Trolls on the Bridge: How to Keep Negative Feedback from Shredding Your Heart

I recently read this quote by Allen Arnold and it resonated deeply. “If God is pleased with your latest creation but the world ignores it, how do you feel? The answer reveals who you are creating for.”

thumbs up

Excellent question. I fall into this trap far too often. I hope people like what I’ve written. This new blog was a step out of my comfort zone. Will people read it? Will they like it? This doesn’t even have to revolve around writing. This could be about any situation. The secret fear is, “Will they approve what I offer? Will they approve of me?”

So many of us say we are living, breathing, creating, and doing for an Audience of One, but the truth is, when our creative offering is ignored by the masses, we suffer hurt. Disappointment. We may even feel insignificant or devalued. Such a reaction tells us the true condition of our heart.

What’s worse? Not having our creation ignored but having it, or perhaps even our very person, attacked. Ouch.

ecclesiastes 7 5Let me stop here and say I’m not talking about constructive criticism, although for some, any kind of criticism feels like destructive criticism. Wearing our feelings on our sleeve about something we create isn’t healthy. One of the best pieces of advice I heard early on when beginning my writing career came from Tamera Alexander. She said, “What you create, whether it be your book, your story, an article, whatever it is…that thing is not your baby. It is a product. You are not what you create.”

Great advice, and an excellent way to keep the sting from burning too deeply when criticism need be applied. And trust me, it will. No one is born the expert in their field. No one.
Constructive criticism is intended to build up. It’s based on love and wants the best for the other person. Destructive criticism wants only to harm. Its intent is to destroy, and is usually birthed out of jealousy or fear. So when you’ve been hit with negative feedback, it’s important to take a step back and analyze the source. There are four types of feedback sources.

  1. Lovers  

flatteryThese guys love everything you produce, say, and do. They love you. More of you 24-7. Of course, they would never dream of giving you negative feedback so they aren’t pertinent to our chat today, but beware. You should still take their gushing praise with a grain of salt. Don’t let it give you a big head. “…a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:28)

 

 

  1. Critics

More or less, critics are people who are educated in the creative product you’ve released. They have opinions that are subjective but carefully thought out about why they do or don’t like something, how aspects could be improved, etc. Good critics should be about the product, not the person behind it. Constructive criticism from a critic can be extremely valuable. Just remember their opinion is subjective.

  1. Trolls

trollAh, here is where things get messy. Trolls will hit you with all kinds of negative feedback. They don’t like your product because blah, blah, blah. Some criticisms may seem legit, some utterly ridiculous and hurtful. In the midst of their barbs, it may become apparent to you these guys have never even read or used your product. What?!

Trolls are internet drama feeders. They love stirring up fights because they find it amusing. They will go after your creation, and possibly, after you just for the shock value of it. As a friend of mine recently put it, “Trolls are just looking for a goat to cross their bridge.” Someone to torture. Someone to mess with. Although it seems they are quite hostile towards you, they are probably indifferent. They really don’t care about you at all, one way or the other. They are just looking for some drama-induced excitement in their too-dull lives. feed the trolls

Word of advice: Don’t feed the trolls. Do not engage with them. Don’t try to make them like you. They are out for one thing: drama. You feed a troll, and they’ll keep hanging around the bridge. Starve a troll, and they’ll look for some other place to feed.

  1. Haters muppet haters

As a recovering people pleaser, this one hurts, but it’s true. There will be some people that hate you. There I said it. Let it sink in. They will hate you for no other reason than that. It’s usually based out of some sort of jealousy, but perhaps not. Maybe it’s a wound they are struggling with and you’re an easy target. Whatever the reason, there will be people that don’t like you. They will say the meanest, most nasty, soul-cutting things to you. You’ll have a choice in that moment whether to believe what they say about you and your worth or reject it. (Remember this: a lie can only harm us if we believe it.)

john 15 18You are not what you create. You were lovingly fashioned and knit together by God, designed for a purpose before you ever drew a breath. Haters spew venom because they have no love nor light. Trolls linger on bridges, but none of it changes one thing between you and the Author of Life.

Press on. Pray for those who hurt you. Love with abandon, even those trolls and haters. They must hurt deeply to have so much acid spill out. Here’s a thought: every time you’re confronted with hurtful feedback, instead of lashing back or wallowing in tears, as we all so often want to do, bow your head and say a prayer for that mean person. Talk about agape love in action.

After all, trolls need Jesus too.

galatians-1-10

“To Do” or “To Be”?: Exchanging Checklists for God’s Presence

Not long ago, I finished up a beautiful study on the book of Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. She challenged her readers to do something I love: to make a to-be list instead of a to-do list.

I’m prolific at creating master to-do lists. They give me a sense of control, a sense of accomplishment and keep my cluttered mind from letting crucial jobs slip through the cracks of my faulty memory. (Correction: these things give me illusion of control, accomplishment and clearer brain function.)

Despite my love of meddlesome to-do lists, I think they are overrated. Our culture is so consumed with “do more”, schedule-juggling, organizing, managing and rearranging that we’ve lost sight of something quite important. Call me crazy, but I think we’ve got the whole cram-more-into-your-day-and-wonder-why-we-need-caffeine-and-stress-management-to-keep-up thing down.

No. Better organization isn’t the problem. What we choose to tackle in a day has less to do with a checklist and more about what our priorities are. In other words, to do is not nearly as important as to be.

As yourself the question, “Who do I want to be?”

For you hard-core list makers, start writing. I started my to-be list and, in just a few minutes, I was running out of room on the page. list making

To Be:

Compassionate

Loving

Kind

Less prideful

Less stubborn

More flexible

Teachable

Heart to serve others

Look at people through God’s eyes

Wise

Slow to speak

Serene

Joyful

Encouraging

Prayerful

Seeker of God’s heart…

The longer I gripped my pencil, the more I realized I was circling around one person, one focal point. All these character traits and more were compressed and displayed in the person of Christ. Scanning the list, it became clear…I want to be like Jesus.

Flip over to 1 John 2:6 and you’ll see that John worded it this way: the one who says he abides in Him[Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  

So to be like Jesus, I just need to walk like Jesus. Got it. Check that off the list.

If only it were that easy.

That’s kind of a tall order, you know? It’s like saying to be a great basketball player, just play like Michael Jordan. To be pretty, just look like Cindy Crawford. It seems unattainable. Impossible.

little boy basketballmichael jordan 2

Before I crumpled the overwhelming list in my hand, I took a deep breath. The Lord knows I’m not perfect, and He knows I have, and will continue to, mess up. That’s why He sent His Son.

The idea isn’t to be sinless…it’s to strive to be like Him. To please Him. To know His heart. To let Him mold me into the image of His Son.

So like any good, organized girl does, I made a list.

How did Jesus Walk?

  1. His prayer time with God was long and a priority.
  2. He sought out the broken, rejected, abused, mistreated & social outcasts.
  3. His concern was doing God’s will, and ONLY God’s will.
  4. He battled temptation with scripture.
  5. He touched the untouchables.
  6. He made people mad.
  7. He spoke the truth.
  8. He was a God pleaser, not a people pleaser.
  9. He wasn’t consumed with material wealth.
  10. He did not chastise the broken for being broken. He offered them Living Water instead.
  11. He served those he knew would betray and abandon Him.
  12. He wept for people who rejected Him.
  13. He forgave.
  14. He offered compassion.
  15. He loved people, even when they were messy.

This list barely scratches the surface, but it’s a start. I may never be all I should be, but with His help, I can strive to respond like Jesus, to show forgiveness like Jesus, to extend a hand like Jesus and to love like Jesus.

There’s an old story that claims when Michelangelo revealed his masterpiece statue of David, a man asked him, “However did you create such a breathtaking work out of nothing more than a block of lifeless marble?”

Michelangelo replied, “It is not difficult. A person need only chip away the parts that do not resemble David.” sculptor

That’s what God wants to do with us—chip away all the hard stuff in our hearts and lives until we look like His Son.

A good way to start? Drop the to-do lists and focus on how to be like Christ. Spend time with Him. We are who we hang out with. When we shift our focus on to-be, our to-do list rewrites itself.

And isn’t that a relief? No more to-do lists.

Check.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are other ways that Jesus walked? Are you a list-maker? Have you ever switched your to-do list for a to-be list? What differences did you notice in your focus?

Learning Joy in Failure

 

learning joy in failure

The Arkansas State Police is a happening place to be, especially in the motor vehicle office and even more so from one to four when they are administering driving tests.

I recently took a family member to fill out some paperwork, which provided me plenty of time to sit in the waiting room and watch people coming and going. Anxious teens milled around, some of whom were too cool to show their jitters. Nervous mothers smacking gum contrasted against parents who rolled their eyes, muttering to the person on the other end of their cell phone that young Anthony “better not fail again. I’m tired of dragging him down here over and over if he ain’t gonna study.” Middle aged men getting their CDL and motorcycle licenses, female bus drivers, terse police officers and everyone in between. It felt like a cross between the DMV and America’s Got Talentdrivers test ecard

The hour long wait provided me quite an education in one particular area: the art of failing. During that entire time, only one kid passed his permit test. Just one. He, of course, was all smiles. The others…well, that’s an entirely different story.

Some slunk out of the room with a scowl, shoving their paperwork at their parents with a grunt.

“Didn’t you pass?”

“Do I look like I passed?”

Others bit back tears or merely shrugged with a careless attitude. “No big deal. I’ll try again later. I didn’t really care about it anyway.” One particular boy stomped up to his dad and glared. “Stupid test. That’s the fifth time I’ve taken it. I think they deliberately make it harder and harder each time. They want me to fail!”

Some parents offered hugs or condolences. Some told their child, “You’re right. It’s just not fair.” My favorite parent was one very wise mother who, after her daughter had fussed because she’d flunked, stared her down and spoke with a stern calmness I envied. “You know why you flunked? Two reasons. Your attitude stinks and you haven’t been studying like you should have. Both reasons tell me you’re not mature enough to drive yet. So guess what? We’re not coming back to try again next week. We’ll try again in six months.”

Go, Mom!

My favorite of all was a sixty year old man who’d taken his CDL exam. He ambled into the waiting room and stared at his wife. She put down her magazine and stood.

“Well, let’s have it. Please don’t tell me we drove all the way down here for nothing. Again.”

He chuckled. “Sorry, sweetheart. I failed.”

She groaned. “Dale, that’s makes the fourth time.”

He walked up and kissed her on the cheek. “The good news is I only failed by one question this time. Only one! I’m getting better each time. I’m failing my way to success. Next time I should have it. I’m learning all the ways not to pass my CDL test!” His wife giggled. “Say, you in the mood for cheeseburgers or Mexican?” And off they went.

That sweet man is the perfect example of how to find joy in failure.

failure vs successLife is a series of mistakes with a few successes thrown in. Some of us have become so paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, we’ve stopped learning. Stopped discovering. Stopping crawling outside our boxes and exploring the beauty around us. We hold on the illusion of control, somehow thinking all will be right. No pain, no discomfort…that is, until we fail and our world tips on its axis.

How you handle failure reveals more of your character than how you handle success.

ryan-riggins-216051Adversity reveals our true nature. Pressure, heat, resistance…all of it is like a hand squeezing around a toothpaste tube. It isn’t until the fist squeezes that we see what is truly inside. When pressure is applied, the inner man is revealed. It’s easy to blame others, the system, or any other host of issues for our mistakes, but we still won’t learn a thing, will we? We may even find some folks who will agree with our finger pointing, but then what? It doesn’t bring us one step closer to our goals or dreams.

The only way to learn from failure is to embrace it.

Some of the most beautiful things can be birthed from the messiest. God has shown it to me over and over in my own life, but it takes a heart willing to say, “I have no pride. I have no agenda. I want to learn, both what to do and what not to do. Teach me. I’m Yours.Failing doesn’t feel like failure at all in that state of mind. It’s just…learning.

What a great place to be.

But I Have This Treasure

You know the feeling. A cold, clenched stomach. Darkness. A pounding heart. All you want to do is hide. You beg the eyes fixed on you to disappear but they won’t. They gape and you wonder what they must think, how they must see you. You feel worthless. Exposed.

I’m talking about shame.
DCF 1.0

Is there a more miserable feeling?

Growing up with a seizure disorder left me with plenty of fodder for times to reflect on this feeling. Most of the time I felt normal. Included. And then suddenly, my world would go black. Time would stop. I felt as if I were walking out of a dark hole where time had disappeared and I couldn’t quite place what was wrong. Slowly, sleepily, I would come to the realization that everyone was staring at me.

It was odd and terrifying. Surreal and confusing. Yet there was little I could do.

Of course, there are other moments of shame that stick out in my memory. For instance, playing on the basketball team my junior year of high school. The ball had bounced around on the rim before I managed to brush my fingers across it, pulling down the rebound before using the adrenaline in my body to immediately put the ball right back up. It fell through the net with a satisfying swish.

It would have been a glorious moment if that particular shot hadn’t been for the opposing team.

Ouch.

Anyone who has a pulse has experienced the horrid emotion of shame at some point. Sometimes we can look back on those moments and laugh them off. Other times, the pain cuts too deeply, its scars are too jagged and thick for laughter. Just thinking about that moment causes us to relieve the shame all over again.

dog

Thankfully, I feel that cold emotion far less these days. Not because I don’t mess up just as much as ever but I’ve learned that shame is a fiery dart flung by the enemy. He wants me to wallow in misery, to turn in on myself like a hermit crab, to push people away. But I refuse to do it anymore.

Several days ago, I was driving in the car with my kids, reflecting on these very thoughts. We had been enjoying a fun day, one of those rare times when everybody was in a good mood and the laughter was infectious. I reached an intersection where a huge log truck was preparing to turn left. I slowed early to allow the driver plenty of room to turn but he had other ideas.

He wanted me to go first, to turn left despite the fact that I couldn’t see who might be approaching from the other direction. When I hesitated, he threw up his hands and began screaming at me from the cab of his truck. Ugly words. Hateful words. It didn’t take a lip reader to understand what the irate man was saying, ahem, cussing at me.

cranky 3

And suddenly my happy balloon burst as feelings of inadequacy and hurt rushed over me. After all, he was cursing me out right in front of my kids, compounding the insult. And they noticed.

My good mood dissipated for a moment before I remembered a verse I’d studied the week before.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” -2 Corinthians 4:7

We have this treasure…Jesus.

It doesn’t matter what that cranky driver thought of me. I have this treasure

It doesn’t matter when I’m accused or when mean people lie about me. I have this treasure

It doesn’t matter what society tells me about how I must look or how to cling to the fading scraps of youth. I have this treasure.

I have Jesus.

This simple reminder is a shame buster. It’s impossible to want to hide and cower in fear when you remember that Jesus is crazy about you. He’s living in you. He took all that shame on Himself and crucified it to the cross. love of Jesus crossIt’s gone and you’re free. You have a Treasure the rest of the world doesn’t understand and many can’t claim.

As I drove away, I patted my chest with my free hand and whispered to myself, “But I have this treasure….” And I left the screaming, miserable truck driver in my rear view mirror.

No matter how you’re treated, remind yourself that if you’ve been redeemed, you have this treasure. No one can take it away. It’s yours to keep.

And it’s the perfect way to stop shame in its slithering tracks.

Rods and Staffs

God’s presence. How I long for it. There are days when I feel nearly desperate for it. For Him. In some ways, it’s an odd longing. Didn’t Jesus already promise He’s with me until the end of the age? (Matt. 28:20) Absolutely. He said His Spirit is living inside me as a deposit of the promises yet to come. (2 Cor. 1:22) Yet, there are days when I don’t always feel Him with me.

I’m not alone. When I googled “God’s presence” I racked up a whopping 37 million plus hits. If Jesus is with me and living inside me, why do I still struggle to find that heightened state of an awareness of His presence?

thaddaeus-lim-40018The chaos of living in a media-crazed culture certainly plays a part. The rush of schedules crammed too full of go-go-go make it worse. But digging deeper, I think these things are band-aids slapped on to hide a deeper problem. We keep ourselves drowning in noise because silence is too condemning. We let our busyness anesthetize us from the wounds and pain we have no desire to confront. We long for quiet. Every fiber of our soul screams for it, but we are, in equal parts, terrified of it. Why?

 Because sitting at the feet of Jesus requires change.

Since “presence” is my word for 2017, I’ve been giving it some study. In the Scriptures, God’s presence is mentioned as He led Israel from Egypt into the promised land.

13 Now therefore, I [Moses] pray you, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways so that I may know You [becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with You, recognizing and understanding Your ways more clearly] and that I may find grace and favor in Your sight. And consider also, that this nation is Your people.” 14 And the Lord said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest [by bringing you and the people into the promised land].” 15 And Moses said to Him, “If Your presence does not go [with me], do not lead us up from here.” ~Exodus 33 (AMP)

 God’s presence is also mentioned numerous other places, like Psalm 139:7-10.

rod and staffWhere can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol (the nether world, the place of the dead), behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will take hold of me. 


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful words of Psalm 23:4.

“Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Here’s what I’ve noticed about these verses in regard to God’s presence. The majority of them revolve around adversity. Pain. Lengthening shadows and the mysterious unknown. Rejection. Abuse. Wounds. Betrayal. Grief and loss. But where pain abounds, His love abounds in greater measure. his love abounds

We tend to think of God’s presence as our quiet time when everything is picture perfect and quiet. The kids are behaving, things are going right for a change and we can have a little jam session with God. But it rarely works out that way. (At least, in my house.) broken piecesSitting, loving and living in the presence of God is much deeper. It’s coming to Him with all your messiness and broken pieces and laying them bare before Him. It’s giving Him full access to the shadowed places of your heart you’re ashamed for anyone else to see, and then gratefully basking in the knowledge that He loves you wildly, despite the mess.

Suffering requires us to relinquish something. A dream. A plan. A person. A place. Whatever it is, grief is involved. But there is beauty in our suffering when we learn to worship at the feet of Jesus, and say, “Not my will but Yours.”

Then His love moves in to fill the cracks where our hearts bleed.

Seeking a deeper walk with God is kind of like seeking humility. All of us want to be humble, but most of us don’t want to endure what it takes to get there.

Walking close to God may require a walk through the valley. “I will not fear. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me…” 3 nails

Keep your eyes fixed on the Shepherd. Trust Him with your messy, broken places. In His presence is healing. In His hands are love.

Living Like Sugar

Our house was hopping this weekend.

Teenage girls and giggling preteens were everywhere. Nate zoomed through the chaos in his normal Hulk-ish style. Movies, candy, tasting challenges, raucous laughter, Youtube videos, card games…there was noise coming from every direction.

Most in the house had a blast…with the exception of our dog Sugar.

Poor thing. She’s ten years old. Far too elderly for whooping and hollering, high-pitched squeals and pounding feet. She’s suffered enough living with Nate.

In the middle of the bedlam, I moved to the kitchen sink to wash the dishes. Another shriek. A crash. A burst of giggles. And then I felt it. A warm, wriggly body pressed itself between my Nikes, shivering and shaking. sugar-at-my-feet

I looked down to see Sugar seeking refuge at her Momma’s feet.

It’s not the first time she’s done it of late. It’s getting to be the norm. Odd though that she never sought protection or solace from me when she was a puppy, or even in the first half of her life. No, she was too busy defending the world from evil. Too busy yapping and charging forward to solve things her own way.

But as she’s gotten older, she runs straight to me when trouble, or even perceived trouble, heads her way.

Maybe she’s finally figured out doing things her own way doesn’t work. Or maybe she finally realized Momma is bigger and stronger than she is so why should she do the fighting? Momma can do it for her.

Or maybe it’s simply the fact that Momma makes her feel safe. Sheltered. Loved when the screams of chaos erupt.

boy-hiding

Whatever the reason, she no longer fights her own battles. She lets me fight them for her. And when I reach down and gently rub her ears, she leans into my fingers with a sigh and her trembling ceases.

I want my relationship with God to be like that. No striving. No need to put on a brave face or make feeble attempts to fight battles in my own limited strength I can never win. I just want to run to my Savior and rest in the shadow of His love.

I’ll never forget what my mentor Marie once told me. This courageous, faith-filled woman, who handled every storm with such beauty and grace said, “Tara, trusting Jesus gets easier the older you get. As He weathers storm after storm with you, you don’t need Him to prove Himself to you anymore. You just…know. You trust. You don’t even question Him after awhile. You face each moment and reach for His hand, knowing He’s there.” hand

That thought was never more real to me than this week when my Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Instead of fear or anxiety or a dozen other knee-rattling emotions, Jesus swept a peace through me unlike anything I’ve ever known. It’s gentle and whole. Kind and deep. He whispered to my spirit, “I’ve got her. I’m with her. I’m with you. All is well. No need to fear.

Oh, there have been some tears, a hundred questions, but more than anything, there is peace. God’s peace buoying my spirit into a place of sacred rest. He loves her. He is for her and His perfect plan is being stitched into the beautiful tapestry of her life for His glory. All will be well.

trina-christian-19571Most of us know the verse reminding us to “Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6-7), but sometimes, despite our best intentions, fear grabs us by the throat and refuses to let go. Even with a string of good, peaceful days, there may be moments of panic and with them the self-condemnation, “I shouldn’t feel this way.” Yet the cold dread curls through our stomachs anyway.

Everyone is afraid sometimes. What matters is Who we run to.   

We can join the chaos, try to fight the battles in our own strength or take shelter in the shadow of the One Who has already promised the victory.

Living like Sugar is the way to go.

john-16_33

Jesus Wasn’t Calling: How I Learned to Walk Away from Perfectionism and Self-Inflicted Martyrdom

Jesus wasn’t calling.

Okay, maybe not. Obviously, Jesus is still in the calling business. Hang with me here and I’ll do my feeble best to try to explain my muddled thoughts.

batman-slapI have to admit it was quite a shock to realize all those years I spent doing and running, spinning my wheels and frantically trying to be a good, little Christian girl for Jesus weren’t for Him at all. They were for me.

When the truth hit, it slapped me hard.

I’ll never forget that night. Curled in on myself, sobbing on the mat of our bathroom floor into the wee hours of the night. My physical body had reached its limit and my emotions lay in scattered wreckage.

I was so overwhelmed, so undone and so completely exhausted I thought I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t escape. Every fiber of my being cried out for relief.

drowning

I remember curling the long, soft tufts of the burgundy bathmat in my fists and clenching my teeth as salty tears filled my mouth.

God, You lied to me. You said if I served You, You would give me joy. I have no joy. I have no peace. This is not the victorious life You promised.

I was lied to all right, but it wasn’t by God. The enemy had fooled me into believing the best way to feel loved was by doing whatever it took to make people love me and I fell for it…hook, line and sinker.

It took awhile for me to realize all those ‘good’ things I was doing, all the activities pulling me away from my family and draining the peace and joy from my walk with God weren’t “callings from Jesus”. They were the hungry cries of a broken girl who desperately needed the approval of people to feel loved. I blamed “Christian service” for my inability to say no, servant-hood for my perfectionism and worse yet, developed a martyr mentality to mask the ever-growing resentment welling up inside.

please love me

Jesus has called us to many things, but living a life where we exchange His rich, vibrant, unconditional love for the weak, oscillating approval of man is not one of them. Excellence is good but trying to sacrificing the rest He’s promised in order to cram in more is not. Serving in church programs and ministries is wonderful, but only if you’re doing it from a heart that yearns to love others instead of a need to be seen by others.

That’s what I meant when I said Jesus wasn’t calling. I had confused my Christian service with people pleasing. And like it always does whenever the moving target of people pleasing and perfectionism can’t be hit, resentment fills in the void. Self-inflicted martyrs make poor servants.

My journey with Jesus is vibrant now. Full of joy and adventure, freedom and rest and yes, serving too. The difference is I’ve learned why I do what I do and I’ve learned where my worth lies…in the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. Now when He calls, I can hear His voice plainly. john-1027-28 I don’t confuse His gentle whisper with the screaming shouts and harsh demands of the world around me, or even with the old self-condemnation that creeps in from time to time.

I had to learn the hard way though. You don’t have to. Look inside. Check your motives. Make sure that it’s Jesus calling.

You can read more of my story here:      https://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487684657&sr=8-1&keywords=hollow+victory+tara+johnson      

White Space

paint

“You should use up all the space on the paper.”

I remember the admonition from my fourth grade art teacher so clearly as she stood in front of the chalk board, holding the large, white piece of paper in her hand, a sharpie in the other.

“You kids are bad about leaving too much white space on the page. I want you to draw the black lines all the way to the edge. I don’t want to see any white space any more. None. Every square inch of this paper needs to be filled in with color.”

drawing

As I sat at my scarred desk, legs swinging against its metal feet, I remember running the markers across the large rectangle of white, the sound emitting a soft hiss. No white, no white, no white…

Just the effort and time it took to fill up that entire canvas of eleven by thirteen was exhausting in my nine-year-old mind.

The teacher had made it clear. If I didn’t use up every square inch of that white space, there was something wrong with me. I had to fill it. Use it. Cram it with color, lines, paint, smudges.

And I’ve been doing it ever since.

Fill the calendar. Cram my days with more. More activity. More opportunity. Good things. Valuable things. Noble things. Run and do and check off that ever-expanding list of accomplishments and schedule juggling. After all, we only have one life to live, so we need to take that bottle of time and jam-pack it to the brim, right? No white space.

Don’t get me wrong. They are good activities, but somewhere along the way, I’ve realized I yearn for white space. I need quiet. I need solitude. More than that, I need Him. Not the church activities or projects or programs. Just Him.

Too many of us are living our lives and filling our schedules like we do our plates on Thanksgiving. We are gorging ourselves to the point of throwing up. No space. We are choking, shoving and cramming every single bite we can manage and then wonder why we’re miserable.

overflowing-food

We’ve forgotten the exquisite beauty and peace of white space.

Consider this from an artist’s perspective.

“Negative space is, quite simply, the space that surrounds an object in a image. Just as important as that object itself, negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition. peter-and-the-wolf

More and more these days, the creative world is seeing an emergence of artists creating positive spaces and shapes that, in turn, cleverly carve out shapes in negative space intentionally.” (http://www.creativebloq.com/art/art-negative-space-8133765)

Just look at this stunning artwork by Phoebe Morris.

Did you notice what the author of the blog said? The shapes are carved out intentionally. Rest. Breathe. Time with God will not be an accidental trip into His arms. You must choose. Let go of some of the old things to embrace Him.

Graphic designers will tell you white space is vital for several reasons. First, it helps your brain process and group relevant information. Second, it establishes mood and gives emphasis to what’s the most important focal point of a design, and third, white space invokes our imagination. The same is true for our spiritual man.

The simple truth is, the heart who is seeking God is a heart at rest. He promises it in His Word over and over again.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” ~Matthew 11:28

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” ~Isaiah 26:3

So if we are juggling and striving and feeling our batteries plunge lower with every passing day, our priorities are off somewhere. Consider the conversation God had with Moses in Exodus 33.

13 “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” presence

This past year I’ve had to ask God to teach me how to rest. Is it sad that I’m thirty eight years old and still don’t know how to relax? But I don’t. He’s been tenderly showing me and loving me into a deeper walk with Him. A life lived on fumes is not the abundant life He promised. We can be so busy doing things for God, but still not be walking with Him. And that is a life of chaos.

 

Breathe. Find the white space. That’s where you’ll find His still, small voice.

Drowning out Silence

Noise can be a drug.

It’s a numbing anesthesia, insulating us from pain and reality, a distraction that keeps us from looking too deeply at what haunts us most. We do the same with food, with shopping and debit cards, with possessions and degrees, with sex and alcohol, power, possessions, money, relationships, children…yet the more I consider the bombastic nature of our society, the more I believe noise has become the preferred drug of choice.

too-much-noise

By noise I don’t mean only auditory transmission, but sensory overload. Cell phones are nearly sewn on to fingertips. Television shows and music can viewed and heard from nearly any technological device man has dreamed up. Itunes, radio, Youtube, podcasts, streaming…we are a culture saturated with more. Add to that long work days, running children to and from the vast array of extra curriculars they must be a part of in order to succeed as a human being (yes, that is a note of sarcasm you hear in my voice), runs to the drive-through, caring for aging parents, chasing sticky toddlers, sweeping up crushed Cheerios, swallowing down caffeine to keep up with it all, and then throw in church and several ministry projects, because, after all, Jesus comes first, right?

You would think we would crave silence. Yearn for it. Want it with every fiber of our being. Some do.


Yet, truth be told, for many of us, when we are given the option to sit in quiet and wait for God to speak, we reach for our cell phone instead. Rather than walking through a silent house, we turn on the television for some background noise. Instead of talking with our Father on the drive to work, we blast the radio as loud as we can because “music speaks to us”. Does it speak louder to us than God does? Why?

Please understand, there is no condemnation here, for I do it too. All the time. I’ve always loved it when my kids aren’t fighting and the day is calm, but I can’t say that I’ve always loved perfect quiet. There is a big difference between the two.

girl-in-fieldAm I saying noise is wrong? Absolutely not. And God speaks to us beautifully through sound—the rush of a waterfall, the cadence of nature, the laugh of a baby, melodies and rhythms—all of these are tremendous gifts. What I do wonder, however, is how often we use busyness and noise as a way to avoid having to deal with our wounds.

When the electricity goes out, the heat clicks into dead cold, when there’s no hum of currents running through the house, it’s an odd feeling. Quiet. Sudden. It feels as if something has been ripped away. Our natural inclination when something has been taken is to fill that space with something else. So when there is silence, we automatically want to replace it with something. Anything.

boy-hidingSilence, at times, can be terrifying. There’s no hiding. All those thoughts and fears we so successfully shove down during the busyness rise to the surface. There’s no escaping them. The screams of silence soon turn to condemnation and we find ourselves in a place of pain that we knew existed but never wanted to confront.

My friend, the pain you hide in private will eventually become what you wear in public. The noise, the distractions, are only patches that will work for a little while. Jesus is waiting in the silence. He wants to hold you and heal those cracked places in your heart. To be seen, truly seen, is scary, but He is safe. His grace is greater. He will not turn you away.

In the past few years I’ve learned I’ll never accidentally fall into a closer walk with God. It’s a deliberate choice to lay aside the distractions and noise and seek His presence. I try to take five minutes each day to sit in silence with Jesus. No hiding. Just being still. I’m treasuring this new time. Instead of the condemnation I used to pour on myself, I now hear Him whisper His love to my soul. be-still

He’s with me in the quiet and He’s present in the noise.

Do you like silence? Why or why not? What are ways you unplug from the busyness? Where do you hear God or feel His presence most clearly? 

Lessons Learned in His Presence

Last week I told you my word for the year was presence. I’ve become desperate to release the juggling, the striving, running and cistern-filling that never actually fills. I yearn for Jesus’ presence…to sit at His feet. To learn and love and live. I don’t want to care about what each day brings as long as I can journey through each day with Him.

learn-to-rest

I thought my biggest obstacle to sitting in His presence would be learning to rest. For the past few years, I thought tending to chores around the house was resting. Compared to standing on stage while speaking and singing, or pounding out another book project or some other creative endeavor, mindless activities like folding laundry or scrubbing counters feel like rest. But they’re not. Here’s the tricky thing about living in the cycle of go-go-go for so long…after a while, the nonstop activity is like a drug. When it’s gone, there’s a terrifying hole of quiet that suddenly needs to be filled. Some people automatically understand how to rest. I don’t. For me, it’s a learned behavior, one I have to be taught but I’m getting there.

I thought learning to rest would be the most difficult part of this whole-seeking-God’s-presence-journey. But I was wrong. There are two others that hit me hard.

The first I learned while putting my three-year-old to sleep several nights ago. After two runs to the bathroom, a drink, a ten minute long prayer, and another drink, Nate grabbed my hand and kissed my palm, looking up into my face with a hopeful grin.

“Stay til I sleep, Monny?”

I inwardly sighed. His bedtime routine was growing longer each night and a long list of chores still awaited me. But I kissed his forehead as God’s Spirit spoke to my heart.

Stay. nate-asleep

I settled next to my little man and rubbed his face. Maybe it was the realization that time was fleeting. My children are growing up too fast. Maybe it was pure obedience that kept me rooted in place. Whatever the reason, I stayed and stroked his forehead, toyed with his chestnut curls, ran my fingertips over his eyebrows and temples until those heavy lashes could stand it no longer.

As I watched him succumb to sleep, Jesus pressed this thought into my spirit.

You’ve been seeking My presence. My Spirit is within You and if you long to sit at My feet, it is here, in these humble moments, caring for those entrusted to you that you’ll find Yourself closer to Me. Ministering to the needy. Feeding the hungry. Encouraging the broken. Visiting the prisoner. When you do this, you sit at My feet. I AM with you. I am here.

The next night I was plagued with a nasty bout of insomnia. I tossed and turned but couldn’t get comfortable. One thought kept bugging me over and over.

Rise and write.

I ignored it. I mean, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do when insomnia’s restless fingers flutter over our minds? Lie still. Ignore the TV and phone. Keep the lights off.

Nothing worked and that night was one of the most miserable I’ve endured in ages. The next morning, I sat up in my grump-induced haze and wondered if perhaps the urge to write wasn’t the crazy whim of a hyperactive right-brained blonde, but instead God’s sweet plea pulling me from sleep to offer a divine invitation. interrupted-by-god

As I stared out window, watching the sun streak the morning pink, I prayed, “Lord, was that You?”

Following Me often means interruption. Sitting in My presence may pull you away from other things, but it is always an invitation to know Me. To create with Me. To walk with Me.

Maybe I’ll get the hang of this eventually. I’m glad God is patient. Even when I get it wrong, He is so tender. So patient. And even in my mistakes, He is teaching me.

That’s the amazing thing about being with Jesus. You cannot walk away unchanged. The well of love and knowledge in His presence is unfathomable.

light-of-your-presence