Gift-wrapped present

Fundraising Therapy

For years as a fund-raising missionary, I was taught that raising support was an integral part of my ministry, that fundraising not only made it financially possible to do the ministry I loved (a means to an end), but that it was a ministry in and of itself (its own end). It allowed me to:

  • connect with people
  • share my life and my ministry with them
  • give them an opportunity to participate materially with what God was doing, and
  • help them grow into generous stewards of their resources, regardless of whether they chose my specific ministry to support or another one that better aligned with their “Kingdom values.”

It was such a beautiful vision of support-raising, and I believed it in theory. But I had a few hang-ups that got in the way of fully embracing it.

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Broken Heart Made Whole

The Danger of Guarding your Heart

As an emerging adult, I was taught that one of the most faithful things I could do as a young Christian woman was to guard my heart. That meant preventing myself from falling in love, especially with anyone who could lead me astray, and it basically resulted in me not dating because no one sinless came along. And I was relatively fine with that—I had a lot of other things on my metaphorical plate, so this freed up my time. But mostly I wanted to follow the Bible’s wisdom of not giving away my heart too easily because I loved God, I wanted to obey God, and I trusted that God’s advice would protect me from getting hurt. And I definitely didn’t want to get hurt.

Many years later, I was resisting falling in love with someone, and a Christian colleague of mine asked me why. I had many answers, all of which my colleague shot down, and the most eye-opening and memorable was his response about me guarding my heart out of faithfulness to God and fear of getting hurt.

He said that despite quoting a biblical verse, what I was describing was not actually biblical, not actually something God asked of his people. Out of the entirety of the Bible, “guarding one’s heart” comes up only once, and it is about keeping oneself from leaving the God who created and loves you for something less worthy. I was not leaving my loving relationship with God for a romantic relationship with a human person—in fact, the man I was interested in also loved God. I was simply trying to figure out whether to bring the three of us together.

Furthermore, my colleague said, the overall message of the Bible is not one of self-preservation but one of overwhelming, sacrificial love, exemplified in the life and death of Jesus who took the greatest risk possible by loving all of us. As God’s people our primary concern is not reducing our risk of getting hurt, but loving like Jesus did, accepting the possibility of getting hurt in the process.

Of course, we don’t throw all caution to the wind and risk everything important to us without weighing the costs. We try to choose romantic partners who

  • treat us and others kindly, and
  • share our deepest values and purposes (like our faith if we have one)

And in that process we recognize that we still might get hurt (Jesus certainly did), and that that might not only be ok but perhaps part of a bigger story of redemption and healing.

The danger of guarding your heart is potentially missing out on the tenderness, intimacy, and sacrifice of God’s story written into your’s. It’s potentially missing out on God’s healing of your past relational wounds. It’s potentially missing out on all the other invitations God has for you to love others radically like God does. But remember—just because you stop “guarding your heart” doesn’t mean you stop guarding your mind—continue to heed warning signs, wisdom from trusted community members, and the guidance of your Creator every step of the way.

If you have been preventing yourself from falling in love solely out of some misrepresented understanding of “guarding your heart” like I was, I pray you will find some courage and give your heart a little bit of freedom. May you find yourself on your own healing journey within the grand story of redemptive love.

Transitioning out of 2017

I’m not a big New Year’s Resolution enthusiast, but I love the coming of a new year with all its symbolism of rebirth and starting fresh. It’s a significant milestone or checkpoint—to look back on a whole year and reflect on what was good, what was hard, and what has changed since the beginning of it. It’s also a useful tool for evaluating what to carry over into a new year, what to discard, and what new themes to incorporate. This is much gentler and more flexible than a rigid “resolution” and therefore less likely to fail you in the long run.

A friend of mine asks God for a word for the coming year—to guide her spiritual journey and give her a focal point throughout the year to help her attend to her soul. My tradition is similar—asking God to help me categorize my year in a theme or two (for instance, 2016 was the year of waiting and of the unknown), then asking what God foresees the theme of my upcoming year to be. It gives me a good idea of what to look for and how to interpret events and my reactions to them.

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Talk Therapy

I think that we all could benefit from a little professional “talk therapy” in our lives. Some of us could benefit from more than a little. Here’s why:

We are more capable of loving ourselves and our loved ones when we at least know why we sometimes behave insecurely, erratically, defensively, or arrogantly. It’s even more effective when we take that knowledge and do the hard task of working through our shit.

We love our people. And we hurt them because of hang-ups in our distant and not-too-distant past. It’s usually not irreparable damage—the people we love tend to forgive if asked, sometimes even when they aren’t asked. But I’d rather be the kind of person who engages with my loved ones in healthy, helpful ways. If I can help it.

And sometimes our people are the ones who hurt us. Therapy teaches us how to handle the pain they cause us and how to form healthy boundaries so we stop enabling them to hurt us and others.

I don’t want to settle for the unhealthy patterns in my life. If you don’t either, I urge you to give therapy a try. Find someone you feel comfortable with, who accepts your worldview even if they don’t believe it themselves, and whose priority in your conversations is to help you find the ability to thrive in all areas of your life, including your relationships.

May you love well and be loved well.

Formerly Fostered: The Search for Healing, Part 4: Helping Others Heal

For context, please see Part 1: Accepting the Angst, Part 2: Examining the Angst, and Part 3: Healing the Angst

From the end of Part 3 (Healing the Angst): I thoroughly believe that my healing journey is meant to help others along in their own journeys, and that as I do, my own healing moves forward, too. So, whether you are a foster kid (former or current) or you love one, I invite you to read and reflect on the following letter (written to my 6-year old self and the 30-something old self that sometimes still needs assurance). I pray if it is relevant, that this letter may serve to help you in your next step forward.

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Formerly Fostered: The Search for Healing, Part 3: Healing the Angst

For context, please see Part 1: Accepting the Angst and Part 2: Examining the Angst.

If you’re new to this whole process of emotional healing, I’m going to say something now that might frustrate you: it’s probably going to take a long time and be a lot of work. We can reach major milestones and still have setbacks, but that does not mean we’re not making progress, and I hope that you won’t let it discourage you from beginning and continuing to do the deep inner work of healing. I’ve been frustrated and discouraged, also, and sometimes even gave up hope for periods of time that I could ever reach wholeness. But for me, living with the angst without pressing on toward healing left me in a state worse than the hard work of healing. I knew that there was something better for me than staying in the muck of depression—it was discovering my truest identity and finding freedom and joy in that.

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Formerly Fostered: The Search for Healing, Part 2: Examining the Angst

To read in context, please see Part 1: Accepting the Angst

My thoughts and feelings as an adult about my childhood have fluctuated over the years, from nostalgia to gratitude to ambivalence to anger to shame to sadness to a conglomerate of all of the above and more. As difficult as they were to uncover, these are the feelings of an emerging adult who had the advantage of retrospect and the ability to articulate something so complex as overlapping emotions. What is more difficult to discover are the feelings of the pre-articulate child as he or she went through those painful moments. If you’ve never allowed those kinds of feelings to flood to the surface, I’d say to proceed with caution, and also with a trusted friend, family member, advisor, or therapist present. I’ve chosen each, at various times and in various situations. They offer a form of safety/comfort if you’re exploring emotions from a time when you didn’t feel safe as a kid.

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Formerly Fostered: The Search for Healing, Part 1: Accepting the Angst

Some of my most-formative years of life were spent in foster care (following a handful of tumultuous years with my family of origin). These early years formed my biggest fears, my greatest strengths, and so many of my habits, both good and bad ones. But I didn’t always understand how much my childhood had impacted me, because I was taught that it was more important to focus on the present, to be grateful for the pleasant things in life, and to sweep anything unpleasant under the proverbial rug.

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Periodic Life Review

Every once in a while I reflect on where my life has been, where it is now, and where it is going. Retrospect can offer so much of what we need in life—joy, encouragement, lessons, rebukes. When Facebook throws memories at me from 1, 3, 5, or 8 years ago, sometimes I cringe, sometimes I laugh or smile fondly, sometimes I get a little nostalgic and sad. It’s good for us to remember those things and to reflect on what has changed, what stayed the same, whether we’re happy about it, and whether we can do anything if we’re not.

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Stress Magnet

I figured out a few years ago that I carry my stress in my jaw. It’s an ache that comes from constant jaw-clenching, and it’s my body’s way of telling me to lighten up or take a break. And it’s been talking to me a lot lately.

The problem is, I don’t have enough going wrong to warrant that kind of constant tension in my jaw. I make stress when there is none, or at least when there is very little.

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