Walk it out.

There is a scene in the movie Dead Poets Society where Mr. Keating, played by the late great Robin Williams, takes the young men in his English class out to the courtyard to illustrate an important point. He begins by selecting three of his students and he tells them just to “take a stroll.” So they do, and the other students circle up around them to watch. Each of the three boys start off walking at their own pace, but within seconds – they were completely in sync. (I almost wrote that as “N’sync” – WOW.)  They were marching in step, like an army – and the rest of the class eventually found themselves clapping to the rythym. Mr. Keating told them he did this to illustrate how incredibly difficult it is to walk at our own pace in life, to have our own unique identities and beliefs in a world that may call us odd, unpopular, or just plain wrong. And usually, because our need for acceptance is so strong – without realizing it – we start looking, acting, and living just like everybody else around us.

Brennan Manning opens his book Abba’s Child with this quote by E.E. Cummings:

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight, and never stop fighting.”

In one of my first conversations about loneliness, I was talking my friend Laura who makes her living by creating and singing beautiful music. She was telling me how difficult it is to maintain her identity in an industry that is always telling her – subtly or blatantly – to change something, add something, or lose something in an effort to become more “marketable.” It’s a constant tension for her. She wants to be nobody but herself, but the world keeps telling her she needs to be somebody different. A lonely battle, for sure.

Don’t we all live in that tension, though? We all long for acceptance….God made us that way. But he also made us creatively unique. I mean…out of 7 billion people, you are the ONLY ONE who has THOSE eyes, THAT laugh, THOSE experiences, THAT special way of doing THAT particular thing.

My friend Jenna said it was lonely to realize that she is her daughter’s ONLY mom. I had never thought about the loneliness of that. To feed her, change her poopy diaper, hold her when she’s crying — others can help, sure — but no one else is her “Mom.” God put her in that role on purpose and no one else can do it like she can. The same is true for you, whatever spot God has you in — whatever roles or jobs or gifts He’s given to you. And it’s an awesome thing, no doubt….

…..but it can be also be a lonely thing.

It’s lonely because you are the ONLY ONE who can be exactly YOU. That won’t change. No one can take your uniqueness away. But…like my man “Double E” said, it’s CRAZY HARD to maintain it. And in an effort to reduce the pain and comfortably fit in, you can easily bury it and deny it. Being who you were meant to be doesn’t come easy. It takes time, and it starts with a step of fearless authenticity….of saying, “The world tells me I’m supposed to feel __________ right now,  but I actually feel _________.” Or….”Everyone else says that being a mother/Christian/musician/sister/daughter/wife/girlfiend/manager/beautiful woman should always look like ________ — but for me, it often looks like _________.”

After Mr. Keating explains his courtyard illustration, he invites all the boys to begin walking again – but this time, in their own unique way. Some walk stately, some silly – some fast, some slow – some crooked, some straight.

That’s why these conversations about loneliness are so powerful. Because each one of these women I’ve had the opportunity to speak with has let down their guard, ripped the “I’m living the perfect life” billboard off their instagram posts and in some version said to me, “I know I may seem to be really happy right now, but I’m actually quite lonely.” Well, let me tell you this — you may feel lonely, but you darn sure aren’t alone. And admitting what feels incongruent or different about you allows God the space for Him to do something different in you. And that’s when you get to start walking your own wild and unpredictable journey with Him instead of the lifeless, shallow, store-bought version the world is selling. So….let’s start this year by getting honest. You aren’t like “them,” and that’s actually quite wonderful.

“Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” — Paul, to the church in Galatia (5:25, MSG)

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This is for All the Lonely People.

I have a friend-tor (friend/mentor fusion) named Alyssa who is one of the most life-giving people I know. She’s funny and real and incredibly gifted. She talks to Jesus a lot and hears from him, too – and she’s always encouraging people in a heart-building kind of way. She’s good at speaking, momming, wife-ing, writing, and cooking — among other things. (She once taught me how to use bacon grease to cook my vegetables — which is truly the gift that keeps on giving because it makes everything taste like bacon.) That’s why it totally caught me off guard one day when we were having coffee and she confessed to me that she had recently been feeling very…lonely.

Yes….she said LONELY. In my head I immediately disagreed with her feelings. How could someone so popular and awesome at life EVER feel lonely?  I could see her maybe saying “stressed out” or  “too busy” or even “angry because so many people want me” but not “lonely.” In my heart though, I was thinking….”You too?”

As we continued the conversation, her unlikely yet brave confession had given me permission to admit my own feelings of loneliness. And go figure, it made me feel a lot less lonely.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’m driving home from work thinking about a woman I know who has no one to talk to. She is literally alone in her house, all day. She has a cell phone but she regularly forgets her own password – so there goes that for an escape out of the lonely prison. I was thinking about how that must feel – to be alone all the time. It made me really sad. I know how heartbreaking it feels to be lonely, but I have a myriad of coping mechanisms. What does she do all day with her loneliness? How does she cope?

I think that loneliness is something we all deal with at some point, to some degree – whether we are literally alone or surrounded by tons of people. But…we never really talk about it. It’s too vulnerable to share and we think it might come across sounding “needy.” So…we keep pretending we are fine and insta-happy while loneliness secretly eats our little hearts up, mine included. That’s why I think it’s time to continue the conversation.

Cue — the LONELINESS PROJECT.

I’ve decided to do a little experiment and set up interviews with all different types of women and ask them a few questions about their own experience with loneliness:

  1. What does loneliness feel like, sound like, look like to you?
  2. When have you felt the loneliest in your life and when do you feel the loneliest now?
  3. How do you deal with your loneliness and have you found a solution?

I’ve already done about eight of these interviews so far with several brave and beautiful women, and the things they have shared have been been life-giving and heartbreaking in the same breath….There have been tears and laughter and even pictures of astronauts and deserts (see question # 1). I’m planning on sharing more of what I learn in the days to come, but the most amazing thing to me so far is that we are ALL feeling it. We are most definitely not alone in our loneliness….and it seems one of the best ways to heal through it is to get honest about it.

So, brave one…let’s do this.

When can you meet me for coffee?

Finding the red dot.

I read a book once by a guy named Larry Crabb. It was called “The Pressure’s Off,” and I remember reading a page in there about how the gospel story sets us free because it allows us to be imperfect humans dependent on a perfect God or something like that, and I cried so hard and so deep it felt in my soul like I had finally received the right answer to a long, lingering, soul-torturing question. I felt so free that I immediately went on the back porch around 2 A.M. and smoked a cigar. I’m not sure why a Swisher Sweets cigar out of the top drawer of my dresser from College felt like a freedom song that night, but my other option to run the streets naked might’ve caused a disturbance, and my neighbor at the time shot his gun at neighborhood disturbances. Nevertheless, cigar in hand, my heart was ALIVE!

Where does that freedom go? What does it get buried under? How does the love of Jesus get so boxed up and heavy that it becomes something we run from instead of run to? Something to explain instead of something to experience? Something to prove instead of something that proves us?

Later in the book Mr.Crabb talks about “finding the red dot.” I think the concept is similar to the encouragement that’s in 1 Corinthians 7 (The MSG) — “..And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there.” The red dot is what locates you when you are putting directions in Google maps – you can’t go anywhere until you know where you are.

Find your red dot – where you are NOW. Who you are NOW. What you feel NOW. Own where you are miserably and willfully wrong, confused, angry, disgusted, fearful, happy, hopeful, vulnerable….wanting the right things or the wrong things, or the right things in the wrong way….or not knowing what you want at all….Just BE there for a moment.

Sit. Right. There.

How is it? Scary? Weird? Wonderful?

Only when we have the courage to be RIGHT where we are is when we can let the pressures go. Pressures that God never even put on us. Expectations that Jesus never laid on us. “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:30, The MSG)

God never told you he wanted you to be God. That’s His job, His passion. He also never told you that he needs you to be a good little boy or girl. Even Jesus said there is no one good but God alone.

Satan told you those things. Satan told you that God can’t be trusted, that he’s withholding good from you, and if you don’t take care of yourself God never will. So… take charge! Get what’s yours! God wants to make you suffer, is perpetually angry with you and he only loves you when you are good. And since you aren’t, you are worthless to him. So try harder or just give up altogether – and then join the crowd of self-sufficient little gods who keep ramming their heads into the same door and grasping for things they can never get a hold of.

He’s a thief. He steals, he destroys, he kills.

How clever. How OLD SCHOOL. Same song, different day. NONE of those things are true.

But these lies –  they fuel this insatiable desire to run scared, try harder, and put on a show. They steal, they kill, they destroy any REAL sense of FREEDOM. Freedom to mess up, to succeed, to laugh, to cry, to just BE…walking with Jesus to the “unforced rhythms of grace.”

God is GOD and He has set you free to be human! Oh, Sweet Swisher!

He has “withheld no good thing.. longs to be gracious to you… will never leave or forsake you…loves you with an everlasting love” and He promises not to condemn you. And not only that, He actually LIKES you!

So…

Find the red dot. Be honest. And LET God be God. His love will overwhelm you in the strangest ways and set you free to be a broken human being, ever so beautiful, clumsily swimming in his grace like a googly eyed twenty-something smoking a cigar on the back porch. He knows who you are and he wants you that way….not when you have it figured out or cleaned up, but RIGHT….. NOW.

Disclaimer: If you wanna smoke a cigar to let your personal freedoms ring, smoke a skinny one. The fat ones might make you puke in a friends’ back yard.

The Heart of Life.

I’ve found that as a human, and definitely as a Christian, I spend most of my time trying to “be right and look good.” I don’t know how this grew to be the most important thing in my life, but I almost killed myself (and probably some others) in my efforts to do both at the same time. The craziest thing is, I thought that’s what God wanted me to do — “all for His glory” of course. I guess I always dreamed that someone would come along and care more about my heart than my performance, my appearance or my perceived “rightness” – but my heart got so separated from my head it seemed the only hope I had to stay on the try-harder treadmill was a new anti-depressant.

Then I met Jesus. The REAL one.

And He cares more about my heart than my performance…as a friend, a Christian, a daughter, an employee, etc.

And I really believe that.

I believed it so much three years ago that I quit my job in “ministry” and started bathing horses and marching them around the streets of downtown San Antonio attached to a carriage with strangers in it.

But I’m back to heartless-ville…aimless and tired…Taking my value questions to anyone and anything that can tell my why I’m here. And so the journey continues….back to the heart. John Mayer says the heart of life is good. Is it though, Johnny?

I picked up an old John Eldredge book last week that I haven’t read since high school, and I feel like I’ve entered into a refreshing conversation about the heart of life and the heart of God that puts words to what I’ve experienced as a human and as a Christian:

“A life filled with loving is a life most like the one that God lives, which is life as it was meant to be. (Eph. 5:1-2). And loving requires a heart alive an awake and free….The kind of deep soul intimacy we crave with God and with others can be experienced only from the heart. We don’t want to be someone’s project; we want to be the desire of their heart. May lamented, ‘By worshiping efficiency, the human race has achieved the highest level of efficiency in history, but how much have we grown in love?’…We’ve done the same to our relationship with God. Christians have spent their whole lives mastering all sorts of principles, done their duty, carried on the programs of their church…and never known God intimately, heart to heart…the point is not the activity – the point is intimacy with God, just as taking a course on anatomy won’t help you love your spouse. ‘You will find me,’ God says, ‘when you seek me with all your heart.’ (Jer. 29:13) What more can be said, what greater case could be made than this: to find God, you must look with all your heart. To remain present to God, you must remain present to your heart. To hear his voice, you must listen to your heart. To love him, you must love with all your heart. You cannot be the person God meant you to be, and you cannot live the life he meant you to live, unless you live from the heart.” 

-John Eldredge, “Waking the Dead”

Whoop, there it is. The heart is central. Where is yours? Where is mine?

I can hear auto-tuned Kanye asking me, “How could you be so heartless?”

Well….how could you? How could I?

And so it begins….seeking God with a WHOLE heart….

What’s this Life For?

I just turned the big 3-0 last month. If I’m honest — In all these “self-discovery” years, I still don’t really know much about who I am or why I’m here… and the only thing that gets me out of bed most days is the hope of getting a Breakfast Sandwich and a tall serving of “crack” (as my boyfriend calls it) from Starbucks (almost) every morning. I know that Dave Ramsey would not be happy with how much I spend on this morning motivation, but my barista friend Tess gives me a discount sometimes and I tell myself it’s healthier than my morning motivation routine from last year: A sausage biscuit and a medium Dr. Pepper from McDonalds. I can’t tell you how cheap that breakfast is because I don’t want drag other people into the same darkness I was in. I knew I had a problem when the lady at the drive-thru window said “See you tomorrow!” So… I’ve changed. I’m growing. I’m not who I once was.

Now, back to the purpose of my existence — here’s what I have gathered thus far.

The purpose of my existence CANNOT be found….

in a boy. Or a man. Or a woman, if I was into that. I don’t care how wonderful the person is or how many love songs say the opposite, it just doesn’t work in terms of soul fulfillment. I could probably cite some bible verses on this, but I don’t know where they are – and the bible didn’t really have to explain this one to me. It sucks when you find this one out for yourself, though. Especially when you used to lay in bed and cry hopeful tears to “When You Love Someone” by Bryan Adams and your Friday night plans consisted of going to the bookstore and looking at bridal magazines. Being in love is a great thing, indeed  – but it isn’t the MAIN thing. And I’ve learned that no human love – no matter how great – can define me or give my life its ultimate meaning.

in a job….even if it’s a job at a church, or a non-profit, or a Fortune 500 company, as a horticultural technician or as a horse-drawn carriage driver. CRAZY…I know. But again…painfully true.

…in my appearance, which is weird because I’m HAWT and all the boys want me.  I work out roughly two times a week, eat lots of gluten-packed bread from Starbucks, and to take a line from a poem a boy wrote me in high school, “my eyes are like golf balls with tiny blue dots.” How could they not want me? Thankfully, I used to sit in my bedroom as a 5th grader wearing hot-pink head-gear and read the proverb that says “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting…” So.. I learned the definition of lasting beauty at the young age of 11. And that although my fleeting beauty was indeed very fleeting –  you gotta have back-up on this one, even if you look like my model friend Lauren Woods.

…in my popularity. Now, this one is tough for me because I always feel way better about myself and my existence when I have lots of “likes” on Facebook (especially when my face is in the picture) or Instagram and people say really nice things about me.  But, there is a big difference, as the late Brennan Manning pointed out, between being admired and being known. To be admired brings purpose, but it also brings fear and loneliness…it’s like a horrible prison, really. Because deep down, you know you’re really not very admirable and you’re doomed when people find that out. So…I’d rather be known for who I am than admired for who I’m really not. Do I live that way? No. Admiration feels really good. I’m working on it.

These are some of the places my heart has lived…and died. If it sounds dramatic, it is. My love life (or lack thereof), my job, my appearance and my popularity have all proven unstable when it comes to finding my life’s meaning.

Can you relate? If so, how do you hold these things in open hands as gifts from a good God without making them the point of your existence?

Nobody knows it but me.

My brother Lance used to listen to the song “Nobody knows it but Me” by The Tony Rich Project on repeat in his room when we were in high school. I always thought it was odd because Tony was expressing some deep emotional love pains to the world while stating that he was the only one that knew about it….but I knew about it and Lance definitely knew about it. However, I could also really relate to Tony – how he was pretending things that he wasn’t really feeling and was crying to be known beneath the pretense. And that’s why I named my blog after his “project” – whatever that was.

I’m not starting this blog because I have deep emotional pains that “nobody knows but me” that I’m suddenly going to expose to my blog audience of 3 people (4 if my Mom finds it). I’m starting this blog because I want to find my heart, and I think writing is a good way to start. For me, anyways. I can also type really fast (shout out to Mrs. Land’s 4th grade typing class: D-hall if you looked at your fingers while typing and Oregon Trail on Friday if you didn’t) so my heart can be shaped into words at lightning speed on this thing.

I don’t read many blogs so I hesitate to say I want someone to read this one. Who doesn’t have SOMETHING worth saying? BUT….I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want SOMEONE to read it because A) I want to know that I’m not alone (or plain crazy) in what I’m thinking, feeling, and questioning and B) I don’t want to feel like a loser.  More than anything, I’d like for someone else to find their heart, too.

Well, let’s get down to it then.