happened. We’re taught to believe in these feelings of impending doom.

What I’ve learned in 28 years of being afraid is that it doesn’t matter what that feeling tells me. I’ve stayed home from outings because I was sure I would die in a car wreck and I’ve fought through the fear and gotten on a plane. I have no control either way and my anxiety isn’t based on anything real. It’s my lack of control sending me spiraling.

As I write this, I’m on a plane from Pittsburgh bound for LAX. After five hours in an airport, I’ll take a quick flight to Vegas to celebrate my brother’s birthday. I picked a bad time to stop taking my Lexapro, let me tell you. I also just moved into my own apartment. Naturally, I was sure my plane would crash and my apartment would burn down. Plus, there was a guy at my gate who kept suspiciously staring outside and I’m still not convinced of his innocence.

Granted, in this moment, all of this could still happen, but I’m being optimistic.

If I listened to all the lies filling my head, I would never have boarded a plane. I wouldn’t leave my apartment because of what could happen in my absence, not to mention what will happen to me in the world.

As my faith has grown, I’m able to recognize that God doesn’t have a special button He pushes to keep me safe through these feelings. Jesus is sneaking a text to my soul while God and the Holy Spirit are talking. God’s plan doesn’t depend on my interpretation of feelings. Can you imagine if that’s what we had to rely on? That living or dying was all a matter of properly discerning a feeling of impending doom.

It’s absolutely nuts.

I believe you can have a feeling about something and that something can happen, good or bad, but it’s probably just a coincidence. I’m not sure statistics for this exist, but I will reasonably assume that the impending doom feeling to actual doom ratio is pretty low.

The feeling of impending doom is like a cloud of dread that fills your body and sends little cloud tentacles into your brain to reinforce the idea that the worst is yet to come. It can and has been paralyzing in my own life. I don’t know if I’ll ever live without it, but I know I won’t let it keep me from actually being alive.

That sounds cheesy, I realize, but it’s true. If I do end up dying and this laptop/story is recovered, please read it aloud at my funeral for inspiration and then play ‘Ironic’ by Alanis Morrisette. Lighters in the air are encouraged.

Anxiety is a real mental illness. I have a real imbalance that causes my emotions to malfunction and send me over the edge. Recognizing this is empowering. Even if I can’t stop the feeling of impending doom, I can remind myself it’s nonsense and get on the plane even with the guy who might be a terrorist.