goals for the mid year, but really, goals for life.

midyeargoals My dad would warn me when I was a kid: when you're grown, the time will fly by. Unlike most kids who believe that their parents don't know anything, I always believed him. And it turns out, not surprisingly at all, that he was right. The days are long, but the years are short. Another lesson he taught by example was the importance of showing up. Of course, being mindful of these things is always much easier said than done.

Accountability is something I have always struggled with. Whenever I heard the term, my mind automatically drifted towards the notion that if you need accountability, you must be doing something wrong. I imagined accountability partners serving as magnifying glasses for imperfection. Naturally, this was never something I pursued. Why would I, having operated under this supposition for so long? It shocked me when my whole perspective shifted with one word: cheerleader. Of course, it shouldn't have shocked me, but I'm terrible at taking the inverse golden rule to heart; I don't show the same grace to myself that I show to others. Never in a million years could I even fathom of purposefully withholding grace from someone who trusted me with their brokenness, and yet, I am continually -- willfully harsh with myself. And I have a hard time believing that anyone else will show me grace, either.

It has been a long time since I've posted anything goal-oriented, but I want to get back in the swing of things. I want to fill in the trenches of current bad habits and negative thought patterns and build something new -- something good. And I've always been a fan of this time of year: the other day I was in the supermarket and was absolutely giddy to see aisles decked out in that perfect academic shade of yellow, packed to the brim with back-to-school supplies (as I write this, I find myself wishing Tom Hanks would send me a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils). There's an air of anticipation that I sense this time of year that overwhelms that of January 1. New Years has always seemed cliche to me -- so much so that when I decided to join a gym this year, I didn't show up until February so I could avoid feeling and looking like a yuppie.

So, all that being said, I got myself an accountability partner. Meg over at That Hummingbird Life offered to play matchmaker and set me up with someone who had similar goals. We've been emailing and following and getting to know each other, and I am genuinely excited.  And now I'm back here, outlining some goals, Gretchen Rubin-style.

Goals:

+ Be myself, without apology. Lately, I've realized just how much I apologize for myself. I open or close most of my conversations with a question: is that bad? As in, is it bad that I don't feel quite ready for a baby yet, or that I didn't get a lot out of the sermon this week, or that I have never felt called to be a missionary in Africa, or that I secretly really like Taylor Swift, or that I prefer green mint chocolate chip over white? Does it make me shallow or high maintenance or juvenile or [insert negative adjective here] if I feel this way? No -- those are the things that make me human.

The overwhelming majority of my days are spent searching for a sign, a cosmic permission slip saying that it is okay to be who I am. It is okay that I watch an inordinate number of documentaries and have the uncanny ability to keep up with celebrity gossip without trying. It is okay that I'm not crafty. Its okay that I don't really care much about suntan maintenance or sports. It is okay that I need to keep some kind of planner in order to remember appointments and preserve some semblance of order in my life (this is something I never thought I would need, and I have actually felt guilty for needing it).

+ Show up. Be willing to do whatever work needs to be done, whether it be holding someone's hand, cooking or buying a meal, filling up someone's gas tank, cleaning a toilet, giving the talk, or whatever may be asked of me that is possible to accomplish within my parameters. Note: showing up for myself is absolutely essential. 

+ Look for opportunities to be inspired. Take delight in the little things that make me happy, and intentionally search for new and different ways to learn and grow. Stretch myself mentally, physically, spiritually. Refuse to live in the proverbial box.

+ Let go. Ride roller coasters, go zip lining, get a tattoo. Do the things that I'm afraid of, and things that make me feel the way I want to feel.

+ Be specific. Being vague has never helped anyone, and I tend to be incredibly vague. In everything from my prayers to my choice of what restaurant we eat at, and I've learned over the past couple months that my lack of specificity is just another form of settling for less than what I truly desire, who I could be, and what I could gain.

In an effort to be more specific, I have created these mini goals for the rest of July:

+ Clean up my apartment and office using this helpful tool. + Post more well-rounded content on this blog. + Have a weekly movie night with my man. + Finish reading this book. + Go back to the gym (it has been too long). + Cook at least five days a week. + Complete the stewardship study on my Bible app. + Brainstorm ideas for 31 Days, because hello, October will be here in like five minutes. + Spend one entire weekend unplugged.

+ Create space. On my smartphone, in the cabinet under the bathroom sink, in my relationships,  through my social networking posts. Because clutter in any form is stifling.

+ Cease striving. It isn't about having all the followers or retweets or pats on the back or gold stars. Happiness has nothing to do with quantity and everything to do with quality. Grace is sufficient when we fall short. 

It bears repeating: grace is sufficient when we fall short. That is, if we let it be.

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So talk to me, friends. How do you feel about accountability and goal-setting? What has been your experience with showing grace to yourself? How can I encourage and uplift you as you go? I want to hear from you.

The atrophy and the harvest.

If I could only make use of one word to describe my feelings and thoughts over the past few months, it would be hungry. Like the kind of hungry you get when you've skipped lunch and now can't decide what you want for dinner because each idea sounds more enticing than the last.

It started back in April, when my husband announced that he wanted to begin looking for a new place to live. In the beginning, I tried to shake the nagging thought that if I just had enough faith, a door would open for us to return to the town where we lived in college -- where we still have close friends and faithfully attend church. I knew in my heart of hearts that it was an unlikely scenario, but I hoped for it anyway, in spite of the overwhelming odds. Eventually, I even became frustrated with God, who seemed to hide away in silent ignorance of my longing.

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At the same time as we were searching for a new place to live, I was reading Shauna Niequist's book Bittersweet. Its the kind of book that you could easily devour in a single lazy afternoon, but it is so good that you would never want to. I made her words last for three whole weeks, carefully counting each one and considering the lesson it wanted to teach me. I turned the words over like stones, feeling their weight in my palms.

I've never been good at living in the bittersweet tension of right here and right now. I live in haste -- craving God's plan for tomorrow, and ignoring the plan that he has for today.

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The summer of 2011, I fell and broke my leg while working at a camp at college. I knew the instant it happened that it was bad, and I remember the doctor telling me, with shockingly poor bedside manner, just how bad it was. The bone was broken clean through just above my ankle, which had been dislocated, and I had fractured a bone in my foot.

The group of fellow leaders prayed for healing, softly laying hands on my pitifully casted limb. But there was no instantaneous healing. Instead, there was surgery and physical therapy. As painful as the physical injury was, some instances of vulnerability were even more so. And I remember the day when a friend nervously told me that he questioned whether or not the lack of healing was due to his own lack of faith.

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When I was preparing to graduate from college, I had this fear that the school would find a reason to withhold my diploma. I imagined them combing my academic file with a fine toothed comb, in search of even the smallest setback. I'm sorry, we cannot let you graduate, they would say. You have a seven cent fine in the library. Or worse, we recalculated the points for your statistics final, and you did not pass the course. I was considering all the scenarios, even as my class practiced entering the chapel, rising and being seated on cue. My gut lurched at the thought of the past four years of blood, sweat, and tears being for naught.

And now, looking back, I wonder. Is this really how I view God? Like some distant registrar, combing through a file in search of failure? Waiting until the last possible moment, when all my hopes are up, to let me know I still owe him?

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When I finally took the moon boot off of my newly healed leg, half of my calf muscle had all but disappeared. I think it was Danielle LaPorte who talked about how the desire muscle can atrophy. It was one of those concepts that left me short of breath, realizing that my dreams are chilling out on the back burner, their consistency being morphed into that of day old oatmeal.

I've talked a lot about my dreams lately, but I haven't been terribly specific. I'm also not very explicit about my goals -- mostly because accountability makes me squeamish, and the last thing I want to do is disappoint. I'm afraid of what will happen if the engine stalls. So for the most part, I settle for simply wishing things were different.

I do this with God, too. I want him, but at the same time, I'm afraid to want him. I echo Flannery O'Connor's prayer, dear God, I cannot love thee the way I want. 

Recently, I threw my prayer journal across my bedroom in a fit of frustration. I wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible after coming to the incredibly painful realization that I have been holding back. There were so many things I was unable to scribble out onto the pages that night. But how on earth do I even begin to explain to God just how hungry I am --  and how I'm ashamed to admit that I've asked him just to throw me a bone instead of going hard after the whole harvest?

I want to know his wild thoughts, to walk in ways that are higher than my own. I want the green pastures.

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I've always been mesmerized by other people's pastures. The days and weeks have quickly turned into months and years as I have fought to contort myself, make myself look more like them so maybe I could snatch a piece of their harvest. I'm always forgetting the truth: my failed attempts to be other people are of no use; he just wants me: my dreams, my wrecks, my fears of being small, my willfulness, my heart. 

All this time, I've feared specificity. I've always thought that if I'm too specific, I probably won't find exactly what I want. But James says that we do not have because we do not ask. The simplicity of grace always leaves me breathless, wanting more.

So I prepare to break up the hardened ground, in hopes that the seeds find good soil.

On Bread Crumb Trails and Being a Disciple.

Last night, we sat with a group of middle and high school students and talked about what it meant to truly be a disciple of Christ, especially in a time when there are so many varying interpretations of the word "Christian."  So often, Christians are characterized by judgmental, holier than thou attitudes and actions, and I have to say: sometimes that description is entirely fitting.

I've claimed the name of Christ for nearly my entire life. I have sat through countless sermons, volunteered to lead Vacation Bible School, fill in for Sunday school teachers, speak or sing for youth events, and just about everything else that a good Christian girl would do. I avoided parties, alcohol, drugs, premarital sex. I obeyed my parents.

I did (or didn't do, as the case may be) all of these things happily, understanding that whatever rule or guideline I came across was put in place for my benefit. To this day, I don't regret being the good girl.

Never for a moment have I doubted my salvation or considered renouncing my faith. But as I sat in the church foyer, surrounded by students who were genuinely searching for answers and some semblance of solace in their lives, I found myself speaking words that I'm not sure I have ever taken to heart in my own life. My gut quivers even to write that.

Recently, I purchased a black leather bound journal, with the intention of filling it up with prayers. Sadly, I haven't gotten very far. The eighth page bears my familiar lines and loops, but there is something different about these words. There is an ocean inside of them.

I realize that as I've gotten older and started to form my own ideas about what my life should look like, I've been leaving bread crumbs for God, and now I'm afraid of having nothing left. I've been leaving bread crumbs, as if to say you follow me now. 

...

For the past two months, I have driven all over the county, praying and searching for a sign that bore the words "For Rent." Sometimes, C and I would go together. Sometimes, I went alone. I usually cried regardless. We called every phone number we found in the classifieds, only to find that the houses or apartments listed were either vastly out of our price range, or ought to be condemned.

This season of life is bittersweet. Bitter, because we are not where we want to be, and sweet, because we still find that God is faithful to open up doors where we are. Three Saturdays ago, we stumbled upon the yellow apartment building. Within forty-eight hours of us finding it, we had met the landlord and signed a lease. Apartment #205 will be ours for a year. A year of prolonged waiting, of searching for glimpses of God's goodness in what often feels like wilderness.

I remember begging God to provide a home in the neighboring town -- the town where we met six years ago, the town where we found brothers and sisters that we have come to love dearly. Please God, find us a house there. There is nothing for us here. For the longest time, I felt as though he was on vacation, or worse, screening my calls.

Sometimes my heart is filled with fear. Is it fear that he will not show up, or that he won't be the gracious, loving Savior I've always believed him to be? Perhaps.

For the first time in my life, I found myself at a crossroad. There were two very distinct options laid out in front of me: simply trust God, or don't. Allow him to overwhelm my fear, or don't. 

The storm swells within my spirit as I finally hear him. I often find myself becoming frustrated by the fact that sometimes, he whispers. He waits until we finally tire from the endless striving, the wild searching for his presence in the wind and the fire and the quake. He is the God who comes close, the God whose very breath is essential to the continuation of all manner of life. He looks longingly down the dusty path as he waits for us to return, to finally admit that we cannot do it on our own.

Sometimes you wonder if I can truly use your circumstances to expand the kingdom. It seems as though your days are filled with monotony, rather than grandeur. I know you are not where you want to be today, but if you trust me, I will use this time to make my name great in your life right where you're at. 

...

I set my prayer journal aside, secretly ashamed by the realization that I'm holding back, and at the same time, desperate to let it go. Desperate just to let him love me.

It must be hard to hold someone who is constantly thrashing.

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In scripture, we meet a man whose son has been possessed by an evil spirit. We don't have the luxury of a backstory with which to fill in the gaps -- we don't know how old his son is or how long he has carried the burden of this evil spirit. We only know that he has been possessed "since childhood." The father pleads with Jesus, help me if you can.

Perhaps I have adopted this attitude of prayer unconsciously. Please, God, if you're really powerful enough, and you're not too busy dealing with other things, could you help me? Could you remind me that you love me? 

...

I flip through the pages hurriedly, until I reach that old familiar passage in Romans about all things working together, and I consider the names given to Christ in the book of Isaiah. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

Can he really be all of those things to me, if he is not truly for me? Could he be bothered to work even one thing out for my good if he were not unequivocally on my side? Surely, he has been more faithful than my imagination could fathom.

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My mind wanders back to the church foyer, chairs circled up haphazardly.

"How do you become a disciple?" she asked. She had never been to our church's youth group before.

The youth pastor explained the importance of the sinner's prayer -- how in order to become a Christian, you have to invite God to change your life. I added that the heart of discipleship was to not stop at praying this prayer one time. We must continually ask Christ to invade our lives and change us from the inside out.

Deep down, I want to delight in him simply because of who he is. So here I am, finally asking again. Whispering that I'll leave the light on, and hopefully there won't be any strings attached this time.

When You Need to Know You're Loved Right Here.

Never in my life have I clung more to Jeremiah 29:11. For most of my life, having grown up in the church, this verse was commonplace to me: as one of the most commonly quoted verses in scripture, I had heard it so often that it began to lose its meaning. It was always the theme verse for camps and youth events and bible studies, and I had managed to file those words away in a drawer at the very back corner of my mind. Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetI didn't really struggle with planning until I went away to college, and my time had to be more stringently delegated. Professors told me that college was like a triangle, with a social life, grades, and sleep, and I could only ever have two of the three. No matter what I was doing, I would be sacrificing time that could be put towards something else. And I couldn't tell you now exactly when it happened, but at some point back there, I morphed from a person who could fairly easily go with the flow, to someone who very nearly needed to plan out every hour of the day. To this day, I am still very much the latter personality.

Between graduation, getting married, and getting a job, I feel as though I got sucked into a vortex of constantly needing to plan and make decisions -- not only for whatever is going on in my life at the present moment, but also for the future. And I feel the weight of responsibility for every decision made, even the seemingly arbitrary ones. Things that I ultimately have no power over whatsoever, I somehow end up feeling responsible for.

A script from a television show arrests my attention: "she is a narcissist," it says. "You can't believe everything is your fault unless you also believe that you are all powerful." 

The words leave my lungs feeling strained, and I didn't want to hear them, and I try to shake off the fact that Jesus is still in the habit of using whatever is in front of us, ordinary things, to bring our attention to him. 

It seems silly. It seems elementary. It seems like I should know better and why am I reading the same page over and over?

Have you ever heard the saying "we plan and God laughs?" Sometimes, I don't believe He finds it all that humorous in the light of day. I think it breaks His heart, this endless flailing of mine.

He is still inviting me to rest, still wooing me and beckoning me to trust that all things are held together by His infinite grace. He knows the plans He has for me. He knew exactly who and where I would be at this moment, and Spurgeon says "had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, Divine Love would have put you there."

Its a promise that wherever you are right now, there is meaning and purpose. We are being made whole.

The trial is learning to rest in the middle of wherever I am, knowing that He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and believing that He gives His children good gifts. He disciplines those that He loves. He teaches those that He loves. He directs those that He loves. And (later on in Jeremiah,) He says He has loved us with an everlasting love. That means no height, no depth, no fear, no plan for the future, no regret from the past, or anything else can keep me from His love.

Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief. In the morning, when I wake up feeling just as tired as when I laid my head down, help my unbelief. In the afternoon, when I want to be somewhere -- anywhere -- else, help my unbelief. And when I lay down, my body tense from the constant anxiety of bracing myself for the unknown, help my unbelief. When I doubt the nearness of Your presence, give me faith. When I doubt the fullness of Your love, help me to hold onto these truths, that from ashes, You bring forth beauty. Teach and direct this feeble flesh. Keep holding me together.

And help me to slow down, to open my hands to Your grace. Help me to remember that I don't need to have every answer, but rather, I can trust the One who does. Help me to lean not unto my own understanding. Let joy and rest be the balm to this burnt out heart.

Give me the grace, the unshakable grace, to laugh at the days to come -- trusting, unshakably trusting, that You have a plan.

A plan for good, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. And in those days, when you pray, I will listen. When you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will Find me. I will be found by you, says the LORD.

When You Know its Time to Change Your Mantra

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Five of us women piled laughing into her great big sports utility vehicle. We had been in training together for four weeks, the latest of which brought us to the hustle and chaos of the city. We had taken turns driving each day to a different lunch destination, and as we pulled into the narrow space, I jokingly admitted that I would be afraid to drive such a massive car.

And then it happened.

The one in the front seat turned to me and said “you’ve got to stop saying you’re afraid.”

Ouch. Barely a month after meeting me, she speaks these words. And I wonder how many times a week — a day, even — I say that I am afraid. I know that I am an anxious person, but do I really let that anxiety overflow from my heart and through my lips often enough for her to pick up on it so quickly? I sit quiet though lunch, embarrassed and pondering.

Read more over at (in)courage

On reflection, rest, and looking forward.

A local pastor cuts deep in a radio commercial heard during my morning commute: did you do everything you could in 2013? I doubt my preparedness to answer.

Because I did a lot -- became a lot -- of new things in the past twelve months: a fiancee, a college graduate, a wife, a daughter and sister-in-law, a licensed driver (for the first time, at 22 years old,) and a social worker. I joined communities of bloggers who not only inspired me, but got down in the nitty gritty to do life with me. I also got baptized, over ten years after my parents and a pastor held an intervention and used guilt to try to motivate me to obey. Those were the highs. The lows saw me become anxious, angry, bitter, rebellious, and exhausted.

Did I do everything I could to be better? I ask it frequently of myself, and often I'm reminded of how short I have fallen -- how many opportunities I had to trust the Lord, and instead tried like hell to control things myself. At times, I became physically sick from the tension.

Timothy Keller's words resound: "anxiety is the result of a collapsing false god."

How much of my time has been consumed by the god of control? The god of perfectionism and guilt? Time that I can never get back.

But as I look back over the past year, what overwhelms it all is how faithful the Lord is, despite my not always giving Him my best.

An old roommate and I had a falling out a couple years back, but she left me this letter:

I see you struggling. I know you are fighting some major battles in your life. You have dealt with far more than I can even see. You aren't giving in and you aren't giving up. You are fighting against what you know should not be there. In this, I see hope.

I hearken back to her words at the end of this year, as I read over the past year of journaling -- of pouring my heart out to the Lord, regardless of its contents. I pray her words are still true, wherever she may be today.

Because at the end of the day, the essence of journaling is that it provides evidence of the journey. Throughout this year, I have been more intentional about being in tune with the Lord than ever before, because perhaps more than ever before, I realize my need for Him. 

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Many bloggers I know begin their new year by choosing a word -- one word to focus their writing on during the year. As a lover of all things semantic, it has been particularly difficult to land on a single word. It is also difficult, given that my posts throughout 2013 are jam packed with words like joy, holy, faithfulness, thankfulness, trust, and grace. But there has been one word to breach my conscience again and again, and that word is rest. 

Rest: 

1. Cessation after exertion or labor. 2. Freedom from anything that wearies, troubles, or disturbs. 3. Calm, tranquility, ease, relief.

In the midst of the whirlwind that was 2013, I struggled to find rest. I thought about and desired rest constantly, even writing about it a few times on this blog. But what I learned more and more as the year progressed is that rest is a choice. The Holy Spirit was so faithful to convict me and bring to my attention the choices I was making when anxiety rose up in my heart. More often than not, my choices were not favorable.

My friend Andy says that the whole of life is about reacting well to the gospel. Could there be a better reaction than the cessation of my striving? At the cross, with his dying breath, Christ gave me victory. He put an end to my striving for perfection -- my striving to somehow earn grace -- so why do I insist on dragging it out?

Perhaps you find yourself in the same boat? One of the most powerful things we can do in our journey towards healing is to realize that we're not alone. Back in September, I wrote a bit about perseverance -- things that must be born in a person. Birth is an incredibly messy and painful experience. We have to push, and sometimes we come apart at the seams. But it is also beautiful.

The Word says "He has made everything beautiful in its time."

He knows what we need. He is molding us.

These are promises that we can rest in.

Hey, friend! Whether you're new here or find my small space familiar, I am so thankful that you've taken the time to visit. This post closes the chapter of 2013, but with every ending also comes a beginning! Join me in 2014 in my pursuit of rest? And let me know how I can partner with you in your own journey towards all things joyful and promising.