Fear Not

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I’ve been reflecting on this post by Glennon Melton a lot recently – holding on to the most repeated directives in the Bible: Fear not and Remember.

There’s a whole lot to fear in the world today. With a few taps on my phone screen, I can be fully informed on the latest fear-inducing events. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, school shootings, Trump’s presidential candidacy… it’s all there for my quick and complete absorption.

But here’s the problem: I don’t want to live my life in a posture of fear. I don’t want to hunch over my stockpile, wary of all the perceived thieves and threats. I don’t want to tattoo “afraid” across my forehead and have it dictate, or even just inform, my decisions. Rather – I want to remember. Glennon writes about remembering that I am a child of God and so is everyone else. Yes. And when I was thinking and writing this morning, the words of Kid President came to mind. I want to remember:

You’re going to do so much! But it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are. You? You’re awesome! You were made that way. You were made from love, to be loved, to spread love! Love is always louder, no matter what. Even if hate has a bullhorn, love is louder! So let your life be loud. Let’s shout to the world, “Things can be better! It’s okay about all the mess ups! Corn dogs rule!”

I love this quote from his Letter to a Person on Their First Day Here. The only thing I would change is the reference to hate. Hate is not the opposite of love. Hate is still invested and engaged in the relationship, albeit in a negative way. Fear is the opposite of love. Even if fear has a bullhorn, love is louder. Fear dictates fight or flight, ultimately pursuing disengagement through distance or death. Love (and hate) necessitate engagement, discussion, grappling, pursuing. And our world, our lives, desperately need us to engage.

Fear is not the voice of God. Fear is not the voice of wisdom. Fear is only the product of a scarcity model, an economy of “not enough.” And that voice lies. It is lying to us every day. There IS enough. I don’t have to be afraid of you or intimidated by you and your success. I don’t have to strive day after day after day, looking over my shoulder and trying to accumulate accolades or money or attention. I don’t have to hoard for myself and mine while actively preventing your ability to thrive. In fact, if I want to find my life, I have to lose it. If I want to keep my life, I must give it away. (Matthew 10:39, 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24, 17:33; John 12:25)

I’m tired of being lied to, of being shouted at and over. I am working every day to remember: love is always louder. Sacrifice, generosity, simplicity. Will these things get me on the 10 o’clock news? Absolutely not. But it will provide my life a posture of dignity. I will stand erect beside my brothers and sisters, instead of hiding from them under the weighted blanket of anxiety and dread. I am not a victim, I will not be bullied. I will not negotiate with the fear terrorists.

“When the lies speak louder than the truth, remind me that I belong to you.
When I can’t see past the dark of night, remind me you’re always by my side.
We are the sons, we are the daughters of God.
No matter where we go, we’re close to the Father’s heart.
And though we stumble he will not let us fall,
We are the Lord’s and he will never forsake his own.
We are the sons, we are the daughters of God.”
—Brett Stanfill, Sons and Daughters

Friends, let’s not buy into the message we’re being spoon fed every moment from all directions. Let us live lives that elevate love.
Fear not.
Remember.

Creativity and Fear: Conjoined Twins

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While on maternity leave with Baby #2, I was listening to a Rob Bell podcast where he interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love.”  (If you have some time, I highly recommend listening to it here.)

During their conversation, Gilbert said several things that really struck a chord with me, but the loudest thing that rattled around in me was something she said about creativity and fear:

Don’t try to kill the fear because fear and creativity are conjoined twins.  If you want to live a creative life, then you’ll have to make a lot of space for fear.  One of the ways I see people kill their creativity is by trying to kill their fear. Because it’s so discomforting for them to experience it and they don’t want to have it, they don’t do the things that make them scared– and then they don’t get to have creative, curious, inventive, interesting, expanded lives.  It’s really worth it to have the fear so you can have the creativity. You just have to create a big enough internal, expansive space so that they can coexist.

This makes so much sense to me.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write.  I still want to write.  But not just casually or flippantly.  Purposefully.  Compellingly.  Beautifully.  And with those ideals comes fear.  What does it mean if I write and the writing doesn’t have those qualities?  What if no one notices or cares?  What if what I think is compelling and beautiful is flat and boring to others?  Fear.  And then there is the part of the podcast where Gilbert talks about fear wearing lots of disguises.  One of mine is busyness.  I wrap myself up in a to-do list so that it saves me from my most fear-inducing (but life-giving) activities.  (Hence the loooooooong absence of activity on this blog.)  But here I am again, trying to create a space–  however cramped it may be in the beginning –for my conjoined twins.  Because I do not want to live my life without creativity.

I recently went through a leadership development program which emphasizes self-authorship and growth as a means to elevated leadership.  On the last day of the program, we were directed to write “our story.”  It was rather open ended, but was to be somewhat directed at the growth we had experienced during the time in the program.  At the end of the day, we read our stories out loud to the other participants.  As I attempt to sketch out mine, I didn’t like it.  I felt sure it hadn’t accurately communicate my “a-ha!” moments and emotions… the ideas and goals I was walking away with… the place I had come from.  But time ran out, and the moment of vulnerability arrived.  At approximately four sentences in, I started crying.  I was surprised even as it happened.  I thought, “Woah.  Turns out these were the words I meant after all.”  And in the spirit of creating that space, of living with both fear and creativity, I want to share again – this time with you.  Here’s what I had to say:

Hi, my name is Emily and I’ve spent life earning “it.”  You name it, I’ve striven for it.  The grade.  The position.  The praise.  The peace.  The relationship.  The love.  But what I’ve really wanted…  What I actually wanted from a very young age, is to be understood.  Understood, and then valued just in that space of knowledge without my effort.  I wanted to be myself– flaws and all –and be “gotten.”  And cherished.

But funny enough, all that earning I did but resented, I then put onto those around me.  “Earn it.  Do it right.  Pull it together.”  And so, I perpetuated a cycle.  A cycle I’m determined to break.

I experienced conditional love.  I was given the impression that my gifts were not as valuable as others’.  And my defense mechanism was to teach others the same.  But I want to own who I am while affirming others in who they are.  I am an intuitive feeler with strong instincts and an understanding of how things will effect people.  I am strategic to a fault.  And though The Right Path calls me a “Deep Thinker,” they could have tacked on “Deep Feeler” too.  I value genuineness, creativity, and growth.  I lose steam and interest without a purpose.  But I now know a wider purpose.  In the words of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assissi:

“Oh Lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

So, in creating space for others and providing to them what I most wanted and want, I will receive all that I need.  There is enough value, gifting, and love to go around.  I do not have to collect it for myself.

Starry Night

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I carry a specific fear with me.  I’ve carried it in my friendships for a long time.  Are you ready for this?  I am afraid that I’m a lot of work.  Work that no one wants to put forth.

I’m not high maintenance in many ways.  I’m not really into nice clothes or cars, expensive food, or high end travel.  All in all, I’m a pretty simple girl.  But there is a tender nerve inside me, a looming question I ask in relationship to others: Am I too much mental and emotional work?

You see, I’m what people call a deep thinker.  I also have big feelings on lots of topics.  And my because I’m a deep thinker and a big feeler, my emotion doesn’t just come off the cuff.  It isn’t easy to sway or influence, but rather is entrenched by all the previous deep thoughts I’ve had swirling around the big feelings.  My counselor once related it to me breathing underwater at the bottom of the pool, while everyone else enjoys sunning themselves on rafts at the surface where the air is, thank-you-very-much.  Who wants to try to breathe underwater???

But I don’t know another way to be – anything else feels superficial.  (And that is worse than feeling a nuisance.)  Much of my life, I’ve felt ashamed and embarrassed – carrying around a sense that other people just want me to “calm down” or “forget about it” or “move on” or maybe just stop bringing stuff up.  That I over-think things and need to stop being so sensitive.  I got that last one a lot while growing up…  “Emily, you’re being over sensitive.”  When I was upset, I received the message that, “We don’t want to deal with that or with you.”  I tend to turn over the rocks.  The ones with grubs and dust and ugliness underneath.  Rocks that were heavy and “just fine where they were.”  My fear is that people are always feeling this way about me.

(Even as I write this blog, the voice is saying, “This is too severe and serious!  No one wants to read this.  No one else feels this way.  It’s only you.  Why are you going to put this on the internet?  People are just going to feel tired reading this.”  Well… imagine me sticking my fingers in my ears and humming.)

But!  I woke up to a text message yesterday morning.  It was from my aunt (who is, without a doubt, the coolest aunt a girl could possibly have).  She had sent it around midnight – I have no idea why.  Although I would say we are close, I hadn’t spoken to her in months, and haven’t seen her in over a year.  I read the text with sleep blurred eyes, but it jolted me awake.

You are such a deep, complex woman who I love so very much!

What a random text at a random time. But, oh!  What a balm to my soul.  I want those words to seep into my heart.  I want to believe that about myself.

I am a woman.  I am deep.  I am complex.  I am loved.  Very much.

Being deep or complex or having strong emotions doesn’t make me a load other people are obligated to carry around.  Intricacy and uniqueness reflect the ability and creativity of the artist.  The Creator.  You don’t look at Starry Night and think, “That was a lot of work.  Why go through the effort?”  You think, “Wow…  How stunning.  How amazing.  Even if I don’t fully understand it.”

I want to see people as the exquisite artwork that they are.  A reflection of their awe-inspiring Creator. Not as a object either aligned with me or obstructing me.  Not as friend or foe.  Easy or hard.  Rather, every individual is a Starry Night unto themselves – something to be looked upon with curiosity and appreciation.  And I’m trying really hard to think the same way towards myself.

“He saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  Even me.

Rescuer

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As of May 2, I took on a new role.  I am now a mom.  (Crazy!)

Declan Pearce Simons made his way into my life with the slow and deliberate pace of his father (thank you for that 25 hour long labor, young sir) and the hairdo of a hipster guitarist.  Seriously, this kid was born shaggy and in need of a trim.  But I adore it, so I have no desire to give him one.

Declan_shaggy1Declan_shaggy2

In accordance with typical baby activities, Declan has started grabbing and holding onto everything.  He curls his tiny, chubby fingers around and hangs on for what would appear to be dear life.  He clings to fingers, collars of shirts, pacifiers, blankets, his other hand, my hair, and… you guessed it, his own hair.

Declan_hands

 

The first time this happened Sean had “D” resting on his knees while they cuddled and made faces at each other.  All of the sudden, Declan let out a scream.  And I mean, a scream.  This was not a “I think I might be getting hungry” cry, or a “I just need something to do” cry that is so common for him and other newborns…  My son was obviously in pain.  Sean immediately started looking for the problem — checking his diaper, his onesie, any possible external source!  But I looked over and saw his sweet little fist clenched around his hair, pulling.  Hard.

It made me wonder…  How many times will I have to watch my son be the cause of his own suffering?  How long will I have to listen to his actual or proverbial cries?  Right now it makes perfect sense for me to rush in, caress his hand, gently pull it away, speak soothingly, and remove the problem for him.  End his pain.  But, I won’t always be able to do that.  Or perhaps more accurately, it won’t always be good for him for me to do that.  Though I’m pretty sure I will always have the desire to be his mommy-hero, to make it all better, and then just hold him close with both of us thinking, “Now aren’t we glad that’s over!?”

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And how many times have I been the cause of my own suffering?  How often has God looked down on me, with a deep heart’s desire to rescue me, but instead left me to my self-incurred consequences?  To let me learn.  To allow me the experiences which teach and mold me so that I wouldn’t be stunted or immature.  Give me the time and space to realize, I am pulling my own hair out.  “Oh!  I’m doing this to myself.  Maybe I should… rather, maybe I could stop.”

They say that you understand God in a new way once you have a child.  I have only begun to experience that expanded awareness, but it is tangible.  Real.  Now I can all the more clearly see, those times when I prayed for a rescuer, it was actually more loving of Him to let me be.  And I pray I will have the discipline to do the same for my son, when the time comes.  For now, I’m glad I get to be the immediately available mommy-hero, his much appreciated rescuer.

My Artist Life

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Sometimes I think about if I were me in a different life…

I’d be a free spirit.  Someone who loves yoga and being outside.  Somebody obsessed with good coffee and drinks it black.  I’d say random things that nobody understands, but then turn those thoughts into art that everyone relates to.  I’d prefer dancing to anything else, my iTunes account would have way more music on it, and I’d listen to it constantly.

If I lived my artist life, I would be heavy with “misunderstoodness” rather than busyness or stress.  I’d more freely blur the lines than rigidly follow them, and encourage others to do the same.

I would write every day.

And host people constantly.  I would experiment in the kitchen without calculating the number of dirty dishes in advance to see if I should even bother.  I would perform in community theatre.  I’d own a bike and ride it regularly.

I would twirl at least once a day.

I wouldn’t shy away from bright colors and they would fill my house.  Buying beautiful art wouldn’t feel like an impractical use of my money.  If I were my artist self, self-consciousness is a thing of the past.  I’d rejoice in people so very different from me.  And, they wouldn’t be put off by my slightly kooky ways… but endeared.

A few things would be exactly the same.  I am desperately and wholly in love with my husband.  My dog is the cutest thing in the world, according to me.  And I’m incredibly grateful for a Creator God infinitely more artistic than I am.

The question is: how do I start living my artist life in this one?

Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong

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“You need to step outside of that tiny, terrified space of rightness and look around at each other and look out at the vastness and complexity and mystery of the universe and be able to say, ‘Wow, I don’t know.  Maybe I’m wrong.’

 

My mom sent me this.  You should watch it.  17 minutes.  Art over science.  Honesty over perfection.

 

 

 

Seeking and Choosing

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We recently bought this piece of artwork to hang in our house.

The words are cut off and the picture is kind of blurry, but it reads:

WE TEND TO SEEK HAPPINESS WHEN HAPPINESS IS ACTUALLY A CHOICE

And on this Valentine’s Day, I’d like to propose to you that the same thing goes for love.  Loving your neighbor, your friend, your enemy, your lover…  it’s a choice.  Not something we seek and then find or don’t.

This isn’t at all to say that it is easy – oh no!  And it isn’t to say there’s not an emotional component intrinsic to happiness or love.  But just to say they are made up of choices at the very foundation.  Little ones.  Ones that aren’t even big enough to feel like a decision of any kind, but just appear to be life on sensible auto-pilot kind of stuff.  But it is possible to not choose love over and over and over again in the tiniest of ways, and end up far down a road of unhappiness and unlove and have no idea how or why you got there…  and to assume that you simply must not have “found it/him/her yet.”

My hopes for me and for you are that we:

Choose love.  Fight, but fight fair.  Don’t manipulate.  Be real.  Admit it when you’re wrong.  Don’t admit it when you’re not.  Have conversations with other people’s humanity in the forefront of your mind.  Be proactive.  Don’t passively look for something that might come your way.  Choose it!  Cultivate it.  Practice it.  Do it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!