trusting God

When Waiting Feels Like Free-Falling or How Trust is my Nemesis

I loathe dislike waiting with a fiery passion.

I know, I know. Does anyone really like waiting? But I REALLLLLLY don’t like it.

I’ve been living in a state of constant frustration lately. As we prepare for our international move, I am beyond ready to have things settled. I want to have a job set up and waiting for me when I arrive. I want to find an apartment or rental house for us to live in. I want to get rid of as much uncertainty as possible. Yet every time I try to take a step forward, people tell me I can’t. That I have to wait. I’ve applied for dozens of jobs and received the response, “Why don’t you get in touch with us once you’ve arrived.” Hubby and I have spent hours looking for a place to live only to be told, “It’s really too early for you to be looking at rentals.”

I can barely keep myself from shouting, “But we are leaving in 65 days! It does not feel too early! I need to know NOW!” 

This whole situation has brought out an embarrassingly juvenile side of myself.  I feel angry all the time. A few days ago I burnt dinner. Before my husband could even say anything, I glared at him and said, “If you want a new one you have to make it yourself. I’m not making another one.” And he did. (That guy is a saint, I tell you).

It’s like I’ve taken all of my frustrations about the things I can’t do and tried to balance them out by making certain that I let everyone know what I will and will not do in any situation where I have the choice.

See, I like to pretend that I’m an adventurous person. And from the outside, I can see how I might look like one. After all, I live in a foreign country, I love to travel and to try new things, I’m preparing for my fourth move in five years – and three of those moves have been to places I’d never been before. Oh, and let’s not forget my illegal tattoo!

It’s easy to look like a laid-back, carefree adventurer in pictures. Don’t be fooled. It’s an illusion. I am all about the adventure, but it’s highly controlled adventure. I love being spontaneous, but it’s planned spontaneity. (Yes, there is such a thing).

I am that rare personality that combines constant yearning for adventure and excitement with an equally strong sense of responsibility. Add in an unhealthy dose of chronic anxiety, and you’ll see why I live in a state of constant inner-conflict. Basically, I’m a rebel trapped in a good girl’s body. Or maybe it’s the other way around…

Usually the way that I balance these parts of my personality is by planning as much as possible and preparing for all contingencies. (“Always be prepared!” as my Eagle Scout father instilled in me). I try to think things all the way through and prepare myself for the worst possible scenario. Once I feel prepared for whatever I might encounter, I can take the plunge and do something crazy because I know there’s a safety net in place. I know what I’ll do if things don’t go as planned.

We moved to Korea having never set foot in Asia. But we did a TON of research first. We secured jobs through the government so that we were sure there would be accountability for things like getting paid the proper amount on time. We chose to go through a program that would provide an orientation rather than one that left us to our own devices. And we talked to lots of people who had worked in Korea before. We arrived with an entire suitcase full of things we’d been told were difficult to find (deodorant, taco mix, and tampons) and we had decided from the very beginning to play things by ear. We signed a year-long contract that we would try hard to fulfill, but we’d told ourselves that if it was absolutely horrible, we could decide to go home. Safety net!

I’ve shared that I’ve been struggling with anxiety at a new level over the past few months as I’ve been faced with all the unknowns of our future, so I’ve tried to deal with this anxiety the best way I know how – by being responsible and making myself feel as secure and on top of things as I can. So it’s been not only frustrating, but frightening for me to be told over and over again that there’s nothing more I can do. That I just have to wait.

I am realizing that this is a big fat TRUST issue. (Ah, Trust, my nemesis. We meet again!) I am unable to accept that things might still be OK even if I can’t check all the things off of my list in the time frame that I want to. I am unable to rest in the knowledge that I’ve done everything I can do. I am unable to accept the logic that things will work out the way they are meant to work out, regardless of how much I worry about them now. I am unable to accept that when God leads us somewhere, he doesn’t leave us to figure everything out by ourselves.

I have a big fat trust issue and I’m being forced to trust anyway. It’s like God has taken away the lifelines of planning and responsibility and asked me to believe the safety net is there, even though I didn’t install it myself. It would be funny if it wasn’t so horrible.

Right now I feel like I’m in a slow-motion free fall. And I have two options – I can fall kicking and screaming and lashing out at everyone around me for all the things I can’t change, or I can relax and enjoy the view while it lasts.

HEADER IMAGE CREDIT: JUN GIL PARK ON FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

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Good Enough: For those of us who feel like we aren’t

I’ve been thinking  the last few days about some of the lessons I’ve been learning over the past few years. I think one of the biggest ones is simply that there are many, many times in life when you don’t get what it seems like you “deserve.” I’ve been thinking a lot about my habit of trying to earn things, trying to prove my worth through good actions.

As a child I tried to be invisible, and when I had to be visible, to be helpful.  I stayed in my room and I read. I played make-believe games with my dolls and toys and dress-up clothes and sometimes with my imaginary friend Sammy the Squirrel. I was afraid to ask for things. Though no one ever said these words I somehow believed, “You are in the way,” “You are a burden.”  “It’s your job to keep others from being stressed at all costs.” When I visited my dad (my birth dad) I stayed in my room or watched tv. I often made his breakfast or lunch for him, set the table, folded the napkins nicely, cleaned up after myself.

In high school I was a model student. Certainly I had moments of being a moody teenager or moments where I spoke disrespectfully, but by and large I was a teenager most parents would kill for. I didn’t sneak out, I didn’t party, I never smoked, never drank, never so much as held hands with a boy, never said a curse word. I made straight A’s without being hounded about it. I got into several great colleges with full scholarships. I chose the best people available as my friends. I never broke my curfew. I never lied about where I was going or who I was going with. I was grateful for things and I was mostly respectful. I helped around the house. I was kind to my sisters. I served at my church. I genuinely loved the Lord.

This is the sum total of my obvious sins during those four years: There was a boy I liked very much, although I never told him and nothing ever came of it, I liked him.  I totaled my mom’s car the first time I drove alone, not because I was being wild…I somehow am the only person I know who could manage to total a Volvo while going 20 mph. I was sometimes disrespectful or had a bad attitude. I loathed my English teacher. And for three weeks I had a secret blog which I then felt guilty about and deleted.

And yet…I spent most of high school with my stomach in knots. I felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells. No matter how badly I wanted to make everyone happy and how good I was trying to be, I would inevitably do something wrong, make someone angry, disappoint someone. And whether it was wearing too much make-up (while wearing the same amount I wore every day) or disagreeing with a pronouncement, or forgetting something I was supposed to remember, the overwhelming feeling was that no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.

It’s not as if I think about these things regularly. In fact, I rarely think about them. And it isn’t that good things never happened to me. I have great memories of special times with my family. I have a mom who is one of my dearest friens. I had a prom dress that made me feel like Belle. I went to a wonderful college. I made good friends. I married the love of my life. I had the most beautiful wedding I could have imagined. I was able to take some amazing trips. I got to spend the last year helping to raise some of the sweetest kids imaginable. And these are the things I hold onto.

I am twenty-four years old and it’s time for me to stop believing that if I’m good enough I will eventually have the things I want. That if I’m smart enough I can have a job I love. That if I’m kind enough I will have friends and won’t be lonely. That if I’m generous enough I won’t have to worry about money anymore.  The reality is, sometimes, I am good enough and helpful enough and my dad (my birth dad) still doesn’t love me. Sometimes I work hard enough and I’m still not the best or the smartest and I don’t get the job I want. Sometimes I am as generous and giving as I am capable of being and that isn’t rewarded with financial stability. Sometimes I am as kind and friendly as I know how to be and my coworkers still all go to lunch together and don’t invite me. Sometimes I am disciplined with my eating and work hard with my body and run more miles than I’ve ever thought I was capable of and I am still ten pounds overweight and I still can’t sleep some nights from stomach aches.

So I think the lesson in all of this for me is that sometimes I don’t get a new car or a job that pays well or get to travel or have the ability to buy a house or thinner thighs or a better digestive system. And it’s so frustrating when I feel like I’m doing everything right and it’s all for nothing, and those around me are getting all of those things I desire. I still don’t know why this is. But I do know why it isn’t. And it isn’t because I am not enough.  The God-King of the Universe wrapped himself into a little ball of squirming, stinking human flesh and grew into a kind and humble man, and stretched himself across a heavy, splintered beam of wood and suffered and died. For me. For my shame. For all the ways in which I am truly not enough. And I know that when God looks at me, He sees His son. He sees More Than Enough. It is the miracle of the Incarnation. That even when everything in my life is screaming “Not enough,” God looks at me and whispers, “Enough. More Than Enough. Just as you are. Enough.”
 
I can’t change the fact that often, no matter how hard I try, I’m not “rewarded” for my hard work, and I might never fully understand why. But I can choose to believe what God says about me. I can choose to believe that I am Enough.  

Learning to Trust the Church Again: a really long post about coming out of a bad church situation and learning to believe in the goodness of the Church again

This past Sunday was a celebratory day in the Dunn household.  It was Jonathan’s final day of work at Starbucks in Raleigh. Not only was this exciting because he has a new job and no longer has to make coffee for picky customers 6 hours a day, but most importantly because he will no longer have to work on Sunday mornings. Ever. Since arriving in Raleigh two months ago, there have only been two Sunday mornings when Jonathan was not working (despite requests not to…don’t even get me started.) Because of this we have been making slow progress on our search for a church, but now we are hoping it won’t be long before we are involved somewhere. We are (shudder) hardcore church-shopping.

I hate the term church-shopping. I hate the idea of church-shopping. I firmly believe that the purpose of the church is not to meet all of our needs, to entertain us, or to cater to all of our preferences. The church as an institution is here to facilitate believers living as representations of Christ to one another and to those in their community. A church should facilitate spiritual growth in individuals as well as corporate growth as a community. This requires active participation by the congregation. And since the congregation (and the leadership) are made up of fallible people, there is no way that any church can escape imperfections. And yet, past experience has taught me that, universal imperfections acknowledged, not all churches are equally sound. Not all churches are honoring to God. Not all churches are a nurturing and healthy environment. So the idea for Jonathan and I is not to find the perfect church, but to find a healthy church and a community we can share life with, even if we don’t love everything about it. A church whose growth and development we can become a part of. People we can love and be loved by.

As we’ve begun to explore churches in Raleigh I’ve been surprised to realize how much my past experiences in the church are carrying over into our search for a new one. In some ways, Jonathan and I are on exactly the same page. For us, the most important things we are looking for in a church are biblically sound teaching and a community we feel we can really be accepted into. But in other ways, our different faith backgrounds and particularly my experiences in the church I was raised in have really affected the way I view the church.

The church I grew up in was mid-sized, but growing fast, charismatic and non-denominational. From that church I had more or less been led to believe that people in non-charismatic traditions were in a spiritually dry place and were not passionate about their faith. I actually had really well-meaning people caution me when Jonathan and I started dating that his Presbyterian background could result in us being unequally yoked because of our different beliefs about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When I got to Wheaton, and particularly after Jonathan and I started dating, I encountered people from all different denominational backgrounds, many of whom were very passionate believers who understood things about Christianity that I had never even considered and were from mainline Protestant backgrounds. These were people who were excited about their faith, they just didn’t express it in the emotional way I was used to seeing. Not only that, but I found that while I had assumptions about them being dry and passionless, the prevailing attitude was that emotionally expressive, charismatic churches lacked depth and substance. Suddenly I was the anomaly.

Over my years at Wheaton it became clear that some of the things I had been taught in the church I grew up in were just plain wrong. Not just differences of opinion or a different interpretation, but bad theology. Worship had become a concert given by the most talented people under the guise that we were “pursuing excellence”, appearances were more important than real relationships, and the concept of “spiritual authority” led to abuse in the leadership. The church declared itself to be a “family,” but there were very strict rules for how the members of the family were expected to act. The teaching was that this church was God’s family and that any deviation from the way that church was running things was rebellion against God himself. If you disagreed with something that was said from the pulpit, it was up to you deal with your sinful inability to handle offenses. In words, no one would ever have said, “This is the perfect church,” but in practice, anything that was contrary to what the pastor wanted or said was rebelling against the “spiritual covering” God had given us in our church and pastor. Although they hadn’t started out that way, sermons had subtly changed to focus on what God can do for you or on how obeying God “opens to door for his blessing” which led to the underlying idea that if you hold up your end of the bargain, God will hold up his and that if you are not experiencing God’s blessing perhaps you need to be more obedient in some area of your life. Imagine the pressure of believe that God’s goodness is conditional based on your own goodness. Yikes.

As I grew in my intellectual knowledge of Christianity and my understanding of who God is I started to identify some of these things. I was startled by how many lies and unhealthy attitudes had been ingrained in me and the ways they came out in the way I thought about God and the world. As I began to identify these things, the result was that I started to push against anything that reminded me of the church I had grown up in. Not just reminded me theologically of it, but reminded me of it at all. For example, I somehow got the idea that because the church I’d grown up in had had amazing musicians and singers leading worship which eventually led to a “concert” like atmosphere, that truly holy worship must necessarily be really crappy music. 🙂 The church we attended at Wheaton had a  worship team made up of a rotating group of volunteers, many of whom were not the best singers or musicians, and the music they chose was more often than not CCM music from the late 80’s and early 90’s. It wasn’t the best quality, but it was heartfelt.

Part of my rejecting the tradition I’d come out of resulted in my becoming highly critical when it came to sermons and teaching. While I think it was good to come to a place of examining what was being preached in the light of Scripture and not just accepting anything that was spoken in a church, in some cases I actually became overly critical to the point that one small thing I wasn’t sure about caused me to reject an entire message or service. I was afraid of being deceived, but ultimately what happened was that I became too critical to receive much of anything. I would spent the entire service on the defensive, looking for something I disagreed with. I had started out on one end of the spectrum and then, like a pendulum, swung wildly the other way.

Gradually, through two very genuine and god-honoring churches we attended in Wheaton and in Naperville I began to understand how God can work through an imperfect church and speak into our lives, even when the worship isn’t the most beautiful or the sermon is less than riveting. And in the same way, I shouldn’t reject a church with a very talented worship team or a very engaging pastor just because that is similar to the church I grew up in. The key is not rejecting anything out of fear or accepting anything out of ignorance, but instead trusting that the Holy Spirit alive in me will direct me and that I can fully trust him, even if I’m not sure about a particular church service.

The churches we went to in Wheaton and then Naperville were both very stoic in terms of being expressive in worship and very conservative in terms of their theology. In a strange way, these traditional, conservative churches have really been a stretch for me. Because I grew up in an environment where people were very expressive in church, a service that is very quiet and worship that is very stoic are actually as uncomfortable to me as loud worship with people jumping around is to Jonathan. Because everyone is quiet and still I feel conspicuous if I clap or lift a hand. I feel that my expression of worship will distract those around me, whereas in an environment where people are generally more expressive, no one is going to notice if I sway to the beat. Through those experiences though I have learned firsthand that just feeling uncomfortable does not mean something’s wrong. Being out of my element does not mean I should shut down and reject everything I hear. And in the same way, being somewhere that I am more comfortable doesn’t make everything right.

By God’s grace I believe I am now in a position where I can see both extremes of the pendulum and am praying that God will help us find a healthy medium. I want to be able to trust where I see God working and to be able to receive with discernment but without fear. I would love to find a place that I can worship expressively and still be taught the challenging truths of the gospel. I want to find a place that serves the community and allows Christ to be the most attractive feature rather than displays of opulence, but that is concerned with being relevant. I want to be an active part of the miraculous, living body of Christ without fear of being hurt or rejected or deceived. That’s far more important than what the music sounds like or how entertained I am by the sermon or how technologically savvy the illustrations are.

So, in a very long-winded way this is me saying, OK, Lord, whatever you have for us, I am ready to receive it. My sails are flung out wide, let your winds guide us where you want us to go!

Oh Me of Little Faith

Well, we did it. We packed up the apartment and our cats and drove 15 hrs south and east to North Carolina. For the past few weeks we have been house-sitting for some family friends of Jonathan’s family who live in Durham but are out of town for the summer. During this time, Jonathan started working at the Starbucks he transferred to and I started looking for work even more diligently than I already had been.

Here’s a timeline of how the last few weeks went for me.

Friday July 8-arrived in Raleigh. Well, actually to Durham where we are house-sitting. Many thanks to Jonathan’s mom who helped us clean and pack and drive.

Saturday July 9th-unpacked stuff, returned moving van, applied for jobs online, was generally excited about life.

Sunday July 10th-applied for more jobs online. Despaired of ever finding a job. Told Jonathan I was sorry for thinking we should move here when I clearly would never find work. Resigned myself to a life of flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

Monday July 11th—received three interview requests, did a total of 8 interviews over the next ten days.

Friday July 22nd—received a job offer from CB Richard Ellis as an administrative and marketing assistant

Makes me pretty ashamed of Sunday July 10th.  But it also makes so grateful for God’s care in spite of me and my little faith. It makes me grateful that God’s faithfulness is not dependant on mine. And it makes me grateful that his mercies are new every morning.

Since being here I have already begun to feel more alive in some ways. I’ve started to think about going back to school and being excited by the possibility rather than daunted by it. My successful job interviews have given me a new dose of self-confidence and I no longer feel quite so much like I have nothing to offer. The beginning of our search for a new church has been exciting and I can sense in myself a spiritual hunger for a place to belong and to be a part of God’s story after a season of dryness and doubt.

This week we are moving from the house into our apartment. My mom is coming up to help us paint and get everything put away. I am hoping to start my new job August 1 and Jonathan is hoping to find a new job ASAP and not have to be at Starbucks too much longer. There’s still a lot of transition in our lives and we are looking forward to settling in and for this to start feeling more like home. In the meantime, I am working on the faith thing, choosing to trust in God’s care for us first, instead of allowing fear to swallow my faith.

More to come soon… and maybe some pics of the new place!

Why I’m Loving Being Broke

I’m back! After a month of being a truly terrible blogger I am back. Here’s a quick picture of the last month for us: packing, cleaning, babysitting as much as possible, saying goodbye to friends, our first anniversary trip to NYC, trip to Raleigh to sign on an apartment, packing, Jonathan’s birthday (24 somehow seems so much older than 23!), applying to jobs, and did I mention packing? It’s been fun and busy and exciting and exhausting and nerve-wracking all at once.

We are incredible excited about the new area we are moving to, the new experiences we’ll have, new friends we will make, and the opportunity to be somewhere scenically beautiful and with warmer winters. We also love that the Raleigh area has so many universities around it, giving us the freedom to go back to school if we need to, potentially without having to move again. And my roommate for all four years at college (Christina) will be living in the same apartment complex as we are so I will get to see her practically every day.

This has been a difficult season for us in some ways though. Mainly, financially. We have always been good with our money, apart from my student loans we are not in debt, and we don’t buy things we do not have the cash to pay for. With my nanny job and Jonathan’s Starbucks salary we made enough to live on and, some months, even saved enough for our anniversary trip to New York. But when my job ended at the end of May our total income went down by nearly 2/3. We knew this was coming and had tried to plan accordingly (hence all of my extra babysitting over the past few weeks.) We have had to use up most of our savings to pay for our rent, the moving truck, and an unfortunate $1,000 medical bill from an unexpected procedure. And, added to these expenses is the concern that this period of low income could last a while. Jonathan is transferring to a Starbucks in Raleigh, but despite applying for more than 50 jobs so far, I am still unemployed. At one point we had figured it out and realized that by the time we got to Raleigh we would have $52 left to our name.

Between Jonathan and I, I am easily the one who worries more about money. I don’t need a lot and am happy to cut back and to say no to things, but (probably because of my attorney father who taught me to plan for all contingencies) I do not like not having a cushion. In other words, I want to be in control and know that if anything happens, I can take care of it. In these past few weeks, God has been teaching me about letting go of that control and trusting that he really will provide for us.

Both sets of our parents blessed us with generous gifts for our anniversary/Jonathan’s birthday. People that I’ve been babysitting for have asked me to babysit many times and then over-paid me (sometimes by a lot) for the hours I’ve worked for them. Friends have treated me when we’ve gone out for a meal or given us gift cards. And just last night some newer friends of ours gave us a going-away card full of cash, just to pass along blessings they had received at times that they really needed it.

In reflecting on all of this, three things have really struck me. Firstly, I am humbled by God’s provision. Secondly, I am so grateful for the way that these people in our lives have been listening and obeying God’s voice, and being generous with their time and their resources. And thirdly, I am hopeful that we will remember this time and that when God brings people into our lives that we have the ability to give our time and gifts and resources to that we will be as willing to listen to God and to give generously, as these people in our lives have over these past few weeks.

It is a good reminder to me that God always takes care of his children, but he often uses his other children to do so. So whichever side of that you are on today, be encouraged that you have an opportunity to embrace God’s provision for you and to be God’s provision for others. Deep, deep thanks to the many who have been God’s provision to us lately.

“And my God will meet all of your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

PS-I’m in the process of updating my about page, so if you have the burning desire to know even more things about me than the things I had already posted, click here. 🙂