Why I Don’t Blog Much Anymore + Thoughts on Burnout

d47dd96d43a6a287e15247bd624a6b4bI know. The irony isn’t lost on me, friends. I’m blogging about why I don’t blog anymore.

But here’s why: I have noticed something in the last several months. There are a lot of voices on the internet. (What?! Shocker. I know. It’s news to all of you.)

Sometimes, an idea for a blog post crosses my mind. As I stew on it for a few days, it begins to dawn on me that what I have to say isn’t always necessary. In fact, most of the time–it’s not. It might stir the pot. It might make me feel better. But most of the time, it doesn’t change much.

In my past, I blogged about things quickly and without much thought. When I slowed the process down, I had this shift in thinking. With a chorus of voices talking about everything from the dress Katie Holmes wore on the subway yesterday to the conflict in Syria, I just can’t help but ask myself–is my voice really needed? Would it even make an impact? How wise is this 30-year-old compared to that cranky Star Tribune concert reviewer or Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times? I don’t know.

Blogging, for me, has always been a way to exercise my writing ability, regain inspiration for writing projects, and work things out verbally. However. It’s tiring to write quality posts. I mean, it’s easy to shoot off a quippy, snappy little piece about cosmetics I like, or a new album I’m listening to. But it isn’t easy to write about things that matter and do it well. So. Thus the silence in this place for the past several months.

No energy to do things you love (see: Writing for pleasure), is also a telltale sign of something terrible. It’s called burnout. And it’s where I have lived for the past year, really.

I’ve been here before, but only visited. This is the first time in my career life where I’ve really pounded in the tentpoles and set up camp. Burnout. What happens when you burn out? Well, here’s what I’ve learned.

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When someone goes out of their way to be nice to you, your first reaction is to be annoyed. What kind of jerk gets annoyed when someone is nice to them?! Someone who literally has left so little margin for interaction with other humans in their life, that they are only concerned with said nice person potentially slowing down their productivity. Really, they’ve forced the burned out shell-of-a-human out of their dark place and it’s uncomfortable for them. So they get annoyed. “Don’t you dare make small talk with me, person-at-the-Wendy’s-drive-through-window. I. Will. Cut. You.” Sound familiar? Come on. You know you’ve been there. Just me? Ok. I’m terrible.

There’s no time for anything that brings them life. What brings me life? Music. Live shows. Cooking and baking. Art and design. History. Reading books by smart writers. Writing for pleasure. Quality time with people I love. Drinking wine or Manhattans when they’re not being downed to forget about a hard day. When there’s only room in your schedule for waking up, sometimes showering, accomplishing tasks, replying to emails, buying meals because there’s no time to cook, then going to sleep and doing it all over again–Welcome to Burnout.

There’s no capacity to care. In one sense, living in burnout requires that you care A LOT about some things. But I think it often means there’s no emotional, spiritual, or physical energy left over to care about some things that SHOULD matter. Prioritizing becomes impossible because every single thing is at the top of your list in Burnout. And you can’t really address any of it at your full potential, when you’re living in that state of chaos.

You isolate. No time for developing relationships. No time for thoughtfully interacting with whatever humans God places in your path each day. It’s all about you, your checklist, and the people and things that you’re allowing to dictate it. Selfishness and anxiety reign.

Your faith suffers. Faith is a relationship with God. And if there’s no time for developing relationships or even investing in the lives of strangers, there’s certainly not much time for God. Aside from a frantic prayer here and there, good luck keeping that connection alive. I can vouch for how incredibly hard it can be in this place, to sense that God is here and to interact with him.

You do nothing well. You might still be fooling everyone around you that you’re fully capable. But when you slow it all down, you’ll see–you’ve barely been scraping the surface of your potential. You’ve been giving everything 5% when you could give two or three things 25% and still have energy left over for personal fulfillment. Can you imagine what an amazing life that would be? I dream about it like I dream about what heaven will be like one day. MARGIN. What a joy that would be.

So. That’s Burnout. I’ve been a real peach to be around, lately, as you can imagine. 😉

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A dear mentor and friend said this to me recently: “I don’t think God intended for us to live our lives exhausted and dried up of passion, inspiration and joy.”

Soon after, other wise people started saying similar things in my direction:

In the words of G. Love + Special Sauce, “This Ain’t Livin.”

In the words of Iain Thomas, “And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”

In the words of Ariana Huffington, “And whenever I’d complain or was upset about something in my own life, my mother had the same advice: “Darling, just change the channel. You are in control of the clicker. Don’t replay the bad, scary movie.”

In the words of Andy Warhol, “Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say “so what.” That’s one of my favorite things to say.”

In the words of Anne Lamott, “You are not your bank account, or your ambitiousness. You’re not the cold clay lump with a big belly you leave behind when you die. You’re not your collection of walking personality disorders. You are spirit, you are love. ”

In the words of the Psalmist, “Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)

It’s because of Burnout that I’m responding to a deep urging, that I believe is from God, and making some big changes in my life. (More on that, soon.)

I plan to force margin back in. To get to know what grace and peace and creative inspiration feel like again. To feel joy. To reacquaint myself with wonder. To grab God’s hand again. And to REALLY LIVE. Whatever it takes.

But Why?

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1995. Jars of Clay released their classic self-titled album. I was still a child, just discovering Christian music. Like most people in America, Christian or non, I bought this CD because of their crossover hit, “Flood”. And until 2000, “Flood” was the primary song I listened to on the album.

2000. I was 16 and just starting to understand what it means to follow Jesus. I heard the Gospel explained in applicable language for the first time in my life and my relationship with God grew into something new and different. As I immersed myself in Christian culture and media, I revisited my old Jars of Clay CD. Suddenly, “Like a Child” became my go-to track.

I liked it for a few reasons:

  1. Understanding that I could do anything through Jesus, if I just believed, was a new concept for me. And it was exciting. Like I discovered a superpower I never knew I had.
  2. I defined childlike faith as sold-out, no-questions-asked, all-on-board, 150% IN-IT-TO-WIN-IT. Anything less than that level of intensity seemed disrespectful to God, in my opinion.
  3. Let’s be honest–it has a repetitive, catchy melody. Real catchy.

I held onto that definition of childlike faith for a long time. At 30, I’m just beginning to realize that it wasn’t very accurate. And it may have held me back in my spiritual development over the last 15 years of my life with Jesus.

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 18:2-4

If you know a pre-schooler, think about them for a minute. When you teach them about how something works or the way something is, how do they typically respond?

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They. Ask. Questions.

Lots of them. They rarely take anything at face value. They want to know the ins-and-outs. How it came to be that way. Why it’s that way now. Who made it that way. What was that person thinking? What’s their favorite color? What’s their middle name? And it goes on.

As a parent—sure, it might get annoying–but aren’t you encouraged when your child insists on understanding all the details of a topic? You know they’re growing. You know they’re becoming integrated with life on earth. Their life experiences are becoming deepened. They’re becoming more fully human.

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I have a friend whose pre-schooler has yet to enter the, “But why?” stage of development. She’s expressed a little bit of worry about the fact that he takes everything as 100% truth and never questions anything. Everything is a fact and he’s comfortable with that. He’s all about his momma’s word–sold-out, all-in, no-questions-asked. In fact, he has a frequent pattern of speaking that goes like this:

G: “So we are going to the zoo today.”

Mom: “Yes, we are.”

G: “The zoo is in Roseville.”

Mom “Yes, it is.”

G: “There are gorillas at the zoo.”

Mom: “Yes………there are.”

And it continues. An adorable and incredibly articulate onslaught of statements about things he knows to be factual.

While I’m confident her little boy will get there in his own time (and she’ll probably regret ever wanting him to get there, at times) I have to believe that everyone’s faith development must work in a similar way. I don’t think I could’ve started asking the really hard questions at 21 or even 25. Because I’m not sure I could’ve held onto faith and questioned it simultaneously at those stages in my faith. But today, my relationship with God is continually deepened by walking deeper into this dark, cavernous tunnel with God’s hand on the small of my back, guiding me gradually to the other side, excitedly and proudly pointing me toward new discoveries, and free places to unashamedly wrestle and doubt.

It took me 15 years to start asking questions. I mean, the really hard, stretching, scary questions. Questions that force you to figure out what and why you really believe. Taking the example of a curious child and reforming my definition of childlike faith is deepening my relationship with God. Children are brave–they ask unlimited questions and don’t worry about coming off like they don’t trust your word. They just want to really understand.

Maybe growing more spiritually mature looks less like rising up and more like shrinking down to the most childlike posture, where we’re unafraid to dig deep and break things down. I think faith like a child is really about hearing our Father speak truth, accepting it as truth, latching onto it, but then looking him in the eyes and asking, “But why?”

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. 1 Peter 2:2

Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

The Day I Went to Jail

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Eagle Brook is forging a new partnership with the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes. There’s an adult prison on one side of the grounds and a juvenile detention center on the other side. Within the juvenile prison, there’s a school run by the Centennial School District. Just a few years ago it was run by the State of Minnesota and graduation rates were miniscule. Since the Centennial District took over, they’re graduating students almost every month. It’s an exciting time of change and progress for them.

When you walk into Pine School, you can immediately tell that every single one of the staff loves these kids. They have a deep desire to help them do better, to show them they’re worthy of good things, and to help them succeed. It’s encouraging to see.

The purpose for my visit was to begin a sort of pilot program where Eagle Brook staff go to the prison and speak to students about their life, their career path, and what they do for a job. Their hope is that students will begin to dream about careers beyond selling drugs, prostitution, human trafficking, settling for being on welfare, working at a fast food restaurant, or just accepting their current delinquent status for the rest of their life. They’re trying to show them that they have choices, they have options, and even though they may be incarcerated or in an alternative learning program now–that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for them.

In all honesty–I struggled hard to figure out what to share with these kids. Over the weeks leading up to my presentation day, I was plagued with a horrible creative block. I couldn’t help but think I didn’t have enough to offer. I continually asked myself, “Why would they listen to me? Who am I, even?” I really felt like I was the wrong person for the job. I haven’t led youth group in almost three years, so I’m a little rusty when it comes to communicating well with teens. Additionally, I am an introvert through-and-through. So the thought of speaking to four groups of teens for an hour and 45 min each sounded incredibly depleting to me. I was nervous about how I would handle all of the talk-time and the smiling and the people interaction. I was really clamming up. But the night before, I finally pulled a presentation together.

WHAT I DID:

  • I started by sharing basic information about who I am.
  • I gave a summary of my childhood, my family life when I was growing up, my school experiences, moving from Minnesota to Alabama and back to Minnesota, what high school was like for me, my academic challenges, how I chose a major in college, how my career started, how I got to where I am working now.
  • I talked about what personality types work well in the Creative Communications field, what types of jobs options are available, and explained what things like writing and editing, copywriting, graphic design, art direction, marketing strategy, and market research are.
  • I gave them time to look at Eagle Brook’s Canvas magazine as an example of many Creative Communications job types coming together to create one product. Some groups were also allowed to move around the room and look at other printed pieces I’ve worked on at Eagle Brook that I brought and displayed.
  • Throughout my presentation, I showed that in every phase of my life, no matter how easy or how difficult, writing and making art were always my lifeline, my release, and my sanity. They came naturally to me. So when it came time to choose a career, it wasn’t necessarily obvious at first–but it was the wisest and most fulfilling route.
  • On a couple of slides, I asked the students questions about their hopes and dreams.
    • What are some of yours?
    • What were they when you were younger?
    • What kinds of things stand in your way today?
    • Do you believe you have what it takes?
    • What are hope-killers in your life? How can you maintain hope when things get tough?
    • It’s ok not to know what you want.
      • How many of you don’t know what you want to do with your life? Do you think you might know but you’re not sure?
    • It’s not ok to settle for less than what you deserve.
      • What do you think you deserve in life?

I know. Those are some heavy questions.

But I didn’t want to just stand there and go, “Look how great I turned out! If you pull it together, you can be just like me!” I wanted them to walk away feeling like this point in their life maybe isn’t the end. I wanted them to admit they have what it takes to do better. I wanted them to look past the REASONS things are hard and stop treating them like EXCUSES. I wanted to give them a little motivation. A little excitement about the future. And I wanted them to really believe in themselves. Even just for a minute or two.

The only way that I can really make sense of the day is to recall it by groups. So here goes:

GROUP 1: Lockdown // All Male // Ages 13-18 // Long-Term Sentences (9-18 months)

My first group of the day was all male. As they filed into the room I felt some of their eyes looking at me in a–you know–teenage-boy kind of way. I saw them sit down and whisper to each other and giggle a little bit. I already had it in my mind that I wasn’t going to put up with crap, I was going to ignore any disrespect and continue speaking. So I made the choice to put it out of my mind and try to make them engage with me in a respectful, serious way, by trying to identify with them, making fun of myself every now and then, and affirming their answers to my questions.

There should’ve been one more group joining us for this session, but they’d unfortunately gotten in trouble the night before and were on lockdown in their rooms. I heard some chatter over lunch that those students were caught the night before making plans to buy and sell drugs to each other once they are released. Someone joked that you need to be good at marketing and business to be a good drug dealer–some of them are already pros– so it was really a shame they missed my session. They said that maybe they could’ve redirected those skills if they knew about other options. I can’t imagine my words could’ve possibly had that great of an impact–but that was my feeling throughout the day. Am I really making an impact? Is this really doing anything?

The boys listened to my presentation and engaged with the questions in a respectful and enthusiastic way. They were an ideal first group. Two boys in the class said they wanted to be pastors. One flipped open Canvas magazine and saw Proverbs 3:5-6 and shouted to me, “Hey! I have this marked in my bible!” Another boy lagged behind at the end of the presentation and came up to me to thank me for coming. He said that he loves to write and he is interested in graphic design so this was really cool. That made me feel good.

GROUP 2 // Lockdown // Ages 14-18 // Almost entirely male, two females // Shorter-Term Sentences (a few days – a few months), mostly awaiting upcoming court dates.

During this session, I was excited that there would be some girls in the room. However, there’s a rule that girls always have to sit behind the boys so that they’re not a distraction. So my two girls sat in the far back of the room. But I made a point to make eye contact with them frequently.

In the front row, there were several boys who were clearly NOT happy to be there. It was the first time I felt a little bit physically uncomfortable around the students. They were scowling. They looked threatening. They were ten steps past annoyed–they were angry. A teacher noticed their incessant talking and eye-rolling so she came to sit by them during the presentation. I wanted to reach them–but every time I directed my words toward them, I felt their anger just rising off of them. Through their body language and their facial expressions. It was sad and tough to deal with.

In this class, a student asked why you can’t just take whatever classes you want in college, apply for a job, and if it pays a lot of money, take it. So I got to explain how majors work, why they exist, how to pick a field of study based on your skills and interests, and how you apply for and get offered jobs.

One of the two girls said that she wants to work in the music industry as a singer. She was really excited, however, about art and design when I talked about those things. I flipped through Canvas magazine with her for a few pages and she was excited to learn that Eagle Brook has a location in Blaine, near the trailer park where her family lives. She told me her main barrier to reaching her hopes and dreams is that, “She’s a chronic drug user.” Later, a school staffer told me she’s been in and out of that facility nearly 13 times in the last five years.

This was the first group where I encountered a student with a mental disability or delay. He loved to raise his hand and answer questions. He seemed like he had a good heart and would get excited about things easily. He also seemed like he was a seven-year-old speaking in a 13-year-old’s body. It broke my heart that he was there. What could he possibly have done? Was he coerced into doing something he didn’t understand? How long had he been there? Is he receiving any kind of therapy, counseling, or rehabilitation so that he can maybe avoid this in the future?

Students counted off as the entered and exited the room. Things are rigid there and very organized. These students have very few rights and very few possessions. They have to earn everything from the blanket on their bed to a book to keep in their room from the school library. Many of them carried their books with them like they wanted others to see they’d earned one. My heart breaks.

GROUP 3 // ALC Day Program // Solid mix of males and females // Ages 14-18

This session was only 45 minutes long, so I had to speed it up a little. That turned up the pressure a bit! It was also a smaller group than the previous two. There was a girl in this class who I’d met last December in the lockdown program where I’d joined a small group of people from EBC to serve a Christmas lunch to a few students. She’d been released since, but apparently wasn’t allowed back into the public school system. She’s living outside of the facility, but attends the alternative learning day program for school each day.

As I was speaking, this class got very disruptive. A student stood in the back and twitched periodically. The girl I’d met in December lashed out twice at another girl in the room for talking during my presentation. She recognized that I deserved respect, but was taking action in the wrong way. She had some good fire inside! Just misdirected. One of the girls was removed from the room eventually.

A guy in this class stated that his only hope or dream was to make money. I sensed something in his smirk and I replied, “Legally?” and he said, “Haha nope.” It was a good moment to feel like the kids were comfortable being a little more real with me. My level of passion was starting to rise during this class. Because they were so disruptive and disrespectful, I almost had a fire of anger boiling inside of me. Not because they were talking over me (really, who cares…) but because I didn’t want them to miss an opportunity to maybe connect with a younger person who understands what it feels like to feel depressed, worthless, and to wonder if you are really ever going to go anywhere in life. I wanted them to be encouraged. And I wanted them to look at my face and believe that I believe in them. (I know that’s asking a lot for 45 minutes…but I suddenly was filled with determination to MAKE THEM receive my message.)

After the class ended, one student hung back again and asked me some questions about book editing. Then he thanked me for sharing with the class. For all the chaos that took place during that session, that final 45 seconds with him was worth it.

GROUP 4 // Males & Females (half & half) // ages 14-18 // Day Program

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The final group. Ohhhh, friends. This final group really got me going.

A sassy and BEAUTIFUL girl named Suzan (she made sure I knew it was with a Z) sat down and immediately asked me a million questions. She had a bubbly, fun energy and I liked her right away. As the boys filed into the front, I took pride in getting them to interact with me on a peer level–and somehow, it worked. We made fun of an old picture I shared in the presentation of me wearing high-wasted, acid-washed, exposed-button-fly, long denim shorts. They also laughed at a picture of me at my typewriter in elementary school. Because I agree with them–those shorts are “too crusty” as they put it, we were fast friends.

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These kids had BIG DREAMS. A girl who has grown up on welfare wants to open a coffee shop with a daycare center attached to it for moms on welfare, one girl’s biggest dream is to get rehired at Culver’s when she is released, a guy wanted to work in the rap industry as a producer or sound engineer, a few guys wanted to be firefighters, a couple of them tattoo artists. Another boy with an obvious mental disability said that he wants to run a used car lot if his uncle will train him. He spoke slowly with a large smile as if he were five years old. My heart…

I affirmed all of their dreams–no matter how crazy or how bottom-of-the-barrel they were. They were “Amazing! Awesome! It takes a special person to be X!” Since we’d established a good rapport, I foolishly thought they’d believe me when I started telling them they have potential to be more than what they are right now. Here are some of the responses I got:

You don’t even know us. What if some of us are here for murdering someone? (My response: And?)

I came in here 13 months ago for treatment and I’m STILL here. I’m probably not going to graduate high school.

I know my path and I see it and I’m certain it’s going to go that way. I know it.

You know, you people out here and on staff can say whatever but you have jobs, you’re making money. We’re stuck in here, victims of other people’s actions, and what can we do? Nothin. (I swear to you, at the end of this rant, her eyes looked glassy. She could’ve burst into tears if I’d pressed her.)

You can say that we’re good, whatever, but we have an evil side. (My response?! Hold it lady, we all have an evil side. You’re not special.–That shot out of my mouth like a bullet. I don’t know where it came from.)

You think we’re good people with potential? Ts, aw that’s cute. (She was the condescending mean girl in the group.)

Yeowza. This is where it started to feel like Dangerous Minds and I was Michelle Pfeiffer. I was getting some real bitchy attitude from some of the girls. Some of my zingy and quick responses to the boys’ negativity had some kids standing up going, “Awww tsss” or “Ohhhh!!!!” as if I’d proved them wrong or won at a match of “yo-momma”.  I got MAD at their intense commitment to settling for less than what they’re worth, for throwing in the towel, for acting like this was the end. A fire was lit inside me and it was BLAZING.

At the end of the session, the boy who told me that because he’d been in the treatment program for 13 months and that he probably wasn’t going to graduate from high school (He is 14…I made him admit that “probably” doesn’t mean “definitely.”) came up to me to show me the design on his sweatshirt. It was AMAZING. He’d drawn it and his dad put it on his sweatshirt with an iron-on transfer for him. I told him–Dude! Be a graphic designer! And he insisted that being a tattoo artist would be more fun. I told him which one makes slightly more money. 🙂

This group was allowed to take an issue of Canvas with them. EVERY student did. One student asked me if he could take ALL of the print work examples I’d brought and I said–sure! So he has a Bible study guide, a few weekend programs, a mailer about the Woodbury campus opening, and a Closer Look book about Eagle Brook. 🙂

CLOSING THOUGHTS

  • These kids are FULL of potential. And they’re straight up ignoring it. It’s obvious, even through their angry, sassy, depressed facades.
  • I never once thought about what their offenses might have been. At least not until the end of the day. Many of them mentioned their charges, their felonies, their anger problems, their addictions. Looking at their faces for an hour and 45 minutes, seeing them smile and dream out loud about what they could be in the future–it’s hard for me to believe that some of them have trafficked other girls, have prostituted themselves, have assaulted people with weapons, have bought and sold drugs, have burglarized, have been addicted to drugs since 13 years old. How?
  • My heart breaks for the kids who have mental disabilities and are there. I don’t know if they receive any special treatment but I’d like to find out.
  • Many of them could use some GOOD counseling. I don’t know if they receive any, but I hope so. I should try to find out.
  • I noticed that when I asked them about their barriers, they’d say things like: “I’m a chronic drug user.” “I’m a felon.” It was never, “I committed felonies,” or, “I have a drug problem.” It was always I AM. That’s very final, closed-door, no-hope. If they identify with their mistakes, then that’s IT. They need someone reminding them consistently that they’re NOT their mistakes. Their mistakes don’t dictate their future.
  • I wonder how much our public school and legal system sets these kids up for success in the future. I’m wondering how we can help them and not block them because of their record.

I ended my presentation with these two quotes. I love them. They’re true in my life and I want them to be true for these kids.

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This introvert slept for 11 hours last night and her feet and calves are aching. (Nurses! Teachers! I don’t know how you do it!) My voice is raspy and my throat is sore. I feel like I’m in a bit of a daze trying to make sense of my reality after yesterday’s alternate reality.

I don’t want a pat on the back for this. Because I didn’t want to do it. And I’ll probably never know if I made an impact past the time that I was there interacting with them. But I know my heart has deepened for the outcasts, the tough kids, the sad kids, and the angry kids. I’ve always identified with them, gravitated toward them, chosen them. And that’s why I wanted to share this experience publicly. To remind everyone that these kids are THERE, they have infinite potential, they want to be SEEN, RESPECTED, and deep down—I really believe they want to be more than what they are. They just need help getting there.

Pulling It Apart To Put It Back Together

When you open a carton of strawberries or cherry tomatoes, there are always a few tossers. The ones that have wrinkles or moldy patches or brown spots. You flip the lid open and sort through what’s good and take out what would potentially make you sick.

It’s kind of what I’m doing with Christianity. I’ll reiterate again–I’m still a child of God, my relationship with God is intact, and I still desire to follow him. But I’m in a place of pulling apart everything I’ve accepted to be true without question, so that I can put it all back together and know definitively WHAT I believe and WHY. It’s scary. But it needs to happen. (Read more about why, if you’re interested.)

A wise friend recently told me that as I go through this time, I need to be sure that I run my questions through a good filter of truth. Scripture, being one. (Even though that means breaking EVERYTHING down and Googling the Greek and the Hebrew and the overall cultural nuances of the time, etc.) I responded by saying that I’ve been bouncing my questions up against what I know to be true of God’s character. If a certain belief or truth I’ve been presented with feels inconsistent with God’s character–that’s when I start to pull it apart and ask the hard, scary questions.

So, I had an idea.

I think a starting point for me in this messy jumble of threads to pull is to remind myself of what’s true about God’s character. For the next 30 days, I’m planning to Instagram one truth about who God is along with a piece of Scripture to back it up. I know there are way more than 30 truths about God, but 30 seems like a doable, small-enough goal that I can probably meet. I’m not the most disciplined person. 🙂

I’ll share them on Instagram at @AndreaEiken, on Facebook, and once per week I’ll share the images here.

So here’s Day 1 of 30 days of #HeIs:

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Coming Clean.

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I haven’t been blogging much in recent months. There are a few reasons for that. But primarily, I’ve been processing. I’m a processor by nature–usually I need to think things over and come to place of peace and understanding before speaking about them. There are also situations where I need to process things verbally and discuss things with people before I can come to that place of peace and understanding in my spirit. Sometimes, I need to WRITE in order to make sense of something and reach that settled place. But I resist it…for a secondary reason.

A secondary reason that I haven’t been blogging is out of fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of getting it wrong. Fear of being too unfiltered. Fear of stirring all the pots. I’m in a pot-stirring kind of mental place, these days. I end most interactions with people lately by asking myself, “Have I said too much? Am I being too honest?” So I’ve started hiding a little bit. Just until I figure out how I feel. And how I want to present myself. Blogging is a weird thing. The internet is a weird place. Friends and family have come to enjoy my writing and perspective and I want to continue to exercise this gift God has given me. But sometimes, the spotlight is a little frightening.

Here’s what’s up, friends.

Since I was 16, I’ve been following Jesus. I experienced salvation and then I fell in line. I followed and imitated what I saw other Christians do and what Christian writers told me was the right thing to do, but I wasn’t spiritually mature enough to know to question the scriptural basis for these things. I just gave a salute to the local Family Christian Store/Northwestern Bookstore and Brio magazine and moved along. By the grace of God and the influence of Christian people in my life, my relationship with God deepened and became more genuine as the years progressed. I leaned into my faith during college when new brands of hardship fell on my heart that I’d never experienced before, and He loved me back to life. After college, I befriended and led a group of high school girls for four years with my friend Juli. I tried to share wisdom and knowledge from my own life as we worked through the inevitable challenges that come with growing up. But in the last couple of years, since losing my friend Christie to cancer, since being disappointed by the Church in a few different ways (that’s another post altogether), I’ve become confused and jaded. And it’s heartbreaking. But I haven’t quit.

God and I? We’re eternal. Nothing is ever going to change the fact that we’re besties, he loves me, I love him, it goes deeper than anything else. We’re blood. Literally. There’s no budging on that. I’m nothing without God in my life. NOTHING. I know this, because until 16, what I had with God was inauthentic, ritualistic, forced and fake. I remember what it felt like to be without hope. I’m never going back there. He’s legit. He’s real. He’s alive. I’ve seen it and I can’t deny it.

However. Certain topics continually have been brought to the surface in my mind and in my heart over the last year that I suddenly have a million reservations about. What it looks like to live out my faith has become difficult and murky. A few examples:

  • What happens when we die? What is the real definition of heaven?
  • Are certain things really sinful or is their perceived sinfulness something the Church created long ago?
  • Is X a cultural belief or a God-influenced command? Is X a cultural mandate of the time in which a biblical passage was written, and should we still abide by it now–or is it something God commands of all people in all times?
  • If I don’t have the on-fire desire to be evangelistic, does that make me an inauthentic Christ follower?
  • Do I HAVE to do X, X and X to grow in my faith? Or are there other ways?
  • Can Christians really make blanket rules that are “best for everyone” in the long run, or is there wiggle room for redefinition and grey space?
  • Are we really all SO BAD? Aren’t we beautiful and broken simultaneously?
  • If I have a spirit of critical-thinking that often borders on cynicism, does that mean I’m not currently connected to God enough to be part of a body of Christ-followers that are expected to be unified and on the same page about everything pertaining to our savior and what it means to live out our faith?
  • If what I decide about a topic of faith differs from how the majority of Christ-followers around me feel about it, does that mean I’m getting it ‘wrong’?

Oy. You guys, it’s exhausting. It’s scary.

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In Philippians in the NIV, we’re told:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,”

That sounds like exploration and working through doubt and questioning, doesn’t it?

But in the NLT, we’re told:

“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.”

When I read that, I hear FALL IN LINE. GET IT RIGHT. SHOW PEOPLE YOU ARE A CHRIST-FOLLOWER BY YOUR PERFECT OBEDIENCE–AND IF YOU DON’T GET IT RIGHT, YOU DON’T LOVE (REVERE OR FEAR) HIM ENOUGH.

And what is the RIGHT way to obey? Is it just acting like everyone else in my faith community? Or do I have the freedom for it to look different for me?

Maybe I’m not interpreting these verses as accurately as I could be. But it’s confusing, right?! No matter where I look, I’m required to unravel, redefine, to translate–to WORK at getting to a place of peace and understanding in my spirit when it comes to living my life as a Christ-follower. And I’m starting to think this painful, crazy, scary work of pulling it all apart in order to put it back together again MIGHT just be what it’s all about. Because without it–how strong is my faith?

I worry that for some people in the Church, this type of thinking isn’t acceptable. Or that they say it’s acceptable, but really actually doing it is too dangerous to talk about much less actually embark upon. Or, that until I’ve reached peace and understanding about ALL of my doubts and questions and redefining of topics–I shouldn’t be working in a place of ministry. After all, shouldn’t everyone in ministry be in agreement about most topics of following Christ as we lead others to do the same?

All I can say is that I still believe that reaching people with the message of Christ’s love for them is not only paramount to what I want to do with my career for as long as I’m given the opportunity to, but it’s the core of what I hope I can accomplish through my life. And lately, I’ve felt like maybe I’m being a little clunky about it. But my hope is that by coming clean about the faith challenges I’ve been facing, I am doing the best thing–which is to show people that following Jesus is not the easy path, and if it is? Maybe it shouldn’t be so easy.

In wrapping this up, I want to reiterate:

I still love Jesus. He still loves me. I hope you still love me, too. 😉

 

 

Thank God for the Remix

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When I was 16, I went to Young Life’s Castaway Club camp in Detroit Lakes, MN. It was there that I heard the retelling of what Jesus did on the cross for the millionth time in my life, but it was the first time it took on personal meaning. My heart and soul were marked that day. I felt different. I felt lighter. Brighter. I was new. I knew the days I’d been spending in depressive, anxious darkness were over.

A punk kid that I knew from school said something to me on the bus ride home that I never forgot. He said,

I know you just experienced something big. And I’m happy for you. But whatever you do, don’t close your mind. Keep it open.

I was offended and annoyed but I didn’t say anything back to him. When he said that, I heard, “You may think Jesus is your Savior. But all of this might be untrue. Keep your mind open and one day you’ll realize it’s all been a lie.”

I went back to school that year with a fire in my belly for knowing Jesus more and telling people about the change that took place in me over the summer. I led and attended Bible studies and my main friend group shifted toward people I’d met at Young Life and theater kids. I read all the Christian books I was supposed to according to Christian media/subculture, like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the Jesus Freak devotional. I fell in line with the rules of Christian purity culture and feminine modesty that I learned from my friend’s mom at our weekly Bible study. I tried to manage my anxiety through prayer, rapidly reciting Bible verses under my breath, and being prayed over to be born again in the Holy Spirit. I allowed myself to be anointed with oil by two women speaking in tongues, who claimed to have special abilities to make God cleanse me of the evil I’d exposed myself to by playing with Ouija boards, casting spells from a book I got at Hot Topic, and joke-cursing a boy from school with long-term impotence via a toy Voo-Doo doll my friend had in her basement. I’ll never forget how their tongues sounded. They repeated, “Shhhhalalalala” over and over. I thought to myself,

“These women lived through the 60’s. Sha-la-la was standard song-filler for their formative years. How can they be sure this is a real ‘tongue’ experience and not just a familiar phrase buried in their psyche?”

I wasn’t exactly buying it. But I wanted to, so I tried to speak in tongues for a while after my born-again-in-the-Holy-Spirit experience because I thought it would make me closer to God. I gave up after a few days of sha-la-las in the shower.

Through all of these experiences, I was trying to figure out what following Jesus looked like. I wanted to know what I had to do to bring God’s favor on my life. How could I access all the goodness my youth leaders talked about?

Was it a regular regimen of Bible study every morning? Was it throwing away all of my secular CDs? What friends did I need to weed out of my life?

(Today, that last question makes me cringe. I heard and read it often during that time in my life. BLEGH.)

My relationship with Jesus evolved at college (thankfully). Love, abuse, and heartbreak deepened my relationship with Jesus as he showed up in my life and comforted me and loved me back to life in a way I didn’t know was possible. I dove into time with Jesus and journaled my face off for three years. One day while I was perched up in the windowsill above the entrance to the concert hall after art class, pen in hand, staring at the leafless trees outside, I started to realize that the way following Jesus was presented to me at 16 isn’t what I think it’s actually supposed to be. I couldn’t put words or action to it, yet. But it was the first time I questioned what I’d thrown my heart and soul into so many years prior.

Bubbling yourself off from society and aligning with Christian culture norms but never asking why is a quick route to confusion in your faith. And this is where I’ve found myself recently. And this–this is what I think that punk kid on the bus back from Castaway meant.

I’m glad you found The Way. But don’t assume their way of explaining The Way is THE WAY.

At 30, I’m starting to hear a remix of that original following-Jesus message. Their version of the way to follow wasn’t exactly on-point, it turns out. I’d even argue that it was a little bit misleading.

I’m not going to blame it on evangelicalism, purity culture, modesty rules, George W. Bush, or Christian radio. But there’s an inauthenticity, a hustle for worthiness to God that I’ve started seeing in myself and hearing in teachings that has been hurting my soul for about nine months now. I’ve recently put words to this dissonance:

It’s The Gospel of Good Behavior vs. The Gospel of Jesus.

Early on, I learned that if I read my Bible, prayed every day, manipulated/steered conversations in order to lead other people to Christ, avoided evil music/TV/movies, went to church at least three times per month, joined a small group/Bible study, cherry-picked my friends based on their involvement in Christianity, and didn’t date anyone I was ‘unequally-yoked’ with, I’d win God’s favor. I’d be doing it right. I’d be doing the Christian thing the way it was meant to be done. And God would reward me for it–with comfort, peace, joy, hope and direction in life.

I’ve often criticized Catholicism and my own Lutheran upbringing for years because I felt they focused too much on works vs. grace-based salvation. How could I have missed this works-based hustle I’d sunken into?

Hustling to be worthy of the things God offers to us freely is exhausting. And pointless, friends. It’s pointless.

I’ve met people who had sex before they were married, and now have strong marriages and inspiring faith in God. I’ve seen God take a broken heart that’s too worn out to look for comfort in The Word, and mend it with his bare hands in total silence. I’ve seen how one special friend can influence your faith in ways that 10 people in a room studying the Bible one night per week can’t. I’ve watched people drowning in debt STILL experience God’s blessings and love, despite their financial disarray. I’ve seen God’s extravagant love in my life when I haven’t opened a Bible in weeks. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. He’s shown up. Actually, He never leaves.

Most importantly, I’ve recently seen how stepping back from the traditional Christian-culture rules of Jesus-following I started wtih and sitting in confusion and questioning can bring me closer to God. It’s been in the remix that I’ve started to reopen my mind and actually work out my salvation and what that means.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. -Philippians 2:12

Deciding to follow Jesus is one thing. Diving into a lifestyle of hustling for worthiness is a completely other thing that I’ve come to believe isn’t what God intended for this life with him. Bubbling off from friends or family because they’re not on the same level you are doesn’t make your faith strong. Making sure you’re accomplishing all of the faith-strengthening behaviors on a Christian culture checklist won’t necessarily make your faith stronger. (It certainly can…but it can’t stop there.) It’s not a Jesus-fish bumper decal. It’s not exclusively listening to worship music. It’s not about what we DO. It’s about what He already DID. And continues to do in us, despite our sinful leanings, despite our inability to fall in line sometimes, despite our confusion and wandering.

I think it’s more about being authentically you and seeing if he still loves you. Spoiler alert: He does. His ‘favor’ will still be on your life no matter where you go, where you’ve been, what you’ve said, what you’ve done, what choices you’ve made, what choices you’re going to make in the future.

He. Freaking. Loves. Us.

He fills us up with that love so that we can in turn, love others. Not so that we can judge them as less-than and bubble ourselves off from them because they’re different from us. He fills us up with His love so that we can love people in our lives in ways they don’t deserve. So that we can reflect Jesus to the masses. That’s the kind of hustling I think we should be doing. Loving so big and so major that people would come to know Jesus by our love. Not by how deeply connected to a church we are, how well we fall in line with getting our lives ‘right’, or how skilled we are at steering a conversation toward salvation, or how good we look on the outside. LOVE. It’s all about LOVE.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

I don’t have it all figured out. And I’m definitely not trying to make some kind of case for humans being without sin or implied consequences. I’m just realizing that the prescription for ‘good faith’ doesn’t look the same for everyone. It’s impossible to create an A. B. C. step-by-step plan for a proper Christian life. Instead of spending our lives striving to be better Christians so we can look like we’re ‘doing it right’, I want to spend my life experiencing God’s love, peace, and guidance without stressing over whether I’m, ‘doing it right,’ or not. And I want Him to keep teaching me and helping me work out my salvation.

This is new territory, faith-wise. The more this remix gets written in my heart, the more I’m feeling freedom and closeness with God in a way I haven’t before. Who would’ve thought? Thank God for the remix.

 

It Isn’t What it Is.

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“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” 

Isaiah 43:19

“It is what it is.”

Everyone says that. I say it. There are some things that can’t be changed. That’s the truth.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about things that can be changed, but we’ve decided they can’t be.

God is in the business of making things new.

This world is in the business of trashing things way beyond their beautiful, original, God-breathed state.

How many world-trashed parts of ourselves do we look at and declare, “It is what it is”?

I’ll lay it out right here and say that personally, I’m guilty of observing parts of myself that are dinged and damaged just by walking in this body through this life and labeling them irredeemable. “It is what it is.”

 

Lately, when I’m sitting at my desk at work, driving in my car, snuggling on the couch with my puppy, falling asleep in my bed, one word keeps rolling to the front of my chaotic mind.

Redeem.

I start to pray, “Redeem it. Redeem all of it.”

The parts of me, of people I love and care about–those parts that aren’t what they should be. The experiences that should’ve been but were never even close. The deep hurts we carry that should’ve been life-giving words that nestled into our hearts. The negative personal labels we’ve burned into our palms and stare at, tracing with our fingertips every afternoon. The Garden that should’ve been Peace but became Hell in an instant.

 

When I ask God to redeem it, I want him to make it what it should be.

Only He knows what all of this was supposed to be. He watched this broken place tear it to shreds. By inviting Him in, I want him to show me how He originally painted it before His riotous children ran screaming past the canvas wielding brushes dripping with thick black paint.

How could it have been? It can still be that. Because He’s still at work.

We can try all we want to make it right. But only He can redeem it.

 

I don’t know about you. But while I live this one life I’ve been given, I want to experience it redeemed.

Not so I can get God’s pat on my back for coloring so carefully inside the lines. Rule-following is a mere fraction of this faith.

I want all that He wants for me. Despite what this broken world does to hold me back.

I want more than it-is-what-it-is. For everything that should’ve been and never got to be–I want a life fully redeemed.

And I want that for everyone I’ve laid my two eyes on in this life.

More. There’s so much more than what you and I have settled for.

He’s still making it all new. And He’s doing it just for you.