emotional control

Shoulders shrugged, eyebrows raised in unknowing resignation: “I can’t control my feelings.” As if it’s an excuse for where she’s ended up. As if it’s an excuse for his actions. As if it explains the situation they’re in.

Or in another instance: She falls in love with a soldier. Months later she expresses to her father her deep anxiety over her fiance’s safety and her frustration with how much he is gone, and her father responds “You should’ve thought of that before you fell in love with a soldier.” And the woman replies, “You don’t choose who to fall in love with. It just happens.”

That situation played out in a Netflix show I watched but it could be anyone in any situation. Many people say it, or at least think it. It could be “I couldn’t control who I fell in love with, it just happened,” or “I can’t control my feelings and this is where they’ve led me.” Also the infamous “follow your heart.” Are all of those true?

Emotion are beautiful and they make us do wonderful things and their whispers are the perfect compliment to our thinking minds. We were meant to have both parts of the thinking-feeling dance. But what about when emotions run the show?

When a person says “I can’t control my feelings…” they mean one of two things about the result. Sometimes people mean: “I can’t control my feelings, so I can’t be responsible for what they make me do.”

We would never excuse a destructive outburst because a person “can’t control their feelings, and it just happened.” Being angry (a strong emotion) is an explanation for hitting someone but it is not an acceptable excuse. We know we must learn that emotional control. Yet with other behavior we play the “emotions” card as an excuse for the unfortunate situation we are in. And indeed, our emotions explain much of our behavior and there is grace and learning and second chances.

But the second thing people mean when they say “I can’t control my feelings” is this: “I can’t control my feelings so I will not always act on them.” Easier said than done, right?

Emotions are hard to control. We already know this. I can’t just declare I don’t like one and make it go away. Our hearts are deceitful, so they must be lead, but they can’t exactly be controlled. We grasp at our emotions but they run through our hands like water. We can’t tell them where to go, when to come, or when to leave.

But we do control the influence emotions have in our lives and how we act and respond to them — in the end we aren’t slaves to our emotions. It’s just a nice excuse to make, because our emotions usually dictate what makes us happy at the moment and following them is the path of least internal resistance.

So the beginning statement is true — I can’t control my emotions. They come and go and they surprise me. But just because I can’t control them doesn’t mean I’m obligated to follow them. The opposite is true: if I know that I can’t control them, I’m able to choose to not act on them if they aren’t for the good of my soul, the good of others, and the worship of God. Emotions require an outside measuring stick to see if they’re worth listening to. I’ll sit down for a chat, lend an ear to my emotions, and then decide what’s going to happen.

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people come and go

“Be broken and given in a thousand common and uncommon ways. Live given a thousand times a day.” -Ann Voskamp


How does a human with a breakable heart deal with the coming-and-going of life? People come and go. Sure, emotionally people come and go — they find a place in our hearts and then run out, leaving behind broken trust and tracks of memories. But I’m talking about the physical coming and going of normal life. The physical coming and going that also gets down into our hearts.

People come and go – they move into our city or we move into theirs, we change jobs, move out, they move away, move on. It’s normal and it’s healthy but it can also just be plain sad. Sometimes it can feel like we live in a room with a revolving door and we are constantly saying hello and goodbye.

We give people a corner of our hearts knowing that later they may leave, because that’s what this life entails. We live life knowing our hearts will break open; sometimes a crack, sometimes a split, sometimes a cavern. So what can we with the breakable hearts do, knowing that the people we have come to love might have to leave?

If we’re not careful, we build little self-protection shells without realizing it — even just from the coming and going of life. Making new friends and saying goodbyes can make a heart weary. Sometimes it’s just less exhausting to avoid the hello in the first place.

Ann Voskamp comments on how Jesus handled loss: “He breaks the temptation to self-protect — and gives the vulnerability of Himself. In the sharp edge of grief, Jesus doesn’t look for something to fill the broken and alone places; He takes and gives thanks — and then does the most counter-cultural thing; He doesn’t keep or hoard or hold on — but breaks and gives away.”

From the normal-life goodbyes to the deepest relational hurts, that self-protection mechanism is automatic. But what if self-protection could look more like selflessness? Could self-protection be a strength that keeps its eyes focused on other people, not on itself? What is it to remain strong and resilient (so that we aren’t laid bare by sadness) but also incredibly soft (so that we are still giving of ourselves, still loving, still risking)?

Several years ago, one of my friends and I found our favorite emoji combination: the arm boasting a flexed bicep and the dainty pink bow. The best women we knew (and the type of women we wanted to become) were emotionally, spiritually, and mentally strong (thus the flexing bicep) as well as tender (the sweet, feminine bow). We would text this emoji secret-code to each other as encouragement to marry strength with tenderness, to embody both fortitude and softness.

Our hearts get cracks and we have two options: we can self-protect and try (in vain) to avoid additional cracks by giving less of ourselves to the people we meet. Or we can choose to avoid the temptation to emotionally hole-up. We can acknowledge any sadness we have but continue to give of ourselves and the love we have to offer, even in the midst of the ache. This is not an unwise or reckless self-sacrifice that trusts any person, puts us in bad situations, and leaves us spent. It’s a weighted, wise, intentional giving of ourselves that heals us up as we open up and fills us up as we give away. It’s the love of Jesus that gives and fills.

 

good men

I texted my dad a while back when it was Father’s Day here in Spain because I think he deserves to be celebrated twice – once for Father’s Day in Spain and again for Father’s Day in the United States. Not only because he is my daddy, but also because he’s one of the men who has made me who I am, and I am grateful for him and all the other good men who have shaped me as a woman.
Sometimes (all the time) we just need to say the nice and true things because we all need to hear them. So today, cheers to the good men. I am a better woman because of the good men who have been in my life. I hope men know that they are necessary and valuable to us, just as every human is. Men are distinct. They are important. They are world-changers. As I acknowledge and claim my own beauty as a woman, may I never roll over other humans in the process. In the claiming of my own personal rights, may I never take the rights of others. In the assertion of my own value, may I never devalue anyone else. May my confidence never be based in bringing someone else down. My strength lies not in loudly showing it off – my strength lies in loving and serving and building others up, and I will build men up until the day I die.
And yes, there are men in the world who do the opposite of good. I have known them and met them. I’ve seen the effects of their abuse. I’ve seen their ghost when the only evidence of their existence is the damage they caused to children I love. But the fix for a good thing that has gone bad isn’t to discredit, disregard, and discard the thing entirely. And my strength is not in hard toughness, but instead a soft resilience – it’s in being wise, careful, and resilient, amid a softness of not allowing my heart to become hard, untrusting, or unmoved by goodness and beauty. So I will keep thanking and encouraging and cheering on the good men.
I am better with good men in my life. And in some mysterious and wonderful dance, men bring out a different good and beauty in me that the other women in my life (who I also desperately love and need) simply cannot. So here’s to the men who daily respect and love their women. Here’s to the men who support and encourage, who help, who laugh, who lead with gentle strength, who defend others, who bring diversity, who protect, who discuss, who listen, who think, who fight against evil, who humbly sacrifice, who celebrate the brains, beauty, and strength of their women. Here’s to the men in my life who make me a better woman. Just as I complement you, I am a stronger and better woman with good men behind me, beside me, and for me. Be it brother, husband, boyfriend, dad, coworker, friend, mentor.. I am a better woman because of you, the good man.

Gym Culture

Living in a foreign culture leaves you no option but to laugh at yourself and your small but significant daily adventures. Just when you think you’re really understanding and living well in the rhythm and rhyme of another culture, it throws you a curveball. An unsuspected and sneaky curveball like joining a gym. Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks about these things, but think about them I do, and it makes me feel like I’m the awkward two-year-old toddling through learning a new aspect of culture.

Last Monday I joined the gym near my house. Great idea, right? Yes, yes it is. But as soon as I walked in I realized the act of going to a gym to workout carries its own set of cultural norms and I had no idea if I could apply my American gym-norms to Spanish gyms. I quickly realized I cannot when I found out that my gym in Spain OPENS at 8:00am. Forget 5:30am workouts (good thing i wasn’t looking for that anyway). One cannot make the assumption that a gym is a gym is a gym. I rushed in for my first gym class and wondered if it’s chill if people show up late or leave early. I listened hard for the cue to lunge or to squat because goodness knows the loud music combined with feet pounding the floor made the spanish a bit harder to catch. My foreignness was made more apparent to me when I played 20-questions-from-the-newbie with the staff and as they looked me up on the computer they asked “What’s your second last name?” Yeah, I don’t actually have one of those. Then when I needed a towel for my sticky skin, I wondered if they’d look at me like a freak when I asked where they are. Maybe gyms having towels isn’t a thing here. When I used weight equipment for the first time I peeked around at everyone else to see how sharing weight machines is done here. And then when I hopped on the treadmill, I put my music on and ran my heart out, assuming treadmill rules are the same around the world, and if they aren’t, let the #peopleofthegym stare.

the here-and-now you

Your worth has nothing to do with what you will become. I grew up watching Mister Rogers and had the chance to see him again when I saw the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Mister Rogers unequivocally made children feel appreciated, but people can be appreciated for all sorts of reasons. The movie notes that, “In this country, children are appreciated for what they will be.” It’s more true than not, isn’t it? We say we should invest in children because they’re the future leaders and because they will be the next generation responsible for our planet and because we never know which child is destined to become the next great president or musician. All of it is true – we are training up our children to be the next leaders, to care well for our planet, and we certainly don’t know which of the little hands we hold will be the next to change the world. Those things aren’t meaningless but they aren’t the main reasons we should invest into children. Everyone has the tendency to appreciate other people for who they will become or what they will do and we often appreciate or give value to children for who they will become in the future. Instead, can we appreciate them for who they are now, no strings attached, not looking ahead to what they will offer or the greatness they will contribute? Their future potential is deeply valuable and worthy of investment but it is not their worth. We look forward with great expectation to what these little twinkling eyes will one day become, but their future self is not why we love them now. We love them because they are important as the humans they are now, just as every human is important as they are. We can encourage and invest and cheer each other on so we do reach our potential (as we should) while at the same time acknowledging the innate value and importance that remains no matter what the future has for us. We push each other on toward the best we can be, not because we love only that future version but because we love the here-and-now version.

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We look forward with great expectation to what these little twinkling eyes will one day become, but their future self is not why we love them now. We love them because they are important as the humans they are now, just as every human is important as they are.

belief

In John 20 it’s a race to the tomb but the disciple who won the race couldn’t bring himself to peek inside. I imagine him paralyzed outside the tomb, examining but not touching the strips of linen that still smelled of death. Filled with fear of what he would find inside the tomb and fear of what it would mean for him; deep grief over the loss of his friend; anger at everything that had happened in the previous days. Finally he follows the other disciple in then “he saw and believed” (John 20:8). Believed what? The resurrection of Jesus? Was it a moment of clicking? A dizzying second where all of Jesus’ words came rushing into his head and they all finally made sense? He saw the empty death cloths that Jesus had been wrapped in and it all clicked and he believed.

Later, Thomas, after adamantly claiming he wouldn’t believe unless he physically touched the wounds, sees Jesus in person. Jesus feels no awkwardness nor does he turn Thomas away because of his doubts. Instead, Jesus walks right up to Thomas, gives him what he needed, and calls him out: “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27).  And Thomas did. He believed and he proclaimed Jesus Christ as his Lord and God.

And as I finish reading the chapter, am called to believe: “these (words) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). I am urged to believe in the identity of Christ, his words to us, his resurrection, and what his life means for my life right here and now.

Seems easy, but it’s hard. Jesus says “do not be unbelieving, but believing” (verse 27) but it isn’t as simple as it sounds. I can want to believe him, trust him and desire him, but can still find myself unbelieving, untrusting, and apathetic. So what’s a human like me to do? Ask for help, because it’s never been about my strength to grab hold of him anyway. “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:8). I cling desperately to him, as I should, but he is the one who does the upholding and the sustaining. So I ask along with the dad who wanted healing for his son: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) and Jesus welcomes that prayer. He cares that we come to him even if the first step is with hearts that still harbor some unbelief.

In “As One Devil to Another,” (a brilliant book similar to Screwtape Letters) Richard Platt says that God simply wants us to come to him and it matters little the way by which we come: “If they are brought up in a household where thoughts of Him are ever present and His existence is never questioned, where He is mindlessly obeyed out of simple inertia, He welcomes them. If they are totally devoid of the joy of going back to Him and make their pilgrimage purely on intellectual pathways, through reason, He welcomes them. If they return to Him purely through Grace, engulfed in the joyful knowledge of His presence but without two real thoughts to rub together, He welcomes them. And if they come to Him resisting to the last, only because every other attempt they have made at happiness and fulfillment has failed them, as surely in the long run it must, He welcomes them.” We have the audacity to doubt, we have silly hearts that are full of unbelief, and we take our time in trusting, yet still he wants us close. God tenderly and mercifully, yet at the same time powerfully and jealously, just wants us to go to him and then he changes and molds our hearts toward purity, love, and faith.

When we believe but have doubts or when we don’t want God but we want to want him, we can tell him that. So in the end we can come to God with any shred of belief we can find in our hearts, the tiniest desire to want him, and we ask him to help us with the rest of our unbelief. I believe, help me with my unbelief!

Authentic Authenticity

During our normal weekly time set aside to process life, hold each other accountable, share the good and the bad, and memorize scripture, my mentor-friend asked how my time with God was that week. I said it was average, didn’t get me excited, that I just kind of went through the motions with prayer and Bible-reading. And she said, “So… you were faithful.” … Excuse me? What she said is not what we’re used to hearing. Some friends would counsel me to stop if I don’t feel like doing something. Others would say to figure out how to rekindle the passion, but for-goodness-sake don’t stay in that nothing zone where all your passion is gone and you don’t feel like doing what you’re doing. We love to have passion for what we’re doing. And we hate doing things we don’t feel like doing. But frequently, that’s the definition of faithfulness – doing what we have committed to do, doing what’s right, and doing what’s good, even when we don’t feel like it. Sometimes “going through the motions” is actually faithfulness and is the best, and only, thing you can do when emotions are running low. Buuut we love doing what we feel like, and we’ve started calling it authenticity.

Somewhere along the line we have equated being authentic with following along with our emotions. We have the attitude of: “If I feel it, I do it, and that’s the authentic me. And If I’m acting differently from what I really feel inside, then that’s hypocrisy, high treason to myself.” We’ve gotten into our heads the “idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy, but that’s a wrong definition of hypocrisy. To live out of conformity to what i believe is hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what i believe, in spite of what i feel, isn’t hypocrisy, it’s integrity” (Thoennes). For those of us who follow Jesus and are pursuing our true selves that are only found in who God created us to be, Brett McCracken accurately says that, “Sanctification involves living in a way that often conflicts with what feels authentic.” Really, we’ve got two natures warring inside of us every day, but our “authentic selves” are not always the desires we feel on the daily. God is bringing us (as individuals and as humanity) back to our true authentic selves. McCracken continues “Hard as it may be to believe in the midst of our sinful thoughts and fleshly struggles, we were made to be perfect. Brokenness may feel more natural, but holiness is actually the more human state.”

We are covered not only by grace, but also by a call to obedience and holiness. Jonathan Lunde says, “Though always established in grace, each biblical covenant also includes demands of righteousness from those who trust in God’s faithfulness to fulfill his covenantal promises. This means that covenantal grace never diminishes the covenant demand of righteousness – righteousness that flows out of covenantal faith. As a result, faith and works of obedience will always be found in God’s true covenantal partners.” So we are to pursue “authenticity” but not the “what you feel like is what is authentically you” brand of authenticity that our culture loves. We are to pursue an authentic-holiness and authentic-obedience and as we do, we pursue our authentic identity in Christ. As we do, we are being faithful. Just like my mentor-friend’s point that my less-than-enthusiastic faithfulness to God during that dull week was just that – faithfulness to God, and exactly what I needed to be doing.