“No Complaints”

When I was teaching Sunday school, one of my class members was an older lady who always greeted my sincere question of “How are you?” with the sentiment, “Oh, no complaints. Doesn’t do us any good to complain anyhow!”

I would always laugh it off, pretending that I took it as the breezy #positivevibesonly thing she was going for, but it admittedly bothered me, and I find myself reflecting on that this evening. For me, even though I taught that class for 7 years, I never got to know this lady much better than this. It was like her “no complaints” statement was a wall between her and the rest of the world. I never really knew what was going on in her world, what I could pray about for her, what I could do to help, because she put up this whole “positive/got it all together” front. It was frustrating and sad as her Sunday School teacher to feel like she didn’t trust anybody enough to be real.

Now, I get that lots of people are more private about their feelings and thoughts than I am. I’ve always lived my life with my personal volume kicked up to at least 8 out of 10, putting it mildly! And I really don’t want to or mean to intrude on others’ privacy. But I also hate knowing that somebody is being fake to me. It seems to me that in the quest to be #positivevibesonly and complaint-less, we’ve forgotten about the beauty of being real with each other, even if that realness means discussing problems or negative emotions.

I for one feel much more closely bonded with someone when they have talked honestly with me and I with them. I don’t see it as “venting” or complaining, and it’s not a burden to hear someone else’s problems, nor is it shameful to share my own. I love deep conversations like that, where you swim in the shared experience of each other’s lives. I wish more conversations were like that, where one didn’t feel the pressure to be positive all the time, and didn’t feel the need for a false smile.

Now, I admit, some have shamed me about discussing my problems as openly as I do, about sharing as much of my life as I do. Some have said I’m doing it merely for attention or to crowd others out, and some have suggested I am spending too much time on negative thoughts. None of those, in my estimation, are true. This is my way of trying to connect with others, to find kindred spirits, and I’ve already found my tribe of folks who understand and emotionally communicate in the same way. I am not alone, and I am not wrong, even though many through the years have tried to convince me that my ways are aberrant and problematic.

I am aware not everyone will agree that being fully honest about life is the best way to communicate, especially when doing so is painted as “complaining” or “venting.” But perhaps, maybe, don’t knock it till you try it? ❤️

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Winks from Heaven

My experiences with Mom since her passing have made me aware of all the little moments in my life that look like winks from Heaven. Finding that perfect parking space on a crowded day at work? Yep. A sweet little squirrel perched on a branch, looking at me seemingly to get my attention before it bounds away? Yep. Meeting an old friend by chance and being able to catch up with them? Yep.

If I wasn’t looking out for these tiny things, I could easily dismiss them…but now that I keep an eye out for them, and now that I interpret them as “winks from Heaven,” they give me a smile and a sense of comfort and hope. This practice really helps me feel like God is looking out for me and all of us. ❤️

My Songs are Prayers!

If I had known that striking out on my own in faith would have led to a tremendous burst of songwriting, I think I would have done it sooner. And it’s revealed something to me, too: my Christian songs are not “worship songs.” They are prayers in poetry form, set to music.

Where I attended before, folks in the church leadership wanted me to write “worship music” as soon as they knew I could and did write music. But after a few years of debuting my honest and real songs about my walk in faith, those folks asked for my songs less and less, or asked me to do different stuff instead of what I felt God was leading me to do.

But, like every other aspect of my faith, I agreeably cut away the unwanted portion of my creativity, and tried to shape it to what they wanted. Then I watched it just shrivel and die…and that’s where it lay for about five years. I resigned myself to singing in the choir, because my Muse was gone and I had no ideas left for songs or melodies or anything. Everyone else was happy, but I was terrified–what happened to half my soul? Where was the music in my head that had been there since I was a child?

As I’m discovering now, it was merely dormant, because I was trying to use it to please other humans, not God. I was trying to write generic, happy-go-lucky “worship” tunes when I knew in my heart all that felt fake, or at least it represented only a small part of the real Christian life. I didn’t need more songs telling me how good God was; I needed songs that rang with my despair and echoed with my fear, because between those bars and chords I could be real with God about my life and the things I needed His help with.

I used to wonder why I didn’t have a prayer life like other Christians, but now I finally get it: my prayer life IS my poetry and my music. These are the ways I talk to God and He to me. He blesses me with inspiration, I sing and play my feelings out, and someone else listening might finally be real with God in those moments, too. God can use my expression of self to reach and comfort others. I haven’t been doing prayer “wrong” all these years–I’ve just been doing it my way. (And how could anyone else understand that when I couldn’t?)

In all the upheaval of the last two months, I’ve written two new piano/voice pieces and one piano solo, and I feel more creative than ever. Half my soul is back where it should be, and I’m not letting anybody convince me to cut it away again!

The Weird Side Effect of Leadership

I’ve been told recently that perhaps I am going through this upheaval in my church life because I am meant to lead a ministry in some way. I’m not sure how that’s going to work, seeing as how organized religion and I have never really gotten along, but this thought has given rise to another, more profound idea: leaders must always be lonely. Especially at the start of things.

I say this because as I look back over my life thus far, I remember several instances where I was called out of the herd mentality to do something unusual. Each time, I was criticized by others, and when I was younger I was sometimes threatened with punishment if I didn’t “behave” (read: do things the usual way). Each time, my seeking led to a greater understanding in myself, and eventually good changes for others as well. And each time, I felt painfully alone, and desperately wanted to belong again.

Knowing what I know of God, He’s using this as an opportunity to encourage growth. But I can’t help aching for a community in which to grow–that’s what led me to seeking church in the first place. I know I couldn’t have stayed in that environment forever, because things had become so stale, complacent, and uncomfortable, but there was a certain security of identity that I’m missing now. What am I as a Christian, if not a “good little church girl?”

Answering that question has proven difficult, but sometimes, in the midst of my restless days and nights, I feel like I’m on the brink of understanding something big. Am I a leader in the making? I’m not sure, and I don’t know if I even want that for myself. But I’ve been called out again, and I can only follow where He’s leading. ❤️

Getting to Know God (Again)

You don’t have to do, say, or be anything for God to love you and want you in His presence.

I guess that’s not really an earth shattering idea in the realm of Christianity, but it’s something I’m finding comfort in these days. Worship in the context of religious ritual, attendance, and activity has been confining, stressful, and restraining, so for me this break from church feels like peeling off the wrong size bra I’ve been wearing for years. (Might be a funny/silly mental picture, but it gets the point across!)

Joking aside, I’m truly grateful that I have this time to finally explore what worship means to me, where I find time with God, and most importantly, what time with God even feels like for me. I feel like I’ve spent so many years hearing about this great friend and Father I’m supposed to love and trust, but now I’m actually in His presence more than just a few minutes at a time every Sunday, so love and trust feel more doable. And all I’m doing is just inviting Him into my space, wherever I am. I can say whatever I need to say out loud, write it down, or just think it; I can be open and honest, and there is infinite love meeting me even when I’m not feeling cheery and super positive.

There’s also no pressure to be anything other than what I am (creative, restless, impatient, excitable)…and that makes resting and listening a lot easier, because I don’t have to stuff down and suppress these traits with God. In the moments where my thoughts ARE clear and calmer, He is there, speaking, and when the tornado of thoughts spins off into the distance again, He just waits for it to settle down. For a woman who’s been told all her life to calm down, hush, be still, be quiet, not hearing or feeling these things from God is a blessing in itself.

I hope this continues, and that I can start growing in faith again. I hope also to find like minded people, too, but I know my personal time with God is most important to develop for now. I’m excited to see where this takes me next. ❤️

A DIY Journal for a Disorganized Girl

I’ve been putting together a sort-of bullet journal/sort-of planner thing for about a week, and I thought I’d share about how I set mine up for some journal inspiration. It’s definitely not the typical journal format, but then again I’m not the typical journal user!

This is the small looseleaf binder I got–I found it at Walmart for about USD $2.50. I like it because it’s smaller than the average binder, so it’s easier to pack and take with me to work, etc. Plus, I just love miniature versions of things anyway, so it’s cuter to use. (I can also change the front and back cover out at any time–yay personalization!)

I also bought a pack of five dividers and 2 special-sized paper packs for it (they were a few bucks each). Total cost for putting this together was between USD $8-$10.

This is where the magic of this journal begins for me. My number one complaint about nicely bound journals is that I can’t reorganize pages if I need more room in a section, and I can’t really rip out pages when I’m done with them or if I’ve messed up on them. This binder being looseleaf and openly organized means that this system is not only customizable, but changeable with my needs. MUCH less journal anxiety! (That is a thing, by the way–I’ve suffered from the fear of messing up a pretty journal all my life for whatever reason.)

I also did a fairly hasty Table of Contents (forgive my terrible handwriting, I have no patience or skill for “pretty” lettering). This page can receive on-the-fly edits and changes very nicely, or can even be completely replaced if I have to. As you can see, I don’t know quite what to do with two of the five sections, but I feel certain I’ll have something to put there in the future. (Wedding planning, perhaps? Lol!). All I did know at the time was that I wanted my favorite color blue to represent the Creative Projects area, so that’s why I left the big space in the middle.

I also like that this “journal” has two pockets (pictured is the front pocket), because I’m always writing important stuff down on little slips of paper and then promptly losing said slips. At least if I have this with me, I’ll be able to stick the papers somewhere relatively safe until I can file the info away officially. LOL

And lastly, this journal is just the right size and style to hold a pen in it without bumping out the spine weirdly or having to clip it on the front awkwardly! It’s a small hurdle to remove, but it’s an important one for me–if I’m always having to hunt for a pen before I use my journal, I’m just not gonna bother. Been there, done that, over it. Lol

All in all, I’m excited about using this new system of thought organization, and I’m hoping it helps me feel less scattered than I have been all my life the last few weeks. I’m hopeful that with the considerations I’ve made on how I actually use paper and pen, I can make a journal work this time!

The Labels I No Longer Wear

There are plenty of words I’ve used to label myself in the past. A lot of these were labels for my interests and what I do with my time:

  • Writer
  • Composer
  • Girl geek
  • Singer
  • Web designer
  • Gamer
  • Reader
  • Some, however, were identifiers and character traits:
    • Strong-willed
      Independent
      Open-minded
      Thoughtful
      Creative
      Funny
      Distractible
      Easily amused

    But there was also a third category of labels–the labels others put on me. Those are quite a bit less innocuous:

    • Lazy
    • Careless
    • Reckless
    • Disgusting
    • Annoying
    • Psycho
    • Childish
    • Attention whore
    • Liar

    I have lived most of my life running away from this third category, while also believing that these labels were the most accurate about me. My reasoning: others can see me as I cannot see myself, so these labels, as bad as they make me feel, must be truer than what I think about myself.

    This reasoning was born from decades of abuse and trauma, and as I finally processed it and began to heal, I understood more and more that these negative labels were not even mine. They were other people’s lies, others’ vandalism on my soul, and I found out I could scrub those words out. So I have.

    But the emptiness and blank spaces left behind have given me pause in recent weeks. If I am not all those negative things, then what am I? Tonight, as I look at the last list I just typed with tears standing in my eyes, I keep hearing one word echoing in my mind: “LOVED.”

    The grace in that word is indescribable. Yes, I am imperfect, and others may have negative opinions of me…but to God, I am LOVED. And I believe that’s where I start the relabeling process. ❤️

    Closeness with God (and what it doesn’t mean)

    Being “close to God” and “walking with God” has always been something I struggled with, even from the time I was a kid. I was constantly told and shown that if I wanted to be “close to God,” I had to read His Word and do devotional studies all the time, had to pray (be quiet and still) a lot, had to be in a church building as often as possible, and had to participate in ministries. So, as a young adult reentering the church after 11 years outside it, I threw myself into all of that, whole hog. I even ended up teaching Sunday school for about 7 years.

    And I got nowhere with God, even after a decade of trying.

    It was not for lack of effort or caring that I “failed” at church. In fact, it was BECAUSE of the stressful effort I was putting forth to “do church right.” I wanted so badly to have that Godly joy I saw in everyone else, but everything I tried felt fake and boring to me, and over time I came to realize that more people than just me were faking it, too. And finally I felt a still small voice calling me out of the herd, calling me out of the noise of “church,” so I followed. I’m still not sure it was the right decision, because even my fiancé doesn’t understand it or agree with it, and some might doubt that the voice was God’s if it led me away from church, but it seemed like the only thing I could do to keep my sanity after beating my head against a wall for ten years.

    Now I’m on the church sidelines again, just like I was 20 years ago when I left organized Christianity for the first time, and all my religious practices seem like they belong to a different woman and a different life. I have a prayer journal I stopped writing in, mostly because I despise handwriting. I have three unread devotionals and a Bible I’ve only read piecemeal-style, because religious reading feels like busy work. And I don’t “pray” like clockwork every night, because I honestly forget, and forcing myself to be still and quiet to pray makes me fidgety anyway. Yet, even though I’m technically free of the practices that were trapping me into a pleaser mindset, I’m still haunted by the thought that I’m not “doing worship right,” so I’m never going to get “close to God.”

    However, it’s occurred to me this evening: I don’t have to fight so hard to be close to God. I have to find my own way to Him, and stop allowing others to tell me what is right for me when it comes to my personal relationship with God. I have to remember that I’m an adult now and can make my own choices, especially when it comes to faith. And right now, I’m looking for simplicity in my faith, uncluttered by complicated ritual or routine, just–something real, not something I feel like I have to memorize for a pop quiz later. I’m not even sure what my ideal church would look or function like, but for now my focus is on becoming aware of God and how close He is in my life. As I’m finding out, He has been very close this whole time I’ve been trying to squeeze myself into His presence.

    Regret at Midnight

    I am often hit in the middle of the night with feelings of regret. Tonight is no different.

    Tonight, it’s regret over possibly throwing away things I didn’t mean to get rid of–a childhood diary, an unusual toy, etc. See, when I declutter, as I have been doing for the last ten years off and on, I get overwhelmed by all the decisions I have to make RIGHT THEN about all these items in order to get the room usable again. I feel so rushed and impatient and tired that I start making bad calls. And my memory is so bad when I get overwhelmed that I’m not even sure I did get rid of them…so I’m stuck in a kind of clutter limbo. I’m afraid to go downstairs and wade through the remaining clutter for hours to confirm that I did get rid of something, but I’m also afraid not to find out soon.

    But why does this bug me so much? Why are the potential losses of items keeping me awake? It’s just a diary, just a toy. What’s the big deal???

    I think it’s partly because I fear losing the memories in those items, and nobody likes to feel like they’re losing memories. But the other, larger part is that it’s a reminder of a mistake, a mistake I made because I was careless. (The tears started as I typed that sentence, so I know I’m onto something. Never fails.)

    I used to get criticism all the time from my teachers (and even Mom) about being careless, like it was a personality flaw or something I did on purpose. But knowing what I know now about ADHD and how it is likely affecting me, the carelessness is not an inborn trait of mine–it is an instinctive reaction to becoming overwhelmed with too many things to take care of and think about at one time. Us ADHD folks don’t do well when it feels like we’re in life’s batting cage dealing with a ball pitcher machine run amok. Give me a few decisions to make at a time, not thousands. But it’s hard to forgive myself for those countless times I swung and missed the ball, those times I let myself and others down because I just couldn’t handle any more…the times I made a bad decision because I needed to make one RIGHT THEN and it was the quickest choice.

    That’s really what’s driving me nuts tonight, I guess. I hate that I make all these mistakes because my brain gets overloaded with information too easily. It’s not anything I can really control, just something I have to work around, but it’s already cost me a lot of precious items, memories, time, and pain along the way. It’s hard to see God’s plan in making me with a brain that is so smart but somehow ends up tripping over itself all the time.

    I do know I’m in need of self-forgiveness; if can’t keep living in regret because it’s painful. But I also wonder: how do you forgive stupid mistakes that keep happening over and over, whether you try hard or not? How do you not run scared all your life covering for these mistakes so you don’t look like an idiot at work, around family/friends, in public? It’s a mystery to me…been trying to figure this particular tangle out for at least a quarter century.

    Maybe the self-forgiveness begins with accepting that mistakes happen and they don’t mean I’m a terrible person. Maybe it starts with learning how to ward off the overwhelmed feeling so that there are less chances for mistakes. Maybe, when it is daylight again, I can believe the best of myself again.

    Refusing Fear, Guilt, and Shame (Even From Yourself)

    I’ve been quiet on here, even though I have had plenty of ideas for posts during those wee hours of the morning where I safely vent my feelings out loud. That’s where this post came from, and since it’s late night here and I can’t sleep, I figured I might as well share what I just talked about.

    You see, I’ve always talked in the privacy of my own room, ever since I can remember. I was an only child l, and so I had plenty of quiet space to rehearse conversations, have difficult confrontations, or even make-believe slam somebody with a comeback I wish I’d thought of hours before. But I always got super embarrassed if I was caught doing it, since who talks like that to themselves when alone, right? But as I’ve grown up, I have come to understand that who I’m talking to isn’t myself or even other people…it’s God. Everything I’ve ever said in that room, or anywhere I’ve been alone, He has heard, and listened. And tonight, unlike most nights, I finally paid attention to His urging to type these thoughts out.

    I’ve been dealing with a lot of fear, guilt, and shame about a life choice I made recently, a choice which I made for my own sanity but which has hurt people I love and certainly never meant to harm. I stopped going to church around the time I was recovering from surgery in July, and pretty much haven’t been back since, despite trying a couple times. My heart is not in it anymore, and if I’m honest with myself, worship in a public space has never been my cup of tea.

    I know I’m supposedly running a positivity blog and I’m Christian, so of course I’m supposed to just ADORE church, right? Why wouldn’t I love singing about God, studying His Word, going on missions, serving others in a church group, just being in a body of believers on Sunday? Why am I “forsaking the gathering together of believers”?

    Well…it feels fake to me, and it always has. Worship has always felt like an interminably long performance, done for the pleasure and comfort of humans rather than anything to do with God. It’s not even the fault of the church I was going to…I’ve felt this way since I was tiny, about every church I’ve ever attended. And because of this feeling that this is all for show, worship services have always been intensely uncomfortable and even painful to endure. Understanding that I’m likely ADHD is part of the puzzle, because long speeches about anything are like nails on a chalkboard to me, but there was something else driving me away from organized worship, something more forceful, something that felt too strong to fight anymore.

    Out of this confusion, in early September I posted an ill-advised quasi-rant on Facebook about it. Even though I thought I restricted its audience, word got around, and that’s where I caused hurt. I’ve been heartsick ever since I found out about it…but I’m not heartsick over getting out of a situation that was frankly driving me insane. I finally understand, after a lot of pondering, at least part what is going on inside me.

    See, God has been slowly opening my eyes to the fake, empty, shallow, people-pleasing existence I was leading before Mom’s death in 2017. I had been at my church for nearly a decade, involving myself in everything I could possibly do, living as cleanly as I could, keeping perfect attendance every Sunday (and judging others who missed, not gonna lie). And yet…it wasn’t enough. Though I thought I put down roots and made friends, I was not living as myself when I was at church. I wore a pretty mask–the false persona of a “good little church girl” who didn’t curse, didn’t involve herself in her old “fallen” habits, and was a shining example for others, lending a voice to the choir and a helping hand wherever. Why? Because I got with my now-fiancé. I loved him and I wanted to belong where he belonged. Almost ten years ago when I made this choice, I thought, “Maybe this church family thing is what I’ve been missing! Maybe this is where I’ll find contentment, if I just do enough.”

    And for eight years, I convinced myself it was enough–all the gag-inducing praise songs, all the boring sermons, all the missions work that felt more like I was part of a multi level marketing scheme. I worked hard at all of it, desperately trying to like it, desperately trying to fit in. Then things began to fall apart for me, as we endured severe church disagreements and the loss of a couple of pastors…yet I still kept on, doing the same things I’d been doing and hoping for a different result. Insanity, as I said.

    After Mom’s death, though, I began to heal from the grief and trauma of her last months, and eventually I knew I didn’t have unlimited time to live trapped like she had been. She had been trapped by her psychological trauma and physical ailments; I was trapped by (among other things) the need to please others to prove I was lovable.

    Over the course of 2017, I began to tear away the false people-pleasing personas I had built in other areas of my life…but even as late as the summer of 2018, I was still trapped when it came to church. This was the last bastion of people-pleasing fear, guilt, and shame, with Satan assaulting me every time I went through the church doors. Thoughts snarled in my head constantly: “if they really knew who you were they would HATE YOU,” and “you don’t DESERVE to be real with them because the real you isn’t worth knowing or saving.”

    But I didn’t stop going to church because of these thoughts’ messages to me. I stopped going because going there was FEEDING these thoughts and making them worse. As long as I was around other people of faith, I was constantly going to be comparing myself to them, terrified of failing them, and performing for them. That people-pleasing instinct was so strong that it was never going to stop. I was never going to be free until I broke the cycle.

    So I did. I just walked away from everything at church, and sought solace at home while I figured things out. Part of me still can’t believe I even did it. Part of me feels like I just took off shoes that were three sizes too small. And part of me feels like I’m driving too close to a cliff edge. I long for the comfort of a church family again, but I am trying to break my addiction to people-pleasing and so I can’t go back. It’d be like an alcoholic going back to a bar.

    I am finally learning that I can refuse this fear, this guilt, this shame over not doing what other people want me to, because I’m no longer a child that has to obey for fear of punishment. I’m an adult and can choose what I do with my Sunday mornings, even if it doesn’t look like traditional worship when I’m staying in my pajamas and playing only the music God has blessed me to create. I can also choose to approach God on Mondays, Thursdays, or even late nights in my bedroom when I can’t sleep. Somehow, in these dark hours when I’m nearly shouting at the empty room, I feel God closer than ever. Maybe, in this newfound solitude, I am closer to understanding what worship means to me than I ever have been.