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.

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

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.

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!

In the Words of Bon Jovi & a Franciscan Prayer

What could an 80’s metal hair band babe and some Franciscan monks have in common? I mean, do they have something in common?!

Stay with me for a second. I know this sounds crazy as I’ve been laughing (literally out loud) while watching the Bon Jovi “Livin’ on a Prayer” music video, but sometimes this is how God talks to me. I can’t help it.

For the last week, I feel like I’ve been at a loss of words. When confronted with the deep, heart-wrenching pain of others I wondered, “What could I possibly say?” So, I spent lots of time listening and reading because I believe that’s part of my calling at this time– to no longer feign ignorance, but educate myself and grow.

This is no new concept. In fact, this is a foundational principle whenever you come in contact with someone who is grieving….LISTEN. There is no perfect arrangement of words to make everything better, but listening brings a simple solidarity between people.

As I’ve mentioned before, during my own personal darkest hours the moments people came and just sat with me or allowed me to share openly about my loss and bear my wounds have been some of the most comforting. These kinds of interactions also bring about a depth of genuine connection certainly needed in this current conversation as well.

In my reading this week, I came across this ancient Franciscan prayer. Even though I haven’t had many words to share and have even struggled knowing what and how to pray this simple prayer seemed beautifully relevant.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, hard hearts, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live from deep within your heart where God’s spirit dwells.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world and in your neighborhood, so that you will courageously try what you don’t think you can do, but in Jesus Christ you’ll have the strength necessary to do.

May God bless you so that you remember we are all called to continue God’s redemptive work of love and healing in God’s place, in and through God’s name, in God’s spirit, continually creating and breathing new life and grace into everything and everyone we touch.

No fancy words are necessary when we pray. You do not need a Theology degree or even know the Greek word for prayer. Prayer is simply connection with our Heavenly Father. I’ve started many a prayer with a sigh or groan.

Sometimes the majority of prayer IS listening. God listening to my list of grievances and frustrations. And if I’m smart, me doing the majority of the listening as He comfort or corrects or directs me.

No need to over-complicate it or overthink it. Just make the space to do it–to simply quiet yourself down and turning off all the distractions. Just you and Him. It’s there where the Living Water of His Presence can come in and give us a drink of water. A drink of hope and a drink of strength.

Here’s my encouragement, whether in the words of an 1855 hymn by Joseph Scriven (“Take it to the Lord in prayer”) or a 1986 rock ballad by Bon Jovi (“Livin’ on a Prayer”) take a minute to do just that.

Life Lessons & Wallpaper Removal

life lessons & wallpaper removal

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time you’ll notice a theme. I write about stuff I’m going through and/or learning. If you’d go back through my old posts you’d see those things range from time I spent on the river kayaking or passing a torn down McDonald’s. If our ears and eyes are open, there’s so much to learn in the simple, ordinary moments of life.

Like while tearing down wallpaper.

In October 2011, I moved into my apartment and immediately hated the wallpaper in my entryway. I’m not sure when this house was built, but I’m certain the wallpaper (at least the first layer) is circa the 70’s at my best estimate.

Please don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my little apartment. It’s got character much like it’s tenant. There’s tons of kitchen storage though some of it can’t be reached by a 5′ fun-sized person such as myself. It’s got brand new windows that let in the morning sun and overlooks a back yard with green grass and a bunny or two. The hardwood floors in my bedroom make me smile every single day.

My landlords/neighbors have become friends over the past 8.5+ years of me living here. Their daughters leave me the occasional hand-picked flower on my step to brighten up my day. Of all the sweet perks of this apartment (and there are many) they are by far the best part.

But it was time for the wallpaper to go….past due in fact!

One might ask, “Holly, what has taken you so long to take down the wallpaper?”

Here’s where my lessons begin.

Lesson #1: You can’t get what you don’t ask for. 

I lived with something I didn’t like for almost 9 years because I didn’t ask for anything different. I was willing to live with it.

What things have you been willing to live with?

I’m not talking about dated wallpaper here. I’m talking about toxic relationships, mental health hang-ups or jobs that leave you feeling unfulfilled.

Don’t you think it’s about time you ask for better for yourself? And not just ask for better, but DO better, which leads me to my next point.

Lesson #2: You’ve got to put in the work.

You can have a realization for a looooooooong time that things need to change, but if you don’t do anything to make some changes things are just going to stay in the same.

We don’t lose weight, get a new job or set up personal boundaries just by thinking about it. We’ve got to do something about it. We’ve got to set aside time to exercise or plan healthy meals. We’ve got to search job postings and send out our resume. You get the point I’m trying to make here.

For me that meant tearing down two layers of unruly wallpaper. If I want a renovated and beautiful entryway/office I’m going to need to put in the elbow grease.

Lesson #3: You’ve got to have the right tools.

Something you might not know about me is I’m slightly obsessive. Personally, I’d prefer if we called it driven or highly-motivated, but obsessive might fit better. If I get something in my head that I want or want to do I dive right in. So, when my landlord gave me the go-ahead to tear down the wallpaper I started immediately.

I have a small drawer of floral handled tools (Thanks, Mom!), that doesn’t seem to include a scraper. This tool is extremely helpful when trying to remove old wallpaper. Yet, in my haste and excitement to begin the task at hand I just started. I don’t need a scraper. This is fine. (It was not fine.) It made the job more tedious than it needed to be.

Thankfully, my landlord had the tools I needed and graciously shared them with me.

Sometimes I don’t have the tools. That’s ok. Others might and many are more than willing to share their knowledge/tools/gifts/skills to help you accomplish the task at hand.

Also, I’d prefer NOT to bring it up but this lesson also might also show the importance of allowing people to help you. Please don’t tell my best friend I said this. She’s always telling me it’s important I recognize I need community and other people to grow and heal and all that stuff and I simply don’t like admitting that because I like doing things myself. (cough, cough. I mentioned I tried to remove wallpaper without a scraper, right?)

Lesson #4: It’s all a process. 

I’m a bit naive when I take on projects. I’ve got the end goal in mind and the euphoria of having a beautiful updated space is at the forefront of my mind. NOT the steps I will need to take to get there.

But it is a process. After I tore down the wallpaper I needed to do some repair. The repair required it’s own steps. After taping and mudding and sanding it’ll be more sanding of trim in order to prepare for painting. Even after I get it painted and I stand to admire all of my hard work I will still have to put furniture back and get it set up the way I’d like it.

Process.

Accomplishing goals requires acknowledging there is a process and recognizing not all of the process will have linear progress. AKA ya’ll we are going to have set backs. And that is OK.

As I sit here mid-process on my project it could be easy to get discouraged. Why did I get myself involved in this anyway???

I’ll tell you why! The end result. Sometime soon (soon….that nice vague timeline) I will be typing this from my beautiful office nook with freshly painted walls, vintage white lace curtains and a small plant I will certain kill in a few weeks after getting it. I’ll be sitting at a desk the full length of my wall that my brother helped me put together from some scrap wood he had and some hairpin metal legs I bought on Etsy. It will be perfect.

While social media will surely see the finished product they won’t see everything it took to get me there. Maybe that’s lesson #5. People won’t know all it took for you to reach your goal. They just won’t.

My hope for all of us is that wherever and however the lesson comes (or wherever we are at in the process) that we would learn a few things about ourselves, about our priorities and about life.

 

Radical Acceptance

Radical

Every time I sat down to write this I was unable to because I felt like a fraud. You see, I don’t have this radical acceptance stuff figured out. I am very much on the journey towards it, but I’m not there yet.

Actually, that could go for everything I write. There is not a topic I’ve fully grasped, championed or perfected. I’d like to think that’s part of why you come here because you can relate to not having it all figured out. When I share my own imperfection I hope you find it an encouragement and not something that makes what I have to say fraudulent.

Back to the topic at hand then: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE.

A friend mentioned this phrase to me recently and it stuck with me. So much in fact that I scribbled the words into my notebook to study out when I had more time. I wanted to figure out what radical acceptance means to me? FOR ME?

Like the nerd that I am one of the first things I like to do is look up definitions. In my experience, there’s a wealth of insight when we look at what a word means. So that’s what I did here.

I won’t bore you by writing out the lengthy definitions, but just some things that stood out to me that I think will further our discussion. (This is a discussion, right? Or are blogs just me talking to myself? haha….moving on.)

radical (adj): far reaching or thorough

Radical is fundamentally extreme. It is not wishy washy, but an “all in” mentality.

I’ve heard Christian leaders call us to be “radical for Jesus” yet when we radically love the people He instructed us to they don’t like it. Funny how that Truth can be so easily warped by a person’s agenda. Thing about that is when you warp a Truth to fit an agenda it’s not longer true.

I may be going off on a side tangent here (not sorry about that), but being radical for Jesus doesn’t mean sitting in the front row on Sunday mornings or rushing to get back IN a church building after this Coronavirus stuff is over. Being radical for Jesus doesn’t mean putting a Jesus sticker on your bumper or not saying words like shit.

Being radical for Jesus means advocating for those who have been abused, neglected and mistreated. Being radical for Jesus means getting OUTSIDE the church walls and pursuing the hurting and broken and not just expecting them to walk into a church building.

Seems to me like some of the stuff that Christians have labeled as “radical for Jesus” is just whitewashed religiosity.

My tone might sound angry in those last few paragraphs because….I am. American Christianity (and I do stress a difference here) seems to pick and choose what aspects of Jesus fits nicely into our life and schedule. There’s nothing radical about that.

On to our next word.

acceptance (noun): consenting to receive something offered

Under one of the definitions for acceptance was this line: a willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation. 

Damn.

I’m going to let that sit a minute. That leveled me. I feel difficult and unpleasant the majority of the time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered and worried if I was being a pain in the ass. Just ask my best friend, siblings or guys I’ve dated and they could all attest I’ve asked them if I was being a pain numerous times.

For me this phrase “radical acceptance” should read “radical self acceptance”. And when I go back to my original questions (What does radical acceptance mean to me? For me?) this is how I would answer them with all that stuff in mind.

Radical acceptance means willingly tolerating (and even celebrating) every aspect of who I am. Even the more difficult or “ugly” parts of who I am.

Radical acceptance means to thoroughly and wholeheartedly receive a person and all they bring to the table.

It means allowing myself the grace to share my thoughts, struggles and opinions without having to preface it with an apology. NOT that it gives me free reign to be a jerk, but that it simply allows me to be open and authentic without feeling like I have to soften that for someone’s palate.

I’ve been told I’m too emotional, too loud, too opinionated, too whatever and I’m coming to some conclusions that I might be too much for some and that’s ok. I may not be spiritual enough for some or lady-like for others. I may be too liberal for some and too conservative for others.

In caring so deeply about what other’s liked and didn’t like about me I ended up hating myself and I’m slowly trying to pick up the pieces and accept me for all that I am. I am imperfect and flawed and get it wrong so very often, but I’m also generous and thoughtful and funny.

And on my journey to radical acceptance I will celebrate all of who I am…even the unpleasant or difficult stuff.

I hope you will find the strength and courage to love all of you, too. That’s the kind of radical love Jesus has for you. An all encompassing, unapologetic fierce kind of love.

 

Things You Shouldn’t Say to the Hurting

Things You Shouldn't Say to the Hurting

Here’s another one from the vault. Last week’s post was from 2015– this one goes back a snidge further to 2014.

I’ve debated on reopening these posts and actually finishing them. There’s a reason I never hit publishShame (& fear) has often stopped me in my tracks. I’ve worried I’d “offend” people. Afraid of being misheard or misunderstood.

Turns out that I’m finding freedom in realizing no matter what I do or say someone will always be upset. So, I’m going to share the stuff I feel like God has placed on my heart and hope it encourages the people it’s meant to.

A few weeks ago (in 2014) at church, a lady came up to me and said: “It’s so nice to see you smiling again. It’s good to have you back.”

I didn’t know I had been “gone”.

If you’ve spent any time with me in person, you’d know that my face is pretty readable. When I’m sad, you can tell. When I’m pissed off, you can tell. When I’m giddy with excitement, you can tell. If I need a cup of coffee….you get it.

There’s no doubt, that my “struggling” had been visible to people. I knew I hadn’t been smiling very much, but I’m not the type to smile if I’m not happy. Maybe you think its appropriate to be fake in certain settings, but I don’t. See it as a flaw or a virtue, I am who I am.

So, when I stared at her first in shock and then in frustration, I’m pretty sure she could sense that I wasn’t taking her comment as encouragement even though I’m assuming that was her intention.

Instead of encouragement I was met with shame. Holly, why can’t you just get your crap together? Why do you always seem to be struggling? You’re a Christian, what kind of testimony is it to be such a mess? That’s a brief and highly edited synopsis of my internal thought life after the woman walked away.

I was hurt. It hurt. And it’s ok to admit that. It doesn’t make me emotional or immature or ungodly. IT MAKES ME HUMAN. 

I’ve sat in meetings where people have told me they couldn’t understand how I could look so miserable. What kind of leader was I? Just more examples of what NOT to say to someone who is hurting.

It never seemed to cross their minds to simply ask, “Hey Holly. It looks like you’re hurting. I see you. I care about you.”

I’ve said the wrong things, too. Actually, just this week (back in 2020 now) I probably (read: absolutely) said some things to my best friend I shouldn’t have. I was trying my best to encourage with endless Bible verses when all she really needed to hear was “I love you. I’m sorry this sucks so bad. Let’s eat ice cream.”

Is it bad to share Bible verses or worship songs that have lifted you up in hopes it’ll be a drink for their weary soul? No. Not at all. Most of the time though they just want to know you care.

Just shut up and care, Holly.

 

Rising Up From the Ashes

Rising Up From the Ashes

This one is for the people who find themselves burnt out from life or ministry or marriage or disappointment or anxiety….or whatever is leaving you a heap on the floor (literally or figuratively).

I’ve been burnt out for a number of years now. It’s not a new realization by any means. I knew it. I tried to deny it out of shame convinced if I was a good enough Christian I wouldn’t be feeling this way. It was this drive that sent me deeper, much deeper into this pit where I was determined I could serve my way out of this condition.

Serving. That was my hamster wheel that kept me spinning endlessly and getting nowhere but tired and angry and hurting. Things that once brought me pleasure and joy now left me anxious and bitter and I wonder if I was ever called to ministry after all. I question my purpose and calling, which has been the very core of my being since I was a kid.

It was…is.. my identity. It has entwined itself around my worth and in order to be loved I needed to DO. Holly wasn’t enough. Rather Holly simply BEING wasn’t enough.

So, here I sit in my ashes.

There’s a story of man named Job who had everything he could have ever wanted– money, prestige, family, friends, a thriving business. Then, one day, he lost it all. He lost his family, his health, his wealth and found himself in an ash heap. He sat there (according to Job 2:8, CEV) to show his sorrow.

Ashes can so often represent destruction and devastation. Earlier this year, Australia experienced horrific wildfires that destroyed more than a fifth of the country’s forests. People and animals died, too. Sure sounds like devastation to me.

And yet, every time I think of ashes I am reminded of the Phoenix. A Greek mythological legend says the bird dies by bursting into flames and then is reborn from its ashes. In its death there is renewal and resurrection. It does not limp or walk away from its ash heap. It SOARS away with a grand, majestic and glorious display of strength and vigor.

As we enter this Holy week, that is the image I am mediating on because that is the image Christ Himself exemplified. Not some folklore story mind you, but an actual literal empty grave where His body once lay. Christ did not limp from the borrowed tomb, but victoriously trampled death, disease, discouragement and everything in-between.

In doing so, He has given that same victory to me (and YOU)– to soar on the wings like eagles (& Phoenixes) , to run and not grow weary (or burnt out), they will walk (not limp) and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31, NIV with parenthetic additions made by yours truly).

To go back to our friend Job, he didn’t limp away from his ash heap, either. In fact, he got back everything that had been taken from him and MORE. As you’ve reflected on what has been lost maybe you need that reminder. You will get back more than you had before.

In your marriage that has been on the brink of divorce you will see redemption. In your soul that has been wracked by anxiety you will experience a peace that transcends even a global pandemic.

In my burn out, I believe, a passion will be reignited that will propel me on to do the very thing(s) I was created to do. Not to get love, but from a beautiful understanding that I am loved simply for who I am and not the ways I serve.

Rise up from the ashes, friends! Soar!