Dec 18, 2007

The Perfection Infection

*This week is a little different. An editor for a ladies' Christian magazine has asked to see an article from me. I'm sending in the following piece. Let me know what you think. Also, I will be taking next week off since it is Christmas. I pray that your time with your family is Christ-centered and full of joy. Thanks for reading!*

Do you have that friend who can confront you on an ugly truth about yourself but leave you feeling like you’ve been embraced instead of slapped silly? Thankfully, I only have a few who are willing to try. Kathryn is one of those friends. We have known each other since age thirteen, so she has seen almost every facet of my personality. However, last year she became privy to a side of me that I have managed to hide pretty successfully because it is mostly an internal thing: my incessant need to be perfect. She became my boss, poor thing. She hired me to “teach” 2-year-olds. If she only knew what she had gotten herself into. Now, I adore tiny tots as much as the next gal, but to be the one solely responsible for their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being? Eek! Every week they must review their alphabet, numbers and colors. They must craft, color and learn to play well with their classmates. They must be taught to sit where they’re told and to nap in the middle of the room on their mats. What? They’re two! They must be disciplined consistently but also loved and cherished. Oh, yes, and most importantly, they must learn about Jesus and give their hearts to Him by the end of the year. Okay, that last one is a lie.

Interestingly, Kathryn never told me every one of the requirements needed to be met every week. In fact, she specifically told me, “Toddlers are tough. Just do what you can. No pressure.” Where I got the idea that every single activity must be done and done at a Martha Stewart level, I do not know.

After a morning of watching me rush around the preschool building huffing and puffing because I couldn’t get the craft ready in time or the room prepared, she pulled me aside. How dare her? Couldn’t she see I was running behind? Anyway, I digress.

“Misti, relax! When did you become such a perfectionist and so hard on yourself? In high school I admired you because you were so confident. What happened to you?”

I didn’t have an answer. What had happened? When did it become okay to expect perfection from myself? As I sat and pondered that question, I realized that this Perfection Infection had invaded every part of my life like a cancer run amuck. I realized that I only feel “good enough” if I’m the mom who never yells at her little one, the employee who never makes a mistake in judgment, the daughter who never disappoints, and the wife that keeps a perfectly spotless house, has dinner on the table every night, and is always in the mood. Hadn’t I read something about all sinning and falling short of the glory of God? Wasn’t I expected to be weak since God clearly says that when we are weak He is strong, thus making it apparent that I will have weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9)? Yet, here I am, descending into meltdown mode because I didn’t get the toys disinfected before the kids arrived.

And I see that I’m not the only one with this debilitating condition. As the wife of a youth minister, I get the privilege of forming relationships with women of all ages. Not only do I get to hang out with girls in their teens, but I get the opportunity to become friendly with their moms and sisters as well. And I witness the same tendencies in all of us, age 14 to 60. We are all unmercifully beating ourselves up for the tiniest missteps. The younger ones are shredding themselves to pieces because they asked someone a “stupid” question, and the older ones are doing the same because they can’t meet every need of every person in their families. Girls, we are not meant to live this way! We were never meant to strive to find perfection. We are not meant to try, try, and try again to reach unattainable goals of flawlessness—to only find peace when we make no mistakes. Amazingly, in Christ, we are enough.

You are enough.

God is clear. You are the apple of His eye (Zec. 2:8), the display of his splendor (Isa. 61:3), very good (Gen. 1:31), forgiven (Ps. 103:12), favored (Ps. 5:12) an object of his rejoicing (Zeph. 3:17). Surely, if I am the apple of God’s eye, I am special and valued. Surely, if God says I am very good then I am good enough. Surely, if God says I am forgiven, I can forgive myself.

I’ve had to come to the conclusion that I will never get it together completely. I will continue to make mistakes, but I do not embody them. Yes, I’m going to sometimes give my husband attitude; my patience will run low with my stop and smell the roses 3-year-old, and I will never know all the answers to all the questions my teens will ask. But I will choose not to “snowball” into thinking I’m a horrible wife, the worst mother in all of America, or an imbecile who shouldn’t be teaching the youth of this world anything. Although I know this territory quite well, journeying down that familiar road is not an option.

Finding our peace with our limited selves is all about choice. Will we believe the lie that we must be good enough to be genuinely loved? Or will we choose to trust the truth that weaves itself through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation: that we are fully forgiven and scandalously loved despite our imperfections? It is a choice. We decide either to remain in our spiritual sickbed or resolve to rise and be healed. Believe. Choose to believe. That is where your healing is.

You are loved and you are enough simply because you are His.

Father, thank You that You love us dearly in the midst of all of our weaknesses. And thank You that You promise to meet us where we are, love us richly, and tenderly mold us into the women You desire us to be. Help us to be cooperative and believe what You're saying and walk in Your truth. We love You. Amen.

Dec 11, 2007

Remember Me

**I realize that the last two posts have been pretty long, so this one is shortened up quite a bit. I pray God speaks to you. Thanks for reading!**

“to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” Jude 25

As most of you know, we moved to Rockwall, Texas a little over four months ago. I remember when we first crossed that short bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard into the tiny little town. We were instantly enamored. Being from one of the biggest cities in the nation, the charm of small town life and the view of the lake at sunset sold us immediately. Never had I seen more vibrant oranges, pinks and purples woven into such a tapestry of beauty. We couldn’t wait to pack up and move into our little condo next to the lake. Much of the first couple of months here we spent simply walking or sitting out by the water. I couldn’t get enough. I just wanted to drink in every little drop of that scenery.

Interestingly, last week I was hurrying down the main street in our community that runs parallel to the lake (yes, there is ONE central drag...I love it). I happened to glance to my right and caught a glimpse of the water. It was sunset and it was just as beautiful as it had been in August. However, I realized that it had been quite a long time since I had really taken the time to soak in its beauty. I had begun to take it for granted and the grandeur of the landscape had lost its impact on me. I saw it so often that it was just another part of the town at that point.

It prompted me to ask whether this mirrors my reaction to God at times. Is this the way we respond when we hear the Christmas story every year? Yes, we know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn, visited by wisemen, shepherds, and sheep, and was the Son of Mary and Joseph. But is that all it’s become to us? Has it become so familiar that it is just another story that we hear at this time of year? I have to confess, sometimes that’s exactly what it is to me. I forget that Jesus left behind the warmth and comfort of Heaven to enter into our cold, dark, and painful world. He was placed in a lowly manger, giving up his rightful throne at the right hand of the Father. I fail to remember that he was born to a fleshly, sinful woman. He gave up the splendor of Heaven to reach out to me. Jesus-God in the Flesh-took drastic measures to save me.

To save you.

Have we forgotten the magnitude of that? He could have sat stationary on that throne and let us fester in our own filth and shame. We deserve it. But in His unfailing love and tenderness, He chose to humble Himself. To sacrifice Himself and His comforts for us.

We know the entire story. We know how it ends, but can we focus on the beginning for right now? We were guilty. We deserved hell. But Jesus would not have it. He rose off that throne, filled with compassion, determined to save His creation, and descended on a condemned world. This Christmas season let’s determine to fix our eyes on Jesus and the wonder of what He did and continues to do for us. For He not only lived on this earth in the flesh; He continues to live amongst us as He lives in our hearts. Inconceivable!

Father, help us to never forget the magnitude of what Your Son did for us. Empower us to live our lives as a thanks offering to You. Thank you, thank you for Your sacrifice. We love you. Amen.

Memory Verse: Romans 5:1 "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”

Dec 4, 2007

The Masquerade Ball

I truly believe that in our church today we have a problem with lying. Maybe we aren’t walking around with bold-faced whoppers falling off our tongues, but how many times have we answered the question “How are you?” with “Great! You?” while our hearts are breaking inside over an issue at home? Why do we feel that we must walk into church or into any other meeting with other women with all of our ducks in a row, neatly put together, mask in place? I’m not talking about spilling our guts to everyone we come across, but can we get a little honesty please? A little vulnerability?

I lived most of my life behind a mask. Oh, I never kept the same one for long, but I always had one firmly affixed. In high school, I wore the successful, fun, full-of-joy mask. In college and my early twenty’s, the intimidating, crass, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar mask. Later, I replaced that with the put-together, righteous Christian mask. You know the problem with those masks? In high school, I was hurting; I wasn’t full of joy. In college, I felt lost and defeated, far from powerful. And when I wore that pretty, put-together Christian mask was when I was the most broken. Yet, no one knew the truth. Behind the mask I was alone. And I was tired.

The Mess of Masks

The Upkeep
If we’re going to keep that glossy veneer shining, it’s going to take some work! I’m going to need to stuff my “stuff”. Subconsciously, it sounds something like this: "I can’t let anyone see what’s really going on, what I’m really thinking, my real pains! Don’t dare ask me about the very issue that’s caused me to put my mask on in the first place. I might break. One tear and the floodgates might open. I can’t have that! I’m good. I’m alright. Okay, I’m not, but nobody needs to know that. My business is my business and I just don’t want to think about or deal with my needs. I will do whatever it takes to keep you from seeing behind the ruse."

Ugh. . .exhausting! The constant, sheer volume of emotional energy exerted to maintain a fa├žade of perfection while you’re crumbling inside is enough to crush you all by itself!

The Ball for One
You may have created a masquerade ball to attend; the problem is that you’re the only one invited. Living behind a mask is a lonely place. Nobody gets to know the real you, the genuine person you are. What they see is whatever you choose to put out there. The person they are getting to know is not the real you. And you know it. This breeds the lie, “If they knew the real me, they wouldn’t want to be around me.” You feel fake, misunderstood, and devastatingly alone.

The Contagiousness
When we decide that we’re going to camouflage our hurts with a disguise of perfection, it makes others believe we have it all together. And although we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others (another blog, another time), we do it. Consequently, when that woman who is going through a difficult time is looking for someone to sympathize with her and comfort her, all she sees is people who have no issues. She has no one to talk to because in her eyes, no one struggles like she does. In an effort to protect ourselves, we contribute to someone else’s pain.

The Host of the Ball

You know what I’m going to say. The one behind this entire ordeal, the one providing all the face gear, is the enemy. His words are ever the same:

• “Don’t let anyone in. They’ll hurt you.”
• “Don’t tell anyone that! It’s too embarrassing.“
• “Don’t blubber on. No one cares about you.”
• “You’re the only one with this issue. If you share it, they’re going to think you’re a freak. It’s better to keep it to yourself.”

The list goes on and on, but the feelings behind the words are the same: shame and a need for secrecy. Ladies, those are tell-tale signs that the enemy is at work. Don’t let him fool you! Stand up and refuse to let him talk you into a self-imposed prison!

I know that for many of us, we live behind masks because it is scary to think about letting people see inside. We have been hurt, ridiculed, and abandoned, but the walls that we are putting up around ourselves are not keeping us safe; they are keeping us imprisoned. In isolation. In loneliness.

The Most High Host

There is a gala for you to attend and you are the belle of the ball. It is a place where the Most High God provides the music. Zephaniah 3:17 says,

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.

I know it’s frightening to let people in, but your God is a mighty God. He can handle that fear. Ask Him to help you be comfortable simply being you. It’s so freeing. He also takes great delight in you. He doesn’t just delight; He takes great delight in you. If someone else doesn’t necessarily take pleasure in you, could you be content with the God of the Universe being head over heals in love with you? Accepting that love will quiet that unease in you if you’ll let it. He is so in love, so enamored, so delighted with you that he rejoices in song over you! Unfathomable! Why should I care what others think if the Alpha and Omega thinks I’m so lovely that He can’t help but burst out in song? And you know the best thing? He knows every single, itty-bitty part of me, good and bad, and still thinks I’m great.

So, girls, do you think that we could start chipping away at that wall? Could we start letting people in and being honest about who we really are? Not only will we find rest from the work of the upkeep, but we will find peace within ourselves knowing that we are loved for our true selves and not some false image we have portrayed. There is freedom in simply being ourselves. And do you know the greatest benefit of all? In taking off our masks, Christ covers us with His image.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing
glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Cor. 3:18

How comforting to know that when I become vulnerable, when I stop the charade, Christ meets me there and covers my nakedness. What a gentleman.

Memory Verse: Zeph. 3:17

Father, thank You that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that we were made on purpose and with purpose. Thank You that you love us, the true us, warts, bruises and all. We bring our masks to You and lay them on Your altar. Please consume them and cover us with Your love. Help us to be content with Your love and acceptance and to remember that to truly fulfill the calling You have for us, we will have to be ourselves. We love you, Jesus. It’s in Your name we pray, Amen.