sweet

“I’ve been fighting to be who I am all my life. What’s the point of being who I am, if I can’t have the person who was worth all the fighting for?”
Stephanie Lennox

The first week of Lent is finished, and I am happy to report that it was largely a success.  My girls and I accomplished all of our goals and stayed faithful to the promises we made.  We supported each other in our different struggles and came away from it closer than ever.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is, Saturday sucked – like, a lot – and it was all my fault.  I was awful.  I was moody, depressed, and overwhelmed with every little thing my girls did or didn’t do.  I went to bed that night exhausted and on the verge of a significant identity crisis.  I was so distracted that I forgot to set my alarm and overslept for church the next morning.

Want to know what fueled this horrible, no good, very bad day?

I gave up sugar.

To be precise, I gave up white carbs (as per the 4-Hour Body prescription) because I know what a stumbling block empty foods are for me.  I use them to distract, divert, and procrastinate, and I always feel terrible later.  Since I am focusing on Hebrews 12:1 this Lent, casting off complex burdens with food seemed the obvious choice.

The initial results were devilishly easy on the physical side.  I have given up soda, junk food, and even this range of carbs before, each invariably resulting in at least one day of detox: migraines, fatigue, nausea, the whole bit.  This time, nothing.  My body felt fine – even good – the whole week.

Then there was Saturday.

I have to say it scared me a little bit and here’s why: What if I’m not the nice girl I have always thought I am?

My whole life, the words that people have used to describe me have always been along the lines of friendly, optimistic, helpful, sweet…  What if it turns out that I’ve just been hopped up on sugar for thirty years?  What if my soft, gooey center is vinegar instead of jam?

Turning to research for answers, I noted with dismay that identity crises go hand-in-hand with addiction.  Some addicts become addicted because of an identity crisis; others experience the identity crisis as a phase of recovery from the addiction.  The luckiest of all turn to addiction for relief from the identity crisis, then face a new identity crisis later during rehabilitation – a cyclical loop of uncertainty.

It will take some time for me to dig up my root causes, and I won’t bore you with my soul-searching here.  Suffice it to say that a new project as I press on through Lent is going to be reviewing who God says I am, meditating on my identity in Him rather than in human eyes.  I thought I already knew this.  Clearly, I have overestimated my depth of understanding.

Coincidentally enough (if you believe in such things), I just happened to see Flight this weekend in my race to be fully informed before the Oscars, and this struggle is brilliantly portrayed therein by Denzel Washington.  The question of “Who am I?” is a recurring theme in his life and the life of others who struggle around him through the story.  It’s not a pretty picture, to be sure, but I am encouraged knowing that I’m not the only person to wrestle with such seemingly elementary issues.

Today, I am thanking God for movies, long baths, my family’s gracious patience, and especially Sundays!

fallow ground is HARD

Hosea 10:12

It’s the first Monday of the New Year – how are those resolutions coming? 

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, the people I know tend to fall into one of three categories:
1. The super-disciplined, who can and do make self-improvements on a regular basis regardless of the season.  These guys see goals as personal challenges, and weakness as a nemesis to vaporize.

2.  The adamantly content, who spend the first week of every new year actively and loudly eschewing resolutions.  They know that they’re not going to change, so they’ve decided not to want to – and they really want you to be free as well.

3.  The earnest but struggling, who go through a self-imposed cycle of shame every year.  I tend to be among them.  December 31st, for me, is a day of hard assessment.  January 1st brings elated motivation and an illogical sense of optimism.  Then somewhere around January 15th, when all of my efforts have come to few if any visible results, I begin to slip.  By February, I am publicly mocking myself so that everyone knows I failed again – but I’m really okay with it!

That’s because breaking up my fallow ground, as the Bible puts it, is hard work.  In fact, gardening is the perfect metaphor for my efforts, because it is equally deceptive.

Gardening magazines and books all feature lovely, idyllic photos as their centerpieces, don’t they?  Most display peaceful images of cultivated yards complete with bright, healthy blooms and lush greenery, outdoor furniture staged in relaxed positions, and perhaps even a bonus water source or bird house.  Catalogs of gardening tools show us smiling ladies patting the dirt with grace and surrounded by shiny, clean instruments – all artfully arranged to demonstrate how simple and rewarding the task is.

Lies.

I’ve seen farmers and gardeners at work, even helped a family member or two with their horticultural endeavors, and it is not pretty.  The picture we should see, if some one truly wanted to prepare us, would be of a profusely sweating gardener, gritting her teeth, armed head to toe with heavy duty garments and implements.  Her skin would be sunburned and spotted with calamine lotion, her hair a tousled mess under her protective headgear of choice.  She would look more like a soldier heading into battle than a relaxed grandmother.

We rarely see pictures of the work, only of the results.  Therefore, our expectations are skewed and when we don’t see those results right away, we believe it’s a personal failing.

There is good news for us, and bad news, and they are both the same: It’s supposed to be hard.  People, like plants, don’t grow overnight, and we need a lot of help and cultivating to come out right.  We will do well to stop comparing ourselves to the rest of the world’s yards and instead dig in where we are.

To that end, here are three resources I am using to stay motivated in the battle.  I pass them on, hoping you will find encouragement, too.

1.  Almost anything that Steven Pressfield has to say, but especially his book called The War of Art.  Best quote:  “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.  Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”

2.  I am reading the Bible all the way through for the first time in about 15 years.  My aunt gave me a wonderful schedule for doing this, available by subscription through Samaritan’s Purse.  Instead of slogging through chapter by chapter in order, it breaks it down into different sections daily (Tuesdays are history, Thursdays are poetry, etc.) – so much more conducive to success.  You can find a similar breakdown here.

3.  Tim Ferriss is my go-to guy for goals involving radical life changes / pursuits.  He’s a maniac for health, and his approach is not for the faint of heart – but if you can stick with it, it will get you where you want to go fast.

Here’s to a productive 2013 for us all.  May we yield at least a few blooms or fruits for ourselves and our loved ones by the end.  If so, all that sweat and grime will be totally worth it.