Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Community: Why It Made Me Nervous

I've been thinking about community for a long time. There have been moments where my heart wanted to dive in fully into building my online life, friendships & ministry. But more often than not, being shy and feeling fearful has led me to shrink away from the world wide web. I've tried bits and pieces of throwing myself out there, but those moments of not feeling completely accepted or welcomed caused me to hold off all over again. I wondered, is it really necessary?

I think that growing up a preachers kid has kept me a little bit guarded. I struggle with the idea of making friends because the majority of my friends over the years were within the church. Within our church. And one thing I've learned is that most church people don't stick around forever. They move away. They find new churches. They find new friends. And if I'm being completely honest and wearing my heart on my sleeve, it hurts. I'm betting most pastor's kids can relate to some degree. Because most of us aren't going anywhere.
We kind of just stand there like the little kid who watches in tears as their dad drives away after their parents separate.
After almost 30 years of being a preachers kid (and being older now), I've realized I don't necessarily have to lose friendships, but it's a bit harder to maintain. And then there is always the awkward 'big elephant in the room.' I hate that elephant. And I tend to avoid it until it approaches me. Or I tend to climb over it so I can still be facebook friends with everyone on the other side. I mean the ones that don't defriend me upon their departure.

As for school, I was never part of a group. I could get along with anyone. But I was more of a loner.
The group I did finally wiggle my way into during my junior year, I could never fully be a part of because although they liked the same music and had the same style as I did, (the alternataive, grunge, skatergirl 90s thing) I was unwilling to participate in some the things they were doing so I somehow got the unofficial boot from the group. We parted ways naturally, I guess you could say.

And that is pretty much how I've always lived my life. I've been accustomed to having short term friendships or just being a loner. I got used to it. And I am still pretty comfortable with walking into a room full of people and just sitting alone. I truly don't feel like an idiot. Do I wish someone would come talk to me? Sure. But I never felt like I needed a table full of girls next to me to feel okay. I have a few close friends, whom I rarely even have time to talk to anymore, but I've been comfortable with it most of the time.

That was why when I attended the very first Influence Conference in 2012, I wasn't scared. I had somehow managed to find three roommates, whom I still love to this day. That very first night at the "Stripes' party, I had several girls walk up to me that recognized me from online and they said "Hey, You're Julie!" It thrilled me to have people recognize me and to have girls that I felt 'got me.'
When I first started blogging in January of 2012, it took me several months to get it, to get the idea of community. I had no idea community (friendships) even existed through this avenue. People knew me as the snarky, funny and sometimes inspirational one. I changed the name of my blog to From Awkward To Art after that because I felt like it matched my heart. I was an awkward girl who had went through a season of depression, never feeling completely comfortable with a group or with myself and somehow God changed me to see myself in his image. He took me from ashes to beauty, from awkward to art.
But then, I got worn out. I felt like all my time and energy was put into this blog, because I wanted people to like me.
In May of 2013 I stepped back from the blog and from most online community and since then I've been slow to find a place back within.

It's been a slow process because I don't want my identity to be wrapped up in people and how they see me, or in being a part of a group. I want to be sure my "popularity" within networks or groups isn't what drives me. It's a place I don't want to be in because like I said in my last post, it's a place we set ourselves up for disappointment. And to be honest, sometimes I feel like I just don't have the time. The little computer time I have is set aside for writing or church volunteer work and before I know it my kids are complaining that I am always on the computer or on my phone, even though I've spent little to no time connecting or making friends or visiting forums, chatting on twitter, etc

I've tried to tell myself that I'm okay with it, that I don't want to live online anyways. And I try to tell myself that all that matters is that I am sharing my heart with people and reaching just a few people. I've told myself that it's okay to be a bit of a loner, as long as God is using me to speak into even one life.

But... and this is a BIG BUT...there has to be something said for having personal relationships with people, for speaking more directly into their lives and leaning on them for support and encouragement. Afterall, even Jesus had his crew. He had 12 men and a few women even that supported him, traveled with him, loved him, boasted of him and learned from him. He had close personal relationships even though he healed and spoke to thousands.

I wanted to find out what the Bible said about community and friendship because maybe if I could see that the word of God encourages it, it would push me a little hard to build community in my life.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is what God is speaking to me right this very minute.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.
If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.
But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.
Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm.
But how can one be warm alone?
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated,
but two can stand back to back and conquer.
Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

And this is the reason God has build humanity for community. To hold each other up.
We may not connect closely with every person. We may not connect closely with the most popular people online, but if our intentions or heart is in the right place, that won't matter anyways. The point is we all need someone, someone that gets us. And lets face it, not everyone gets this online network of friendships we build. People will laugh at us, make fun of us for using it so much to connect to the outside world, and that is why friendships within it are needed.

I fully intended earlier this year to buy my ticket to Influence Conference with the money I had from my income taxes. Partial fear and partial laziness to sit down and actually do it caused me to miss my opportunity while I had the money.
I believe God can still provide a way if I am supposed to be there. But either way I do want to make more of an effort (especially once my kids are back in school and they can't scold me) to connect better with more of you all...or y'all, however you say it. If you notice me slacking off, send me a virtual slap in the face, would ya?

I pray that whoever makes it to the conference and whoever doesn't, that we would find our people. That we would take the initiative, the get up and go to show ourselves friendly... to find our people we love and that love us back. Our people that get us and that God brings into our lives to be our support,
our cord that cannot easily be broken...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stripped Of Me

  Up until recently, I was very uncomfortable with myself.
I'm not even sure I knew myself until I stumbled on the misfortune of sinking into depression and began grasping at straws to tear and claw my way out. I had very little confidence in who I was. And somewhere in between people pleasing and attention seeking, I figured out that I needed to be alone with me. Just me. I needed to know who I was.
I couldn't rely on who somebody else said I was, because that is always a set up for disappointment... 
And the only way I could do that was to find out who God created me to be and how desperately much He loved me.

So I needed life quiet for awhile.
I let myself settle into sort of a withdrawn state from my surroundings & social media, so I could see ME in the mirror of God's words about me. The only thing I was in need of was God's affection for me.

It was during that season of seeking that He seemed to shine his light on my innermost desires & passions in life.
I finally took a good hard look at who I was. The person I am isn't some needy girl, desperate for people to like me.
I have gifts to give. I have talents to offer. I have passions to chase after.
I have a little ol' personality of my very own that is God given just for me.
He kicked down the ladder out from under me that I kept climbing, trying to reach people and make them like me. (As if I believed I was beneath them somehow.) And He made me see HIMSELF inside of me.  I realized, it is in Him I live & move & have my being.

And something clicked. I didn't need people to see ME anymore. I needed people to see Jesus through me. When I speak or write, when I parent or do my responsibilities as a wife or friend, I don't have to lack confidence or crumble with insecurity any longer.
I was made to shine. I was made to take on these roles with confidence because of who lives in me.

It's a confidence that led me to the journey of loving myself, just as God made me.
My personality, my quirks, my talents or lack thereof. It's me. There is only one me. There is only one mom to my kids and one wife to my husband...
and there is only one ME who can inspire people or encourage people or be a friend the way that I can. The way I do. I do how I do.

I was looking through my recent instagram pictures, wondering how people may see me these days.
They may or may not see anything wrong with me. I'm not too concerned.
In times past, I would have seen plenty wrong with myself.
Especially just a few months post pregnancy...(if you know what I mean).
But something deep inside me changed. It's not about me.

Because I have a newly discovered genuine assurance that has taken residence in my heart.
It's a sort of spunk and an undeniable peace, knowing I got this under control, this life he gave me.
Not because I am so great. But because I have the greater one living inside me.
Not because I know & have everything, but rather that he has supplied me with an immeasurable amount of faith and grace to live this life beautifully. Gracefully.

I am the happiest I have been in years. I truly love my life. I am so in love with my family. I can't stop snuggling my new baby. My husband is so crazy and makes me laugh all the time. And I feel the sweet presence of Jesus peace with me non-stop.

Despite what my bank account says. Despite what my scale says. Despite what my clothes sizes say. Despite what number my twitter or instagram followers say. I am happy. I am confident. And I am free. There is a freedom in loving yourself simply because God created you and you know He doesn't mess up.

I want more and more each and everyday to be stripped of "me."
And more and more each day lived out, I want Jesus to be seen in me.
This is my heart.

Monday, June 30, 2014

You're Mean, Mom

You're mean...(pause), Mom.

I have been pondering over what to write about these girls. I wanted to share their new pictures, but I figured I had to say at least something. And I've been thinking over what it means to have daughters, to be a daughter and finally to be a daughter of God. Thinking I could in some way end this post with some grand inspirational challenge to myself or to the world wide web.

Instead, Leila comes in my room and out of nowhere says "You're mean...(pause), Mom.
What on earth? 

This happened right after Jada came in and asked me to tickle her edge of her thumb. She didn't so much ask as she just stuck it in front of my face, but I knew what she wanted. (She ripped her thumb nail and it hurts so she has been asking me to tickle it.)

So this is what being a mom is all about? Thumb tickling and being told your mean for no reason.
Good times.

This past weekend a few friends and I were sitting at the park with my mom, feeding off her wisdom. 
I love my mom. She is hilarious. And it's usually on accident. She was raised on an indian reservation and she talks very "up northy." She pronounces things funny sometimes,  says things that come out wrong and sort of blunt,  but it's hilarious and does things like wears two shoes from two separate pairs in a shoe store... on accident.

Ok, that shoe thing happened before I was born, but it's a good example of the kind of things that make us kids laugh all the time. If I gave a recent example,I would probably be the 38 year daughter getting scolded.

I'm convinced parents never stop instructing and redirecting their kids no matter how old they are.
And it should be that way. To some degree. Because they are always making efforts to help them in every other area of life.

Anyways, so my friends, mom and I are at the park just talking and we are kind of in a circle around my mom and she is just simply being "Mom" and giving her input. She cuts to the chase when she is talking and out of her mouth comes a fountain of profound wisdom. I'm so glad I'm not even joking. My mom and I are different in the way we present our thoughts, I guess. But I value her advice and wisdom so much because I know it comes from a place of sound experience and intimate prayer and time spent with God.

And I know that I want my daughters (and sons) to think the same way of me. I'm not just the mean mom who is good for tickling thumbs, but I am the mother they can laugh with (and laugh at), learn from and lean on when they need me, no matter how old they are.

My sister was laughing so hard when she noticed how we were all sitting around her gleaning from her vast river of knowledge and insight. But it's so not taken for granted. I hope she knows that.

I'm watching Jada quickly approach her pre-teen years and it shows in her attitude (not to mention Wesley) and I listen to them and I remember myself at that age. I remember how sassy I was. How disrespectful I was. I was obedient, but had a sassy mouth. Standing on the outside, sitting on the inside I guess you could say. But when I hear my kids talk to me, it makes me nervous some days, because I think back to my relationship with my mom when I was a teenager and I think "Oh brother, they sound just like me..."

I never ever want to hear my kids tell me I'm a mean mom or they hate me.
It's not cute now...and it definitely won't be cute when they are teenagers.

Before I had kids, there was a big part of me that hesitated on even having them simply because I remembered how horrible I was and I see what my parents had to deal with as us kids were all going through our stages of life. It scared me. I didn't want my feelings hurt by my own children, nor did I want the responsibility of making sure they turned out happy and successful once they were grown.

Let's face it, that is a HUGE undertaking. One I am learning now.
And I hope I am doing it right.
What if I'm not?

I am here for my kids. My life is a service to my family. That is who God made me to be. But in return, for the most part, they are adoring me. And I treasure it. They want me, want to be with me, want to sit in my bed with me while I type, want to go to the store with me, want me to snuggle them,  want me to lay with them until they fall asleep. They adore me. And I'm glad they do. Because I adore them.

As much as I love these girls adoring me now and hanging on my every word (even when I'm not talking to them)... my ultimate goal is for them to love and respect me enough to continue to listen to me and adore me when they are grown women. I want to be to them, who my mom is to me. So in turn, they look at my life and the example I set...and want to be that person in their own families.
Does that make sense?

Maybe we will go through some rough spots. Maybe they will sass me now or think they know it all when they are teenagers. But when they become young adult women (and young men) I want them to be able to come to me without being scared. I want them to know I pray for them. I want them to be able ask me things confident I have their best interest at heart. I want them to see me putting God first. I want to set the example of who they want to be like.

That is what I want for my daughters.
They sure are cute now. All my kids are.
And my sister can make them look like little rockstars. And I love it.
But I want them to be happy. Really happy. Temporary happy is fun. And it's fun to surprise my kids with things they want. But as all us grown ups know, what we value now is quite different than what we thought was important as kids.

Photos taken by Joanna Photography.