Saturday, February 27, 2010

an "alexander" day

One of my favorite childhood stories is the story of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." I love Alexander and I feel for him, because in this story, everything seems to be going wrong for him on this particular day. He wakes up in the morning with gum in his hair. His teacher likes someone else's drawing better than his. He skips number 16 at counting time, and to top it all off, his mom serves lima beans for dinner and there is kissing on TV! Poor Alexander is convinced that life would be better elsewhere, so each and every time something goes wrong, he thinks to himself... "maybe I'll just go to Australia."

I had one of these days yesterday. I set my alarm to wake up early, but hit the snooze button for over twenty minutes. I finally woke up and we were out of the coffee I liked; we only had some funky flavored stuff. I left the house and drove a half hour (in the snow!) to go to the DMV, and after waiting for over twenty minutes to be called, it turns out I had left my social security card at home and couldn't get my new Maryland license. Epic fail. I missed a phone call from a friend in Florida. The salt trucks drove by and splashed dirty residue all over my car on my way to Target. I ran inside, looking for a book shelf I had been searching for the entire week, and when I finally found it, I pulled it off the shelf and cut my finger in the process. I wanted to buy new sheets for my bed, but couldn't find the ones I wanted. After finding ones that "would do," I brought them home to try them out. They had a rip in them. So I jumped back into my car, not realizing I was wearing my slippers, and on my way down the road, a car pulled out in front of me and almost crashed into me. On my way into Target the second time around, I walked in the "exit" doors and nearly tackled two separate families without even realizing it. As I was leaving, I thought of Alexander and I mumbled those very words to myself.... "I hate Baltimore! I think I'll just go to Australia!"

Thankfully yesterday, the good moments I had far outweighed the chaos of going to Target in my slippers and bandaging up a bleeding finger in the middle of the store aisle. Yesterday, I got to spend over two hours with my college roommate and dear friend Stacie at Panera; our conversation was refreshing to my soul and that girl makes me laugh like no other! I found a bedspread for my bed, and put my world map up on the wall; my room is finally starting to feel like "my own." For the first time in a while, I got to sit down and really talk to my mom; it was wonderful. Last night, Chris and I were feeling "creative," so we bought the ingredients to make our very own pizza. Together, we made the most deliciousssss dinner, and of course there were chocolate chip cookies involved. We make a great team :)

That being said, Baltimore is not so bad. I imagine I'll have plenty more "Alexander" days, but I wouldn't trade those sweet moments with friends and family and Chris for Australia any day. I might spend a few minutes on expedia here and there, but at the end of the day, I know I'm right where I belong.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

who defines you?

My dear friend Luisel Lawler from West Palm Beach gave me an amazing book as a gift before I left for Baltimore. It is a rather large and very thick book, that in most cases might be intimidating because there's a statue of a man on the front, and it seems like the inside pages go on forever. I know that it's not, because it is called "John: 90 Days with the Beloved Disciple" and frankly spending 90 days with someone like John could only be refreshing and sweet. Weird statue man aside, I figured I'd start with "day one" this morning.

I am not going to explain everything that Beth Moore outlined in day one (i'll let you go get the study for yourself and commit to those 90 days!), but I do want to focus on something that really spoke to me. For those of you who don't know, John was one of Jesus' followers way back in the day. He wrote the infamous "John" chapter of the Bible, where the well-known verse "John 3:16" can be found. He was a fisherman working for his father when he met Jesus. He had an older brother, and Beth points out that in this ancient culture, the first-born always got the best and most-esteemed: double portion of the father's inheritance. Respect. Leadership. First dibs. Everything. And who was John? He was just the "younger brother." In every sense, John was defined by his relationship to his older brother and his father. I'm sure, as in any family, he wanted to find an identity and significance of his own, but wrestled to break free from his natural place as "John, the younger brother of James."

One of the reflection questions that Beth asks us to consider is how we have been defined by our relationships with others, and more importantly, how that identification has affected our lives. I can recount numerous times in my life when I have felt defined by my relationship to a friend, or a boyfriend, and even an employer. In the moment, all that mattered to me was what that person thought of me, how he or she esteemed me (or did not, rather), and of course, how the world viewed me in light of my relationship with that person. As one can imagine, it was extremely tiring trying to live my life like this, because at the end of the day, no matter how hard I had tried to gain the approval of others and avoid the depths of loneliness I experienced apart from those relationships, it was inevitable; I still felt alone.

Looking back, and even today as I stand face-to-face with similar challenges of wanting to "be accepted," I am thankful to God because these challenges remind me that I can never find the fulfillment I am looking for in another person. People can love me, as I know they do, but they cannot be my everything. They cannot fill the depths of my heart and they cannot heal my life. They cannot always be there. Only God can be my everything; only He can fill my cup. As long as I seek to find my identity, happiness, and fulfillment in the world and in those around me, I am going to be left feeling empty and without peace. I know the tune to this song unfortunately all too well.

That being said, for any and everyone who actually reads this, I want you to ask yourself that same question: How have you allowed yourself to be defined by your relationship to someone else? Has this relationship filled you, as you were hoping it would?

Think about it, pray about it, and don't be afraid of what you discover. We all search for complete fulfillment in our lives, because our hearts were created to BE completely fulfilled. We just might be looking in the wrong places, and the beauty of grace is that it's never too late to start over again. Share your experiences, if you'd like. We're all in this together.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

here goes nothing...

As of nine whole days ago, I have officially returned to Baltimore. Yes, I live here... I live in Baltimore. Maybe I'll write it fifty more times in order to come to terms with the fact that it is true.

Many of you may be wondering if this was ever part of my "plan" to come back here. I'll admit to you with conviction that Baltimore was the one place in the world that I never wanted to return to. Baltimore is where I have fallen the hardest, failed the most, and where everyone knows who I used to be before Jesus got my life together and gave me some purpose beyond alcohol, the attainment of physical beauty, and countless unhealthy relationships. Baltimore was where it all began, and Baltimore is where my testimony of redemption screams loud and clear from each and every person and place that I come in contact with. I have picked you up from the pit, Shelly. Leave your past behind and be free.

So, here I am... attempting to do just that. This is a new stage of life for me, and though it feels like there is a dark cloud of confusion, frustration, and brokenness hovering around me from all angles, I am holding onto hope: the pain will not be forever, the confusion will someday be resolved, and of course, love will always win. Each day, I have to wake up in the morning and remind myself that this move is not about me, or about making me feel comfortable. I move as a missionary because God has called me to a great mission. The mission will sometimes hurt. The mission will sometimes lead to rejection. But one thing is certain above all else: the one who has called me is faithful [1 Thessalonians 5:24]. He is faithful, he is good, and he knows what he is doing.

even when I don't believe it.

I am going to write this journey out, and I am making a commitment to myself to process it with myself and with the world through this blog. Not all of my posts are going to be upbeat and exciting, and more days than not, I imagine I won't have an answer for the things I am feeling. That is the beauty of the journey... it is not about the arrival, but about the small victories, day by day, where we can see God bringing things together for good. That being said, welcome to the journey. Welcome to my journey of starting over and adjusting to life in Baltimore. I am blessed that you can be a part of it, so here goes nothing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

hello, trust.

So, I have a confession to make. This week, I have been an awful, selfish, and irritable person. I am almost too embarrassed to admit these things, but as I have always been told, there is great freedom in sharing our "junk." Allow me to explain.

Let's just say that my heart over this past week has been like a very large cup, sitting on a table. Me, myself, and I.... we have filled this cup with thoughts about the future, frustrations, doubts, hurts, and our own attempts to control that which we have NO business controlling. We have filled our cup to the brim, so much so that there is absolutely NO room for anything else BUT this collection of JUNK. So when someone comes along trying to "get in," as a few did this past week, there is no room for them in my cup. It's like they pour water into my cup and it just overflows and spills out of the sides and onto the table before I even recognize it happened. And there I am left with a heart filled with JUNK that is sitting in a puddle of failed attempts to give me what I didn't even realize I needed. So it has been, just me and my junky, junky cup. Oh, and the puddle... that is larger than I would like to admit. Hmph.

That being said, I need to get all the JUNK out; let it all go, and trust God. Don't I know these things? Haven't I been here enough times in my life to know that worrying gets me no where? That trying to plan my future is a crazy thing to do in light of the ways God has worked in my life? Yes, yes, and yes. Yes to the eight-thousandth power. I just need to be reminded, that's all.

So here I am, relinquishing control; emptying my cup and all of it's JUNK for the world to see. Goodbye, plans. Goodbye, doubts. Goodbye, worrying. Hello, trust; It's nice to see you again.