Durable Happiness

Texas has turned me into quite the hiker (which my friend, Dede, *loves* to tease me about. Apparently, I come across as more of a city girl.) How could it not though? Austin and the surrounding areas beg you to explore it. It would be a sin not to. So, I answer the call on the regular. The hill country, the Greenbelt, and all the natural springs provide endless adventures. I have the best God moments on my Texas explorations.

IMG_0830.jpgAs I was hiking the breathtaking beauty of the Greenbelt I felt something in my heart. Something I hadn’t felt in a while. What was this feeling? … Happiness. Like, real happiness. I felt like myself again, but a better, stronger version.

It felt so strange. Awkward even. It was like running into the guy who disappeared on you without warning. What do you say? Hey there, happiness. Wow. It’s been awhile. How’ve ya been? Good? Good. Me? Eh… I’ve been hanging in there. So, where the *expletive* have you been the last 9 months, huh?

Yeah, like I said, it was an awkward feeling. Yet, I didn’t want the feeling to leave. Ever again.

I’ve heard it said that happiness is a choice. NeedtoBreathe makes me think it’s something you pursue at the expense of potentially hurting someone you love. A lot of people assume they’ll be happy when they reach a certain income level, find someone to marry or achieve a certain number on the scale. I admit, I’ve fallen into that trap myself too.

I’ve always considered myself to me a happy person. Someone who enjoyed their life and made the most of it. In fact, my name means cheerful heart, so I just figured my happy nature was something that came with the name. Honestly though, I never gave it much thought. That is, until I lost my happiness. Or, I thought I did…

As I continued my hike, I started to think I never really lost my happiness. I just think my focus got derailed by two things:

Dwelling on the Past. Moving forward is a constant battle that I lose at some point almost every day. And, when I do, my happiness takes the hit.

Comparison. Man, this one is toxic to the heart. It’s the thoughts of I’m not ______________  enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not thin enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not good enough. Bottom line, I’m not enough.  If my mother were still alive, she would tell me those are all lies from the pit of hell. I know she’s right, but that doesn’t silence the voices or turn the volume down. You know what does help shut the voices up?

Christ is in me. I am enough. 

Thank you, Steven Furtick. That mantra really works.

Since my encounter with happiness, I’ve begun practicing the art of gratitude. Gratitude is the answer to so many of our issues and hang ups. Why? Because it gets our eyes off of ourselves and onto the many reasons we have to be happy. In an effort to get my happy train back on track, I started listing things that take me to my happy place.

img_1125My Living Room Wall and My Writing Nook. This wall makes me so happy for many reasons. It makes me remember my dreams to travel. Realize How Good You Really Are was given to me by my mother. Every time I read it, I hear her voice saying it to me and I believe it a little more each time. Of course, there’s a daisy. And there’s even an I dwell iimg_1128n possibility – my life motto.

My writing nook displays my modge podge collages. They inspire me to live a full, authentic life and write about it.

 

Texas Night Skies

I could never capture a picture that could do it justice. The stars here are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I’ve never felt more connected to God than when I’m laying in the bed of my truck, staring up at them. I like to think that every star in the sky represents a reason why He loves me.

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The Greenbelt. Yes, I’ve gotten lost – even with a map. And, I’m happy to report I have yet to encounter a snake, spider or coyote. *Knock on wood*

 

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My Necklaces. They’re kind of my thing. I rarely take them off because they make me happy.  The short necklace has the date my mother passed. It makes me feel close to her.  Oh, and my favorite gray infinity scarf deserves an honorable mention.

DSC_5567.JPGMy Family. Jaxson, Judah and Dallas John have divided my heart into thirds and hold the pieces in their tiny little hands. Knowing how much I love them, I can’t even imagine how much I will love my own kid some day.

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The Dance Studio
I went to a dance studio last week to audition dancers for an upcoming project and it literally felt like coming home. Even thought I have been taking class as a student, coming into the room as a choreographer felt incredible. I had all the feels. Now more than ever, I know it’s where I belong.

I crave a life filled with magic in the smallest of things. And, while those magical things bring me happiness, I know authentic happiness is rooted in authentic joy. I’m calling it durable happiness. It’s the joy that sustains me through tragic loss. It lets me smile even though my heart feels broken half the time. It’s my strength no matter what curve ball life throws at me.

Real happiness leaves space for our tears and space for long seasons of not being okay.  – Jennifer Dukes Lee

So, yes – even though my encounter with durable happiness was awkward at first, the more time we spent together, the more I realized it had never really left – and more importantly, it was here to stay as long as I let it.

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The Unlearning: Guarantees

To quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times and the worst of times”. I’m referring to being a Christian kid growing up in the 80’s and 90’s.

Thanks to the theology of a traveling children’s evangelist in the 80’s, I wasn’t allowed to eat Lucky Charms because of the leprechaun which was deemed demonic. I wasn’t allowed to play with Barbies because it was going to give me unrealistic body expectations and an eating disorder someday. I wasn’t allowed to watch Disney movies because of magic and witches. And, I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music because, well…. it was secular.

So, instead, I ate Honey Nut Cherrios because there’s nothing demonic about a cute little bee. I played with Ruth and Esther dolls that came with exactly two biblical style costumes. I watched Super Book, Psalty the Singing Song Book and McGee and Me.  (Youtube them, y’all! You can thank me later.) And, I had a steady musical diet of Integrity worship, Sandi Patty, and my mom’s personal favorite, Carman. (Who’s in the house?! J! C!)

Oddly enough, I loved the way I grew up. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not once did I feel restricted or deprived. I learned a lot about the Bible and even as a kid, I loved Jesus as much as my little heart knew how. I know a lot of people thought my mom was crazy (my grandma included), but she was just doing what she was taught: Shelter your kids from worldly things and they won’t turn into worldly Christians.

Do this and God guarantees you that” theology.

Unfortunately, the Christian teen novels I read in the 90’s supported this theology too. My best friend, Bekah and I were obsessed with The Christy Miller series. It was a pretty simple story line: Shy, meek, Christian teen girl (Christy) meets hot, blonde Christian surfer dude (Todd). Christy crushes hard. Todd’s feelings seem hot and cold throughout their relationship causing her heartache and typical female neurotic episodes.

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Christy, Todd and their group of friends were God Lovers. They had Forever bracelets. They had God moments. They had adventures in Hawaii. They had ups and downs, but everything always worked out perfectly in the end. But, just when you think Todd had gone off to be a missionary to Papua New Guinea never to return again, leaving Christy to believe they weren’t mean to be, a God moment brought them together… Forever. There Christy was in an airport and Todd is running towards her holding a bouquet of Carnations – her favorite flower. (Who really likes Carnations?! Anyway…) And, it’s there He confesses his forever love to her. I remember finding it difficult to read this final scene through the tears streaming down my face.  It was the perfect ending to the story I wanted for myself someday.

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That’s what You’re taught in Missionettes…Right?

So here’s the formula I learned:
I desire an outcome like Christy’s + I  delight in the Lord + have God moments = God will give me what I want!

It sure did sound like a guarantee to me.

Stories like Christy’s, along with books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl only contributed to my formula belief that as long as I did  X and Y, God guaranteed me Z. But, life and experience has taught me otherwise… Here’s what I know to be true.

God doesn’t owe me ANYTHING. No matter how many God moments I experience or how Christian my behavior is.

Saving sex for marriage doesn’t guarantee you marry the right person or a successful marriage. Just ask my best friend. (In fact, I know a lot of couples who didn’t wait to have sex and their marriages aren’t any different from those who chose to wait. #Justsayin. )

Tithing and giving doesn’t guarantee you a big house, a brand new mini van, and lavish vacations. Just ask my brother and sister-in-love.

Putting other people before yourself doesn’t guarantee you a cancer free life. Just ask my mom. Oh wait, you can’t. She died from cancer.

Being content in singleness doesn’t guarantee you’ll ever find your person. Just ask one of my former co-workers and youth sponsors.

Graduating from a Christian program or college doesn’t guarantee you a successful ministry career. Ask any Master’s Commission student then and now.

Reading your bible, memorizing scripture and competing in Junior Bible Quiz doesn’t guarantee you won’t end up battling depression and anxiety. Just ask me. (Thank God, I don’t anymore!)

I hate sounding cynical. Really, I do. And, I’m not. I promise. But, these are the kind of things I WISH someone had told me when I was growing up. Shoot, it would’ve been great for someone to smash these toxic spiritual formulas even as little as a year ago.

While He may not guarantee my idea of a perfect ending, a successful marriage, the American dream, and impeccable health, it took my personal shipwreck to unlearn these spiritually toxic formulas and relearn what God DOES guarantee me…

He does promise He’ll never leave or forsake me.  He promises the plans He has for me are good and not for disaster, to give me a future and a hope. He promises rest for when I’m weary and burdened. To supply all my needs from His glorious riches. He promises nothing can ever separate me from His love. He promises salvation if I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead. He promises if I am in Christ, I am a new creature. He promises when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he’ll be with me. He promises He will make all things work for my good.

And those are just a few! And, you know what? I believe Him. My trust issues are coming along.

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These guarantees, my friends, are guarantees you can live real life with. These promises will get you through the valleys and raise you above the turbulence.

And, the best thing about these promises? I don’t have to do ANYTHING to earn them.

Not one formula is required.

Dwell in Vulnerability

I remember when I saw a Toyota Venza for the first time. It was a Sunday, after church, and it was parked right next to me. I formed an immediate crush on it. From that moment on, I saw Toyota Venza’s EVERYWHERE.  (I took it as a sign that I should get one… so I did. Haha. )

That, my friends, is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon  – a frequency illusion – and it is in full affect in my life right now with the concept of Vulnerability.

It all started with my counselor guiding me through steps toward understanding our need to be “fully known”. That phrase irritated me instantaneously, and my first instinct was to reject the very notion.  After everything my heart had been through the last six months, I felt like my heart had reached its’ heart break quota. The idea of being fully known sounded about as logical for my heart’s condition as pouring salt into an open wound. So many thoughts ran through my head as she continued to talk to me about the vulnerability of being fully known. I thought to myself:

Lady, there ain’t no way I’m letting my guard down for anyone right now.
I’ve told you everything about my heart breaks and you think opening myself up to MORE pain is going to help heal me?! *eyebrow raise*
I’ve been vulnerable and allowed people to fully know me before, and they’ve walked away or passed away. Why would I want to subject my heart to that kind of pain again?!
Dear Lord, how much longer is this appointment?!… Crap. I still have 30 minutes of this. I’m just going to nod in agreement and maybe she’ll move on to another one of my issues.

I left the appointment with the full intention of ignoring everything she said about the subject. I tried, too. I really did. Unfortunately, the the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon went into full affect…

Vulnerability was literally everywhere I looked. Podcasts, books, pins on Pinterest, etc. and then my friend, Nicole, introduced me to Brené Brown’s TED talks which are all about vulnerability and authenticity. After a couple weeks of inundation, I gave in to what I knew God was trying to address in my life: Vulnerability.  Okay, okay, God. I get it. I’m listening…

I have a very low tolerance for pain. Always have, always will. Needles, sore muscles, PMS relate-ables, hang nails, toothaches, the mere thought of giving birth, all turn me into a big baby and make me second guess my life. The same has always applied to my heart. After more self-reflection, I realized I spent so much of my life avoiding people, situations and opportunities that I thought could potentially hurt my heart. That would manifest in refusing to be the first one to put myself out there for fear of rejection or failure. I hate to live with regrets, but there are so many things I’d like a re-do on. I can only imagine how different my life would be if I hadn’t been so afraid of heart ache and pain.

A defense mechanism I installed a long time ago was to not place very many expectations on people because they always hurt you in the end. See, I thought I was guarding my heart from pain and disappointment, but what I was doing was guarding my heart from love. Real, authentic love. The kind of love you find when your expectations aren’t met, but it’s okay since you know the other person is just as flawed as you are. The kind of love you can only find from the author of Love.

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As strange as it sounds, even being completely vulnerable with God is a struggle for me. Yes, I know He made me, formed me in my mother’s womb, knows my inmost being, blah, blah, blah… But, being fully known by Him means confronting my mistakes, inadequacies, failures, frustrations, worries, doubts, heartaches, and fears. And, I consider that painful; therefore I prefer to just avoid it. I’ve said it here before. I have trust issues with God and He knows that. We talk about it all the time. Clearly, it’s no coincidence why He’s speaking to be about something that requires such an immense amount of trust.

Love does cost. It costs everything you’re working so hard to protect.

It’s like giving someone a gun and trusting them not to pull the trigger. – Don Miller

But, when the trigger has been pulled on you before, how do you find the courage to hand over the gun again? What do you do when you feel like God was the one who pulled the trigger?  Here are some thoughts I’m currently mulling over:

  • Screw it! Be brave and just confront the pain. Run full speed into it.
  • Have the courage to embrace it.
  • Give yourself permission to feel your feelings.

I think it’s in those vulnerable moments of confrontation is where you encounter love, healing and the ability to hand the gun over again. It’s completely counter-intuitive, but it’s worth a shot (Pun intended!). It can’t feel any worse than ignoring the pain and hope it goes away on its’ own, right?

My journey to understanding the art of vulnerability is still new. I’ve just begun to explore it. It still scares me to death. I want to love, to be loved and known fully. Authentically. Eventually. And, not just by my family, select friends, and my future person. I’m not sure I’ll ever master the art, but I’m committed to this journey because my connection to God depends on my ability to lay myself bare before Him. To be exposed and to be comfortable with it. It’s a risk I’m going to conjure up the courage to take… to dwell in possibility and in vulnerability.