Oceans Deep

Finding & Following Jesus in the Deep End of Life

Month: July 2015

The Answer to “The Ick”

It’s early Monday evening, though after this day, it feels late. My husband and I had a “mountaintop” kind of weekend, where we were alive and vibrant with godly fellowship and stimulating spiritual conversation. The type of moments you wish could carry on in perpetuity.

I figured going into today that, after such a great weekend, the enemy would be on high alert to steal my joy and kill my hope and destroy my vision.

Yup. Mission accomplished.

Girlfriend, it was a day. Kids crying. Kids whining. Kids fighting. Lots of spit up and messy meals and poop. I got poop on my shirt and didn’t even change it, because I was just that—I don’t know—worn out, I suppose. The thought of making one more trip up those stairs just didn’t seem worth it. So I wiped it as best I could and went on.

I was half way through my Costco trip before I caught a glimpse of the Greek yogurt finger-painting on my new capri pants, the creative work of my 1-year-old daughter. No wonder I got so many interesting looks.

The day went from bad to worse as the impact of my 2-year-old’s refusal to nap blossomed into a full-on tantrum meltdown of epic proportions. To top it all off, on Mondays my husband attends a men’s group starting at 7:30 pm—so he basically drops in long enough to eat the dinner I’ve miraculously managed to prepare in between refereeing “toy gate,” then swoops out to enjoy calm, mature adult conversation, conveniently missing the bedtime shenanigans.

Sigh.

I’m dismayed and discouraged by the chaotic state of my house, but more so by the messy state of my heart. I feel an edge of bitterness, resentment, under-appreciation; basically, the makings of a legit pity party. How is it that the pity party mentality is so unattractive in others, yet so appealing when it comes to ourselves?

At any rate, I’m trying to fight it. Trying to fight the emotion, the lies, the pride, the frustration. It’s what I call collectively “The Ick.” Ick is a very (non)scientific term that includes any and all emotion, feeling, juju, etc., that leaves us feeling grumpy, disconnected, and distanced from our Heavenly Father. When it hits, I feel as though I’ve taken a wrong turn and slipped right down the rabbit hole, and I’m powerless to shake free from the dark cloud swirling above my head.

hate this feeling. Despise it with all my being. And the unfortunate truth is, I battle with it more than I wish was the case. Tonight, the juxtaposition of my weekend and my weekday have me screaming inside, what is the solution? What is the answer to The Ick?? I so desperately long to steer my heart and spirit back on track after it’s taken this kind of downturn, or even better, as soon as I feel it coming on. I’ve been asking God to show me an answer, and while I do not (and never will) claim to have the answer to anything, He has given me some insight and wisdom over the recent weeks. I share the following for myself, because processing through writing leads me to growth and freedom, and for you, because it is my sincere hope that you, too, might glean something useful in your own battle with The Ick. Here’s what I’m learning to do:

Put Yourself in Time Out

Isn’t it staggering what parenthood teaches us about ourselves and about God? Seemingly every week I’m learning something new, having some fresh “aha” moment on account of my little ones. In my experience, “time out” has just as much relevance for us adults as it does for our recalcitrant toddlers.  I’m forming the habit of putting myself into “time out” whenever I find my heart being drug away from steadiness and sanity because of The Ick. But rather than sulking in the pack-and-play, I take this time out sitting humbly and desperately at the feet of Jesus. Psalm 142:1-2 says, “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before Him my complaint; before Him I tell my trouble.” (NIV).

The idea of “pouring out my complaint” always sounded good on paper, but it felt a bit silly in practice . . . with people starving to death and war tearing lives and bodies apart in this world, does God really have time for the things shaking up my spirit? Again, parenthood provides wisdom: have you ever once looked at your hurting child and thought, there are so many bigger problems in the world right now, I simply don’t have time to deal with your problem? In a word, no. And the same is true of our Heavenly Father. I’ve been awestruck by the peace I’ve gained by running to Him and telling Him all the things—big and small—that hurt my heart and steal my joy.

In the past, I’ve felt this need to push past my feelings, as if ignoring them will make them dissipate; but ignoring only seemed to magnify The Ick. Steal away for a few minutes anywhere you can—the closet, the bathroom, the stairwell at work—and air you grievances to your Heavenly Father. He cares, and He alone can provide the peace we really need!

Put Yourself in God’s Word

One of the best ways I’ve found to shake off The Ick is by immersing myself in God’s word. I used to think this had to be a long, drawn-out, monk-like process of sitting quietly for a significant period of time. Well, who besides monks has time for that? And the great news is, a large block of time isn’t necessary. Sometimes I’m up early enough that I can spend longer in His Word, and I’m thankful for those times. But, taking even 10-15 minutes to read Scripture can make all the difference. I feel tongue-tied trying to explain the innate, surprising power of Scripture to change a hardened heart, but therein lies the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit: the words of the Bible are not like any other words on this planet.

Hebrews 4:12 says,“ For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (NIV, emphasis added). When we read God’s word, our mere mortal beings collide with the spirit world. We can’t help but be changed by such an encounter. In my experience, even reading “dry” Old Testament passages sends the joy of the Holy Spirit bubbling up to the surface. The Bible is God’s love letter to us, and we will feel that love when reading it.

I love all of His word, but if you’re new or newer to Bible reading, or short on time, the Psalms are a great place to find encouragement. In them, I often discover a reflection of my own troubled spirit. How encouraging to know that even King David—the man after God’s own heart—cried out, “To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me . . . Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place.” (Psalm 28:1a, 2 NIV). Let Scripture wash over you for a little bit and be amazed at what God can do!

Stop, Drop, and Give Thanks.

The transformative power of giving thanks never ceases to amaze me. Several years ago, I read Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts” and it changed my life. Not for a day or a week or a month, but forever. I cannot recommend her book highly enough! One of the main principles that stuck with me is the crucial importance of cultivating a “language of thanksgiving.” As sinful, fallen beings, our default setting is not one of gratitude, but rather of the “why me?” and “this isn’t fair!” kind. Through a deliberate, concerted effort to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” we can begin to learn the new language of thankfulness, and to see God’s good hand in everything that touches our lives. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)

When I’m caught in the clutches of The Ick, the last thing I want to do is name off things for which I’m thankful. I mean, the last. Recently when in a funk, Aaron innocently asked me to name a thing I was thankful for in my day. It was his good-natured attempt at pulling me out of the funk, yet in the moment, this request incensed me! I can laugh about this now, because when I stopped and thought about the day and actually named something out loud, I felt my frigid heart begin to change. And in my experience, the hardest part is taking the first step—once I name a gift, then two, then three, the gratitude ball begins rolling. It’s like finding your glasses after they’ve been knocked off your face. You can finally see again.

So, there you have it—just a few tools that I hope you’ll find useful. I’m finding this process incredibly simple, yet deceptively difficult . . . but practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. And in the daily grind of life, I’m certain there will be no shortage of opportunities!

Identity Crisis

 

Recently, I came to a most horrible realization: I am in the middle of an identity crisis. An all-out, genuine identity crisis. It may be my first foray into this uncomfortable world, but truth be told, it’s been years in the making.

Let me explain: my whole life, I’ve had the desire to write, to identify as a writer. For much of my life, I’ve held this desire close to my heart. Family and possibly close friends have known, but to the outside world, I kept that goal under wraps. It was my own “secret,” in a sense, probably because I felt silly voicing it openly, afraid of failure. Kind of like saying “I want to be an actress.” I refused to become a recipient of people’s patronizing looks. You know what I mean—those looks that make you feel as if you’re a kindergartner, waxing wildly about what you’ll be when you grow up.

Of course you can be an astronaut when you grow up, sweetie! You can be whatever you want.

In my high school years, I wrote with all the passion and inspiration of a happily naive 17-year-old. Poetry and prose came easily and naturally. The tiny seed of a desire to write took root during these years and flourished, as I watered it with plenty of Shakespeare and Hemingway and Wharton and Austin.

But as my college years progressed, my soul entered a period of drought as I strayed from my proverbial “first love” of writing. Perhaps it was my unwillingness to call a spade a spade that prevented me from declaring English as a major. Perhaps it was, yet again, that pesky fear of failure. As I reflect now, some 15-years later, I’m not quite sure what stopped me from formally pursuing my dream of writing. All I know is that, as I vacillated between becoming a doctor or a psychologist or a nurse or a translator or a lawyer, then back to doctor—wait, no, lawyer—that little seed of desire lay dormant, yet ever present in my life.

Through every phase and all the ups and downs, I comforted myself with the thought of writing one day. As I studied for the LSAT, I daydreamed about my grand plans for a historical fiction screenplay. On Christmas breaks during law school, I jotted down endless ideas for books and blogs, poems and self-help books. As I studied arduously for the bar exam, my mind wandered to the scenes and dialogue playing out in my head, the buddings of a novel.

Basically, I have consoled myself with the idea of writing ever since the desire first took hold. This idea became my cushion, my security blanket, and I used it to soften any rough place in my life. If I hated my job or my city or my marriage or my body, I allowed my mind to slip into a warm, happy place. In this place, I was a successful, working writer, with 2.5 kids and a dog and a fairytale marriage that hadn’t reached the brink of divorce.

No matter where life took me, I always felt in the pit of my stomach that writing was my destiny, and one day, I would arrive at that destiny, and the sun would be shining and birds chirping and somewhere in the distance, a choir would be singing.

One day, when I’m not in school anymore, I’ll start writing.

One day, when I’ve put in some time at my new job and have the hang of it, then I’ll start writing.

Well, one day, when the kids are a little older, then I’ll definitely start writing!

When my son was 18 months old and my daughter 6 months old, I finally faced facts—there will always be an excuse to put off writing. Just a little longer. Just a few more months. As I scurried from diaper change to nursing session to wiping various and sundry bodily fluids 24/7, the annoyingly entropic quality of life projectile vomited all over my face, and I knew it was time to stop dreaming and actually do something.

So to my own surprise, I actually did something. I sat down and took a long, hard look at my life and schedule, decided to cut out what fat I could, and created a writing plan for myself. Given the busy phase of motherhood, I didn’t have a plethora of hours in the day to write, but I realized that my children’s nap time would make the perfect “me time” where I could focus on writing and finally get started.

For several weeks, it was thrilling—I had an idea that I liked and immediately dove into thinking about genre and theme, crafting character profiles and plot lines and conflict. Throughout the day, I found myself dreaming about my characters, crafting dialogue and intrigue. After a while, however, I reached the point where research and brainstorming and daydreaming became stall tactics, and I knew in my spirit—it’s time to actually write something.

Gulp.

Yes, the all-important and terrifying point where it’s time to put words to paper, give structure to sentences, and breath life into characters. You’d think this would be the time I’d waited for all my life. Time to make good on my dream. Time to move towards the goal.

Wrong.

My inspiring afternoons of working while the kids slept disappeared. Instead of excited, I found myself dreading the “Write!!” calendar alert popping up on my phone. Even looking at my desk and my little writing nook made me feel sick to my stomach. Why?

Because I couldn’t do it. 

All of a sudden, finding the time to write wasn’t the problem anymore. Writing was the problem itself. I couldn’t write a decent sentence to save my life. I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote again. I’d finish a few paragraphs, read over them in horror, and promptly delete every word.

After a couple weeks of this, I went into full meltdown mode. I felt trapped, paralyzed, and more incompetent than I’d ever felt in my life. I was overwhelmed by my own failure and lack of talent. When I thought about it, I felt like I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I spent several weeks feeling like I couldn’t breath. I tried explaining myself to my husband and my mom. But even they couldn’t offer words to relieve the horrendous feelings coursing through my body. This, of course, made me panic even more. When my own mother wasn’t able to quell my anxiety, I knew I was in trouble.

I threw myself, confused and in tears, at the feet of my Heavenly Father, searching for the answer as to why my world felt as though it was falling apart. With kindness and gentleness, He showed me the deep error of my ways: all this time, all of my adult life, I’ve placed my identity and security in the idea of one day being a writer. Rather than fully embracing my reality and my circumstances, I embraced the false hope of a false belief: one day, when I’m a writer, then I’ll be secure and content and all will be right with the world. Instead of taking every heart break, heartache, crushed dream, betrayal, and lonely day to my Savior for comfort, I turned to this false belief for comfort.

I never realized that deep down I was thinking this way, falling hook, line, and sinker for this lie. The realization was immensely painful, as I see how I’ve built so much of my core on a lie—I may never be a writer. I may never publish a single word of fiction, non-fiction, or the like. I may have made up the entire thing.
Enter a painful but wonderful opportunity for spiritual growth!

As God has shown me since this epiphany, the beautiful, redeeming news is that it doesn’t matter—I don’t have to write a single word in order to know security in Christ, and in order to fulfill His purposes for me. I don’t have to be or achieve or do anything—I only have to live each day in the power of the Holy Spirit, seeking to obey Him and walk in the way He opens before me. If He intends for me to be a writer—a passion I believe He’s given me—then He will make it happen! His time, His way.

As hard as this has been, I’m so very thankful—I thought I had my thinking straight regarding this issue. I would have told you honestly and wholeheartedly that I can do nothing on my own, and if I accomplish anything, it is only Christ in me. But God, in His goodness, wants to remove the entire root of false belief…He knows where my thinking is wrong, even when I have no clue! This experience has been a huge part of my overall journey from brokenness to healing, captivity to freedom. No matter what my future may or may not hold as it pertains to writing, my head and my heart have been saved from an insidious lie. I would hate to feel depressed and like a failure, should I never publish a single word my whole life . . . and I would equally despise becoming proud and self-reliant, should God bless me with words to write and a story to tell. Our enemy constantly seeks to bounce us around from one extreme to the other. Praise God He is able and willing to keep us steady, straight in the middle, walking with Him on the path of truth and grace.

As I’ve taken a step back from writing these past few months and chosen instead to spend my afternoons digging deeper into the lies I’ve believed, I’ve gained

greater clarity on who I am in Him. And as always, God has proven Himself faithful beyond measure.  I find myself relishing in new found freedom of spirit and soul, brought to life again by the power of God’s Holy Word. And the most excellent news is that He can provide this type of freedom to all of us, no matter how deep and entangled we are with our false beliefs!

I continue to ask God for wisdom, to direct my time, and—should the time ever come—to give me the words to say. If I tell a story, may it be through His power and for His glory alone.

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