What You Really Want, part V

pixabay/IsaacFryxelius

pixabay/IsaacFryxelius

Continued from Part IV:

Admitting and acknowledging loss is healthy, but staying in the place of endlessly verbalizing everything that’s wrong in your life will make you ugly. Guaranteed. You’ve got a choice, no matter where you are, to wither into bitterness, or bloom into joy. Emotional honesty is one step in the journey. Choice is another.

Choose Joy

In every season, life is going to be cruel and relentless and you will cry your eyes out over a myriad things, but you can choose joy. Things won’t ever be fair and your friends will have privileges you don’t, but you can choose joy. Could it be possible that you have gifts they’d like to have?

There is glory and beauty in the darkness, could we but see! And to see, we have only to look. (Giovanni, 1513)

In every life stage, we will need to choose joy and live with purpose in order to live fully. Technically, it’s the same for everyone: be thankful here and now, and carry the posture of living with open hands to accept whatever is given. Practically, it’s going to look different for different people with different giftings.

For you now, when you read stories to children who aren’t your own, can you try to delight in their shining eyes and pudgy fingers? When the tenth friend loses her heart to a wonderful man and you feel left behind, can you find just two things today to put on your Thanks List? Can you intentionally plan a way to serve someone beside you, choosing to be less princess and more servant even if everything in you screams against it?

Probably the most insidious temptation is to believe the lie that even God has forgotten you, left you behind, and thus you’ll have to cope on your own forever. This lie is absolutely toxic. Please don’t swallow it!

God, in His endless faithfulness, will give you reasons to believe the truth, but you need to keep your eyes open to see it. The changeless truth is that He’s intimately acquainted with everything that makes you ache and smile. He’s never turned His face away from you—not even for a second—and even when you feel like despairing, He’s up to something good. It’s true!

Joy is far more than positive thinking or collecting cute sayings on Pinterest* or posing with a Starbucks cup. Joy comes from knowing your designer’s heart and knowing His intentions for you are good, good, good. Always. You can hang your heart on that and you will have joy that bubbles out often, and even if no man notices it, that joy will make you beautiful!

Which is really what you want, isn’t it?

 

This was an article I wrote for Daughters of Promise, a beautiful magazine for young women. Maybe you want to subscribe to it for the year, or give it for a gift?

*Relax–I LOVE Pinterest! =)

What You Really Want, IV

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Continued from Part III:

When you start looking for things to be thankful for, you’ll be surprised at what emerges. Try it!

Self-pity equals wrinkles

Think of the most beautiful lady you know. I’m going to guess that she doesn’t spend much time pitying herself, but that her face is turned toward the light, and that she shines even when she’s honest about hard things.

There’s very little virtue in chirping “I’m alright—everything’s fine—who needs a man anyway?” I’m always on a search for emotional honesty because it’s at that point that truth can start soaking in, change us, and bring us to freedom. It’s ok to tell God that you’re tired of waking up alone and that it stinks to go to weddings alone. God’s big enough to take any rants you have. I hope that you also have a few friends with whom you can be honest. It’s ok to cry. You’re allowed to admit that you grieve a love that has no name or face.

Being honest (Jesus can take it off you!) means being vulnerable but also knowing the truest, most loyal love you will ever know.

You will not know the comfort and companionship of Jesus if you always insist that you’re ok, don’t need any help, and are never lonely.

While I was writing this article, I was drinking coffee in a darling café in Warsaw. (The café’s name was “Między Słowami” which means “between words.” Yes, it was as idyllic as it sounds. I’m very, very rich!) I looked up suddenly, and across the room, a tall, dark man was watching me. He was so handsome, I stopped breathing for a minute. He was too far away for me to see any emotion in his face, (Interest? Curiosity?) but a wave of something washed over me because suddenly I wanted to be noticed, delighted in, seen as beautiful, because no man does that for me.

Being honest about the voids I feel is ok, but I couldn’t stay there, and left the café when my coffee was finished.

Admitting and acknowledging loss is healthy, but staying in the place of endlessly verbalizing everything that’s wrong in your life will make you ugly. Guaranteed. You’ve got a choice, no matter where you are, to wither into bitterness, or bloom into joy. Emotional honesty is one step in the journey. Choice is another.

What You Really Want, III

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Continued from Part II:

Because—and this is something to face squarely—you’re not a princess. As the Polish say so smoothly: you’re not the bellybutton of the world! Less princess and more servant will make your life richer than you can imagine.

Thanks multiplies joy

Being intentionally thankful for specific things makes your life blossom. One day I was pitying myself about being far away from my friends and my friend Jenny said, “Anita, you HAVE to give thanks NOW for THIS. If you don’t, you’re going to become a bitter, miserable person.” I burst into tears and said I don’t want to be bitter and miserable. So later that day, even though I felt everything was gray and dismal, I heard a CD playing beautiful songs and I made myself thank God that I could hear. I was washing dishes and looked out the window and saw bright blue sky and made myself thank God that I could see.

It was a baby step, but it was in the right direction, and I started thinking about how overwhelmingly rich I am, just by acknowledging two senses.

My friend Sarah says being thankful is life-changing. She was burning out by working full time and going to college and pulling all-nighters for brutal classes. She found a little hide-out in a stairwell at college that became her refuge. Here she could sit on the carpet and cry and list the things she was thankful for, despite her extreme exhaustion. One day as she sat there, she heard another student in the stairwell on his phone, talking for ten minutes, telling his friend that prayer makes a difference and that he should keep praying because God hears. Sarah put that conversation on her list. When you start looking for things to be thankful for, you’ll be surprised at what emerges. Try it!

What You Really Want, II

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Continued from Part I:

I know there are times when aloneness hits you and the idea of joy feels like a joke. I don’t know if anyone really gets used to being alone. But do you want to live without joy? Please don’t write it off as an impossible quality. Even if your dreams aren’t coming true and even if you fight back tears while the sparkly-eyed bride unwraps her gifts.

Looking beyond our bellybutton

Let’s look for some perspective. To do that, we many need to think outside our boxes.

What if you’re single now so that you can love on the troubled little ones at Kids Club? Could it be that your being unattached frees you to be more flexible and available to serve in places that need undivided energy and passion?

Is it possible that this season is giving you tools that will improve the rest of your life—skills like discipline, mindfulness, sensitivity, thankfulness? So where you’re at now does have purpose! While marriage is our design, no time of our life is solely a waiting area. Every stage is preparation and experience for the next step.

Let’s not waste time by pitying ourselves or begrudging others’ gladness. If I marry, I don’t want to look back on these years with regret. I want to have lived to the hilt and colored my days with the materials I had because I’ll know that today was preparation for my “new now.”

Being intentional means that sometimes you have to take yourself by the scruff of the neck and do what you don’t feel like. For example, when you’re going somewhere alone and you feel extra lonely, try singing. Maybe prayer songs? Or “Abide With Me”?

On a night when your best friend is going on a date, you could try to plan something that will keep you focused and involved with at least one other person. Not as an escape, but as a way to be pro-active and forward-thinking and not so near-sighted.

Because—and this is something to face squarely—you’re not a princess. As the Polish say so smoothly: you’re not the bellybutton of the world! Less princess and more servant will make your life richer than you can imagine.

What You Really Want

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The next 5 blog posts are going to be installments of an article I wrote for Daughters of Promise, a beautiful magazine for young women. The theme of the current issue is “intentionality, direction, and cheer”, so that was the over-arching theme I aimed for while writing about singleness.

If you and I would meet over coffee today and we’d introduce ourselves, I wonder how you’d describe yourself and your days. Maybe you’d tell me you were planning a bridal shower last night for your best friend. And tomorrow you plan to babysit your nephews after work. And that you love your job and your nephews and can’t wait for your friend’s wedding.

I’d notice your smile and the way you nod in anticipation. Would you also have the courage to talk about the pang that lies just under your happy activity?

Talking honestly about the ache of singleness might be taboo for you, but I’d like to erase some of that hesitance. Here is where we call it what it is, because honesty is the first step in walking toward freedom and light.

So on the night of that bridal shower, if something stabs you with wishing you could have some of those pretty things and lovely dreams, this is permission to admit the stab. Or your hunger when you hold your nephew to read a story and put him to sleep and you want your own little one to hold.

This is also a call for decisively stepping out of the pool of pain you could drown in. It’s not Operation Bootstrap. It’s the posture of open hands that will save you. Intentionally choosing another way of looking at things will also save you, as well as adopting purpose and joy here and now. These are some of the habits of abundance that God created us for.

I know there are times when aloneness hits you and the idea of joy feels like a joke. I don’t know if anyone really gets used to being alone. But do you want to live without joy? Please don’t write it off as an impossible quality. Even if your dreams aren’t coming true and even if you fight back tears while the sparkly-eyed bride unwraps her gifts.

Beyond Money

We completely wore out the fun Grinch story. I’m happy not to hear it for another year. So I chose to read Tolstoy’s “Papa Panov’s Christmas” to one student on Saturday. The story about the shoemaker expecting to see Jesus has many versions and translations, and this one was abbreviated, but even so there were some phrases and words that challenged my high intermediate level student.

To help her be able to take it in more easily, I read slowly, deliberately. When the cobbler kept watching the window for Jesus, I suddenly felt my throat constricting and slowed my words even more so I could control my shaking voice. Maybe he had missed his visitor? I felt his ache of disappointment. When the cold girl came with her hungry baby, my student’s eyes brightened and she interrupted: “I think she is Jesus!”

When we finished the story, she said she’s going to find it in Polish so she can read it to her children. No one ever said that about the Grinch story, even though we got lots of class mileage out of it.  In his simple story, Tolstoy encapsulates the deepest longings and satisfaction of the human experience, and I felt honored to share it with my student and see her understanding.

Outside our apartment block is an outdoor market. At any time, I love shopping there, but these days leading up to the holiday season, it’s an Experience. I stood in line at the little old lady’s stand with the big blue barrels of sour kraut and pickles (the best in the town, everyone agrees). Beside us was another stand with three enormous square tubs that held maybe a foot of water crowded with dozens of fat, gasping carp. I tried to watch discreetly and not be too slack-jawed but all I wanted to do was stare and shake my head.

Older people stood in line at the tubs (my observation is that no one younger than 40 is willing to buy live carp and kill them) and carefully pointed to the fish they’d chosen. The beefy men selling them would scoop out the carp, weigh them, and pop them into trash bags. It was serious business. I couldn’t decide if the men were so serious because they were opportunists taking advantage of the tradition and the old people, or if this is simply the way things are done. I’ve been told that carp is the high point of the Christmas eve meal, so clearly buying, killing, or selling it is not a joking matter.

In other parts of the market, people were laughing and talking and exchanging wishes. I bought half a meter of beautiful lace for some presents sometime, and the ladies were so relaxed and positive and pleasant and wished me a merry Christmas as I left. Celebrating this season in a Polish town is so rich that I think everyone should be jealous of me.

This morning I had my last session of the year. My student is 71 or so, a retired Russian language teacher, and she had asked that this lesson would be Christmas carols. So I prepared music and lyrics for my favorites, “Lo How a Rose” and “O Holy Night.” She came with an elegant centerpiece she’d made with greenery from her garden, plus a box of butter cookies she’d made, plus 2 CD’s so we could listen to her favorite Polish carols. I made green tea for us, and we listened to the songs and sang along as we wanted, and drank tea and I munched her cookies and chatted in Polish because, well, it’s easier for her than English.

At the end of the hour, she was preparing to pay for the lesson, and I put my hand on hers to refuse it, saying today wasn’t a lesson, only pleasure, and I can’t take money for it. It wasn’t an English lesson, any way you look at it. “No, Anita, I beg you” she said, “You’re young and you need things. Please take this to buy what you need–maybe carp, or some meat?” She was dead serious.

The weather outside is frightful –driving rain coming horizontally in strong wind. No snow in sight. I hang onto my hood, walking home, and I’m sooooooooo glad vacation has started, and there are a million things I’m happy about, but something more than rain is making my cheeks wet.

The things I need are beyond money. What I have is more than I can hold.

Potpourri

I’ve been preoccupied with many things besides the blog, so this post is going to be only bits of this and that.

First: the double give-away for Footprints on the Ceiling. I chose the elegant method of asking two housemates for a random number, and the number they chose was the comment number. The lucky names were Lolita Hershberger and Mary Ann Mast. That was a lot of fun!

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An ESL teacher milks every holiday and special occasion for lesson material. This week for me (several times) it was The Grinch that Stole Christmas. I thanked God again for Dr. Suess and I hope my students enjoyed the story as much I do.

Twice yesterday I introduced students to the silly song I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. It’s simple vocab, and funny, and it went over great. But oh, it makes a dreadful earworm.

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I’m reading Steinbeck’s  East of Eden. I find it both repulsive and wonderful. The vixen in it (no spoilers here, plus I’m only half-through) is what makes me want to throw the book across the room, but Samuel Hamilton keeps me from it because he is so beautiful and wise. I can hear the Irish lilt in him. That, and Steinbeck’s uncanny one-line observations about human tendencies keeps me engaged in the story. I hope I won’t be sorry.

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Have you seen sunshine today? Did you thank God for it?