That Question…

“So where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is actually one of my least favourite first date questions ever. I can see why a person would ask that and props to him for wanting to know about what is going on in my head in regards to my future but I always find myself squirming and trying to decide how honestly I should answer such a question. I have a bit of a reckless impulse to say “married to you, carrying our third child, living in a giant house on a large body of water, and finally being able to pursue a full time writing career.” But that kind of answer would pretty much erase any hope of a second date and would probably end the date right then and there. So I tend to hold my cards close and yammer out some words about not knowing the future and hopefully being married and published and …. vague stuff.

I feel like as a single woman in my mid thirties, I am at a standstill when it comes to a 5 year plan. There is something I very much hope and pray happens in the next 5 years but I am also quite aware that my search for a “lifetime emergency contact” might not come to anything and I could very much be in the same position then as I am now. And so I’m left trying to figure out what kind of a 5 year plan do I need to have. I don’t want to be paralyzed in waiting for something that might not happen and I also don’t want to be so busy that I don’t recognize it if it does but it’s important for me to set some goals and have some sort of plan, whether that involves another person or not.

And so I think about my 5 year plan, I think about my goals and what the picture perfect ideal scenario would look like and I think about what the opposite of that might be and I grapple with setting a plan that works regardless of my relationship status. And then it gets quite simple. Of course there are some financial goals, fitness goals, writing goals, etc but at the end of the day I want to be serving God in the right place and the right way. I want to be part of a caring community and I want to be growing in my faith and love for his people. It’s not about the checklist or stocks portfolio, it’s about being willing and available to be used by God this year, next year, 5 years, 10 years from now and so on.

So next time I get asked about my 5 year plan, I won’t shirk away from the question but boldly give a new answer that really does embody my goals and desires for the next 5 years…

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Bratty Behaviour

Oh, how fleeting our happiness can be! It seems as though lately I have been bombarded by the idea that nothing in this life can truly satisfy us. No person, job, condo, vacation, clothing item, accessory, toy, can ever cause us to be completely happy. For a little over a year I’ve been praying for a job and simultaneously living in a state of minor terror. When September rolled around and I wasn’t working, I was shocked and fearful. As the year went on, I went through varying degrees of fear but deep down I told myself that once I had landed a job– all of my problems would be solved. I believed that true happiness would be found in gainful employment.

And so, one day in early March, I received word that I had indeed gotten myself a job! I was ecstatic! I was thankful! I could see God working in the details that made this happen for me! I was finally able to sleep at night and wake up in the early morning hours without worrying myself into a dark hole.

BUT – that happiness rather quickly disappeared and my worry for a job was way-too-quickly replaced with my desire for a really great boyfriend. It had only been a couple of days! My employment dream had come true. The key to my supposed happiness had been given to me and I so quickly forgot. I figured I had at least a couple of weeks before I was yearning for something else to make me more satisfied but no.. we are strange creatures that way.

I know that should I ever meet a tall, bold.. wait that’s my coffee order.. but should I ever meet the right man, I will be happy but then inevitably I will be wanting for something else. We are never satisfied. I feel like such a brat but I also recognize that this is what C.S. Lewis was talking about.. this is the very “desire that nothing in this world can satisfy” and the indication that “we were made for another world“. Or as Paul David Tripp wrote in his book New Morning Mercies: “Of course you haven’t been fulfilled in this world. It’s a sign that you have been designed for a world to come.

So I will continue to be thankful that God has blessed me with a job and when I feel that annoying longing for something new, I will tell myself that this is just a symptom of the human condition. Sure, those things may bring some happiness but they will not stop me from wanting more. Only God can satisfy our hearts and only He can bring us to a place where all of our yearnings and desires will be completely met.

 

Vibes Schmibes

I have a friend who is into vibes. Really into those vibes. She sends happy vibes, positive vibes, affirming vibes, shining vibes into the universe all the time. She sends them my way (I kind of wonder how that is actually done) and she instructs her social media followers to send similar vibes in all sorts of different directions. Her world is a vibey place.

 

Along with that she is all about speaking things into the universe. She believes that when we speak positively and throw things out into the great unknown, the universe will hear us and bless us. The universe is just waiting for us to name and claim things and once we let the universe know that we really want good and happy things— they will happen. It’s magic!

 

Now, I know that this happy positive vibey universe engaging philosophy is a weak kind of “religion” and I know that blessings are from God and not from the universe and it doesn’t matter how much we implore mother nature for sunshine, God controls everything… but what about the power of positive thinking?

 

You see– it’s been a weird year for me and it’s been a year where at times I have not been feeling very positive or deliriously happy or able to hold onto the belief that good things are comin my way. I spent a lot of time fighting for the ability to be okay. Some days that was easier than other days.

 

BUT THEN — I suddenly felt like things were changing. Dark clouds were clearing. I was feeling happier, lighter, healthier. And the thing is– it wasn’t because of all the vibes people were sending me, it was because God was teaching me some big things. It wasn’t about my flinging the dreams into the universe, it was about me trusting God completely and me finding joy in the act of doing so. It was about me finally being able to truly and fully believe that God is good and God is for me. That’s what filled me up and that’s what made me smile and that’s what gave me true joy. So yes, the world is right when it recognizes that seemingly positive people seem to attract good things but it’s dead wrong when it comes to understanding why. So I will never send positive vibes your way, but I will pray that whatever you’re going through, you will be able to “consider it all joy” as you trust in our great God to bring you through whatever it is you’re facing in the days ahead.

Two Become One.. but not like that.

I have kept a journal for ages, since I was about 9 years old I think. While during some stages of life I was more diligent about writing in it, I’ve always had one on the go. I remember in high school someone introduced me to the idea of a Prayer Journal and I thought that sounded appealing too. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t want to give up my personal journal and combine it with the prayer one so I have had two on the go for many, many years.

If I examine my reasons for this.. well back in the day I wanted to write in my personal one about .. well “personal” things. It was mostly about boys and friendships and the daily dramas I was going through. I didn’t want to mix that up with God stuff because, sometimes I liked boys that I didn’t want to pray about and sometimes I had very ungodly and mean feelings about people in my life. So I felt like I had this double life of journals going on. I also had the far-fetched idea that I was going to be a famous writer and when I died and my journals were published, I preferred that the public read about my ever-so-exciting life of being unable to decide between two boys and musings about my humdrum life instead of see my inconsistent prayer life. Ridiculous.. on so many levels!

So this kept up for a very long time. I would write prayers to God in my devotional journal and then I would pick up my other one and scribble out anxious thoughts about men, jobs, friendships, etc. Recently, I have been writing way more in my prayer journal and it’s started to turn into a personal journal too.

One of my consistent spiritual struggles has been trying not to balance on the fence.. keeping one foot on either side and I think the separate journals is a very tangible depiction of that. I am now “all in” but my journals were not.

SO… today I started a new journal. Just one. A journal where I can record my life and talk to God about it at the same time. Imagine. I’m pretty excited because not only is it quite pretty, but I finally am at the point where I can see how I need to be transparent and open with God about all the areas of my life. I am hoping that this will be a good thing and I can’t wait to see what ends up being written on the pages.  It’s one life… so one journal.

 

 

Goodbye September

September was not my finest month. My circumstances were not ideal and neither was my attitude. You see, for the past 11 years I have always had a full-time teaching job in September. I am used to being slightly stressed and overwhelmed while scrambling to learn my new student’s names and organize myself and my courses for the year. I am used to long, tiring days and trying very hard not to start any sort of countdown. For the first time, in 11 years, I did not have a job on the First Day of School. And that rocked me.

 

I had been praying for a job for September since pretty much the previous September and spent time believing that God was going to provide just that for me. As I approached the summer, I was slightly nervous but still pretty confident that I would be working on the first day of school. As August started to show itself, I was growing a little more tense, but then a job opprotunity presented itself and I was SURE that it was what God has in mind for me. I interviewed and then spent the week panicking until I heard that.. Nope, it was not to be. Devastating. Yet I consoled myself with the fact that it would be okay.. I’d be working by September. And then it was the last week of August, the first week of September, Labour Day and then the first day of school. The only thing on my calendar was a hair appointment mid afternoon. For the first time in 11 years… I was unemployed.

 

I was upset. I was stressed out. I was panicky. I worried about my future, my rent payments, my RRSPs, my long term savings that were dwindling… I was a mess. I felt like a loser, a failure, way too similar to people I had previously judged. I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t wake up well. It took me a long time every morning to get to a place where I felt something that resembled peace. Maybe it wasn’t quite peace but it was something that resembled being okay enough to face the day.

 

I kept praying the same thing: “God, please give me a full time job and please help me to trust you.” The prayers didn’t really seem to be working.

 

A side note is that I am not entirely unemployed. I am on a supply teacher list at my previous school and happily, I was being called in quite a lot. I also had some friends in town and I enjoyed being free to spend time with them during the day. And, I have a good friend in a similar situation to me and we did meet up occasionally and discuss how this was only temporary.

 

One day I noticed the fact that September was nearing its completion, fall had started, the weather was changing, and I just wanted time to stop. I was dreading October because that means that a whole month has now gone by where I’m not teaching. What a depressing thought! But this is the thing! I basically spent the summer not being able to enjoy myself because I was so stressed out about a job and I spent September the same way. I know, deep down, that this is all temporary and that the supply teaching gig is actually pretty sweet. I know that I may never have time like this again and I suddenly realized, I can’t keep dreading the future and spending day after day miserable and stressed out. I can’t let one thing that isn’t going the way I want it to go to dictate my thoughts and mood on my entire life.

 

Also, I started to think about how there are so many things I’ve wanted to do that I was unable to do because I was teaching or too tired from teaching. But now– I have time. I actually have time AND energy. I don’t want to waste that. I want to be able to take advantage of the fact that I am in a unique situation, one where I actually have time to write the things I want to write and to read the books I want to read, and to cook the recipes I’ve been eyeing and to get back into running and yoga and all of the other things that I never used to have time to do.

 

I want to actually enjoy the fall. I want to spend time happily working away at projects that I’ve ignored for far too long. I want to enjoy being able to meet up with a friend in the afternoon for coffee. I want to remember that God has me in this moment in time, in these particular circumstances, for a reason and I want to be able to calm down and relax in that. He’s got me.

 

So now I’m looking at October, 31 whole days, and maybe I’ll get a job and maybe I won’t. I am determined to make use of this month either way, and to live each day purposefully and well.

 

I haven’t had my “doom and gloom” early morning freakouts for a while now and my prayers are no longer me begging God to help me trust Him. I realized the other day that finally… finally after ages and ages, I actually DO trust Him. I’ll keep praying for wisdom and guidance and direction and a job but while I pray, I hold onto the fact that I serve a good God, with a perfect plan and I can trust in Him for all things.

 

Being Happy

When I was younger (OK maybe only a couple months ago), I would lie awake in my bed at night and wonder if I could be happy. I would go over all of the things happening in my life and look for the one thing or maybe two things that were getting in the way of my happiness. I would pretty much always find something; a friend acting strangely, an approaching science test, an upcoming meeting or presentation, an illness.. and then I would look forward to that thing being done with or resolved because then I could be really and truly happy.

Almost two years ago, I was recovering from a breakup and starting to feel like myself again. I can remember distinctly thinking.. “Give me a couple more weeks and then I can be totally happy”. Everything was going really well in my life and the bruises on my heart were starting to heal up nicely. I figured that I was on the brink of being able to be happy again. But then, I found out that my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness and so the idea of being able to be really happy quickly faded away. I remember thinking: This is it. I will never be truly happy again. How dramatic!
Anyway, miraculously, my father is recovering brilliantly, the stresses in my life seem to be at a bit of a low, life is pretty good except for… well there is always an except for. And that’s what I’ve learned. As long as I’m living on this planet, there will something less-than-ideal going on. Because we are humans. Because we have bodies. Because we are living on this planet with other complicated humans. Because we need to grow. Because we need to stay in constant communication with God. The list goes on…
I’ve also been really tuned into the fact that I don’t need everything to be going perfectly well to be happy. Because it’s not the little fleeting emotion of happy that I’m after, it’s the much more powerful JOY that is the goal, the command. It seems like over and over I’m confronted with the idea that we are called to rejoice in all of our circumstances, to be joyful, to seek joy. Realizing that I don’t need everything to be going well to be able to find complete joy in life, in God, has been a bit of a wake up for me.
And so now when I go to bed, instead of looking for the one thing that is blocking my happiness, I’ll focus on the things that bring me joy.. the One who brings me joy. It works out much better this way.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (ESV)

Little Thoughts in the Morning

While reading Psalm 84 this morning a few verses really stood out to me . “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself” (3a). It struck me that in God’s courts, kingdom, presence there is a sense of belonging that cannot be found anywhere else. It’s an experience that we as Christians are blessed to have. Living overseas can be oh-so-lonely sometimes and even though I have some excellent friends, it’s hard when they just don’t “get” that whole christian side of me. When I go to church and sit in the pew and listen to some familiar song or hear people speak about God’s goodness, it gives me a sense of finally being home. I’m surrounded by people who may or may not talk to me but they believe what I believe or something like that.. and it’s a huge comfort. We are not meant to be lonely or alone in our faith and I love that God provides a way for us to have company in this journey.

It’s hard to fit into this world and it’s difficult to find our place sometimes. It’s easy to be lonely in a crowd or feel out of place but with God, it’s so different. We belong with Him, we have a place with Him, even the sparrow.