What I Learned

Seven Things I Learned This Summer

  1. New Pencils Make Me Happy

I get sad about summer ending. I love the sunshine, and fall allergies send me inside sneezing. The thing that cheers me up more than a pumpkin-spiced whatever-is-now-spiced is a brand new pack of sharpened Ticonderoga pencils.

Anyone else? They are prettier than a bouquet of flowers, and they smell good too.

2. Jane Had Cute Clothes in the Jungle

I obsessed about Mr. Rogers all summer, and I blogged about seeing the documentary here. I also watched a documentary about Jane Goodall. It was a beautiful documentary, and I learned some interesting things about her life in the jungle. But most of all, I wanted to run out and buy kaki shorts and button-down dress shirts.

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Someone remind me of this next summer. For now, it’s fall, and I’ll be wearing my Mister-Rogers-type cardigans and hoping some of his goodwill, kindness, and self-discipline rubs off on me as I wear it.

3. Codependency Happens

This is a little heavier topic, but it is the biggest lesson of the summer. (I’m an INFJ, so these lists are never going to be all superficial.) I thought codependency was something limited to situations involving addiction or domestic violence so when my therapist gently told me my thoughts toward someone in my life was my codependency, I felt like I’d fell off a truck. I lost all my bearings. Everything I knew about how I interact with people in my life had to be reexamined through this new lens I was handed. I googled codependency. This is what I saw.

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When I looked at this list at the beginning of summer and got honest with myself, I said “yes” to ten of these questions, and I was in the extremely codependent category. I was sad for days. How could I be so flawed and unaware?

Number 14 is my life struggle. Number five was also a big one for me, because it is just so unhealthy. I would tell myself that if I just did the right thing, I was leading by example, and others would see and follow. I can choose to do what I think is right, but thinking that my actions would change others or having that motivation is codependency.

I may be codependent, but I’m also an overachiever. I got busy reading and listening to podcasts. The best thing I learned is the simplest little phrase you ever did hear, “I am me and you are you.”

Saying, “I am me and you are you” out loud does something in my brain. I can feel myself separating out from the entanglement with others in my mind.

Say it with me, “I am me and you are you.”

It’s so simple yet so good and true.

4. Church is a Codependency Hotbed and Real Relationships Need Equality

Most of my codependent thoughts were wrapped up in our church situation. Maybe it is because my husband and I have been heavily involved and employed by a church ministry for over twenty years, but I suspect other church members have these struggles even if that isn’t the case. I suspect that many of these codependent thoughts are embraced or even rewarded in church settings. After all, if you take better care of others than yourself you might be compared with Mother Teressa. And trying to change other people’s choices is how some people gauge how good your teaching is, and saying “no” is always hardest when it is the church asking.

I believe healthy people are needed to make up a healthy churches, and healthy churches strengthen believers. Spiritual growth thrives in healthy people and healthy churches. (This is what I’m learning in my Community Bible Study lessons about 1 Timothy.)

The lesson of “I am me and you are you” is really needed in church, and it can help church members thrive.

When I learned this phrase I also learned an important lesson about relationships. Real, true, healthy relationships need equality and mutuality, meaning one person cannot be dominate or more needed or a relationship doesn’t really exist. When church members are constantly on the giving end, the person receiving isn’t entering the relationship. A relationship must have giving and receiving or it never gets off the ground.

This is a picture of a real, healthy relationship, two equal circles that don’t overlap.

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We are separate. We both have things to offer the relationship. We both are giving and receiving. Church outreach might start out on uneven ground, but the goal should be to eventually have a real, mutual, equal relationship with the person receiving help from a church outreach. That is easier said than done! If we don’t have that goal in mind, we’ll never even come close.

It was messy learning this lesson for myself. I’ve been put into the situation of giving in so many mission trips and church outreaches, and I’ve found true friendship with a few people that I’ve taken time to allow that uneven balance to shift to mutuality. It takes humbling yourself and receiving from others. The times I’ve accepted the hospitality of others have been a real blessing, and I have real regrets over times when I didn’t seek the shift because of pride or times I didn’t generously give my time with others to make room for the shift.

5. Formula For Giving Feedback on Someone’s Writing

Is there anything more sticky than trying to give good feedback? I learned this formula from writing coach Ann Kroeker — Ask and BAP.

Before giving feedback, ask the writer what they need to be addressed in their writing. What should you be reading and watching for? Then BAP.

B - Bless - Give encouragement for what was good in the writing.

A - Address - Answer specific questions about the writing. Did it have good flow? Was it a good concept? Did it make sense? Are they repeating themselves too much?

P - Press - Only when the writer asks for it do you press. If they want critical feedback to make the writing publishable, then you should give them every p & q for making the new draft as perfect as possible.

I feel empowered to offer this type of help to my writing friends after learning this.

6. If It Doesn’t Have Fruit, It’s Not best

I heard a sermon by a guest speaker named Marlin Vis. He pointed out something that I had never thought about, but I think I agree with him. He said, “God is not overly concerned with outcomes. I’m not saying He’s not concerned. He’s concerned with output. Here it is — the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity [goodness], faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things, and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with their passions… and desires…. If you want to know if God’s will is being done in your life or in anybody you are watching, you look for these fruits. If you don’t see them, God’s will — no matter what the outcome is — that is not the result of God’s will. And where you see this, that’s God’s will being worked out in the world. Amen? Or not? It’s ok if you don’t agree, but think on these things.”

This is a lot to think about. It is hard to stay walking in the spirit, but God is concerned if I do and it is His will that I do walk in the spirit. This made me think about the life of Samson. He wasn’t concerned with output during his life and his outcome was pushing over those pillars. I have to believe God wanted better for Samson.

Am I more worried about outcome or how I walk through the situation? This idea makes me lock eyes with my sin nature. It is lurking there, and it is not pretty.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
— Galatians 5:16-26 ESV

7. Some Encouragement From Ruth Bell Graham

After facing my sin nature, I need some encouragement not to give up because walking in the spirit does not come naturally. I love this reminder of sanctification from Ruth Bell Graham’s grave marker.


End of construction — Thank you for your patience.
— Ruth Bell Graham
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We are all a work in progress. We will not be completed until that day when we are face to face with Jesus!

I’m thankful for this godly woman’s vulnerability and honesty, even in death.

What about you? What have you learned this summer?

Emily P. Freeman is good to remind us to keep track.

Here’s a song for you just because.

Winter Lessons

It’s been a mild winter, but I’m still longing for the sun. In these last few days of winter, I’m thinking back on what I’ve learned these cold months and I’m merrily looking forward to spring.

The year’s at the spring,

And day’s at the morn;

Morning’s at seven;

The hillside’s dew pearled;

The lark’s on the wing;

The snail’s on the thorn;

God’s in His Heaven -

All’s right with the world!
— Robert Browning

Here’s a list of what I learned this winter:

1. I dove deep into figuring out hygge, a Danish lifestyle idea that’s gained popularity around the world. I lit candles (almost burned my house down), read books with cozy socks, and I enjoyed simple. I found a book at the public library, and I read up on how to hygge. One thing I learned in the chapter about light is about the cute, modern Danish lampshades that I love to gaze at on Ikea trips. The shape and size of the shades are trying to accomplish something besides just looking cool. They are trying to create a less harsh light for a more calm living space. I had no idea.

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2. The book of Isaiah in the Bible might not have been entirely written only by the prophet Isaiah. I’ve been attending Community Bible Study since August, and this year our study is titled Return to Jerusalem. We’ve been learning all about the exile and return of God’s people in the years between 630 BC and 430 BC. Isaiah’s prophetic ministry actually predated this and began in 740 BC. So when I was listening to the audiobook The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson and he was talking about unknown prophets writing parts of Isaiah during and after the exile, my ears perked up. We had talked about Isaiah’s prophecies about the exile back in October. Maybe we didn’t know the whole picture. Peterson said that Isaiah had clearly authored chapters 1 through 39, and it is thought that an unknown prophet authored chapters 40 through 55, and another unknown prophet authored chapters 56 through 66. This idea that someone was writing this work that would be canonized into our Holy Bible during and after the exile without their name being recorded defiantly sparked my imagination. What would that be like? Isaiah chapter 40 is beloved especially since the eagle represents America and Isaiah 58 is often quoted by our current church’s renewed focus on social justice. What about the “beautiful feet” of chapter 52? What if these chapters were not written by Isaiah at all but some anonymous prophet living in Babylon? To know nothing of the man God chose to pen such inspiring, beautiful words? The Holy Spirit breathing these holy ideas through an unknown vessel? Or what if the multiple author theory is wrong and Isaiah wrote it all? What if this theory is just human nature to try to explain away the specificity of Isaiah prophecy (like knowing Cyrus’s name 200 years beforehand)? So what I learned this winter was more questions. More questions isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes having more questions means you’re getting closer to knowing something.

 

3. This January as I was making my list of goals for 2018, I realized one thing I wanted to do this year was join or start a fiction book club. It sounded like fun when I was reading the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin several months ago, and I haven’t quit thinking about it. I started remembering some things about 6th grade Jennifer. I loved to read, and my favorite thing to read during that time was Sweet Valley books. One of my Sweet Valley books came with a book club kit. It had all kinds of silly paper goods created with preteens in mind like little book club membership cards. I remember sitting at my little desk in my room dreaming of having a Sweet Valley book club. Who would I invite? What would we talk about at our meetings? Would we wear all purple like Jessica on meeting days? I never started my club. Probably because it was summer and I lived in the country at the time. I didn’t have many neighbors I could have wrangled into my club. What I learned this winter is that I am still that 6th-grade girl, and I still want a book club. I might not want to talk about my favorite fictional Cali-girl twins, but I want to talk about story, plot, narrative, symbolism, and how fiction teaches us how we feel about the real world. I have no book club plans, but I learned something I want to do and knowing what you want to do is half the battle.

 

4. I like designing calendars. I’ve made calendars for my email subscribers for January, February, and now for March. It’s fun designing these useful printables for my email friends and my own personal refrigerator. I just emailed out the link for the March calendar yesterday. If you subscribe, I’ll email it to you too.

 

5. I read the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend for the first time this winter. There were so many good, healthy lessons in that book. I wish I could have gone back in time and told my twenty-year-old self to read it. It was written in 1992 so I could have! My favorite lesson was this: There’s a difference between carrying your own load and carrying a burden. Galatians 6:5 says we each have to carry our own load. This is another way of saying that we have to adult. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. Work is good. Dependance and co-dependence is a sign of bad boundaries. Sometimes life gets really hard and something comes along that is too heavy to carry, like a boulder. This is a burden. Galatians 6:2 says to, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

“Problems arise when people act as if their “boulder” are daily loads and refuse to help, or as if their “daily loads” are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.”
— Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries

I’ve had my fair share of boulders to carry in the last decade, and I’m thankful for my friends who have grabbed a corner in some way. 

There are so many ways we can reach out and bear a burden, be the Church, fulfill the law of Christ! An intercessory prayer, an ear to listen, a well-timed (or God-timed) text or message to let someone know they’re not alone, a thoughtful gift or a need met out of the blue can be tangible love. It is a disgrace to sit around in buildings and talk about loving one another and never actually do something that shows love to someone who needs love.

If you are sitting here reading this trying to decide what is and isn’t a burden. My advice is to air on the side of grace. Something that seems easy to you might actually be something that feels like drowning to someone else. Most burden-bearing activities don’t cost much, do they? Call that hurting friend. Send that text. Pray for those who pop-up in your mind.

Galatians 6:2-3 ESV says, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” And I love how The Message version translated Galatians 6:3. It says, “If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

If letting someone know you care sounds like too much to you, you might have a different boundary problem, the opposite of co-dependancy. You might have a fence with no gate. You might not have a mechanism to let in and let out love. 

“Sometimes, we have bad on the inside and good on the outside. In these instances, we need to be able to open up our boundaries to let the good in and the bad out. In other words, our fences need gates in them.”
— Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries

This winter had a lot of good lessons.

Have you learned something this winter, you want to share? Comment below!

If you want to share what you've learned this winter, check out Emily P. Freeman's What We Learned Link-up.

 

 

Fall Lessons

The week before Thanksgiving, I went to a week-long ministry retreat with my husband. It was amazing to get away from day-to-day life for that long. The only time my husband and I have been away from home that long is on short-term mission trips. Being away to rest and renew in the mountains was a completely new experience.

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You may never have an opportunity to have that experience so I want to share some things I learned. (The retreat was called SonScape. If you're interested, email me and I'll give you more details.) 

Here are five things I learned in my week of retreat:

1. I learned that I'm better at knowing other people than I am at knowing myself.

I learned about Myers-Briggs personality types, and I learned that I am an INFJ. That means I am: introverted (I prefer to focus on my inner world), iNtuitive (I focus first on the big picture), feeler (I think about people and feelings over logic), Judging (I get satisfaction from completing tasks and long for closure to all problems.)  Because I am an intuitive feeler, that means I have deep thoughts and deep feelings.

It was much easier to spot how other people in my life might fit into one of the sixteen personality types than it was to know that my personality type fits me. I am also actually less introverted than I thought I was. I am only slightly-introverted. I enjoy being around people more than I thought I did. I am just picky about who I want to spend time with because I am such a deep feeler, I don't want to spend time with people who can't go deep with me or I don't feel they are safe to share my deep feelings with. The problem with this is that my personality type is the rarest, meaning there aren't a lot of people who like to go deep like I do. INFJ is only 1% of the population. That means I would have to meet 100 people before I would find another INFJ. My husband has a more frequent personality type. He could meet 11 people, and chances are one of those people would be the same personality type that he is. We even have more than one of his personality types in our immediate families. So I'm on a mission to find another INFJ to be friends with. If you are reading this and you are an INFJ, let me know!

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2. Play is part of Sabbath

Sabbath was made for us. We need it. God does not need Sabbath. (Mark 2:27) The purpose of Sabbath is not a religious testing to see if we can sit still for 24 hours. It is a time of putting down our work. That's really the only requirement, we are to not work. (Exodus 20:8-11)

In God's Word, we are never called the adults of God. We are children of God, and just like play is an integral part of child development, playing is necessary for children of God too. Beautiful times of pure worship can happen in the middle of play.

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3. An awesome definition of fear

Our retreat leaders suggested we listen to a Brennan Manning sermon that was on an iPod in our cabin. The sermon was so wonderful. One of my favorite parts of the sermon was Brennan's definition of fear:

Fear - silent wonder, radical amazement, and affectionate awe at the infinite goodness of God.
— Brennan Manning

So often we associate having fear of God with the idea that God is dangerous, likely to cause us pain or that God is a threat, but this isn't the emotion of fear that God demands from us. Brennan's definition of fear is a relief for an anxious person such as me. 

4. Emotional health affects our spiritual health

Much of my quiet times at the retreat was focused on the work I've been doing in therapy. Getting my head and heart to a healthy place is very important to ministry and my Spirit, my relationship with God.

Getting healthy will require us to pull back the veneer. It won’t happen until we’re serious enough to get honest, own our stuff, and take responsibility for our soul care. We’ll need to go to some of the most private corners of our soul... dark places where personal ambition, insecurity, fear, and brokeness reside. These and other lurking soul predators would love to devour you, those you live and your ministry.
— Lance Witt, Replentish

Emotional health pursuits like therapy, journaling, meditating, breathing, reading self-help books, creating quiet, leaving margin, and having boundaries might sound like it has nothing to do with your spiritual life, but it is crucial to your relationship with God. You are a whole person, and God has called you to love him with your whole self (mind, body, and spirit.)

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5. We need all need healthy, weekly rhythms of rest and quiet.

Our retreat journal said this, "It is not the people around us that are holding us back from a life of deep intimacy with Jesus. It is not the people around us who are keeping us addicted to busyness and noise. It is ourselves." 

We have to take responsibility for our choices. We need to make decisions that will plan times during our week that allow us to get quiet and ask these questions: 1. Who is God? 2. Who did God make me to be? 3. What is God doing in my world? 4. How can I be a part of what God is doing?

Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
— Matthew 6:6 The Message
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I learned so much more than these five things, but these were my favorite new lessons I couldn't wait to share with you. It would be impossible to fit all seven days into these few words. If you are in ministry (whether you are feeling burnout or not at that point yet) I know a SonScape Retreat will impact your ministry life for the better.

If you want to share what you've learned this fall, check out Emily P. Freeman's What We Learned Link-up.