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Trying on New Clothes: You Can’t Go Around It

Transitions are those moments in life that are in between two seasons.  In a lifetime, one has many seasons.  In college, these seasons are packaged tightly into neat packages called semesters.  After college (for me), seasons are more disorganized, and transitions are more drastic.

Transitioning from a college student to a…well, a non-college student…has been difficult.  It seems like I had let go of so many great opportunities after I had walked across that stage.  At the same time, I now have access to even greater opportunities that lie ahead of my path.  I said goodbye to some wonderful friends, only to say hello to new co-workers and deeper relationships with people I knew before college.  It has felt like trying on new clothes.  The clothes feel clean and refreshing, but there was nothing wrong with my old comfortable clothes.  At this point in my life, I am trying to discover what to wear, what to throw out, and what to save for later.  As I grow, the clothes that were once comfortable may become itchy, worn out, or tight.

Transitions between seasons are difficult, but they are worth it.  They can come in numerous forms, from graduation to getting a job promotion to losing a loved one.  The temptation is to try to avoid transitions.  It is possible to go from one season to another without taking the time to grieve what was lost, process what was gained, and make a plan for the future.  However, inevitably, you will hit a bump in the road and will have to go back to deal with what you did not process before.

Journey with me as I process through my transitioning from a college student to whatever else God has for me.  This time in my life is different, because I have never done it before, but I believe that there is hope at the end of this.  Life is a process that takes time to unfold, and we need to take the time to understand what we are facing.  I am thankful for those who have taught me the importance of reflection, grieving, and hope.  I hope that this blog series will not only help me verbalize my feelings, but will also encourage anyone else who is moving from one stage of life to another.

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From Childish to Childlike: The Value of Transitions

Over the past few days, I have been talking about transitioning from childish to childlike.  But what are the benefits of going from childish to childlike?  If our goal is to be spiritually mature, why would we want to explore life as a child?

From the time I was seven years old until I was about sixteen, my life was chaotic.  My childhood was taken from me by divorce, stepparents, responsibilities, hidden emotions, and anxiety.  These events are still pretty tough for me to discuss, even though they happened nearly ten years ago.  When normal children were having fun and playing, I was in my house, trying to sort through how I felt.  I balanced taking care of my sister, seeing my parents, and entertaining a bipolar stepfather, while attempting to figure out why I was so anxious all the time.  My stepsisters made fun of me whenever I acted my age, despite the fact that they were only two years older than me.  They constantly compared themselves to me.  As a result, I put away childish things.  I grew up, forgetting the joy and peace I felt as a child.

During my college years, I was scared of growing up.  Whatever chance I had of going back to my childhood was over.  I cried a lot over the loss of opportunities.  I journaled about my fears and concerns, like getting a job or having my own family.  Because I missed my childhood, I did not feel safe about going into the future.

When I went on that retreat and played on the challenge course, I thought a lot about my childhood.  I remembered the fun time I had in kindergarten.  I remembered the embarrassing moments from elementary school.  I remembered my friends and the activities I enjoyed doing.  Honestly, although that time I had on the playground was short, it was helpful to grieve my childhood so that I could look toward the future.  It was not possible for me to grow up because I desired a childhood that I didn’t have.

As you walk from childishness to childlikeness, do not be afraid to grieve.  If you did not have a childhood, take some time to play. Humble yourself.  Take a break from work to do what you love.  Spend time with friends.  Look up at God and thank Him for the life that He has given you.

This blog post concludes my series “From Childish to Childlike.”  After a quick break this weekend, I will continue to discuss the importance of transitions.  Come back on Monday to read my new series. Thanks for your continued support.  Be blessed!

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From Childish to Childlike: It’s OK to Be OK

“It’s OK not to be OK.”  I would hear this phrase all the time at school.  This idea gave me the freedom to grieve and admit my shortcomings, trusting that I was not struggling alone.  I had the right to cry and get angry, and I had the right to ask for help.  That is true vulnerability.  In light of this mentality, I had the opportunity to deal with the emotions and thoughts that I had kept bottled inside me.

However, in my last year of college, I was blessed abundantly.  I had very little complaints; I only wanted to talk about how God was providing for me financially, how I had a great mentor that taught me so much, and how I had seen an incredible amount of miracles.  I had the ability to be thankful for the little things.  Generally, I was satisfied with my life; even when problems came my way, I had peace that everything would work out in the end.

Although I was doing well, I was surrounded by people who were in tough situations.  I would walk into the cafeteria, full of joy, and would come across friends that were in horrible moods.  After seeing their sorrow, I would feel awkward about my happiness.  Could I boast about the blessings that I have received, or should I emphasize with my friend by finding something to be sad about?  If I knew someone was having an off day (or even an off week), I would avoid her, hiding the joy that I felt.

It may be OK not to be OK, but it is also OK to be OK.  In a world full of negativity and complaining, it is nice to have a ray of hope shine through.  Negativity is overwhelming, so it takes a lot of strength to be joyful.  If you’re having a good day, do not be afraid to show your happiness!

As a result of my freedom and joy, I dance.  Dancing makes me feel like there are no limitations, no burdens holding me back.  I may not be very good at dancing, but I do it anyway.  People have told me that they enjoy watching me dance because they can see how happy I am.

When I graduated college, my friend dedicated the song “I Hope You Dance,” by Lee Ann Womack, to me.  I think that this song describes childlikeness perfectly.  It is clear that this song is a dedication to children. Based on the lyrics of this song, here are ten ways I have discovered that it is possible to dance, to be OK even in the midst of struggle:

1.  Keep Dreaming: Like I said in the last post, dreaming is a risk, but life is not worth living without hope.

2.  Never Settle For Less: Even when you are satisfied with the way things are, do not be afraid to expect more.

3.  Be Thankful for EVERYTHING: Whatever you have is a gift, and you would miss it if it was gone.  Instead of complaining about what you don’t have, be thankful for what you do have.

4.  Pray and Trust God to Provide: God is faithful, and He will not leave you in want when you put your trust in Him.

5.  Be Humble: It is OK to boast in your strengths, but remember not to think any better of yourself than of someone else.

6.  Take Risks as New Opportunities Arise: If a situation does not work out, keep looking for new opportunities.

7. Hope Against All Hope: Even when it seems impossible, believe.

8.  When You Have to Choose, Don’t Let Fear Decide For You: Fear ends in failure; live your life in joy rather than in anxiety.

9.  Don’t Fear the Future: Approach new situations with hope and excitement instead of fear.

10.  Don’t Choose the Comfortable Route Just Because It’s Easier: Life is difficult; it is full of suffering and trials, but it is worth it.

So, if you’re OK, let your joy shine!  I hope that instead of negativity, that you choose to dance in joy and freedom.

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From Childish to Childlike: Open Your Heart

“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.  You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.  In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).   

Children are free.  Children follow their own instincts and do not let anything restrict them.  They can trust anyone that their parents or caregivers say are safe.  If children have good relationships with their parents, babysitters, teachers, or relatives, they can trust the people that these authority figures put in their lives.

As children get older, their dreams fade. They encounter people that abuse their innocence, hurting them in the process.  So they stop dreaming.  They stop taking risks.  Their teenage years are filled with angst, because there is a battle between what they want to do and what they should do.  Ex-lovers, step parents, and classmates continue to tell them to stop hoping.  To protect the little hope that they have, they close their hearts.  No one can take this from me, they say, swearing that they will build up walls, not just against negativity, but against everyone and everything.  Without taking risks, their hope dies, and there is nothing left but bitterness and limitations.

Last blog post, I talked about the importance of community.  However, I understand that asking help from others and living in community involves taking risks.  You need to be vulnerable, and that’s not easy.  How do you know that those who are around you will not tear you down instead of build you up?

I know what it feels like to have someone tear me down.  There was an issue that I was struggling with that no one knew about at the time.  I opened up my heart and shared this struggle with someone I knew.  Instantly, this person tried to fix me by giving me Bible verses and telling me that the way I was handling it was not right.  In that moment, my feelings were not validated.  Since then, I could not tell anyone about this issue.  I closed my heart.

In my last semester of college,  I became part of a small group of women that claimed that they were a safe community.  Nevertheless, when I first met them, I made a promise to myself: I will not tell anyone about my deep issue. Telling people will not help. It will only make it worse.  Eventually, after getting to know the group, I realized that they were trustworthy people.

One day, I didn’t feel like being at our meeting.  One of my friends looked at me.  “You look like you need to talk.”  I didn’t. Well, at least, I didn’t think I needed to talk.  But since she asked, I started talking.  I mentioned very basic concerns that I had.  Then I stopped.  Everyone looked at me, waiting for me to finish. I went a little bit deeper.  Then I stopped.  I knew where this was going.  They looked at me again.  Apparently, it was obvious that I needed to share.  I opened my heart up completely.  What had locked up my heart for years was spewed out in front of me onto the floor.  I couldn’t stop talking.

I stared at the floor, refusing to look up.  I just wanted my friends to go away, hoping that they wouldn’t judge me like I knew they would.  One of my friends said, “Look up!”  Finally, I did.  They simply smiled at me.  As we hugged, a few of them told me that they were proud of me and that they already saw a difference in me. No one said anything judgmental.  They had proven their promise.  They are a safe community.  They became my close friends.  I didn’t only open up to them; they opened up to me.  Because of their trustworthiness, it became easier for me to open my heart.

But how did I get there in the first place?  The only reason I could give is that the Lord is my defender.  Since God is faithful, if all else fails (and honestly, all else will fail), I know I can trust God.  My friends are a gift from God, so I can trust them.  If I can’t trust them…well, I’ve been hurt before, and it hasn’t killed me yet!  Regardless of what you’re going through, the way to be free is to open up your heart.

Now that you are mature, you are not bound by the restrictions of other people.  The only thing holding you back is your own fears.  Let yourself dream.  Don’t be afraid of risks.  Risks may be scary, but that voice telling you to stop has no power anymore.  Be childlike and trust those around you in confidence that nothing they can do will destroy you.

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From Childish to Childlike: You’re On Your Own Now (?)

As a child, I would always look back at my mom before doing anything.  If an older person asked me a question, I would look back at my dad for an answer.  If my friend wanted to come over, my eyes would avert to my mom, who would give me the okay.  When I was in high school, I had to ask permission from my mom to go anywhere. I would have to tell her where I was going, what I would be doing, and how long it would take.

From a young age, I longed for the opportunity to go overseas.  I wanted to travel the world and write about my experiences.  I waited for the chance to make my own decisions.  As a child, since I was not wise enough to make my own decisions, I depended on the will of my parents.

Yesterday, my mom and I were driving to visit my grandpa.  My mom told me that since I was a little girl, I always had peace and confidence in myself, so she knew that I would travel the world someday.  I looked at her, surprised.  “Does that mean I can overseas?” I asked.  “Of course.  You just graduated from college.  You’re own your own now.”  At that moment, my mom told me the words I had always wanted to hear.  I am free to go wherever I want.  There are no limits.  I am on my own.

From the time we are able to speak, we are trained to learn how to live without the help of others. Our ultimate prize is buying our own homes and having our own incomes.  We learn to think for ourselves, and we are taught to fight to uphold our own arguments.  Our parents bring us to daycare or school so that we could gain an education away from our homes.  This encourages us to one day leave the nest and have our own jobs.  We wait for the day when we can say, “I’m on my own now.”

After pondering this statement, I began to wonder: is independence really a true sign of maturity?  Although all of these are all good things, living with the help of others is not childish.  Sure, we may need to break free from the finances and shelter of our parents, but we are not supposed to live life completely alone.

Unfortunately, I believed that I was supposed to do everything on my own for longer than I would like to admit.  I was afraid of asking for help, and I boasted whenever I accomplished any task by my own strength.  Despite the smile on my face, I desperately desired the help of others. I desired someone to help me carry my burdens with me.  I knew that if I asked for help, I would look like a failure or a drama queen, so I kept my mouth shut.

Going to a small college changed my mindset about asking for help.  My classmates and I were like a family, holding doors open for each other and eating together at dinner.  My friends would ask me about my day, their eyes shining with curiosity.  Eventually,  I opened up to them.  I told them my mistakes, my concerns, my fears, and my faults.  They walked alongside me, helping me get back on my feet and figure out my life.

In the Bible, James writes that we do not have because we do not ask (4:2).  Instead, God promises to strengthen us and help us (Isaiah 41:10); all we have to do is ask.  We can ask for help from God as well as from our friends.  Ecclesiastes 4 says that it is better to have someone help you when you fall than to be alone.  Your friends will listen to your problems, successes, and failures and help you to live in a mature way.  Mentors and people in authority can give you wise counsel.  They can see an outside perspective of the situation so that you can make better decisions.

I am excited about having the freedom to go where I want.  However, I do not need to burn bridges just because I am growing into maturity.  As a matter of fact, I need the encouragement and admonishment of other people in order to fully thrive.  I am so thankful for the people that have brought me through college, and I look forward to meeting (or continuing to know) the people that will help me in this next season of my life.

Asking for help is not childish.  Be childlike, and ask for help whenever you need it.  You will be surprised at how much you can grow with the help of your friends, family, and colleagues.

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From Childish to Childlike: Sharing is Caring

When my sister was born, I had to change a lot about how I saw the world.  I used to have my parents all to myself.  I did not have to fight for their attention.  I would enjoy their company.  I would also enjoy the possessions that they gave me.  I did not need to share them with anyone.  Once my sister was born, I had to learn how to share my parents and my possessions.  Honestly, it was not easy. Whenever I would feel comfortable with my stuff, my sister would want to play with them.  I was having fun, and she wanted to have fun, so she tried to take my toys from me.  I would push her away, and she would cry and hug my mom.

I thought that the toys were my source of love and security.  When I was good, my parents bought me toys.  My grandma would give me gifts every time I would see her.  My toys meant that I was loved.  My childish brain could not comprehend that my sister needed love too.  Not only that, but she loved me.  She didn’t only want to enjoy my toys; she wanted to enjoy my company as well.  She wanted us to have fun together.  She wanted to be loved by my parents’ with me, not instead of me.  It was not a competition between us.  However, I was so used to having my parents’ love all to myself that I did not know how to share it with other people.

I didn’t realize that my relationship with my parents was not dependent on what I received.  I was always going to be their daughter, and I was always going to be loved by them.  My sister also had that relationship with my parents, but in a different way.  It wasn’t until I became comfortable with my identity as my mom’s daughter that I was able to share my toys, my time, and my love with my sister.  Now, my sister and I are really good friends.  We share almost everything.  We have both learned that our identities are not found in our possessions.

Even as an adult, I struggle with taking pride in what I have.  One thing I take pride in is my joy.  I have a lot of joy; even when people are angry around me, I have the ability to be joyful.  However, I am so used to being the only joyful person around me, that it is difficult to enjoy being happy with other people.  Sometimes, I feel like my joy is an indicator of my relationship with God.  The more joy I feel, the stronger my relationship is with God.  So when other people take joy in the things that give me joy, I feel like I have less of God.  However, by sharing my joy with others, I am giving them the opportunity to experience the joy of the Lord as well.  Not only that, but I am allowing others to rejoice with me, so that I am not alone.  I am able to receive more of what God has for me; I experience true community as well as abundant joy when I share the joy that God has given me with other people.

As I go from childish to childlike, I remember that I am not the only one in the entire world that God wants to bless. He wants all people to experience his joy.  My relationship with God does not change because of my responsibility to share my gifts.  I am always going to be his daughter, and I am always going to be loved by him.  Only from true satisfaction in our relationship with God can we truly share the joy that he has given us, trusting that he will provide even more.

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From Childish to Childlike: Learning to Live in the Light

I posted this in another blog that I have, but I wanted to write it here because I wanted to continue my blog series.  Enjoy!

In the famous love chapter of the Bible, the Apostle Paul says that when he became older, he gave up childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).  This appears to be a call for us to let go of anything that is childish.  As you grow in spiritual maturity, you should put away things that produce spiritual immaturity.  However, Jesus tells us that if we do not become like children, we will not partake in the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3).  Jesus calls us to inherit the kingdom of God just like a child (Mark 10:15).

How can these two ideas work together?  How can we put away childish things and still remain childlike?

A few weeks ago, I went on a retreat with my class.  We were all given assignments to take on for eight hours.  After serious prayer, my spiritual director and her assistant decided that my assignment was to play.  They brought me to a challenge course, prayed for me, and walked away.  I looked around at what I saw:  steps made out of tires that were suspended a few feet off the ground; a tight rope literally inches from the ground, with a rope attached to a tree to help me keep balance; a few blocks of wood to serve as benches; and lots of rocks.  At first, I questioned this whole thing.  How could I abandon all the maturity, all the rules, all the responsibilities that I have acquired during my twenty-one years of living?  But then I realized…I had eight hours to do whatever I wanted.  No one was around either, so who was going to judge me?  The sunlight hit my face between the shade of the trees.  Joy exuded through me. I was ready.

For eight hours, I did everything I had loved to do as a child.  I skipped on the rocks that were scattered all around the ground.  Pretending the dirt was molten lava, I ran around the rocks as if my life depended on it.  Then, when I got bored, I started jumping off some boulders into the cool, moist dirt.  I got to a point where I just danced.  I didn’t care who was watching (if anyone); I was free to do whatever I wanted.

As I acted like a child, memories of my childhood came back to my head.  I meditated on a few things my parents said to me, as well as incidents I had in school.  God helped me to find healing to the hurts that I had felt, but he also reminded me of the good times that I had in my childhood.

Ironically, this experience helped me to transition to adulthood.  All of the things that hindered me as a child no longer mattered; I was an adult now, so I was able to shake off my limitations.  I could hear the memory of my parents saying, “That’s not safe.  If you do that, you’ll get hurt.”   On this retreat, I jumped off of rocks and fell in the dirt.  I did everything that my parents had told me was unsafe.  I did somersaults, which I was told could actually break my neck.  What held me back before was childish.  I was now free to do what I felt like doing.  I was now free to do what God was calling me to do.  I was now free to live like a child.

Because of this experience, I have become more childlike.  However, I have put away childish things.  Over these next few weeks, I will be writing about the difference between childlike and childish in more detail.  As I learn what it means to have childlike faith, and as I lay down my pride and put childish things to death, I hope to encourage you that it is possible to have spiritual maturity while maintaining the freedom of a child.

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My Voice Comes Out

Being a writer has been my dream since I was six years old.  I had been a good writer in elementary school and middle school, but once I hit high school, no one seemed to care that I was the best reader of my kindergarten class and the best writer of my first, second, and third grade classes.  In fact, most of my English teachers did not encourage me to be a writer.  One of my teachers in high school accused me of plagiarism.  After someone who should know a thing or two about English insulted my ability to write a good paper, it became difficult to accept compliments about my writing.  So I stopped.  Instead of writing poems and short stories after school, I would pick up my guitar or violin and sing songs that had already been written.  Instead of writing papers that expressed my voice, I wrote whatever my teachers wanted me to write.  I lost my voice.  Whatever awards I had won in the past did not matter anymore.  If I did not have the opportunity to use my voice, there was no way I could develop it.

In college, I studied Intercultural Studies.  I had developed a passion for learning about other cultures.  Nevertheless, writing followed me.  My friends asked me to look over their school papers.  Even though it was extra work, every time they asked me, I enjoyed using the editing skills that I had learned at a young age.  In my sophomore year of college, I decided to join the school’s newspaper staff.  I had been the editor-in-chief of my high school’s newspaper, so I thought I could try writing again.  Later in the semester, I applied to work at my college’s writing center.  Although I was nervous that I was not a good enough writer for this position, my colleagues saw potential in me that I had not been able to see in myself.

Eventually, my identity on my campus was the girl who worked at the writing center.  I loved helping students with their papers more than anything else.  Because of the criticism that I faced in eleventh grade, I was able to empathize with students who did not have confidence in their papers.  People began to come to me because they knew that I could see the good in their papers.

I still did not have confidence in my writing, even after becoming layout editor of my school’s newspaper and having students request me at my job.  My friends would tell me that I should change my major to English.  I made up excuses, but the truth is that I was scared of rejection yet again.  English professors, who have doctorates in English, should know good writing when they see it, and I was scared that they would not consider my writing “good.”  Besides, I enjoyed my Intercultural Studies major.  I did not want to change majors when I was already in such a great program.

My major actually encouraged me to break out of my fear of writing.  I was required to go out of the country and serve in some way overseas.  Before I went to Spain, I wrote a travel blog.  While out of the country, I journaled to process my feelings.  During siesta, I would sit on the couch and write (in English and Spanish) pages and pages of emotions and events.  I continued to journal when I returned from Spain.  I would write everything in my journal, from reminders to inspiring quotations to my own feelings.  I wanted to remember everything I heard and felt so that I could look back on it in the future.

My friends would notice my journals.  They were able to see that I had not only the ability but the passion to write.  My passion for writing was something I could not hide, no matter how hard I tried to pretend it was not a big deal to me.  During my last semester of college, I met a great group of people that helped me to feel confident in myself as well as in my writing.  They were able to show me that my English teacher in high school told me a lie that I believed for years: This paper is too good to be your writing.  You’re not THAT good. I had so many people encourage me, that the lie suddenly did not make sense anymore.  I realized that writing is not just what I do; writing is who I am.

So this is my voice.  I am not afraid of it anymore.  I welcome constructive criticism, but nothing can stop me from speaking what I have to say.  I have a faith in and relationship with God that will become evident in my writing; it is not something I will try to hide.  As you read this blog, I hope that it encourages you to know that your words matter.  You have the power to speak life or to speak death.  You can use your voice to ruin a person’s dream, or you can use your voice to help those in need.  I am going to use my voice to speak truth, hope, and love, and to encourage those who do not have a voice to stand firm in who they are.