You Are Not a Jar of Nutella

Healthy does not equal perfection.

Healthy means acknowledging what in your life needs to realign with God’s unique plan for you.

Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. Invite others into your journey as long as they aren’t detrimental to your health.

Growth requires pain. If you are covered in more sweat, blood and tears than rainbows and butterflies, you can rest assured that you’re on the right path. Rainbows and butterflies are opaque patches that cover us up. Blood, sweat and tears are transparent and show vulnerability.

Don’t allow the expectations or the pressures from others indicate whether or not you’re striving to be like Christ.

{{Just a few thoughts as we all contemplate the areas we need to grow in the new year.}}

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Trusting God’s Design

I didn’t know much about personality profiles growing up. What I did know is after about 2 hours at church, 2 hours at a party, 2 hours on a school trip, 2 hours at a sleepover…I was done.

I wasn’t angry. I didn’t dislike people. I wasn’t bored. I didn’t want to check out.

But something inside me hit a threshold of sorts and I knew I needed to spend at least a few minutes by myself and recharge. Otherwise, my mind would get spacey, I’d become easily distracted, my speech would begin to falter, I’d even become more clumsy.

Over time, I learned although this could cause me anxiety, it wasn’t the anxiety I wrestled with.

It was simply my design as an introvert (and a far-reaching one at that).

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I’m not too shy (usually). I love people. I love loving people. I adore hearing what journey they’re walking and what God’s doing in their lives. I’m good with people.

As someone who has been, for the most part, self-employed for the last seven or eight years, I find a lot of quiet time in my own routine with writing and speaking. Now, as Tim and I entered a new season of life, with him as a youth pastor at a growing church, I find my time alone growing shorter and shorter. I know God knows how I’m wired and I know He gives me strength for every situation, but I often battle the process.

It goes a little like this:

  1. YES! I am SUPER PUMPED about this youth retreat we’re having this weekend. Over thirty people are going! I love the girls we get to minister to and with. I LOVE seeing them learn and grow! Yay!
  2. Wait, how far do we have to drive?
  3. Hold up…lights out is how late?
  4. How much time will I have a chance to be by myself and recharge?
  5. My routine! My routine! Ack!
  6. Geez, Miller. That’s entirely selfish! You’re here to serve these students and your husband and these volunteers. SUCK IT UP. You’re not going to die from talking and listening to people for four days.
  7. Well, you’ll die a little bit. But it’s for Jesus.
  8. Really, Miller. SUCK IT UP. Good grief. You introverts are always overanalyzing and planning 78 of the conversations you think you’ll have and you actually won’t have…no wonder you’re exhausted already. This is NOT ABOUT YOU.
  9. (Hey, but God. You know you gave me a really empathetic and sensitive heart. You know this stuff is hard for me.)
  10. (Anne, I know. Just trust me.)

It seems like such a small thing to trust–God’s design. Knowing He fully created me, my fears, my flaws, and my strengths. In ministry, it’s been difficult to see being an introvert as a gift…I can see it as a curse. I want to wear shirts that say, “No, really. I LOVE YOU! Even if I don’t seem like I talk much.” Church events are usually social events. Loud. Talking. Games. Counseling. It’s a challenge for an introvert.

I’ve been looking forward to (and yet I’m still slightly anxious about) this weekend for a long time. It’s the first big event Tim and I get to lead (with the help of our wonderful volunteers!). I’m going to try and be EXTRA intentional about letting God fill in those places where I need Him to. I don’t want Him to change the way He created me, but I need to learn to trust the way He designed me in whatever season in which He calls me to minister.

(And, yeah. Feel free to pray for this retreat! We’d be VERY grateful!)

Pixels Distract. Praise Focuses.

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I’ve been caught up in my mind more than paper lately, an avalanche of thoughts I suppose…Relating in a real, tangible realm and relating in a social media world.

I adore the people who have morphed from screen name monikers to friends. I cherish those who I always and only knew as flesh and blood, a pixel-less soul.

And I wonder why it is we are so drawn in to the complexities of online connection. Indeed, we connect, but what we see and how we feel because of minuscule lights and squares and code sometimes astounds me – both in good and bad ways.

Why do some things I see stir up terrible emotions in me? Rage? Envy? Lust? And some things inspire me? Speak truth? Pour light down? Where do I seek solace? Inspiration? Courage?

I’m afraid often it’s like the 15-year-old me, flipping through her yearbook and dreaming of what it’s like to be this popular kid or this rich kid or will people like me more if I ran track and played basketball? The 34-year-old me wonders what it’s like to have a house like that, abs like that, or book sales like that? Will people like me more…if?

Yet I know there is no if, and God is sovereign over our skin world and our social media world. And all of my questions need to redirect into adoration of Him, worship of Him, and only Him. I must clear the clutter.

Pixels distract. Praise focuses.

Blogging Isn’t What it Used to Be…And that’s Okay.

Several times a week, I log into the dashboard of my blog and think I have something to write.

  • I could write about true freedom, and how that means willingly accepting my identity as a slave to Christ, which doesn’t bring oppression, but true joy.
  • I could write about how I think the voice of the peacemakers is being shut down because the voice of the cynics is so loud…and the peacemakers know there’s really no point in fighting a virtual battle of words.
  • I could write about all the new stuff I’m learning about anxiety disorders, OCD, trauma and grief or about the theology of subordinate & ultimate purposes in moral ethics.

But I don’t.

It’s not that I can’t; as if I have some writer’s block and I keep pressing delete and thinking my writing isn’t good enough.

It’s not because I’m scared of what people will think about what I write.

It’s not even that I don’t want to.

Or that I don’t have time.

None of those things are true.

Photo Credit: Thomas Lieser

Lately, I’m full of words and inspiration, most of which are being poured into the channels of a launching “Lean on Me” which comes out this October. Or into my other-new book that will come out next year. It flows into my husband as he goes through some exciting ministry changes, and into some friends over coffee or a glass of wine. I give these words to the trees and the sky when I go on walks with my dog, or sometimes they only rattle around in my head until they break into little digestible pieces I can stomach. These words fuel me as I straighten up our kitchen or hang up the laundry (who am I kidding? Tim so graciously does the laundry. I hate doing laundry.) 

A few years ago I would have wondered if you missed me.

Maybe I still do a tiny bit, but most days this blog is so far from any of my normative thinking. Only when I see the bookmark to my dashboard to log in, I log in. And that’s really just to delete any spam comments.

want to talk to you. I remember how, almost ten years ago, a small group of fifty or a hundred people would come here and listen about me putting up Christmas lights or running from tornadoes or wrestling through tithing as an automatic deduction from my church-staff paycheck. Then that number grew into the tens of thousands and the conversation changed and I began to love those numbers much more than I should have. And then, life changes pounced and left me wounded and I took everything off of the Internet for a couple of years and that huge audience I was so enamored with dwindled back down to a handful of people.

But that’s okay.

It’s taken a year or so of being truly back “online” for me to accept the new Web 2.0. Or is it 3.0 now? It’s not even about the Internet, is it? Whatever it is – whatever this is – I’m okay with it.

I’m not saying goodbye to blogging, and I’m certainly not bidding adieu to writing. I’m embracing how different it is now, both externally in how social networking has changed in the last decade and internally, how I’ve changed in the last decade.

I’m giving myself permission to keep things close, as Mary did, pondering them in her heart. 

My heart used to be online, but now it’s found in quiet moments with trusted friends, in solitude, and in quietness and trust.

That is where I find rest.

That is where I find Him.

 

Redefining Friendship

When Facebook first opened its “Sign Up” doors to those of us far removed from a .edu email address, I remember landing in a competition with a coworker on who could “friend” more people than another. We would shout through the office wall that separated us, “I’m up to 881!” or “Your mom doesn’t count as a friend!” This went on until eventually, each of us hit the 5000 friend limit.

Then I deleted Facebook for a few years and for me, was all the better for it.

So many articles and blog posts and now even scientific studies are exploring what it means to be a “friend” in a world where clicking a “Like” button or a star or a heart indicates we are both alive and at least somewhat paying attention. Someones several-day-long absence on Instagram now warrants a text message – “R U Okay? Haven’t seen you online this week.” 

We enjoy eating together without actually sitting together. I more guilty of this than anyone: a brief scroll through my social media feeds are full of in-season salads and juices and let’s not forget my beloved coffee. I “like” just as many similar photos – especially the ones of donuts and ice cream – the ones I can’t eat because of my body’s intolerance to gluten and dairy.

The last few years have been very transitional and therefore, transformational, for me. I’ve become more careful with the words I choose when I am talking about people I know. In a city like Nashville, where everyone knows of everyone and likely has met someone a time or two for coffee, it’s easy to see how social media has influenced our Western vernacular.

“Oh, I LOVE Billy Bob. He’s a great friend!”

This means someone has probably met Billy Bob a handful of times and now engages in a Twitter conversation about which country really should have won the World Cup.

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In the “Christian Industry” [insert a slightly disturbed yet slightly accepting shudder for using that phrase], lots of people know lots of people and lots of people call these people friends. My own definition of a “friend” is very different than what it used to be, I had to change the way I identified those who I know…but don’t really know. This change was internal at first, but has slowly become external as people ask, “Are you friends with Billy Bob?” to which I say, “I know him, and I think he’s great. But no, we are not friends.”

This is not a slight on Billy Bob.

To me, the word friend has become as sacred as the word love. 

This is not an attempt for exclusivity; rather it’s an attempt to define expectations. I have met Billy Bob and perhaps we’ve even shared a conversation about Africa or Jack Bauer. He’s a great person. I will speak well of him. But I will not call him my friend because he does not know the secrets my heart keeps or the fears my mind perpetuates. I do not tell him when my mom is sick or when I got accepted into school nor does he know my regular drink at Starbucks.

I do have friends that know these things. They are a small group: humble, beautiful, diverse and there is nothing loud or proud about them. But they love and they know and they reach and I reach back.

And I think this is okay. Choosing to use the word friend carefully is wise.

It does not mean you love less or even that you love fewer and it does not mean a new acquaintance cannot become a friend. It simply means your relationships are more intentional, more vulnerable, and more committed. It reaches far beyond clicking a button on a website and is about sharing life instead of sharing a status.

Social media aside, a friend is a thing to cherish, to lavish love on, and to lean on (or sometimes give the gift of being somebody to lean on.)

Grace in the Mundane

When you feel longing creep in as you pull your feet through the mud of the daily, command your spirit to rejoice. If the rocks cry out, imagine the will it takes to get a defeated soul to move. Command it anyway. Rejoice anyway. You are a child of the One who has loved you in the past for eons and will love you into forever for infinity. A man died in your place, painting you pure and lovely and nothing can steal this away from you.

For When You Want to Feel Like Everyone Else But You Can’t No Matter How Hard You Try

You try.

You try and you try and you try to fit in.

Everywhere you look, something or someone is telling you what you should be doing (so that you fit in).

I say “(so that you fit in)” because it’s not overtly said…

Especially in the church, Christian, faith-based world.

Nobody would ever come right out and say:

 

“You should decorate your house like this.”

“You should do your hair this way.”

“You should use this phone.”

“You should wear this style of jewelry.”

“You should read these authors.”

“You should join this book club.”

“You should be an amazing photographer.”

“You should fully grasp how to pin things on Pinterest.”

 

But that’s what you hear.

At least, that’s what I hear.

It was easy to be off social media while we were in Africa. My phone stayed on airplane mode for two solid weeks. Wifi was spotty. The electricity didn’t even work all the time. My, how those voices in my head were quieted.

Some people do just fine on social media. In my ten years of blogging (yes, it’s been that long), I have learned I do not.

Comparison is one of my many thorns and it pricks at my confidence and security, bleeding them dry tiny drop by tiny drop.

Tonight as I washed my face I looked over at our bathroom mirror where once I planned on hanging Bible verses for Tim and I to memorize.

I wanted to use these cute little templates I found on Pinterest and pen them in with such a bold yet feminine script and somehow these hypothetical perfect little Bible verses with chevron patterns would scream how much I loved Jesus and my family and what a creative and crafty person I was for putting them on the bathroom mirror.

That never happened. Not for lack of trying. Even after my best attempt, I’m fairly certain a second grader could have done better.

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I scroll through my various social media feeds, now free for my gluttonous consumption now that Lent has come and gone. These friends are at this conference, these people are at this fabulous new restaurant, and my failed Bible verse craft mocks me.

Why can’t I just fit in like everyone else? I asked nobody, staring in the mirror.

When have you ever fit in, Anne? I heard back.

I looked down at my dog, half expecting her to say something else. She didn’t.

It wasn’t your dog, the voice spoke with familiarity into my soul.

You will never fit in. You will never be like anyone else. You should be used to this by now.

I winced, my face offering up some kind of plea for a compromise.

This is the way I made you. You’re different. You’ll always notice it. You’ll never be like everyone else. And that’s for a reason.

Oddly, I felt a bit comforted by the certainty in His voice.

He continued,

And you need to tell others this. Tonight.

Maybe you’re like me, at least in this one tiny little way. You don’t feel comfortable in your own skin because you’ve covered it up with so many subtle expectations you think others place on you. You so desperately long to be like everyone else you see, even just a little bit, just so you can pretend to fit in.

You think when you finally feel like you fit in, you won’t have to be afraid to be you anymore.

You’ll be loved and accepted and your chevron-patterned Bible verse cards on your bathroom mirrors will look just like everybody else’s. You can’t compare yourself to anyone anymore because you look just like them.

This breaks your Father’s heart.

Sweet friend, I don’t tell you this to judge you. I’m preaching to myself and those were the words I heard – not of condemnation, but of love. Be different. Embrace who you are, even if it seems like you feel left behind or that there’s something wrong with you because you aren’t getting sucked into a vortex of cultural monotony.

The truth is even the people with the perfect chevron-patterned Bible verse cards and the girls who know how to layer all those necklaces and look awesome and who can paint their fingernails without them ever getting smudged feel the exact same way you do.

This is the way I made you. You’re different. You’ll always notice it. You’ll never be like everyone else.

And that’s for a reason.

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I’d place my money that the reason is because we’re all like little pieces in a stained glass window, with different colors and thicknesses and flaws and bubbles.

The only place we fit in is when our edges touch each others.

Then we are strong.

We’re hues and textures and boldness and softness and broken and smooth and cloudy and clear.

The light hits us all in different ways and hits us in both our pretty and our broken places, but we’re all used to shine the same light in to the same darkness that longs for it and for the hope it brings.

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Easily Distracted Like Me? (Quick, Check Twitter One More Time Before Reading This. I Probably Am).

Tim and I live in an apartment in Historic Franklin, Tennessee. 

If I had to guess, there are probably 300 units in our development. 600 people, give or take. When I pull in to the driveway, I pass a few buildings. When I take our puppy on walks, I pass even more. Each apartment (or townhouse) is built exactly the same.

Same windows.

Same curtains.

Same sliding glass door.

Because of the way the living room is laid out, everyone’s TVs is cornered in between a wall and the patio door.

Rectangles glow out of living room after living room after living room. Grids of LEDs and plasmas and flickering pixels illuminate every unit, including my own.*

(*under the glow of twinkle lights on the patio, of course.)

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There are two people in my house. Six apple products. One TV.

Screens, screens, screens.

How long have TVs been around? Sixty years? Seventy? Smart phones. Six? Seven?

In between episodes of Friday Night Lights (yes, I’m bringing that back up again), my eyes go from the big screen in the corner to the little screen on the ottoman. They move from Coach Taylor to Candy Crush.

Our puppy whines. Even she knows a screen subtracts from the attention we give her. When I pick up my phone, she whimpers. Every. Time.

***

I had the flu, or pneumonia, or both, for three weeks this month. I am still fighting off lingering symptoms of fatigue and aches and coughing. For one of those three weeks, I was too tired or medicated to look at any screen.

My mind raced and crossed the finish line in rural America. Rural churches. Churches in the places like where I grew up in west Texas; where it’s so remote you hit SCAN on the radio and it doesn’t stop because there are no stations. Where, if you have a cell phone now, it bounces between an American and a Mexican carrier. I think of rural churches I’ve heard of in Ohio.

Or I think of my friend who pastors a small church in South Dakota. No time for Facebook. Her days are full of funerals and hospital visits.

And I wonder…

Is distraction one of Satan’s biggest tools?

Are these screens we use to relax and to communicate pulling us away from doing the hard work of reaching out, flesh to flesh, to people who haven’t even heard of the saving grace of Jesus?

I realize there are always distractions; if it’s not a screen it’s something else. But night after night these glowing grids of screens haunt me with their soft light.

by Kool Cats Photography

***

It’s a long story with a lot of complexities, far too long to type here (maybe I’ll tell you over coffee one day?), but my dad is in one of these rural towns. It’s in between two state highways in the barren flat land of the west Texas plains. You’d pass through it on Dry Hollow Road, if that paints any picture for you.

Population? 200 or so. Murders in the last three years? Two, including the original pastor of the church where my dad presently shepherds. 

20 people or so attend his church on Sundays, maybe five to ten youth and a smattering of children. People hunger: physically and spiritually. Build it and they will come? In his case, feed them and they will come.

Honestly? It’s difficult for me to see multi-million dollar building campaigns for churches in middle-class suburbia. But I get it. I sometimes go to one of these churches and almost have panic attacks because it’s so crowded. They need more space. They really do.

But then I look at my dad’s church. It needs air conditioning so people don’t have heat strokes in service in the middle of a dry Texas summer. It needs the cracked wall fixed so insects/rodents/snakes/rain/freak snow storms don’t come in.

These are all needs – I don’t want to present it otherwise.

But some needs go forgotten.

Some needs are lost each time I log in to Twitter.

My eyes get turned back on me when I find my triggers of insecurity and envy after checking Instagram.

I get so mesmerized by my screens, by not getting the things I think I deserve, by my misplaced identity that I can’t see anyone else.

I’m distracted. And I think it’s hurting me.

But more importantly, I think it’s hurting the world.