The Importance of Having a Spiritual Spotter

In July my physical and mental health had hit rock bottom and in a moment of clarity and resolve I decided, “I can’t live like this anymore.” I knew I needed to get intentional with working out again, but I also knew I couldn’t do it alone. I’d need help and someone who could guide me on this path.

So, I got a trainer. Since July, I’ve seen her consistently 3x/week and I’ve felt myself getting stronger (mentally and physically), as well as, more flexible and just able to do more. At times, it feels like the process is slow going but that’s usually how this stuff goes. You’ve got to be consistent over a stretch of time. Changes don’t come overnight. MUCH to my despair. 🙂

Working out can be an inspiring atmosphere. You see people doing AMAZING things– like one of the guys at my gym who can lift 700lbs. (Insert big eye emoji here…..haha) The dude is an absolute beast and every time he’s working out I’m in awe he can do what he does. There’s other people at my gym breaking their personal records and putting in the work. Every time I walk into that place I know I’m gonna see someone absolutely killing it because they choose to put in the work.

If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts you know I take inspiration from the world around me and the gym isn’t excluded from that.

Earlier this week, I received a text from a faithful friend of mine. She checks in on me every few days to see how I’m doing and offer whatever kind of encouragement she can and I’m grateful for her. She doesn’t get upset if it takes me a few days to respond or if my only response is a heart emoji. I know she’s always there praying for me and if I’m having a rough day she’ll listen to my woes.

This time, however, she was the one in need of some encouragement and if I were being honest it was a bit humbling to get that text. How could I encourage this spiritual giant? What could I possibly say that would bring light and life to the struggle she brought to me? There was no way after the HUNDREDS of texts she had fielded from me, at some of my darkest hours, would I not even attempt to shower her with love.

But what DO I say?

And as only the Lord can do He dropped a simple word on my heart with a familiar Scripture I had recently heard because she had shared a particular sermon with me a few days earlier. In fact, you’ll be getting a blog post (soon) on those verses but I’m letting them simmer for now.

After I shared that encouragement with her she was thanking me and I reminded her of how many times she had done the very same thing for me. That’s when I was given the picture of the spiritual spotter.

Spotters are commonplace at the gym. People will be lifting or doing a move that they need some extra support on so a spotter is there. Spotters got your back….sometimes quite literally.

Spotters aren’t necessarily stronger than the lifter. The spotter just has a better vantage point, better position and better leverage. Spotters offer strength and support when you’re trying to get the last push.

What I love about this is the fact that a spotter is there while you’re BUILDING your strength. We don’t need spotters because we are weak. We need spotters because we are working on getting stronger!!!

This encourages me greatly because in the moments I’ve needed a spiritual spotter I’ve felt ashamed. If only I was stronger, I could do this alone.

That is a lie. A bold faced lie.

There are going to be times you need a spiritual spotter and there will be times that you ARE the spiritual spotter. That’s one of the beautiful things about relationships/friendships– it’s a give and take.

So, if I can encourage you in this: please, don’t do this life alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t let shame silence you in your struggle. Get yourself a spiritual spotter. Someone who will encourage you and help you hit your goals. Someone who will be there so you don’t fall.

And in turn, I pray you’d be a spiritual spotter, too. Offering your love and support when and how you can.

Together we get stronger.

All The Times I Told Myself To Be Happy

You’ll notice while reading this blog that I started writing it in May. It’s now August and I’m finally deciding to hit “publish”…..why? Well, for a few reasons:

  1. It’s all still true (or how I feel).
  2. This is a topic I believe needs to be talked about more especially in Christian circles.
  3. I’m allowed to talk about it. This blog is MY space. There will always be people who don’t like what I say. Misinterpret what I say. Misjudge my heart. But I need this space again. The space to breathe and talk about what’s on my heart and not feel the pressure of putting some kind of pretty bow on each post.

With that caveat, here is my original post:

You should be happy, I tell myself.

Every morning when my eyes peel open and that familiar feeling awakens again.

You should be happy.

But I’m not and it’s another day of me trying to will myself into some kind of better place mentally.

The summer excitement is building in those around me:

“The weather is amazing!” “I love the sunshine!” “I can’t wait to be outside!”

And me? My entire body is filled with dread that the weather is improving and I can’t for the life of me bring myself to even open the curtains. The birds are joyfully singing at the nicer weather’s arrival and I’m barely able to get out of bed.

“How long have you been in this most recent pit?” a friend asked me. I could pinpoint the day and moment I felt this particular downturn (this is not usually the case), but if I were being honest it never really goes away. Some days it’s just easier to hide it all. If you only knew the amount of times I got into my car after being with a friend or after celebrating a holiday with my family where I cried the entire way home. The hours of having to keep things pent up and smiles on my face had taken a toll. The end of the work day similarly exhausting as I plop myself into bed immediately after turning my Slack to “away”.

“You have no reason to be depressed.” I remind myself. You have people who love you. You have a good job with a regular paycheck coming in. I’m relatively healthy. And my car seems to be running fine (except for the 3 lights on my dashboard telling me otherwise). Life is fine and yet every cell in my body feels as though it’s movement is labored.

You should be happy.

Being a Christian only compounds the pressure I feel to be happy. My depression causing me to wonder if I am the world’s worst Christian. If God’s my joy then why don’t I feel joy? Am I not too blessed to be stressed?

That last one was a joke…partially.

It’s not that I don’t think “good” Christians deal with depression, but somehow I have a grace and understanding for their struggles. I don’t once for a second question their relationship with the Lord and yet here I am convinced that somehow my faith is lacking and depression proves it.

I’ve debated writing about this for a long time because I knew I wouldn’t be able to give any answers to someone in the same spot. With no “answers”, what was the use in sharing? How could it be helpful or encouraing?

Recently I was scrolling through social media when I came across a post where someone felt like people sharing their mental health struggles/stories were simply for likes or to get attention. People sharing was actually making it worse. I don’t doubt that there are some people who might do that, but I believe the vast majority share for a few other reasons:

Raise awareness.

Bring it to the light to remove the stigma attached.

Remind other’s they aren’t alone.

To get it off their chest! THIS IS OK!! (I’m yelling at me. Not you. Sorry.)

May is Mental Health Awareness month and it seemed like as good a time as any to share some of my story. Allow myself to share something I spend a lot of time and energy trying to hide. In some small way be another voice trying to remove any religious stigma attached to it.

Depression doesn’t make you weak or some kind of subpar Christian (or person). Full stop.

The Grief of Unanswered Prayers

I’ve been having anxiety filled dreams for about 4 months now. Every single night and what feels like no rest. I’m perpetually exhausted.

These dreams aren’t always nightmares. At times, they can take on a more humorous quality. In fact, this week I had a dream that I was in the middle of taking an English final and only had 20 minutes to finish it and someone was talking to me and distracting me. What I found most funny, upon waking up, were the details I remembered about the dream. It needed to be 260 words in length (there has never been an English final with such ridiculous word count limits) and my essay was titled “When unwanted hugs and kisses are a bill too high to pay.”

I giggled to myself as I typed up my dream scenario and posted it on Facebook. I thought some of my friends might also find this dream funny and I love getting a laugh out of people. Most of my friends shared their own stress dream stories and I took comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only one reliving my high school test taking days. (Now shockingly over 20 years ago….a nightmare realization in and of itself).

One person in particular left a comment that, admittedly, rubbed me the wrong way. She told me if I read Psalm 91 out loud before I went to bed that these dreams would stop.

Instantly, I was transplanted into my childhood bedroom. My floral comforter tucked up under my chin as my heartbeat echoed in my own ears. I’d repeat the name of Jesus frantically in dire hopes that the night would be peaceful.

I was living in what felt like a nightmare to little Holly. Honestly, it was a nightmare and 37-year-old Holly confirms it, but during it and even many years following my release from “that life” I was told it wasn’t that bad. As I got older I played the comparison game– at least you didn’t experience that. As if that was the only thing that justified pain or grief or loss.

This morning I woke from another stress filled dream that took me back to that childhood life. One that keeps getting more distant with each passing year and yet one I will never forget. As I tucked my comforter under my chin and did my best to soak in the sun rays creeping through my slightly ajar blinds memories began to flood my mind. Memories of well intentioned adults who tried to distract me from the things I had experienced with fun weekend getaways or even a trip to Disney World.

My heart grieved knowing they knew….at least in some way….the hell I was living through. Enough to want to shower me with kindness and yet not enough to protect me from what was actually happening. Part of me is angry. Furious, in fact. Yet another part of me asks, “What did you expect them to do? What could they have done?”

Nothing.

As a kid, I learned to just lean into my faith. Just pray, which is what I did every single night. Desperate pleas, in fact. Begging God to bring me some peace. Not the kinds of prayer or wishes you’d greedily ask of a genie– to win the lottery or meet your crush from your favorite TV show Home Improvement (I know we all loved JTT)– but the kinds of prayers that cause me to crumble as an adult. A kid who just wanted a happy home.

Which is what brings me back to the well intentioned advice of my Psalm 91 reading friend. I’ve tried.

I’ve tried praying, pleading with God to release me from this nightly torture that keeps my body and mind restless and weary.

I prayed when I was told someone I loved dearly had a terminal illness. I sang songs of spiritual warfare, read psalms (including Psalm 91), fasted, wept on my knees for nights asking for healing. And then prayed as I stood next to his coffin, “If you can raise Lazarus, I know you can raise Josh.” My eyes staring at his chest convinced God would fill it with breath.

I’ve prayed for a husband since I was a little girl. Prayed God would make me into the woman needed to be the wife of a faith filled man of God. Or if nothing else to just remove the damn desire all together.

Nothing.

And so I weep, not because I think God doesn’t answer prayers because I believe that He does, but because I’ve grow up thinking if I just prayed more, believed more, tried HARDER that He would see it and move on my behalf. And that’s just not how He works.

It’s not about working harder and I can tell you because I fully exhausted that route in my life. That is NOT the answer. So, what is the answer? What do you do when you wake up and are face-to-face with your worst fear: the grief of unanswered prayers? I would love to give you a formula or 4-step process. In fact, my heart yearns to do that for you (especially for me) because then we wouldn’t be left to wrestle with an unanswered question.

I don’t know. In the midst of these overwhelming feelings right now all I can do is grieve for that little girl who lived through some scary events, grieve for the 22 year old who watched her love be buried and grieve for this singleness cloaked under the exterior of strong, independent Holly.

I talk about my grief because I refuse to pretend that it isn’t there. Grief isn’t weakness or some “flaw” of an overly emotional person. Grief is recognizing a loss has taken place. Grief is staring something in the face that you’ve tried to bury. Grief makes me human and connects me to the divine. The whole “made in His image”. He grieves, too.

Maybe that’s the simple Truth I will leave with myself (and you) today. One that reminds me my grief is seen. It matters and it matters to the heart of God. He’s not angrily asking me why I’m not over that yet or downplaying my hurt by telling me, “It wasn’t that bad.” He cares and is kind towards me. So, today I will follow suit and allow myself to care about this stuff and to be kind in the process.

May I lovingly encourage you to do the same if you find yourself in a similar place.

With love and gentleness,

Holly

A Crown Fit for a Queen

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? Luke 12:27-28, NKJV

A few Saturdays ago, a dear friend stopped by my apartment to drop off some belated birthday and Christmas gifts. We stood outside, lovingly socially distanced, and enjoying the few moments together catching up quickly before we froze to death. As I entered my cozy little apartment, and she drove away, I cried. I hadn’t realized how much I missed being around her.

This friend is one who I’ve felt safe to be myself around. There has never been any need to filter because she knows my heart– even during my often lengthy rants about how frustrated I am with things she allows me to share without feeling ashamed. There’s no need to hide. I can be unapologetically me and know I would still be loved. There’s never any side eyes or looks of concern. She loves me and that’s that. Questions, frustrations and all!

It’s comforting and freeing to be loved like that. Not everyone can do that. At least not all of the time….myself included.

One of the things about my particular faith journey is how lonely it has been, at times. There were/are people in the church who don’t look like me, talk like me, think like me. They don’t ask the questions I do or understand my frustrations. I look(ed) rebellious or emotional or downright “off track” to some and I began to wonder what the hell was wrong with me. Why don’t I fit in? Why can’t I just be like everyone else here? Fall into formation, Holly.

But that’s not my story. And not how I was created. I was made to be me. Holly. Some days I remember this and celebrate it.

Today, I was reminded of this Truth while reading Anne Lamott’s new book Dusk Night Dawn. Anyone familiar with Anne and her writings would know she doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical Christian mold and maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed her writings all these years. She’s refreshing in that she shows her scars and struggles and doesn’t always talk about them in past tense. Many of her faith lessons come through conversations with friends, observations in nature or everyday circumstances in her very ordinary life which, if you’ve read my blog before would know, we have that in common!

In her new book, she mentions a conversation she has with her husband regarding the “lilies of the field” mentioned in Scripture. Many people, myself included, would picture the pure, tall calla lily when in fact the flowers being referenced (and found in the fields of Jerusalem and surrounding areas) are the crown anemone.

Anemones come in a variety of beautiful, bright colors. They grow wild and free in the fields splashing color along nature’s canvas. For me, they are a reminder of who God made me to be– clothed in my own kind of bright, wild glory. Wild flowers do not compete with the flower next to them but simply share their distinct brand of beauty, wisdom and confidence.

I know as Christians we are in this constant process of becoming more and more like Jesus, but it would be a shame that this process would strip us of the uniqueness imprinted on us when He created us. Hand-crafted in fact. We were not made in some heavenly factory spit out on a conveyor belt, but affectionately made in His multi-faceted image. Each one of us displaying a part of Him that He longed the world to see.

If I’m too busy trying to look or sound like someone else than the world is missing out on seeing an aspect of God meant to be seen and enjoyed.

Ya, enjoyed.

If you haven’t heard it lately I want YOU to know that you are seen and enjoyed in all of your wild beauty. I pray as you read these words a confidence would be planted in the soul of your heart and that the love of God would water it. And as His love pours into you you would grow into everything He made you to be– without fear or shame or comparison.

Dear Sojourner,

When I was growing up, my dad would often take us hiking in the hills of Pennsylvania. We’d cross rippling creeks and hop over dead logs while caught up in whatever tales dad spun regarding the noises we heard or what we might find out there in the woods.

I’ve always had an extremely ACTIVE imagination. In fact, during one of those childhood hikes I was convinced there was a huge black bear bounding towards us when it fact it was just a huge black dog that had wandered from a neighbors property. Yet, little Holly was quite undone and shocked that dad did not seem quite as concerned as I was. Until the dog got closer and more into focus and I realized he wasn’t going to eat me.

Like most single people on dating apps, I’d list hiking as one of my hobbies. That’s a bit of a generalization, but it seems like every third profile I come across has it listed. I’m not a “I-hiked-the-Appalachian-trail-barefoot” kind of hiker, but I enjoy being in the woods without the noise of everyday life….as long as I’m with someone. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat otherwise. Today, I decided I would be courageous and walk a local trail alone that I had hiked twice this week each time with friends. Usually, the trailhead has a few cars in the parking lot, but today there wasn’t a single one.

Of course.

“You can do this,” I told myself as I started the trail. “It’ll be fine. This is no big deal.” It felt as though my heart might beat right out of my chest as every downed log looked exactly like a black bear poised to strike. Every noise was an animal coming up behind me. I’m too stubborn to turn back but with each step and each rattle of my keys (my best friend suggested I make as much noise as possible) I realized I couldn’t do this alone. I was going to have to call a friend.

The first friend sent me to voicemail. (Don’t worry she called me back later. haha) I knew my next and best option was my sister who THANK GOD picked up the phone and would be my companion on that hike for the entire 45 minutes. She is an actual saint and when I’d freak out over a sound she’d go, “What is it?!?!” One time it was a hawk that fell out of a tree. Another time it was a family of 4 deer crossing my path. In case you were wondering, neither the hawk or deer tried to eat me. I was safe.

When on other occasions this trek left me more at ease with each passing step– today was different. Was it still beautiful? Yes. Was it any more demanding then it had been on other days? No. Same trail, but a completely different experience.

I recently finished an online class on Race & American Christianity through the college I once attended. When my professor would email us he’d begin with the greeting, “Dear Sojourners,” and it was quite fitting as many of us were trying to find our way through the intersection of faith and social justice.

In my final paper, I referenced that identity and how it seemed to accurately define where I was at in life. Much like the Israelites wandering in the desert, I felt like I had been freed from a place of bondage and yet I hadn’t quite made it to the Promised Land. There was talk of “milk & honey”, but all I can see is sand and all I know is wandering. I’m convinced there’s something GOOD ahead, but what do I do in THIS place?

I guess….I keep walking just like I did today. Too stubborn to quit. Crossed that sea and there’s no turning back now. It’s scary and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do it. Days where the anxiety caused by all the unknowns just about kill me.

Unlike at the Houghton Land Preserve trail, there is no map. There are no blue spray painted markers alerting me to turn right here or a carved wooden sign alerting me “End of Trail”. There are many unexpected twists and turns and moments of “This looks familiar! Haven’t we been here before?!” or “Where the heck are we?!”

There are no “3 Easy Steps” into the Promised Land and it may take longer than you thought to actually get there, but you will get there. You may need to call a friend and have them walk with you through a scary part. You may need to tell yourself “You CAN do this.” Or rattle something noisy and let every scary thing know you are in the area. You’ll most certainly need to let out a few desperate prayers asking God to help you do it, too.

Dear Sojourner, keep going. I know you’re weary and tired and you’ve walked long enough. I know things don’t look like you thought. I know you had hopes and dreams and things couldn’t seem any further from them. I know you don’t have a clue what to do next or how long this hike will take you. There’s more “I don’t knows” than answers. I get it. Just please, keep going.

With love and affection, A fellow sojourner

Nobody Is Gonna Hit As Hard As Life…

I fell in love with Rocky freshman year during my 7pm Financial Stewardship class at bible school.

The class followed my shift in the dish room at the cafeteria, which meant I smelled of soggy food remnants that had splattered onto me despite the fact I was wearing an apron. I was soggy and sweaty from the sprint between buildings and up the tallest, steepest and noisiest stairs on campus which made sure to alert my professor (and the entire freshman class that was required to take the course) that Holly had arrived. This being one of my worst fears– all eyes on me after entering a room late. I blame my grandma for this who perpetually had us arriving at church 15 minutes late and entering by the main door that was visible to the entire congregation. I was mortified as a child AND as an 18 year old trying to sneak into class.

But there was always an open seat saved for me in the old wooden pew styled seating. It sat closest to the door which allowed me to slide into it with only a few creeks as I’d let out a slow and as silent as possible gasp as I tried to settle in for the next 2-hours.

This seat savior was an unexpected one. He’d often tease me through the dish room window when handing in his dirty tray. One time I may or may not have thrown a glass full of water at him in playful revenge. Have I mentioned that I have royally screwed up flirting my entire life?

Yet, there were those big blue eyes grinning at me every Tuesday night.

I was about as “follow all the rules” as they come while attending bible school. I did miss curfew once (yes, we had curfew), may have been “sick” through chapel a time or two and would hide my stocking free legs with my floor length skirts. Shhhh. 😉

BUT this class was brain numbingly boring and I was exhausted from my shift so when he’d sneak a headphone in my ear so we could watch Rocky on his laptop I’d gladly oblige. Listen, I’m a sucker for cute boys. Just so happens I still don’t know how to properly budget and I blame him for distracting me from a much needed lesson in my life. lol.

In his defense, his distraction introduced me to Rocky who has encouraged me many times since then. Rocky encapsulates what we (or at least what many people) aspire to be– a champion. Someone who faced many challenges and came out fists up and swinging. He didn’t win every fight but that didn’t stop him. One of my favorite Rocky quotes, and one I’m certain I’ve quoted here before, says:

Let me tell you something you already know. Life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, nobody is gonna hit as hard as life but it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.

Rocky Balboa
Here I am in 2018 flexing my muscles near the Rocky footsteps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Life has been hitting me pretty hard lately. I know I’m not alone in this as we’ve all had to deal with “challenges”. I put it in quotes because the word challenges comes across so domesticated compared to what people have had to wade through. I’m sure if we sat down (socially distanced of course) and chatted over a cup of coffee you’d share with me your own struggle story.

The hits just keep coming and they don’t stop coming. (Slightly edited from modern day philosopher Smashmouth. haha)

Yesterday, I experienced two (more) solid blows and I begged God to let me just crawl to the ropes and claim defeat. Here I am though. Bruised, for sure, but today I feel a fight rising up in my spirit. Wiping some sweat and blood from my brow and going another round.

As you might know, a few months ago I did a mini-renovation at my apartment and spruced up an office area. A wall that had once held a picture gallery was intentionally left blank because I wanted something special to be showcased there. I just wasn’t sure what it would be until this morning.

I inherited a Rocky poster from that handsome seat saver over 15 years ago and decided it was the most fitting for this blank space. It would commemorate the life of my very own Rocky who fought valiantly until the very end while also whispering to my heart each time I pass it, “Get up, Holly. Keep swinging. You’re a fighter. You’ve got the heart of a champion.”

“His whole life was a million-to-one shot.”

If you’re going through a difficult time I don’t have any easy answers, but I do think Rocky was on to something. We’ve gotta learn how to take some hard hits and keep going.

While on a nice long hike this afternoon with my best friend I was making fun of some of the fitness coaches on the internet–some of which I follow and let abuse me….I mean…train me. One in particular seems to get more and more jazzed up the longer the workout goes and THRIVES off harder moves. It’s sick and I tell her that. (Am I losing it if I’m yelling at a YouTube video?) But, hear me out, that’s the Rocky mentality. When life gets tough….get tougher.

This doesn’t mean you can’t cry or have moments of discouragement. That’s not only crazy, but unhealthy. It just means you don’t allow it to keep you down. Is there some perfect timeline for this? Nope. Every person and situation is different.

I’m just here wanting to be a Mickey in your corner letting you know “You’re gonna eat lightning and you’re gonna crap thunder!” 😉 In sincerity, sending you all my love cheering you on to get up and go another round and hit back harder.

Check Your Blind Spots

Picture with me, if you will, 16-year old Holly learning to drive. I was an overly cautious kid. Hands on 10 and 2. Constantly checking my speed and my mirrors. I was keenly aware that I was, in fact, driving a machine that could kill someone. This reality weighed heavily on my mind every time I got behind the wheel and still does to this day. It’s fun living inside this head of mine. 🙂

One of the things we are taught when we are learning to drive is about the importance of checking our blind spots. Blind spots are those sneaky areas to the side of our cars that can’t be seen by the side or rear view mirrors. What that means is we can’t be reliant upon just our mirrors when wanting to change lanes or to merge onto the highway.

If we are going to safely and accurately check our blind spots we’ve got to actually turn our heads and look over our shoulders. A simple, but vital step in preventing a collision.

Didn’t know you were getting some driving instruction in today’s post, did ya? 😉

Here’s my point: Christians are not exempt from blind spots. We’ve all got them.

These blind spots can include our personal preferences, any biased beliefs, old ways of thinking and just plain ole’ misinformation. Yes, sometimes we aren’t thinking or believing correctly and we leave that blind spot unchecked because it’s easy and comfortable.

In order to check your Christian blind spots you have to have a measure of humility– a willingness to have your heart and motives examined to find out why you think or believe a certain way and why you might be hesitant to relinquish those beliefs.

Sometimes we ignore those spots because we’d rather not deal with it. We know whatever is lurking in that spot is detrimental to our growth but it’d take too much work (time, emotions, energy). Heck, you might even need to get a counselor or therapist! GASP!

[Side note: I’m sans coffee for about 21 days now so I might just come off extra sassy in this week’s post.]

Actually, counselors are really great at helping us pinpoint blind spots and deal with them appropriately. Scripture is also necessary in this process as long as it’s not being used inappropriately or out of context in an attempt to make excuses for that blind spot. The Holy Spirit is also helpful in bringing some clarity and discernment.

All of that requires being open to change and correction. It also requires doing some thoughtful listening without immediately offering a rebuttal.

I’ve seen what happens when Christian blind spots go unchecked and I can tell you that it has stunted growth and caused quite a bit of hurt. We’ve got to be diligent in this area.

I hope it goes without saying but I’ve got blind spots, too. Areas I refused to look at because it hurt too much or I just didn’t want to deal with it. I’m right there with you. I’m just hoping to take a lesson from 16 year old Holly learning to drive and checking those spots that can be easily overlooked….and I hope you will, too.

I love my country but… not as much as I love the Kingdom of God.

It only seems fitting to write about patriotism the week we celebrate Independence Day in all it’s red, white and blue glory. This special day was set aside so each year we could intentionally celebrate America’s freedom by grilling and blowing up fireworks.

I’d consider myself a fairly patriotic person– like “Hulk Hogan staking an American flag into some rock” kind of patriotic. If you’ve never seen that picture please go here. I don’t own a pair of American flag pants like Rex Kwon Do in Napoleon Dynamite, but I cry every time I hear “America the Beautiful” sung.

I love my country. I’m thankful I was born here and that as a white, straight female I get to experience it’s benefits. In many ways, I am proud to be an American, but my identity as an American doesn’t rank #1. I’m not even sure it makes it to my top 5.

I am a Christian first and foremost. That means my citizenship and my loyalty belongs somewhere else. As Hebrews 13:14 puts it,

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

Hebrews 13:14 NLT

Or as Paul tells the Philippians,

“But we are a colony of heaven on earth as we cling tightly to our life-giver, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:20 (TPT)

Christianity and American patriotism seem to have this odd relationship. Almost as if one could not exist without the other. What I mean is if I disagree with something my country is doing or how my president is acting (or saying or posting on Twitter) then maybe I’m not being a very good Christian.

Crazy, right?!

I recently had a disagreement with someone concerning racism in our country. At the end of the conversation they remarked, “I love my country,” as if my disgust with the lack of progress in regards to equality was somehow NOT loving to my country.

I love my country but I love the Kingdom of God and people He created more. ALWAYS.

I not only love the Kingdom of God, but have committed to fulfilling the work and calling that comes with being a citizen of it. Jesus the King of Kings has commissioned me for His work.

The ideologies of the Kingdom of God and the “American Kingdom” are vastly different. In Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility she shares this:

“Examples of ideology in the United States include individualism, the superiority of capitalism as an economic system and democracy as a political system, consumerism as a desirable lifestyle, and meritocracy (anyone can succeed if he or she works hard).

Robin J. DiAngelo “White Fragility”

When I read that I was confronted with how differently these two kingdoms are run. The Kingdom of God isn’t about individualism, but about community and fellowship–so much in fact that even God is triune!

In the Kingdom of God, giving and generosity is foundational making sure everyone is being taken care of including widows and orphans. Jesus even urged one man in Mark 10:17-27 to give up everything he had and give it to the poor! ALL he had. The man went away sad because he was quite wealthy– a huge mansion, 401K, cars, boats, vacation homes! I’m kidding, but he did walk away sad because the one thing he didn’t want to give up Jesus was asking him to give up for the sake of the Kingdom.

God’s kingdom isn’t a democracy either. He sits on the throne and He calls the shots.

Lastly, and for which I am very grateful, the Kingdom of God and our citizenship in it is not based on our merit, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. Nothing I could do or say could get me entrance– it’s His grace and mercy alone!

The Kingdom of God, unlike the American one, is perfect. I’m not saying Christians are (we are NOT by any stretch of the imagination), but it was designed and is governed by a perfect and loving God. A God who doesn’t classify a person based on race, social status or money in the bank!

I pledge my allegiance to my God.

I am people.

As a Christian, what has been the hardest thing for me to do?

It hasn’t been *not* murdering though catch me without coffee and maybe I’d give you a different answer. Also, there was that one time I was convinced to chaperone a 40-Hour Famine youth group event and I’m certain I had numerous murderous thoughts. I also spent the next 24-hours in bed sick as a dog. Never again!

It hasn’t been serving. If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time you’d know that I served with such zeal and enthusiasm that I find myself in severe and utter burnout.

While others might hold tightly to money or things I’m quick to give. I’m also quick to speak life when people are down or in need of some encouragement. This isn’t to pat myself on the back, but just to acknowledge some things come easier to some and that’s what makes our diversity needed and beautiful!

Back to that main question, the hardest thing for me to do as a Christian has been to love and value myself.

This has been a difficult concept for me to grasp since…well….forever. As a Christian, I very much understood that my life had two main goals because Jesus had so nicely summed them up for me in Matthew 22:36-40. Everything hung on those two things.

Love God. Love People.

And so the light came on: I AM PEOPLE.

I’ve been thinking about this more lately when on multiple occasions I was asked, “If you could tell younger you one thing what would it be?” Back in 2013, I wrote a post around my 30th birthday sharing some of my answers to that question. I still agree with everything I wrote, but as I re-read it I realized I missed this important truth– loving myself.

In the Christian culture, we are encouraged to think outside of ourselves. Be mindful of others. Live the cross-bearing kind of life. I don’t deny any of those things and still agree with them. I am to daily lay down my life for the Kingdom of God, but laying down my life doesn’t mean hating myself or dismissing my needs.

I thought loving God and loving others meant giving of myself until I didn’t even have a drop left for myself. I thought loving others meant finding value in others, but finding myself worthless. I have operated out of this mindset for a very long time.

But I am people.

And you are people, too.

I know you’ve probably got kids, grandkids, jobs, ministry, friends and/or houses to care for, but it’s OK to care for you, too. Actually, I think God finds just as much pleasure in seeing you love yourself as He does when you love others. Why? Because He made you, too. You’re one of His wonderfully made creations, too! You are beautiful and made in His image, too!

One of the worship songs I’ve been bathing myself in recently has been “Prophesy Your Promise” by Jesus Culture and you can listen to it here if you’re interested. The bridge in this song was what first stuck out to me in this season and I feel like it applies to the encouragement I’m trying to share here.

Fear can go to hell. Shame can go there too. I know whose I am. God, I belong to you.

Shame would try to tell us that we don’t deserve love. That we are in fact unworthy. Oh, but dear friend, that’s not true. You belong to God and God doesn’t make or keep junk. You are deeply loved, treasured and desired. More than my mind can even comprehend, honestly.

I can love me because He loves me. I can find worth in myself because He says I have worth. I can care for me because He cares for me, too.

So I’m choosing to proactively send the lies that tell me I’m disgusting and worthless back to hell–that’s where they came from and I’m sending them right back. May you send every lie back to where it came!

Your Spiritual Maintenance

A few weeks before Quarantine hit, a friend of mine dropped off a small potted rose plant for me. She knows I love flowers and enjoy keeping them around my apartment. I usually tend to buy fresh cut ones though because those are meant to die (eventually). I haven’t had good luck with potted plants in the past, but was happy to give it another try.

Yes, I am the person who has killed the “hardest plants to kill” as the masses like to tell me. “Just get a succulent!” I have. Killed them. All of them. Even air plants which need a gentle spritz of water once a week.

I was skeptical I would have any luck, but then Quarantine hit and what else did I have to do with my life/time but baby a plant?

It’s now three months later and my little rose plant is still alive AND it grew so much I needed to put it into a bigger pot. What had I done differently this time than all the other times I sent my potted plants to the Great Garden in the sky?

I learned to check the soil.

Before all the green-thumbed readers give an eye roll and release a gentle but exasperated “duh”, let me explain myself.

I was working under some assumptions. Wrong assumptions as the case may be. You don’t just water plants every day. Some days the soil already has all the moisture it needs. Over-watering can be just as detrimental as under-watering (so I have now learned).

During my daily soil checks, I realized that I need to be doing the same kind of “soil checks” for myself. I require regular routine spiritual maintenance just like my beloved plant.

I can’t just assume I’m doing ok, but need to take a moment and ask God to inspect the soil, too. In the words of David:

“God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me. Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares.” (Psalm 139:23, TPT)

There are days my soil is much drier than I care to admit or even recognize. In those moments, I need to respond appropriately to my needs. What will quench my soul? What will refill me? Yes, consistent Bible reading, prayer and worship keep a steady stream coming in, but there are days that doesn’t feel like enough.

I know how that might sound. “Holly, what you’re saying is GOD IS NOT ENOUGH?!?!” No, actually, I’m not. What I’m saying is God can use a relaxing bubble bath by candlelight or an evening out with my girlfriends to bring some nourishment, too. God’s much bigger than religious prescriptions.

Another thing I do to make sure my plants are doing well (as I already mentioned regarding my rose plant) is make sure the plant has space to grow. When we cramp the roots of our plant by keeping them in a smaller pot then they get “root bound”. What happens to a root bound plant? It can begin to wilt, leaves begin to yellow and growth is stunted. If not taken care of properly (re-potting into a bigger pot), a root bound plant can die.

Again, inspecting the roots is the only way to find out if that’s happening to your plant. Once you know the problem you can effectively administer the change needed to help the plant thrive.

Jesus talked about the importance of soil and roots, too. He tells us the story of four soils, in fact, and how each soil determined the health of the seed and whether it would grow fruit. He mentioned how gravel didn’t work well because it didn’t offer enough soil for roots to grow. Ground constantly walked on won’t be good soil either because it’s too packed down and makes the seeds easy dinner for nearby birds. Other soil was too filled with weeds so the plants were choked out.

Ah, but that rich soil was where it was at– soil so good that seeds could actually produce a harvest! Fruit is also another great indicator of spiritual health. If there isn’t growth in my life it’s important I do some maintenance there.

Regular maintenance always yields the best results.

My dad is an avid gardener. It’s one of his hobbies, which I’m grateful for because I often reap the benefits….literally. Sometimes he asks me to come help weed, which I don’t mind because it’s a bit of “weed therapy” for me. Not that kind of weed therapy. lol. The kind of weed therapy where you can take out any aggression, anger or frustration out by pulling and tossing weeds.

Last year, my dad called me over to help with a section of his garden that had become overcome with knee-high weeds. It took a few hours and much sweat but at the end we enjoyed admiring the results of our hard work. Regular maintenance of that section would have prevented it from getting out of control and over run like that.

We’ve got to be just as diligent in our own lives. It’s not pretty work and you don’t get those nearly as satisfying “before vs. after” pics, but it is worth it. Our growth is worth it.

I now have 3 plants that I am eagerly watching over. Each day enjoying the inspection process because I know that in being mindful of what my plants need it will help them to flourish. The beautiful brightly colored petals and the deep greens of the leaves giving me daily reminders to take care of myself, too.

I deserve the same loving attention and encouragement to grow. Let’s be committed to doing the hard work of regular spiritual maintenance.