Sunday, June 5, 2016

Can You Hear Him Now?


Somebody once asked me if I was stranger as a child. Ignoring the subliminal insult, I responded with "I wasn't stranger; I was just louder" to which she yelled "WHOA". This conversation was held at 1 o'clock in the morning and we were both dredging through espresso crashes. I just wanted to clarify that in case you thought my friends and I discussed this regularly.

 Anyways, my point is that, even now, after 23 and a half years, I'm not the quietest person. Naturally speaking. My mom's favorite way to describe me is "the bull in the china shop". Pick any moment of the day (or probably night) and I'll be found either talking or singing. Calm just doesn't come easily for me. My brain is always going 90 miles an hour. Give me a double shot of espresso, and it'll go 171 miles an hour.

So if you ask me to quote my favorite Bible verse, I will start snickering, because it's a tad ironic.

"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God."

Or, to put it in simpler terms (aka The Message), "Brain. Chill. God's got this."

Now you're probably thinking, "yeah, Joanna, you should definitely read that verse a few more times and really take it to heart because you NEED it", to which I'll respond "DUH".

See, my coping mechanism is to talk things out with whomever is available at the moment. Myself, a dog, my mom, my brother, my best friend, God: if it seems animate, it has to endure a 10 minute soliloquy on "why can't my family just be boring" or "why can I literally do nothing right".

Now, honestly, talking things out is not a bad thing. The bad thing is how I've started freaking out over things that I can't control. I'm locally famous for overthinking things. (I worry about how I will teach my kids spelling. I don't even have a boyfriend.) I obsess for days. I let things stress me out to the point where I can't eat certain things because my ulcers have parties. I spend a lot of time worrying over things that I literally cannot change.

But I know I'm not the only person alive who does this. Take a look.

The verse above comes from Psalm 43:5. But you can also find it under Psalm 42:5, and 42:11. David says the same thing, almost word for word, three times in the space of two psalms. Why? Why in the world would a skilled poet repeat himself like that?

Well, the only way to be 100% sure is to ask David, but my chances of that happening are pretty slim, since the DeLorean crashed. But I think I still have a pretty good idea.

Did you know that David was human? He was. And any of you who are also human might understand that sometimes you worry and freak and stress about stuff that's out of your control. I'm sure David did this, too, and I think that's why he repeated himself. He needed to be reminded more than once that 1) God is God, 2) God has all power, and 3) God is watching over everything.

And, most of the time, the best way to remember this is to be quiet. I don't like quiet. I've known God for the better part of 23 years, but, sadly, only in the last 2 years have I established a daily "quiet time" with God. You know why it took me so long?

Because if I'm quiet, God might say something. To quote one of my favorite songs, "I'm so afraid of what You have to say; 'Cause I am quiet now, and silence gives You space."

Maybe, if I stop talking, I might finally hear Him saying "Hello, would you just listen to Me? I've got it all under control."

Maybe, if I stop flailing, I'll see Him gently, quietly working things out, one step at a time.

But as exhausting as it is to stress over things we can't control, often times, it's even harder to be still. It takes an intentional effort to stop what I affectionately call the "brain crazy".

Quiet doesn't just magically happen. It's a choice we have to make. Oh, we can't choose whether or not our family makes unhealthy decisions, and most of the time we can't fix the daily pet peeves we run into at work, but we can choose how we react to the drama. We can choose to let God handle the situations, and we can choose to be still and wait patiently for God's answers. Does that mean God will automatically remove all the problems from your life? Nope, usually most of the problems stick around, because, hey, we live in a sin-sick world! But  it does mean He will give you an indescribable peace of mind, and, if you accept, He will give you the strength and the grace to endure the troubles, no matter how long they last.

Have I mastered everything I'm saying?



But I'm learning. I'm naturally noisy, but I'm making an effort to cultivate a quiet mind. And more often these days, instead of finding me complaining about life for 30 minutes, you'll find me having a cup of tea and reading some Psalms.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Once Upon a Scar

I have a reputation for telling long stories. Not bedtime stories. It's more like I start to tell you about my latest good deal from Payless, and the next thing you know, I've told you where and how and when I bought all 50 pairs of shoes I own. (Not an exaggeration, and true story.) And don't come visit me, or I will give you a full genealogy report as we tour my house.

Some of my favorite stories to tell, though, are about scars. See, I have a scar on almost every finger, and a few on each hand. And there's a good story behind each one, because A) I'm a klutz, B) I'm a blonde, and C) I'm a blonde klutz. I clash with things like heating elements and giving dogs haircuts with scissors.

It's fun to tell stories about scars like that, but there are certain scars and stories that I don't share as easily. Like how I don't trust people quickly, or why it's difficult for me to talk to certain people, or how I've had anxiety attacks that leave me useless for an hour or two. I would much rather laugh off those scars and tell you instead about the $350 kitten heels that I bought for $3.50.

I assume it's the same for most everyone else. We'd probably rather cover up our scars and bruises and stuff down the stories behind those ugly marks. Personally, I'm mostly ashamed of mine. They make me look weak and messed up, and goodness knows I want people to think I'm perfect, or, at the very least, that I've got my life together. I'm a Christian. I've been raised in a stable, Christian environment my whole life. God forbid that that image be tainted by blemishes that would suggest otherwise.

...but, no, actually. No, God would actually forbid that I have that attitude. For one thing, who am I kidding? We all know none of the rest of us have perfect lives, so why even try to propagate THAT myth?? Furthermore, our scars, our stains, our bruises, our ugliness: they glorify God. No, really. My pastor's wife, Sis. Jeannie, once stated that "scars show that you've healed." Such a simple statement, yet so profound.

Life is going to throw stuff at you and it's going to hurt you. And there are two ways you can react.

You can choose to let those hurts fester and ache and never heal, and then, for the rest of your life, wear your wounds proudly to show everyone how damaged you are. You can make them into a lovely little chip on your shoulder and then become super sensitive to everything.

Or you can choose to let those hurts hurt as you find ways to heal. You can choose to be open with God and let Him fix you where sin broke you. You can choose to seek out honest, trustworthy people who will listen to you, pray for you, and walk with you as you heal. And before long, you will have a beautiful scar to show what God has done.

Yeah, I said a beautiful scar. Sure, the marks themselves look weird and they feel weird. For me, it hurts to try to function when you have anxiety screaming in your ears that you're a complete and total failure and that everyone you love and respect will never be proud of you. But that's when I can say what Paul said:

"And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Even though the scar itself may be ugly, the story behind it can be a beautiful testimony of how God loves us and how He cares for us and how faithful and patient He is when we are hurting and broken.

And not only does our story glorify God, it also serves to show the love of Jesus to others. Two years ago, I wrote some words to a friend of mine going through a horrible trial. I truly believe God gave me the words at the time, but I had no idea that I would need those same words myself today.

"Those cracks are painful, and messy, but He will smooth them and gradually ease their pain. Those holes are ugly, and they ache, but He will fill them with His presence, and He will slowly shrink them, over time...God has never needed perfect people or perfect families to spread His witness. Perfect people, if they exist, don’t need God. Hurting people, broken people, flawed people need God. And He wants these imperfect people. So it makes sense that He can best show His love to broken people through broken people. There is our purpose."

So don't be ashamed of your scars. Don't use your wounds as an excuse for bad behavior, or a crutch to gain people's sympathy. But don't be afraid to tell the story of your scars, and don't be afraid to share what God has done.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Breakup Letter

photo credit

{a guest post}
It’s not me, it’s you.

We’ve been on-again, off-again for quite a while now. For years you have told me that you’re the only one in this world who truly understands me, and I believed you--for a good portion of that time. You know the ins and outs of my heart, and can play my emotions like a fiddle.

At times, you’ve been the only one I could count on, and you knew this. You were someone I could turn to when I was all alone. More than an acquaintance, you were a part of me. You whispered in my ear in the evening, murmuring low enough that no one else could hear. You were the sharply dressed party guest that ran icy fingers down my neck and left me shivering. You’re the one who stared at me with prying eyes and caused me to pull bulky sweaters around my shoulders. You told me to live in shame of who I was and become who you wanted me to be. But that’s all changed now.

I will admit, I’ve lived with you in peace at times, enjoying the silence while it lasted. But suddenly I would hear your taunting voice echoing in my ears--and there you were, never gone so much as merely quiet, planning your attack with vicious precision.

You were a jealous lover, prying me from those I loved most. You told me I didn’t deserve any more attention that what you gave. You stole the breath from my lungs, and the innocence from my mind.

But in spite of that, I am here today, and I have something unexpected to say.

Thank you.

Thank you for the sleepless nights that taught me the sun always rises.

Thank you for the times you’ve flooded my mind with doubts, for through this, I have learned to prove what I believe.

Thank you for the queasy feeling that so often accompanied your return. It taught me that getting butterflies doesn't always mean love, and sometimes all you really need to cure infatuation is a good dose of Pepto Bismol.

Thank you for showing me myself through your eyes--in this I have learned to separate lies from truth.

Most of all, thank you for entering my life so I might better understand those around me. You tried to tell me that I was the only one, but I’m not surprised to learn of your affairs. I see the victims of your seduction nearly everyday, but I’ve found you out, and I intend to expose your lies to as many as I can.

I’m breaking up with you. I’ve decided to go out on my own. I don’t need you on my arm; I don’t need you to oversee my choices. I have made the decision to proceed with my life as the Lord and I see fit. And you are not a welcome part of this scenario.

I imagine I’ll still run into you at times. I’ll probably see you in passing, and I would be lying if I said it will never affect me. But you can’t rule me. You aren’t allowed to change my life. So thanks for the memories--even though they weren’t so great. I can't say that I will miss you.

Goodbye, Anxiety.

Emily is basically the polar opposite of Joanna, and the universe is still wondering why they are friends. While anxiously awaiting Captain America: Civil War, Emily stresses about her psychology grades and then destresses by writing for Ampersand Poetry. She thinks that humans could learn a lot from cats, and she loves Jesus more than anything else in the world.