The Old Has Gone

 

On rare occasion I get into the type of mood that can only be described as the “Perfect Storm.” I am overly caffeinated and faced with a large chunk of time to myself (which is why this is so rare) , when suddenly it’s like all the clutter around me becomes unbearable.

All at once, instead of seeing specks of dirt, I see mountains of grime and skin cells and coffee rings. The crumbs on the floor come to life and speak to me, taunting me for eating pretzels in bed again. The laundry I haven’t put away turns into accusing shouts that I am the worst person in the world because I own FAR too many clothes and wear none of them.

The piles around me begin to close in and the room spins and traps me in my own personal nightmare (not to be dramatic).

95% of my life I live in the land of piles.

Piles in my bathroom. Piles in my car. Piles in my classroom.

Piles are THE BEST because you can make things look neat and organized, but truthfully under the stack is an old kleenex, a magazine for 2007, last year’s tax return and 30 days worth of junk mail. Piles are the perfect tricksters to make people think you have things under control.

Every 2-3 months, my roommate will gently move my beautiful piles into my room, forcing me to confront the issue.

Tonight, in that mood, I decided it was time to get rid of everything and anything I didn’t need anymore.  This was project 1 of many, as I simultaneously texted Max that I wanted to open a new credit card and then rearrange the furniture in my room. He is trained to recognize and talk me down whilst in these moods, so he lovingly told me I needed to focus on one thing at a time. So I went after the piles with a fiery vengeance.

I started shredding mail that was lying around, filling up garbage bags of trinkets and broken phone chargers and sticky notes.

It felt so good to get the clutter out- the stuff I just didn’t need that was taking up so much space.

Then I went into my closet and stared at a pile that has been bothering me for awhile.

On the top shelf of my closet sat eight colorful journals, pages filled with the documentation of my life up until about a year ago.

I haven’t journaled much this year; maybe a few pages, and ironically, the last 12 months have been the healthiest, most life-giving, blessed, beautiful redeeming months of my life, yet I couldn’t bring myself to open the pages and begin to write.

They are the stories I have waited my whole life to tell- full of love and growth and laughter and grace- but I didn’t tell them.

This year was the result of surrendering my life to God and submitting to His plan for me. This year was beautiful. But I didn’t write.

This year, I couldn’t bring myself to journal because I didn’t want to remember where I had been.

Those old journals are pages filled with self-doubt, cycles of sin, destructive relationships, life crippling  anxiety, body image issues and wrong decisions.

Part of me thought that opening those pages again would somehow erase the work God has done in my life the past year. I feel SO totally different than the person I used to be, that even the same process of journaling was too close of an association.

So I kept them hidden.

Seeing them up there would many times trigger a physical anxious response in me.

Opening them meant re-visiting a me I wish I never was.

They have been a pile haunting me for awhile.

Those journals represent darkness, but that’s no longer where I am.

I am walking in the light.

Tonight I decided it was time to let them go.

I stretched up to the top shelf of my closet and I lowered the heavy pile of floral journals.

I thumbed through a few pages and immediately regretted it as I flashed back to situations and memories I wanted to forget. I put them next to each other and I began to reflect on who I am now and from where He has brought me.

He brought me from brokenness and restored my heart.

He showered every dark situation from my life with his beautiful, bright light and forgave me and changed me and made me whole.

He gave me a new standard for living, a new understanding of His word and His law, and transformed a heart hardened by fear into one overflowing with His love.

Back then, I wanted instant change  and relief from my struggles, but instead the past  year I  have begun to understand the slow, steady,  painful process of sanctification.

I’m not sure why I kept those journals. I guess I never even considered the idea of getting rid of them. It was my past and I am stuck looking at it and being reminded of it- the punishment fits the crime.

But I am not who I once was. I struggle still and I have hard days. I battle insecurity, but no longer do I live in bondage and fear. Visiting those pages was like reading the words of a stranger. I do not need to keep those memories as proof of God’s redeeming work in me.

The proof of His redemptive work is in every breath I breathe.

I will sing of His glorious transforming power until the day I die, but I don’t have to live  in the past anymore. I don’t have to punish myself with flashbacks in order to measure my growth.

I loaded up the bags of trash to take out to the dumpster. Typically one for pomp and circumstance, I usually would want some dramatic ceremony to celebrate being free from the past and this giant step in moving forward.

But God’s work in me was not flashy. It wasn’t always pretty. It usually didn’t feel like a celebration. It worked into the top layers of my heart until it penetrated the innermost parts of my soul.

I took a deep breath and I flung the bag of journals into the dumpster.

And I walked away.

Thank you Jesus for setting me free.  I’m never going back.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. 

Jenna

 

 

 

**Also, if you are in a junkyard and happen to find a bag of flowery looking journals, please either burn them in a bonfire or turn the plots of the journals into a made for TV movie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What God Does in the Discomfort

Patience and perseverance are not two of my strongest qualities.

Unlike some of the Olympian greats, I prefer not to work hard, push through tough circumstances or wait extended periods of time to arrive at what I want.

I prefer instant results with the least amount of work and discomfort possible. (Someone write this on an inspirational poster.)

Max and I have been working out together lately, and I am fairly certain he has started to realize that getting me from the parking lot of the gym to actually being inside the gym requires much more emotional and physical energy than the workout itself. The 100 yards from the car to the gym doors require a mental toughness and the patience of a practicing Monk.

The monk and me in happier times.

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Last week, we had to run into the store before working out, and I told him I wished I would get caught shoplifting and taken to jail so I didn’t have to work out.

*Disclaimer: I do not steal and have never stolen. This simply illustrates the emotional turmoil I experience the minutes before working out and the lengths, in that emotional state, I feel I would go to avoid it

I came up with many ideas of things we could do besides work out: eat, snack, lay around and watch TV; all of which sounded much more appealing than the gym and would feel much better in that moment.

On the walk from the car to the gym, I can come up with 10,000 reasons not to enter it.

I’m too tired.

My brain hurts.

I have other things to do.

I hate it.

Sadly, there have been many times I literally arrive at the gym, pull in the parking lot, park and then turn around and go home. No thank you.

But Max held firm to our scheduled work out, knowing full well that in one hour, when the workout was over, I would feel energized, happy and proud of myself for being physically active. It would be worth it for me.

We get into the gym, change in the locker room, and I meet him by one of the machines to begin the experience of physical activity. After just a few minutes, I whisper

“How much longer until this is over?”

Max just looks at me.

However, without fail, as I begin to put in the work, break a sweat and get active, I feel so much better. The endorphins start flowing, and all of a sudden I announce how much I love working out and how maybe I could even train for a marathon or do one of those 30 day cleanses to purify my system so I could be a spokesperson for healthy living.

Again, he just looks at me as I have gone from one extreme, preferring prison over the gym, to sudden motivation to push my body to the highest level of athleticism.  He knows we will go through the same emotional roller coaster together in 2 days. He continues lifting.

If I have learned anything over the years, I have learned that my emotions and my feelings cannot be used as tour guides or directors for arriving at what is best for me.

In the past, some of the best paths the Lord has placed me on felt like way too much work and  and way too painful.  Many of the best decisions I have made were often the most terrifying and the most uncomfortable. Choosing another way would have felt so much better at the time.

Looking back now, Praise Jesus I fought through that pain and held on. His greatest blessings came through my biggest disappointments and challenges that felt horrible.

Look at the stakes in this tree: I bet that tree is pretty uncomfortable. He wants to be free of that discomfort and stand up on his own. All the other trees look big and full and healthy, and these stakes feel as if they are getting in the way of that. But those stakes are designed to support, protect and make the tree stronger in the long run, allowing roots to grow. He will feel full and healthy when he makes it through this. Although momentarily painful- enduring this season is important for this tree if he wants to withstand the winds and storms that are coming his way. His roots have to be developed and strengthened. It’s not his time yet.

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While making decisions based on  feelings may satisfy short term discomfort, like the stakes in the tree, long term joy and fulfillment comes when you push through tough situations, do the hard, but right thing, and hold fast through the discomfort.

Unfortunately, most times in our lives, the results are not as instantaneous as how we feel pre-workout and post-workout.

A lot of times, like the tree, you may have the uncomfortable stakes in place for years before you can see why they were necessary in the first place.

How many times in my life have I thought I knew what was best for me?

I can actually answer that question by saying almost every single day.

Almost every day of my life, I could believe that what is best for me is what would make me feel good at that moment.

What quick decision or step could satisfy this longing, desire or discomfort?

In the case of right and wrong: agreeing with someone and not standing up for something I know is Biblical because it feels yucky and offensive.

In the case of friendship and relationships: holding on to bitterness because forgiveness feels so much harder.

The hard conversations that would be easier avoided.

In the case of the gym: going home and laying down with a jar of peanut butter.

Clearly I am using the gym as a deep and academic metaphor for the times in our life where God is using a little bit (or lot bit) of discomfort to achieve a purpose bigger than us.

Something where you know God has you there for a reason, but it would be super easy to take the escape route to avoid the pain.

 

But what is God doing in the discomfort and the stretching?

What purpose or lesson is God teaching me or using me for in that season?

There are many situations in life that feel so uncomfortable at the time, but prove to be the very things that shape us and grow us and mold us.

Throughout my life, I have done everything in my power to manipulate circumstances to quickly achieve whatever the desired outcome was. God usually takes longer than I prefer, so I have been known to take a step before the path is ready.

The results are usually faster, but never, ever better than the outcome God had waiting for me.

Like clockwork, my premature actions trying to band-aid and quick fix my momentary discomfort results in a messy explosion, me laying my plans at His feet and Him ultimately having His way in me. His better way.

My human tendency is going to always be to try to weasel my way out of discomfort to get momentary relief, or an illusion or cheap substitute of what I want.

To take off the stakes that are supporting me and developing me. To leave the gym as soon as I get there because I’m in a bad mood. To leave a situation before God is finished working on it.

 

I’ve been on a journey the past few years to stop letting my ever-changing emotions make decisions for me.

The walk from the car to the gym can be a long one. You want to turn around and take the easy way out. The stakes might be uncomfortable. You want to remove them.

But I’ve learned, and am still learning, to grow in the discomfort, push through the things that don’t always “feel good,” and believe that when it’s all over, I will look back, stronger, happier, healthier and so very glad I didn’t go home to snack the night away on Schuler’s cheese (with a hint of horseradish) and crackers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Fellow Women: 10 Times I’m Not Judging You

“Don’t judge me.”

I say it. My friends say  it. Strangers jokingly say it to each other in passing  (at least I did this week to an elderly gentlemen as he caught me opening a bag of chips in the grocery store parking lot).

Although I am sure this isn’t just a “women’s issue,” I do find it more apparent amongst my own kind.

Most of the time it’s in fun and harmless, but I feel even in the most lighthearted of times, it can reveal a deeper insecurity about ourselves as women and how we want others to see us.

In a society of social media highlighting the very best of others’ lives, we are stuck examining our own monotony, our own mess.

It’s easy to judge ourselves when we are comparing the grind of our daily life to only the smallest, most edited portion of another.

So I propose that we stop using the J word. To ourselves. To each other.

So let me tell you all of the times I am not judging you.

I am not judging you for your messy house. Listen, I can barely take care of myself. It’s exhausting and I have no one to blame but me. Honestly, how does anyone keep a kitchen clean? I make half a sandwich and it’s as if Subway opened a free lunch buffet on my counters open to the public. It’s comical to me when my friends with multiple kids apologize for their mess. I think to my little apartment and how you can’t even see the floor of my closet most days.

I am not judging you for finishing your entire plate of Fettuccini Alfredo and then ordering dessert. Once a colleague gently told me that  she couldn’t take me seriously with the chocolate all over my face. (I had gotten myself into the chocolate fountain that day.) I once snuck into the staff lounge after hours and ate sheet cake in the dark. I double fist donuts on the reg. Need I say more? Get on with your Pasta loving, self.

I am not judging you for your misbehaving kids. I don’t have kids of my own, but I am a teacher. You can be the best parent, grandparent, teacher, or babysitter in the world, but something in the air of a grocery store, restaurant, or any public place in general can turn children into monsters. I don’t think you’re a bad mom or a bad teacher or a bad caretaker when your 7 year old does his best impression of a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. I get it.

I am not judging you for binge watching your favorite show on Netflix instead of doing something “productive”. Because I was once so emotionally caught up in a show that I prayed for the characters before bed. I have seen the entire SERIES of the Office at least 3 times. Do you know how many hours that is? Last night I ate Sugar Snap peas, pretzels, and spoonfuls of peanut butter all in bed while watching Friends. Don’t get me started.

I am not judging you for wearing sweats to the grocery store. There is a reason  there is no documentation of some of the outfits I have worn in public. My running errands attire is “Homeless Chic.” Your sweatpants are classy compared to some of the outfits I have gone out of the house in.

I’m not judging you for not working out. Because yesterday, although I did eventually make it to the gym, I sprawled across my bed audibly protesting the even thought of moving. I yelled to my roommate across the apartment, complaining about my plight of missing motivation. I literally, at one point, rolled around on the floor in agony at the mere thought of moving. Do not tell me that you not working out is more shameful than that embarrassing show I put on.

I’m not judging you for not being organized. I am a teacher and at end of the year I needed to hand back approximately 1,350 papers that I forgot about. They were in no order and represented about 20 classes of students. I literally threw them in a big pile on the floor and the students went “scuba diving” to find their names. Kids were on their hands and knees, slipping on papers and searching for their names.The papers stretched out almost from wall to wall. Don’t talk to me about not being organized. I need an intervention.

I’m not judging your for your emotional meltdown. I have cried in the arms of people I barely knew because they caught me at the wrong time. I’ve started sobbing over tiny details because they remind me of bigger ones. We don’t all have it together all the time. Most of us just try to keep it together sometimes.

I’m not judging you for your relationship problems. Don’t feel embarrassed about the issues you face in your relationship, with your children, in your friendships or your marriage. I’ve been there (minus the whole married with kids one #workingonit). Anything you have been through, I bet I can relate in some aspect. I have sat at my work desk and sobbed during my lunch break over breakups. I’ve muddled my way through a horribly wrong relationship in search of finding the right one. Your problems aren’t worse or crazy. They are normal.

So maybe, just maybe, there may be some areas of my life where I have it all together right now. You may have caught me during a week where my apartment is clean, I washed my hair regularly and chose broccoli over french fries.

But your large plate of pasta has been my half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts in one sitting.

Your messy kitchen has been the trunk of my car that houses enough random goods to provide the essentials of life to a small family.

Your insecurities about how you look in leggings is me avoiding going to the doctor so I don’t have to see how much I weigh.

Your tears have been my sobs.

Your unbelief has been my hours of questioning.

Your mess is my mess.

There is beauty in all of the messy, imperfect parts of you and in your life, me and my life.

Let’s not be afraid to be real around one another. Real is good. Real is powerful.

I’m not judging you.