I Went Wrong

I went wrong.

I fully admit that I went wrong.

But I definitely went wrong.

I grew up going to church.  Every Sunday. Every Wednesday.  I was in church. I was one of the (rare) non-Catholic, non-Lutheran “Church Kids” in town.  

Every summer I spent a week at church camp.

I was a good kid.

And I still went wrong.

I have known this for many years.  I have known that I willingly stepped away from God.  Claimed for many years that I didn’t even believe that God existed.  

But I never dared to ask myself why.

Why did I go wrong?

It’s a dangerous question.  And a painful question.  

Painful, because, I know without question, without any hesitation, that I was at fault.

I finally asked myself the question.  Sitting in church, listening to a sermon, the main topic of which currently escapes me.  But sitting there, I knew that I needed to answer that question. And I finally came up with two separate, yet connected, answers.

I was insecure of my identity in God.  And I was insecure in the identity of God.

First, my identity in God.  Who am I? Who does God want me to be?  Who does God need me to be? Growing up insecure in who I was made me feel unloved.  And it led me to look for love in places that I was absolutely never going to find it.  I know that now. But it led me down a path where I still hoped and dreamed I would find all of the things that I wanted in life.  But instead, that path took me further and further away from the things I wanted and needed.

Second, the identity of God.  Though I thought I knew who God was, in reality, I didn’t.  I thought that having a relationship with God would give me sunshine and puppy dogs and roses and life would be happy forever and ever more.  

Wow, how wrong could I be??? 

Yes, God is absolutely loving, caring, generous, gracious, merciful, and a whole lot of other adjectives.  He is absolutely all of those things. But that doesn’t mean that we will never struggle. That we will never experience hardship.  That we get a pass from all of the bad things that can and do happen in this world. It doesn’t work that way.

Of course, I thought it should work that way.  

But it doesn’t.

So when life got really hard, instead of turning to God, I turned away from God.  Because how could a God that claimed to love me let me go through all of this???  How dare God not give me everything that I wanted?  

It took a long time for me to get over myself.  It took many, MANY humbling experiences. Time, and time, and time again, I have been stubborn, and completely unworthy of God’s love.  

And guess what?  

God still loves me.  He does.  

I have given him a million reasons not to love me, yet he still does.  He still loves me.

How awesome is that?

And guess what?

Life still isn’t sunshine and puppy dogs and roses.  

I still struggle.

Bad things still happen.

But now, instead of turning away from God, I turn to God.  Because I know that I absolutely cannot get through this life without Him.  

Yes, I went wrong.  I went VERY wrong.  

And God didn’t take me back.  Because, that would mean that there was a time that God left me.  So no, God didn’t take me back.

He reminded me that He’s had me all along, whether I acknowledged that or not.

Is It Real?

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Is this real?

Over the past few weeks, I have asked this question a few times.  Once, even, to myself.  

In this social media era, it is often times difficult to tell what is actually real, compared to what people want you to believe is real.  

If you choose only to share the best part of yourself with the social media world, are you lying?  If you put a positive spin on things, are you really lying about what is going on? And if you DO choose to share some of the struggles you are going through, are you only looking for sympathy?  

Honestly, you can’t win.  No matter what, people will judge you.  

A couple of years ago, a major, life altering, huge, horrible thing happened to my best friend in the whole entire world.  Her husband type person died. We are far too young to need to deal with something like this. Yet, there we were. We dealt with it.  We did the days in the hospital, the tears, the fear of the unknown, the memorial service. We dealt with it all.  

A week ago, she and I had dinner.  And I asked her the question. “Is it real?”

Because the woman that deserves all of the wonderful things in life is in the midst of getting them.  6 months ago she started dating a new fella. And, being their 6 month anniversary, all of the mushy, lovey, vomit inducing posts started.  So, you wonder, is it all real? Are things really going this well?  

And with a gigantic smile on her face, she tells me “yes.”

That’s all I need to know.  Because let me clue you in on a little secret.  Her husband type person that died, things weren’t good with them when he died.  In fact, most of their relationship hadn’t been good. I knew it. Because there were times she came to visit me, that I didn’t want to let her leave.  

But, when someone dies, how do you publicize that?  

My pastor recently read an obituary, written by the man’s daughter.  The obituary was full of brutally honest details of how horrible the man had been.  That type of brutal honesty is rare. 

And for my friend, it wasn’t appropriate.  Yes, their relationship wasn’t good. But the grief that she felt, that she experienced, the grief was absolutely real.  

Months later, she honestly exposed her heart about that grief.  About the days she couldn’t get out of bed. The days she still struggled to move forward.  But that day, she had taken care of herself. Forced herself to shower, and to eat.  

And because I know her heart as well as anyone’s, I knew her intent was to be brutally honest with the world.  She wasn’t looking for sympathy, or condolences. She was simply being honest.

One of the conversations she and I had in the midst of her grief revolved around social media, and how difficult it is to look at when you aren’t in a good place.  Because everything is sugar coated. You see the best of everyone’s lives.  

Looking at everyone else’s seemingly perfect lives makes the ugly green headed monster of jealousy rear its’ head.  We want what all of those other people have.  

So once again, is it real?

In my completely un-scientific opinion, maybe 50% is accurate.  But, which 50%?  

Are people completely, all out lying?  Are they merely glossing over things? Are they sugar coating life for their own benefit?  

Yes, yes and yes.  

Maybe it’s just one of the three.  Maybe it’s all three.  

I honestly couldn’t tell you, because, I’m not them.  

Now, let me ask you the real question.

Is that wrong?

Ultimately, the answer to that question lies in the person’s intent.  If they’re intentionally lying about something to hurt others, yes that’s wrong.  If they’re sugar coating something because they’re trying to make themselves feel better about a situation that isn’t all that sweet, yet isn’t doing any harm, maybe that’s ok.  Maybe they’re trying to remind themselves about all of the good things that are in their life. Not to gloat. Not to rub it in your face. Maybe they’re just trying to remember and focus on the good things that they have.  

Honestly, I have no idea.  I could be wrong about it all.

Maybe I’m just trying to see the good in other people.  

If you recall, earlier, I told you that I asked myself the “is it real” question.

Right now.  Right this very second, I know that God is working on something.  I’m starting to see things happening.  

And in my own brain, I see how things could be working out.

But is that really God’s plan?  

So while I totally understand that things aren’t always as they seem, what we perceive to be reality, really isn’t reality at all, I’m taking a step back.  I’m praying. And I’m giving it all over to God.  

Because right now, I have no idea….

Ok, God…I Get It

“What comes out of your mouth is an overflow of what is in your heart.”
-Jeff Michael

“It is because of the hurt we have experienced that we are capable of showing great love towards others.”
-Me

I have a name that has been mispronounced so many times, I’m not even sure I pronounce it correctly any more.  Honestly, it shouldn’t be that difficult to pronounce.  But clearly it is.

As a result, I intentionally make sure I try to pronounce other people’s names correctly.

I have a digestive system that is high maintenance.  Which often leads to feeling left out.

As a result, when I know someone else has issues, I make the appropriate accommodations, and make them something they can have.

I have a birthday that is difficult to celebrate.

As a result, I try to make sure I am joyous over other people’s birthday.

I have been having a long talk with God this morning, because I feel the hurt this week.  I feel the hurt today.  I feel the hurt right now.

But in life, hurt will happen.  We will be both the recipients and the deliverers of the hurts.  I’m not perfect.  I know that I have hurt people in the past.  Not that I’m a horrible person and purposefully hurt other people.  But I’m human.  And it happens.

And when that hurt happens, we have to choices.  Two polar opposite choices we can make.

1. We can let that hurt and hatred settle in our hearts, lash out at others, and try to make others hurt as badly as we do.

OR…

2. We can let that hurt and hatred settle in our hearts, and try to make sure no one else ever has to feel that way ever again.

Both choices define you.

I can’t say that I am grateful to have gone through the things that I have.  But I also know that experiencing and surviving some of the things that I have have defined my character.  It was a conscious choice to choose the God path in my life, and realize that the only way to combat hate is with great love towards others.  The only way to combat violence is with great love towards others.

When asked about what the greatest of the commandments were, Jesus answered quite simply “Love God, and love other people.”

He didn’t say to love them when they loved you.

He didn’t say to love them only when they were worthy.

He didn’t say to love them only when they agree with you.

He didn’t say to love them only when they were the same race as you, the same gender as you, the same belief system as you.

He just said to love them.

Love them all.

Love them fiercely.

Love them without condition.

Just love them all.

You may be struggling today.  You may feel like no one cares.  Like you’re no one special.  Like you’re the only one that feels this way.

You’re not.

Read that again.

You.  Are.  Not.

You ARE special.

You ARE loved.

Want to know what you are not?

You are NOT alone.

Take a deep breath.  Take a step forward.  Then take another step forward.  Use the hurt you feel.  Use it for good.

Because the benefits you receive from that will change your world.  Change it for the better.

Humble Confidence

I don’t want to brag, but…

I am smart.

I am beautiful.

I am thoughtful.

I am hard-working.

I am stubborn.

I am sarcastic.

I am funny.

I am tough.

I am strong.

I am…a million different things.

Just because I am all of these things, doesn’t mean that you aren’t, too.

The dangerous trend, that honestly has probably been around since nearly the dawn of time, is that to have self-confidence, one must also put others down, to highlight just how awesome we are.  You can’t be nearly as awesome as me, because you suck, and I smell like roses.

And, oh, how many times in my life have I fallen victim to this???

How many times do I still fall victim to this???

Insecurity.  Insecurity in ourselves, in how the world perceives us, in who we are.  Insecurity causes so many challenges.  Some people, like me, respond to this by shutting down.  I start to believe all of those negative comments that people make, because I believe in how they are talking to me, talking about me.  I believe them.  And I shut down.

The other response is to be one of those people who put others down.  There are varying degrees of this.  Sometimes this can come across as a very polite comment, but the truth of what is said is a criticism.  Other times it is very blatant, rude and meant to hurt.  And still other times, an insecure narcissist can be outright damaging, both physically and emotionally, to other people.

  • “You might as well just go to the nursing home and marry an 80 year old man, because no one else will ever want to marry you.”
  • “Why would you wear that?”
  • “That’s hysterical that you think you can write a book.”
  • “You just don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  • “You’re stupid.”
  • “You’re ugly.”
  • “You’re fat.”
  • “You smile too much.”
  • “What do you have to be so happy about?”

All of these things have been said to me, and then some!  And when I heard them, they hurt.  And I started to believe them…

 

One of my own personal struggles is that I don’t know how to walk the very fine line of between being humble and egotistical, confident and coward.  It is a very fine line.  And I tend to fall on the negative side of the line.

Even still today.

I know, and honestly do believe all of the qualities that I listed above.  I believe all of them with my whole heart.

But the tendency to believe that negative inner monologue still afflicts me.

And oh how many times have I stopped myself from doing something because someone else made me feel inferior.  Sometimes, it’s the actions of other people directly putting me down.  Sometimes, I see how amazing other people are, and think that there isn’t possibly a way I could do that, so why should I even try?

Even if I don’t always realize it, even if I don’t always see it, I know, deep down (sometimes way, way, way deep down) that my life has a purpose.  That even if other people can do awesome and amazing things, so can I!

So instead of tearing each other down, let’s just stop.  Stop it all.  Stop the negative talk.  Stop the criticism.  Stop the judgement.  Stop believing that we are horrible people.

Yes, it is easy to compare ourselves to everyone else.

But just because I’m awesome, doesn’t mean that you aren’t awesome, too!

Awesomeness isn’t mutually exclusive.  There isn’t just one awesome award that gets handed out in life.

Ope, I won the Awesome Award this week, sorry ’boutcha!

Life doesn’t work like that!

So join me in being a cheerleader for life.

Build each other up.

Compliment instead of criticize.

We just might change the world.

 

I Am Positive…

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I survived.  

Barely.

But I survived.

There were definitely tears.  

But I survived.

Sometimes, people suck.  I honestly don’t believe it is intentional.  But just the reality of life. People suck.  

Let me give you an example:

Last night was youth group.  And one of the other leaders and I had previously agreed that we would swap birthday nights to bring snacks.  She brings snacks on my birthday, I bring snacks on her birthday. Yesterday morning at 6am, I get a text, asking what kind of snacks I like.  And any type of sweets that my high maintenance digestive system could handle was out. Ok, that isn’t exactly what was said.  But that was the gist.  So I do give options.  

But then, she brought birthday cake.

And made an announcement that there was birthday cake.

That I couldn’t eat.

She announced that.

No birthday cake for me.

Maybe (definitely) I was already in a slightly emotional state of mind.  Because I just hate this day so much. And as my dad sympathetically told me last night, it always will.  Because nothing about my birthday being difficult will go away. Because the root cause just can’t be changed.

So I was already in an emotional state of mind.  

And then I don’t get birthday cake. 

And I have to watch everyone else eating birthday cake.  

Yes, there was chips and salsa.  Very delicious chips and salsa.  

But it isn’t birthday cake.

If your digestive system isn’t high maintenance, you probably don’t understand.  This is torture. Absolute torture. This isn’t the “oh, I’m on a diet and I shouldn’t eat that.”  This is the “my digestive system is going to try to kill me if I try to eat that” kind of a thing.  

Tor.  Ture.

Beyond that, I have a lot of friends and family with small kids, where life just gets in the way sometimes.  I get it. So sometimes it’s difficult to remember birthdays and other important dates. I get it.  

I really do.

Most of the time, I try to make sure important dates and things get recognized.  I’m a cheerleader for life for everyone. I try to send birthday cards to people close to me.  An actual through the mail paper birthday card. I want to see other people succeed. I want good things to happen to other people.  I’m genuinely happy for everyone else when these amazing things happen to them.

But over the past 24 hours, I had a pity party.  A selfish, downtrodden, pity party. I’m even going to be selfish enough to say that it was warranted.  

Because life gets in the way and people suck sometimes.

Do I think that any of this was intentional?  Absolutely not. My friend honestly was trying to do something for me when she asked what kind of snacks I like.  Not thinking about how I might take it without getting to have cake. And within this same group of friends, another friend keeps telling me that we need to have a night where they all have to eat a “Johanna friendly” meal.  So there is understanding there. It just went a little sideways for a bit. 

And do I think my friends and family purposely didn’t wish me a happy birthday?  

No. 

I don’t.

So I understand that it wasn’t a personal attack.

But the pity party still happened anyway.

I started to question why I do some of the things that I do.  Why I’m always the smiling, friendly, outgoing, happy person that I am.  Why I’m the life cheerleader. Why I go out of my way to do the things that I do.

Is it even worth it?

Not that I do the things that I do in hopes that people will return the favor.  That isn’t why I do these things.

But, sometimes it would be nice.

I honestly started wondering who would even notice is I stopped doing the things that I do.

And then God chuckled, and answered my question.

A coworker, and one that I’m not extraordinarily close to, emailed me this morning, and apologized for not realizing that it was my birthday.  And then thanked me for always sharing my smile with her.  

Ok, God.  I get it.  

I don’t want to give you the impression that I had ever intended on not doing those things.  I might whine and complain about it a little.  But that’s all.

In one belated birthday wish this morning, a friend told me that he hopes today is the start of my best year yet.  My friends, I cannot tell you how much I hope and pray that is the truth.