Friday, September 05, 2014

two silences




I really wish I could tell the difference between the silence. The bridled silence I'm afraid I too often control. The caged silence for which I blame myself.

When he is silent, it hurts. When I forget to listen it hurts, too. It just takes longer to hurt. And when it comes, it rushes fast like a desert storm rolling over the dirt in the valley. Powerful and bursting forth I break the silence of my own feelings. The bursting forth as I sit in my car in my garage and I just cry.

Sometimes I can't hear you.

Sometimes you don't speak.

Why must it be so hard to listen for a whisper? To speak...so easy. To listen to others, myself... little effort is required.

But your whisper. Can puncture a heart. Will break through the silence.

And your silence even when I'm trying to desperately to listen? Well, that itself is a whisper. In a promise. A promise of words read and heard before. I cling to this. Even when it's hard.

I wish for whisper often, maybe all the time. I wish for whisper I could hear even when I'm not listening. I wish for whispers I could hear when I don't want to hear them.

Longing for these words, these whisper, so echoes the imposition of life. It's so the Romans 7.

Help me to learn and listen in the silence, O Lord.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

reach


















he reached down to me
i tried to reach up

that didn't work

what makes more sense...
him lowering himself
reaching
for me

or for me to actually reach him?

my arms are too short

yet still i reach
swatting away his arm
more times than i care to admit

i can do it own my own, i think
my reach is pretty strong

i am pretty strong

nope

this reach
is grace
undeserved
unaccomplished by me

this reach is joy
forgiveness
love
mercy
the ultimate compassion
for a dead-in-sins soul

his reach is long enough
wide enough
strong enough

he reached for me
grabbed me out of slimy pit
the mire and clay

he gave me a place to stand

it's on his grace
it's on his love
it's with him


http://katemotaung.com/five-minute-friday/


Monday, August 25, 2014

change



I looked down at my phone and sighed the biggest sigh in the history of the world.

Yeah, ok. I might be exaggerating. But that’s how I felt this morning.

They say that habits form with repetitive choices and positive reinforcement. Well, I was used to getting a text message from a friend. Nearly every morning for the past few years I would get some hilarious or crazy text from a friend. Usually about nothing important. Something stupid that happened at Starbucks or at work. Something on the internet that was crazy. A song that made them feel. Something that would make me laugh.

That changed a few weeks ago. Thus my sigh. Old habits die hard.

I miss the texts. The stories. The laughter. The conversation. And now I have to start my day boring. Boo.

It’s amazing how a person can come into your life and crawl right into your heart and come to mean something so much to you in a short period of time. It’s amazing the hole they leave when they go.

I don’t like change like this. So much change is good. So much. But not this. The words of Jesus are in my brain right now, John 15, “any vine that does not produce good fruit must be pruned…” I imagine this might be a pruning. And God’s pruning is always a beautiful and right and good thing.

But it still hurts.

I like all my vines, thank you very much. That’s why I put them there.

INFJs cling tightly to those we connect with, because that connection is so very rare. We don’t want them to leave, so God has to resort to extreme measures to prune from me (that’s been his m.o. in the past). 

I hate it. 

http://katemotaung.com/five-minute-friday/

Friday, August 15, 2014

five minute friday - tell


Today’s post is for Five Minute Friday for my VERY FIRST TIME EVER, and the urging of my friend Karen. Five Minute Friday is where whoever loves and writes is urged shut down their critical voice and and write on a prompt word for five minutes straight. No editing (hahahahaha is happening in my head right now, by the way.) Today's prompt is the word "tell".

____________


She sat across from me in my office and I hear her say the words that will not let me go. The words I keep hearing from people. The words that resonate and by now, simply hurt,

“I don’t feel like I belong here anymore.”

What is my job, now, at this point?” I’m asking myself inside. Wondering how to respond. My heart is tearing and I close my eyes for a long while as we sit together. I almost feel my heart cave in, that familiar feeling of heartache. But this time it’s not about a boy or a friend or family member or a loss. This time it’s caving in dread.

To tell me that you don’t feel like you belong anymore immediately sets me into problem-solving mode. I guess because I know that we could talk and talk and talk about what I know the balcony issue is and know that we will never get to the dance floor and figure this out. It’s as if this telling is yet another way I’m feeling the shovel slam into the dirt and dig the hole bigger and deeper, to make room for yet another body of someone who wants to leave.

I refuse to throw a handful of dirt on this grave. But I don’t know what to do instead.

I am fearful for how many more times people will tell me this.




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

a lament - - - selah

This spring I did a series on expectations – what it actually would look like if we tried to live our lives without them. If you go back and read the series, you’ll see I never come to any kind of solid thesis (that wasn’t the point). But I did come out of it realizing that as great as it sounds to avoid hurt in life, it just didn’t seem possible to truly live without expectations of some form. It seemed like regularly the logical part of my brain collided with my heart. And I let my heart win.

Here’s what’s funny.

I think that I hoped deep down that I would, through the writing, stop having expectations of the people in my life. That somehow I would have learned this powerful lesson through all those painstaking words I wrote and felt… that somehow I would be free of what often hurts me.  Disappointment.

Yeah. That didn’t happen.

Surely goodness will follow me.

I don’t know why I wanted that, other than the obvious reason of it seems like such a great way to live your life. But I did, because I grow weary. Because never expecting anything means never getting hurt or disappointed.

And when it comes to people, that’s when I really, really love this idea.

But when it comes to people, that’s when I just can’t accept t his idea.

But I still want it that way. And as I briefly write about in the series, I know people who do live their lives this way. And these people have hurt me. This is probably why I just can’t believe in living my life this way.

That didn’t keep me from wanting it, though.

Selah

The human heart is a funny thing.

Mine is made up of tiny little pieces. Each with their own rooms. Rooms in which I place things like memories, feelings, pictures of those I love, and maybe even the people themselves. And sometimes when the people leave they take a piece with them. And my heart aches when I can’t feel them in there.

He pierced my heart
    with arrows from his quiver.

I’ve carefully placed each of these people inside the rooms of my heart. There’s not a lot of real estate there, so I choose carefully. I think that people must know that, right? So shouldn’t they view that place as something special, a privilege? Something to not be afraid of, but something to even cherish?

I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.

They probably should cherish this real estate. And they probably shouldn’t take a piece of it with them when they leave. Greedy little bastards.

But not all of them want to be there. And this is what hurts. Because if you are in my life it’s because you’ve inspired me and challenged me at some point. There is little I value more in a relationship.

Selah

I think that our expectations of others rise the more we care about them. Because when we begin to care more about a person it comes with the realization that you need them in your life, and that is exactly why you care more about them. I guess you could even call this selfish, because I hear some wise people say that if our expectations are high that means we aren’t grateful for what we receive. Ugh. It’s pretty hard to refute this argument.

But I also know it’s pretty hard to refute some of my arguments, too.

Because aren’t expectations just a way we communicate what we need and want from each other? I know that God created us to need people, because Genesis 2:18 was before the Fall. Dealing with this need and what it looks like is the struggle, because we are living post-Fall. But because disappointment is a result of lost expectations, how does that mean we should stop having them altogether? Just to make life easier? To let each other off the hook? To live this life making sure no one holds us back, rather than working to help each other become better versions of ourselves?

I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy

Are we not to live our lives helping each other be the best version of ourselves possible, despite our sin? Or, in other words, living to push back the Fall?

This happens every single time I write about this. I find an argument for living life without expectations that I can actually get behind, but when I seek to work it out with my words, I end up here.

Perhaps because it’s simply not in my nature.

One of my friends who lives life without expectations, I realized, is also getting a pretty sweet deal out of this. Because I know he believes in living his life this way, I cannot have any expectations of him. Which means he never has to come through for me and I will accept that. (If I drink his kool-aid.) He never has to fulfill a commitment and I do not have the right to be angry when he disappoints me.

And it’s worked, because over the years, I've asked certain things of him. But I've learned not to expect him to come through. Now that we live in different states, we mostly just text or talk on the phone. If I ask for his opinion on something or have a question for him, I might text him, knowing I will likely not get a response. I still want one, all the while thinking I won’t get one because most of the time he doesn’t respond. And he doesn’t "have" to respond because I stopped a long time ago because it was easier than continuing to be hurt by him.

I’ve known him for 15 years. He’s bared his soul with me. I’ve bared mine with him. We gone through life together. The death of a parent, the changing of careers, lost and found faith. And I don't feel close to him anymore. Maybe I never really was.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye is wasted from grief;
    my soul and my body also.


Selah.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

regret

This has been a challenging four years. A lot has happened in my time in Arizona… a great deal of joy and laughter. Even more growth and stretching. And many tears.

Tonight, for the first time, I actually heard a small voice inside me say, “I regret coming here.”

And right now isn’t even the worst of times I’ve had here.

So I had to pause.

(My version of pausing is to write. Well, first I cleaned and organized my office. Then I sat down to write. Because I don’t know how I feel until I write it.)

I panicked as soon as those words entered my mind, because I don’t know if they are real. True. Or the enemy working against me.

There is something keeping me here. It’s a strong and powerful force. It would have to be to keep me tethered to a place so far outside my comfort zone. So far away from my family. So far away from what I consider home.

But it’s home here, too.

It happened when I fell in love.

With this season.

“But then I come down here… and this fits, too.”

I am just waiting for the thing that is keeping me here to reveal itself fully. I don’t mind having my faith strengthened, but I’m not sure how much longer my heart can take it. (It was pretty fragile to begin with.) There is much joy and much sorrow here.  I’m trying so hard for the joy to overcome my sorrow because of this tether.

I think this tether has a label. Not a name, exactly. Because it’s not that powerful. But it has a label.

Hope.

I will go so far as to say that if one particular thing changed, a decision would be made. And interestingly, it has nothing to do with my call. This is a new revelation for me and it is why I am thinking about regret and love and hope and tethered ropes.



Do I love you? Oh I do. I’m going to ‘til I’m gone. But if you think that I can stay in this same old, same old way. Well, I don’t. I don’t.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

unsettled

I sat down to write today, remembering I still had one more post I wanted to do to finish off my series on expectations. I don’t think I’m going to do it. I realize I could write about expectations a lot more, and the last topic is one that I think would be too much like the others. And while I’ve enjoyed the consistency of doing a blog series, I go back and read them and see what sounds like a self-pitying martyr. I don’t want that.

So here I sit, staring at a blank white page on my computer screen, knowing that writing is just as much a discipline as it is an art. That’s why it often hard for me to go back and read some of what I wrote. It’s not great writing, but it is self-reflection, which, as you may remember, is what I feared would go away in my life once I moved here and entered a different environment, one that didn’t have that focus like my time in St. Louis did.

I’m wondering if I’m doing too much self-reflection, and there is nothing attractive about navel gazing. Then I remember the importance of offering myself grace, because, after all, I practice my words here. I don’t have this life figured out. I’m in the process of screwing up things in my job, my relationships….heck, I can’t even get around to getting my yard work done. I’m a complete mess. 


There is something not right in my spirit. I’d been feeling this way all week as I worked on a message for church, something I normally enjoy (hard as it is). But I struggled all week, and not in the normal way I do when I have a big message to give. The week is normally a mess of emotions, research, frustration, napping and chocolate eating. Not this time. This time I was apathetic.

After a trying emotional experience Thursday afternoon, something shifted in me. And I still haven’t been able to figure it out. I’ve read that INFJ’s often think in pictures, yet we only understand what we feel after we’ve written about it. (This is most often the case with me.) We utilize both side of our brain with equality… so basically, both emotions and logic try to rule us. That’s not very fun. It means I don’t always know which path to follow in order to figure it all out. The logical and straight path? The creative and winding side? Beats me. So I sit in this anxiety, and it feels like something is under my skin that I just can’t scratch enough to get relief.

Halfway through giving my message yesterday, I realized that what I was struggling with involved the fact that I had not yet connected to what I’d written. There were parts that were emotional for me (as always) but I hadn’t hit that groove… it’s hard to explain, but when teaching Scripture, there is a point where you realize that the work and research you did had the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints all over it. I didn’t have that moment until yesterday morning and I didn’t like that it took that long. All weekend, I had this itchy anxiety that I could not place. That i couldn't name. That I couldn't put in a neat little box, label it and put it away on a shelf. I didn’t want to give the talk, I didn’t want to go to work, I didn’t want to be here.


I still don’t know what this anxiety is rooted in, but I am fearful of what I suspect it is rooted in. Experience tells me it will eventually reveal itself, but only after I spend time connecting some dots. I know that when I connected with the words I wrote, while I was speaking them, that a big part of that connection simply comes from it being my call. God has called me to teach. So perhaps that connection happening, despite my apathy, is simply because of God’s graciousness towards me. I can only pray for the same grace as I sort out what is not right in my spirit at this moment.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

crushing grapes

There is something powerfully heart-crushing about realizing you don’t mean as much to someone as they mean to you. If you’ve been reading around here for a while, I’m a pretty intense feeler, particularly since the beginning of this year, when I finished writing the talk I gave for the Women2Women conference, and made a significant breakthrough: that we are completely known and loved by the God of the universe (anyway), and to feel and understand that kind of love on earth we have to let yourself be known by others.


This caused me to be very intentional with my communications with others, my best friends and co-workers, the friends with which I feel a kinship and the family members whom I love. It’s had varying results, to be sure. It’s been painful, without question… which is where I come to the “heart-crushing” part.


You know that awkward moment when you’ve carefully and thoughtfully picked out a Christmas gift for someone and you didn’t get anything from them? That’s what this is like… when you realize that the connection you had to the other person just isn’t there on their side. While this may not be intended to feel like rejection on their part, it makes us feel rejected. It’s a lot like being in a relationship and saying “I love you” without getting it back from them.

“I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”

These are the moments when ask ourselves, was it worth the risk I just took? The risk to let a person see me, let a person inside my heart, and let them walk around the swampland of my soul?

I once read a devotional by Oswald Chambers, in this book, about grapes. Grapes turn their sweetest when they are crushed and squeezed to make wine. “God can never make me wine if I object to the fingers He uses to crush me,” he says. “…when He uses someone who is not a Christian, or someone I particularly dislike, or some set of circumstances which I said I would never submit to, and begins to make these the crushers, I object.” It is in moments like these, when I’m wondering if the risk was worth it, that I must remind myself that it’s not about the risk. It’s about what the risk taught me. How the risk made me sweeter wine. How being in full allegiance to God is about the sanctification process… the process that will change us. It will hurt (pruning always does) but will make better fruit.

“Let God do as he likes,” Chambers says. “If you are ever going to be wine to drink, you must be crushed. Let God go on with His crushing, because it will work his purpose in the end.”

I don’t like being crushed. I particularly don’t like being crushed by people, especially people I’ve let know me. I also know that putting the weight of my hopes and longings on the people I love will crush them with my expectations. (I think Tim Keller said a version of this somewhere.)

I think what I find so difficult about this is when I want that person to be part of my hopes and longings. I want them in there with me. And when they choose not to come – when I find out they mean more to me that I do to them – that’s when I find myself getting crushed, desperately not wanting to be poured out into sweet wine. Because that means they probably aren’t with me anymore. And that is heart-breaking.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

pastors and expectations [living life without expectations]


My sweet friend over at Kansas Bob suggested I write about this topic, and I hardy feel like an expert, since I am not a pastor. But I have seen the inner workings of a few churches and have seen the struggle pastors go through in leading a church. And the biggest of those struggles, most certainly, involves expectations.

I believe the most damaging expectation I’ve seen people have of their pastors, interestingly, also seems to be an umbrella for all other expectations and it’s this: that pastors are to be all things to all people.

[But that’s in the Bible, Stephanie! How can it be a damaging expectation?]

Simple: context. Paul wrote that in 1 Corinthians regarding his missionary work: to convert Jews. He was a Jew, raised in a Gentile culture. His purpose in life was to evangelize. Not pastor. He related to others so that some might be saved. Is this all that different from what it means to actually pastor a church, though? A good and fair question, and certainly as I’ve witnessed a lot of under and over functioning leaders in church, I’ve had to ask myself, “What is required?”

I’ve heard some say that a pastor is not a shepherd. Jesus is the ultimate shepherd of the church and the pastor is to be a sheepdog. I could not disagree with this more. This implies the pastor’s primary function is to just herd and guard the sheep. For a quick easy pop culture reference, think back to Babe, and how the sheep dogs just yelled [barked] to get the sheep to move and go. I don’t want a pastor to lead me that way and I certainly don’t see how the description of an elder in Titus and 1st Timothy support this theory.

But a shepherd? A shepherd tends. He feeds. He goes after the lost… he oversees. Oversees with love and care. Tending and feeding a flock is much different than simply herding and guarding.

Is he required to do this alone? No. That’s why there are staff members and ministry leaders in the church to help out. Because when a pastor tries to do it all himself, he turns into a superhero leader. The problem is exacerbated when we have superhero expectations of our pastor and think he should do it all.


Rarely would you hear a person use that term “hero” to describe their pastor, but if you listen to them talk about him, you’ll hear it. “That sermon was amazing. I don’t know how he does it!” “His family is so precious. They are doing such a good job of raising those kids! It's wonderful!”

And then there is the negative side of this superhero pedestal. “I can’t believe he hasn’t called me back yet. He’s my pastor!” “Did you hear about what he said about so and so?” or the “Did you hear what he did?” or the “I can’t believe he hangs out with________” followed closely by, “That isn’t appropriate for a pastor.”

This is tricky, because should pastors be held to a high standard? Yes. Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)

But we often fail to quote the following verse (we tend to do that when it doesn’t help drive our point home): For we all stumble in many ways...

It’s hard for men to fail. Perhaps because in the garden, they not only failed God and themselves, but they also failed Eve. The everyday failures of life have to do with the expectations men have of themselves, their family has of them, and then you add this whole group of people that pay your salary? That is not easy to deal with, and because pastors often have a deep feeling personality type, it can become consuming for them.  The superhero mentality forms. When there is failure, they are judged harshly that I’ve seen pastors form a hard shell around themselves, compartmentalizing their lives so that their life looks good on the outside, no matter what is going on inside. (Yikes… Matthew 23:27, anyone?)

And as long as we as congregation members perpetuate the superhero expectation, pastors will continue to feel the pressure to become that superhero.

Going on vacation? Too bad. I need you to come back and do my grandmother’s funeral. 

We have deacons and associate pastors in our church? Doesn’t matter. I want the senior pastor to visit me in the hospital.

I’m going through a tough time, and my church friends are being really supportive, but after all that I’ve done for the church, shouldn’t the senior pastor reach out to me?

We expect our pastors to:


  •          Preach a killer sermon each week.
  •          Have a perfect family with well-behaved children.
  •         Have a wife that either runs the children’s ministry or plays piano in worship.
  •          Be available at the drop of a hat.
  •          Help us when we expect it. But in the ways we want, not in the ways that he deems best.

We expect them to be plumbers, electricians, custodians, singers, intellectuals, comedians, best-selling authors…

… relatable, down-to-earth, walking encyclopedias about the Bible, teachers, shepherds, administrators, hospice care workers, counselors…

Did I miss anything? I’m pretty sure I did.

We may say, “I know pastors are human beings.” But when the rubber meets the road and that pastor acts like a human being (and maybe even falls off his white horse) we struggle with it. When he doesn’t do what we want, all of a sudden he isn’t a good pastor.

Shouldn’t he know better? He’s a man of God. He’s a pastor.


This is sobering. It’s sobering because I’ve witnessed it, I’ve felt it and I’ve done it. That’s not okay. Change must start with me. I’m not done on this topic, I don’t think. It’s time for me to examine myself and we’ll see what the Holy Spirit says. Because change always starts with one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

shame and expectations [living life without expectations]


Have you ever been at a crossroads with a friend? Where you are sensing that the friendship just isn’t good for you and that it’s time to set it down and leave it behind?

I’ve been in that place a few times. I think I may be approaching it right now. And as I sat down to write my next post on expectations, I saw that the next topic on my list was about shame. And because I’m me, I found a connection between the two.

The famous “vulnerability TED” BrenĂ© Brown did a second TED talk called “Listening to Shame” and when I first made the list of topics to write about on living life without expectations, I wrote, from her talk, “Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s courage.” I’m not entirely sure I know what I was thinking when I connected it to the idea of living life without expectations, but I do know that right now, in my own life, there is significant shame connected to the expectations I have with the aforementioned friend.

This shame looks embarrassing. I picture it living in the corner of some room in my heart, all shriveled up and pathetic. Hiding from that side of me that wants, more than ever, to grab a shotgun and blow it up. But it’s also in there smirking, knowing that I won’t have the courage to do that, because every time I walk into that room it HURTS with every fiber of my being.

I stand at this crossroad, and one road is labeled “this is probably bad for you” and the other road says ‘I really love them and want them in my life.” I am feeling shame. I am remembering the times I was vulnerable and honest with them. I am remembering the times they promised something and how they didn’t come through, and I feel stupid for believing them. I am remembering the expectations I had that caused me disappointment. And I. am. ashamed.

Shame focuses not on the behavior (like guilt) but focuses on the self. I feel shame because of this friend, which means that I am ashamed of who I am. Honestly, if I can parse this, I am ashamed of who I am with them. Yikes. That’s a whole other post.

I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable with this friend and they let me down. I trusted them with some hard things, and the only return I get are a few text messages. (And a failure to acknowledge my birthday. I’m trying not to behave like a 12 year old here, but, alas, I am.)

I opened up myself to a person who I thought deserved it. And I am so very ashamed at just how wrong I was. Yes, I have expectations. I worry sometimes they are unfair to the other person. I’m also concerned that not having the rights ones are unfair to me.

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” This statement of hers blows me away, but then I remember what courage looks like. Today, we are so fearful of people really seeing us that I believe the gutsiest thing you can do is to let someone in. But when rejection comes, that shame grows. It may still hide in the corner, but it gets bigger. It stands up straighter, gets a little bolder, and before you know it, it’s looking you right in the eye and saying, “You are not enough.”

Get me my shotgun.