My Year of Anonymity

After several years of Christian ministry, I’d slowly and unintentionally gotten myself wrapped up in a giant Christian bubble. I didn’t like it—I missed refreshingly-secular conversations with people who didn’t think like me, and I wasn’t making room for that when my calendar was booked with church services, small groups, outreach trainings, and prayer meetings. I didn’t want to wipe away all Christian influences—I think that being connected to fellow believers helps ground you in your faith—I just wanted to leave behind the bubble that isolated me from people who didn’t share my faith.

And like some other changes I’ve needed in my life, I decided to go drastic for a short period of time. Swing to the other side of the pendulum, so to speak. And later, after I’d experienced both extremes, find the appropriate middle ground for me.

So I took a year to be anonymous. That meant I was no longer networking with as many Christians as I could at as many Christian activities as I could. Instead of being at a Christian activity 6-7 times a week, I now chose to do so only once a week. Each weekend I slipped into a pew at the beginning of the service, interacted with the people around me only when instructed to greet them, enjoyed the rest of the service, and then slipped out of the pew to go home. No small group Bible studies, no fellowship hour, no prayer meetings, no ministry staff meetings. No intentional spiritual discussions with other parishioners. I didn’t even introduce myself to a pastor. Just church, just once a week, with the occasional casual conversation with my husband about what we’d heard there.

The point of this was to get out of the rut of Christian over-commitment, as well as to get out from under the burden of expectations of how involved a devoted Christian “should” be. I knew that if I limited my involvement for a period of time, I could discover which Christian activities were actually important to me because I would start to miss having them in my life, not because I was being told I needed to do them. Then I’d slowly add in the activities that would not only feed my soul and provide friends but also give me a chance to give back to my community.

I’ve heard that every “Yes” you give to the things that matter most to other people is another “No” you’re giving to something that matters most to you. For years I’d been unwittingly defaulting to “No’s”: No to forming friendships with people with different faith perspectives, no to giving my time to the other causes that were important to me, no to investing deeply in authentic real-life Christian community with just a few people. When I finally started saying “no” to a lot more (but not all) Christian activities, I was more free to say whole-hearted “yes’s” to the ones that were right for me.

When my year of anonymity came to a close, I ventured into a church Bible study because I missed learning about God through conversations with other Christians. That led to saying yes to a volunteer day to help my community, as well as setting up a meeting to discuss my faith journey with my pastor. Each step brought me closer to the balance I was seeking—to be present and invested in the faith community and outside of it.

If you’re “out of balance” in your involvement inside and outside your church commitments, consider making a change. If you’re moving away it will be easy to start in your new church community with no commitments. If you’re not moving away, out of respect for your community and your leaders, let go of involvements gradually and communicate your intent with those leaders so they don’t 1) wonder whatever happened to you, and 2) keep bugging you to come back. And if you are the leader, give enough advance warning of your end date (commensurate with the level of responsibility of the role) so there is enough time for a replacement leader to fill your position.

I’m still finding the appropriate middle ground for my church involvement, step by step. May you and I each discover the life and joy that our church commitments bring, the grace to realize our “yes’s” and “no thank you’s” and the courage to live them out.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson

My favorite childhood book of all time was Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. First published in 1955, it’s an imaginative story about a little boy who draws the story that is happening to him with a giant purple crayon.

Harold goes on a great adventure with his crayon: he runs into a dragon, sails on the ocean, rides in a hot-air balloon, and eats pie for dinner. He travels until he is weary and finally finds his way back home to his cozy bed and falls asleep.

Aside from my fear that this story will inspire my future children to draw on the walls, I’m really looking forward to the day I can read it to them. It reminds me of the innocence of childhood, and it brings to life the dream of a home to which I can always return because it’s where I belong. And I hope that I can pass that dream on to the little ones I will have the responsibility and joy to nurture and guide some day.

For your convenience, you can purchase your own copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon here.

Enduring a Job You Cannot Stand

I was once recruited to a job that wasn’t what it claimed to be. I never would have said yes to it if I’d realized exactly what I’d be getting myself into. After about a month I’d had enough, but my financial situation was such that I couldn’t quit without having something to replace it. So, I found ways to endure the horrible job while actively seeking out employment elsewhere. Here are some of the tips and tricks I developed during that season of captivity:

Formulate mantras

Mantras can give you courage and strength. I put mine on pop-up reminders on my phone that interrupted my distress throughout the day. Some of them were:

  • “You can only do what you can do. Everything else must wait til tomorrow.”
  • “It’s not your fault, don’t let it ruin your day.”
  • “You are not Super Woman, you cannot save the day.”
  • “The worst thing that will happen is they fire you, and you can overcome that, too.”
  • “Honey badger don’t care, honey badger don’t give a f***.”

Pretend every day is your first day

This helped me lower my too-high expectations I had for myself that I should be more capable than they trained me to be, it removed baggage from previous bad days (what bad days? Today is my first day!), and it gave me freedom to reinvent myself every day into a more mellow and emotionally-detached person rather than feel the pressure to remain the same chipper and fake-friendly person I pretended to be on the first day (#socialintrovertproblems).

Shut off your work brain at home

I.e. “think happy thoughts.” After venting or crying to my husband for an appropriate amount of time when I got home, I needed to get my mind off of work. I didn’t want that place to own me at home, too. We planned activities or had conversations that made us happy, which gave me something to look forward to as I trudged through the workday, and it let me leave work at work while I was distracted by more worthy thoughts and activities at home.

Form an alliance / friendship at work

It may be difficult to find out who hates working there as much as you do, especially if they are afraid of being fired. But if you do know someone who wants out as much as you do, consider them your ally, the person who “gets it” and makes it more bearable to be there. Vent to each other, encourage each other, and console one another when necessary. I’d advise if you’re married, that you limit the venting / consoling to coworkers of a gender you are not (or would not in the future become) attracted to. Just don’t risk it.

Milk it for every resume-building skill you can

Learn as much as you can, volunteer for the projects that will be great to brag about on your resume, and write down any accomplishments you make along the way (also to add to your resume).

Apply your way out (or up)

Don’t feel guilty about looking for something that works better for you. Keep in mind, however, that future employers may question your reliability if you hop around too frequently. So weigh your pros and cons, determine if there’s a minimum number of months you will stay for your resume’s sake, and look around. It doesn’t really hurt to look. And if you find a possible dream job, it doesn’t really hurt to apply (as long as you check the box that says you want the potential employer to NOT contact your current employer—definitely don’t want them to catch wind that you are hoping to quit before you’re ready to).


May you find your own ways to endure your horrible job for the time being, and may you hold on to hope for something better.

Gratitude

During a month-long experiment to try to become a more positive person a few years ago, I identified lots of things worth being grateful for. I know that when I focus on the good things in my life I tend to have a better attitude, complain less, and be more generous with others.

This is not to say that giving attention to negative circumstances is wrong. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary so that wrong things can be made right again. Like complaining about a pain can cause a loved one to drag you to Urgent Care to address the problem. Or talking to your roommate or spouse about something you want to be different in your home or in your relationship brings up a desire you otherwise would have internalized and grown bitter about if you’d said nothing. Or writing to your senator about an important issue you feel isn’t getting enough attention (if enough constituents agree with you and do the same), may encourage the senator to prioritize it more. Sometimes giving attention to the negative things is just what is needed to make positive change.

But if we get so caught up in the wrong, the irritating, and the painful, we may miss out on some fantastic opportunities: things to celebrate and admire and draw energy from.

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The Hierarchy of Want

Advent always gets me thinking about longing, including the many layers of desire inside me. I want a lot of stuff—some material and some immaterial:

  • a new jacket
  • a new computer
  • tickets to Disneyland
  • a graduate degree
  • getting out of credit card debt*
  • uncluttered counters
  • my neighbors to be more considerate in the laundry room
  • my fellow humans to be treated with dignity
  • introvert time
  • to feel loved
  • to actually be loved
  • for my loved ones to feel and be loved

There are so many layers to desire.

I spent most of my life suppressing desire because I had inadvertently learned that it was selfish and ungrateful to want. But over the past 5-6 years, with the help of many therapists (mostly friends, but also one I’ve seen professionally), I’ve been on a mission to discover who I really am, including all the layers of unspoken desire locked inside.

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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.

Lean Facebook

Facebook is a great tool for connecting with far-away friends and acquaintances. It can also lend itself quite easily to superficiality:

  1. voyeurism without connectivity,
  2. exhibitionism, and
  3. a facade of the “newsworthy” things

The latter is usually comprised of the highlights and occasionally a life-altering lowlight that we are essentially asking prayer (or warm thoughts) for, but not much of the mundane in-between. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because

a) most of us don’t want to be inundated with the minutest details of our friends’ lives, and

b) most of us don’t like our “dirty laundry” or that of others to be constantly aired out online.

The issue is, because Facebook is mostly a conglomeration of good times and best moments of hundreds if not thousands of friends on the newsfeed, it can be very easy to believe that one’s own life pales in comparison to everybody else’s.

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Cold Feet Truths

In the early stages of our relationship, my husband and I knew the chances of it resulting in marriage were a long shot. We were very different, lived on two separate continents, and didn’t have enough money to bridge the gap very often. The limited amount of time we had in person was rushed and jam-packed with experiences, without the ability to see each other in normal, everyday kind of life.

But there was something about this man that, despite the challenges, kept me riveted to my computer screen on Skype. So much so that I married him the 3rd time we got to be together on the same continent (for a more spiritual version of the story, click here).

I knew—absolutely knew—that this was the man for me. But lots of people get some version of cold feet before heading down the aisle, and I was not an exception.  Annoying little contradictions crept periodically into my mind, things like “we don’t have enough in common” and “what if I’m making the biggest mistake of my life?” My confusion and frustration about all the mixed messages I was hearing regarding my future often led me to tears.

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Blogging Rules

When I began my blog a year ago, I decided to put in place some guiding principles to keep me in line with its vision and purpose (steps toward a thriving, flourishing life), as well as to keep me honest with myself and my readers. Internet etiquette is different for everyone since we all have different expectations of what’s appropriate and beneficial to “put out there,” and it’s so easy to get swayed by other people’s convictions of what your blog should be. Instead of taking on what someone else found appropriate, I put together my own set of rules for my writing. Here is what they were:

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