That's Impressive

“I stopped trying to impress people a long time ago. I realized when I’m trying to impress someone, I’m not loving them well.” Alexandra Kuykendall writes that her pastor Steve said that. He said it, she wrote it, and I read it. I read it again. Then I read it again.

It’s ringing so true.

“When I’m trying to impress someone, I’m not loving them well.”

Why can’t I stop reading this? I’m not trying to impress anyone, am I?

Well. What about…

When I am expounding on my schedule, making extra sure that everyone knows I am super busy, and that my taking time out of said busy schedule to help, talk to, hang out or work with them? When my time becomes a gift I bestow “benevolently” (or begrudgingly) on those who are sweetly attempting to weave me into the fabric of their own significant lives? When I “graciously” agree to attend something, showing off the great inconvenience it was for me to do so? I am not loving my people well.

When I comply with the requests of those I love, but I complain about the amount of inconvenience the action affords me? I am not loving my people well.

When I feel the need to remind others of my own accomplishments as I scroll through the Facebook feeds of people in our community? (“I also had a headache today but notice my ability to endure it without posting. Watch as I inhale and exhale WITHOUT POSTING. It’s a MIRACLE!”) I am not loving my people well. (Especially as I, if anyone, tend to over-post…)

The more I think about it, the more obvious this issue becomes to me.

When impressing others is my aim, making them feel inferior is often my accomplishment. Have I ever felt truly loved by someone who made me feel inferior?

It becomes apparent to me that the minute I persist in elevating my own self through the act of impressing others, I separate myself from them by default.

(I interrupt our regularly scheduled program to inform you: They sell these planners at Michaels and they are the bomb. Just FYI. Okay. Carry on.) 

(I interrupt our regularly scheduled program to inform you: They sell these planners at Michaels and they are the bomb. Just FYI. Okay. Carry on.) 

Then I catch myself in the act. She shows me the text she sent our mutual friend. I recently sent the same friend the same sort of text. I received no reply. Following her stream of blue is a longish stream of white, signifying the extreme gratitude her timely words received, while mine were ignored. I want to point it out, how I too took time out to reach in vulnerability and to write a text which apparently was not appreciated. Take her moment (any of her moments) and make them about me? I’m not loving her well.

Sometimes I spell my name “M-a-r-t-y-r” but in quite a counter-productive way. You see, unlike someone who lays down their life for Christ and leaves it, I throw myself upon the altar while reminding everyone I know that I’m doing it.

“Hi! Hey guys! I’m here! Look! I HAVE THROWN MYSELF UPON THIS ALTAR! This has cost me quite a lot and is, I will have you know, taking up a great deal of my time. Aren’t I impressive?”

At the end of the day, at the end of my life, I don’t want people to say:

“Melinda was really busy.” Or “Melinda accomplished a lot.” Or “Melinda had a well put together Instagram which she scheduled with precision.” Or “Melinda was a better cook than I was.” Or “Whew. How sacrificial was that Melinda, am I right?”

I want them to say “Melinda always had time for me.” Or “Melinda made me feel special.” Or “Melinda sure loved her people, you could tell by her Instagram.” Or “I used to love sitting at the counter with Melinda while she made dinner.” Or “Melinda convinced me that I matter because she believed it with conviction.”

I don’t want them to say:

“I was a great inconvenience and I cost Melinda a lot of time and trouble and money but she graciously condescended to bless me anyway and I remember she made room for me in her life though she struggled through it with great pain and suffering.”

I want them to say:

“I know Melinda loved me. I never felt like an inconvenience to Melinda because I never was.”

My people? They are never an inconvenience. God forgive me for the times I’ve made them feel like they are, sacrificing the precious gift of their time and presence to the god of my own inflated sense of self-worth.

I don’t want my people to be impressed.

I want them to feel loved.

I want to love them well. 

Let’s all read it, just one more time:

“When I’m trying to impress someone, I’m not loving them well.”

“Who, (Jesus) being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:6-8

And He didn't even complain about it. 

Now that's impressive. 

He Took Africa

There was once this red dirt. There were children with no possessions and every happiness imaginable frolicking barefoot in that dirt. Happy was like a ball striking straight through some busted up goal-post. Happy fizzed in glass bottles full of carbonated sugar-cane. Happy swept through a city on the dust of the Sahara, weaving in and out of tangled masses of traffic, dancing to the sounds of crackling loud speakers. They sold happy in the market, I would barter until it was affordable. They hung happy in the trees, I would reach right up and pick it. They hid happy in the crevices of cement blocks and carved it into elaborate boxes and squeezed it out of palm nuts into recycled plastic. You could roll your windows down to let the happy in or crank up your generator to power it or hear it in the silence of the dark African night. You could feel happy in the heavy blanket of heat the moon drew up over the sleeping stars each day at six. Happy had arguments right out in the open, happy danced hardest on the night of a funeral, happy paid the bride price, happy washed the laundry with foot-long bars of plain smelling soap.

I don’t talk about this so much. For one thing, no-one cares to listen. For another, there are things in this life you don’t get to keep that you’ve loved so long they could never leave you. Things that slip out of your hands but stay strong in your heart. There is a love that lingers over oceans, after storms.

The Lord who loves me, He took Africa from me.

I’ll visit, yes, but best I can tell I’m meant for somewhere else.

I know it now. I knew it then. I knew it even when I thought that I would die. I knew it when I couldn’t stand the thought. I knew it when it felt cruel, when it hurt, when I was sure that the ending would end me.

I’d never been that in love with anything, and He took it away.

There’s a lot of pavement here. They have hustle and bustle, traditions and rules. They wear shoes here, they like it when I do the same. (I don’t often do the same.) They like me anyway. You know what’s funny? My love for Africa? I can describe that for you. I have no words for this. Every day is different. Every turn unique. There is always something new, something better, something more around every corner. I like it better every day. I need it more every minute. And oh, my Lord, the way I love the people I’ve found in it…  It’s become a home. Better, He has become a home, the only one I need, and I’m willing like I wasn’t then to let Him take the lead. To follow Him wherever. This heart of mine is the house that trust has built.

I understand it better now. There will always be something to miss. But, when all I saw was Africa, He saw all of this.

He sees what I can’t.

He knows what I don’t.

I will give Him anything He wants.

There is nothing that I won’t.

“I will not present burnt offerings to the LORD my God that have cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24

Growing Pains

“You seem so much happier lately,” he tells me. I smile because I know this is true. I tell him that I am “learning to love the sound of my feet walking away from things not meant for me.” I don’t tell him I’m exhausted with the walking. I say to him “You know, I’ve never been better. Thank you for noticing.” I don’t mention that I’ve also never been worse, and that people are beginning to notice.  I could go on. I could tell him how I’m choosing the right things, and stretching straight into smart space and I am accomplishing so much through the grace of God in this 2017, but I probably wouldn’t tell him how sometimes I still have to leave my phone in the kitchen so I don’t call out to anyone but Jesus. How, on those nights, I sob and shake but I stay and I’m strong because His presence enables me. It occurs to me that anything you cannot avoid while also avoiding sobbing and shaking might just be a serious issue in your life. I read the stats:

“It takes 21 days to break a habit.”

“I know what you’ve heard, but it takes 40 days to break a habit.”

“Honestly, it takes 66 days to break a habit.”

Dear Google:

What happens if breaking my habit, is breaking me?

broken-glass-1996990_1920.jpg

My habit, you see, is reaching everywhere but to Him. As jealous as He is just, He wants first reach and this exceeds my grasp. My spirit is willing. My flesh is the worst.

These days I’m fine and fabulous until I’m not, and when I am not I am nothing. So I ask the Lord, “What on earth? And when will it end? And why, oh why, does it hurt like this?”

He reminded me of this childhood friend I had, who took such a growth spurt he ripped muscles, and had to wear knee braces. He experienced more pain than everyone else we knew, but he was also taller than everyone else, because he grew.

Me? I know I’m growing too.

Not two weeks later, when I was really beginning to doubt it? A precious soul who I had little occasion to speak to even in passing conversation got my number from a friend and asked if she might share what the Lord laid on her heart for me:

“I felt like God was saying that the discomfort you are experiencing is because there can be no growth without discomfort. When we pray for change in ourselves and for God to use us in new ways with greater anointing, there is growing that has to be done, and He uses those feelings of discomfort or of 'What in the world? How am I going to do this??' to drive us deeper in Him and to grow us into what He has called us to be. It’s like children, as they grow and get taller, a lot of times they experience 'growing pains' in their legs. But without that pain and discomfort that they feel, there would never be any growth and they would never be developed.

This is how much He loves me. That just when I thought I was maybe just hearing voices, someone else heard the same Voice. He is with me, and He loves me. I know it now like I’ve never known it before.

And yes, I am in fact happier than I have ever been.

Because I do not need my habits, the way that I need Him.

 

Who Brings Forth the Wind

I would like to state, right at the very outset of this post, that anyone who knows Cynthia and myself would happily confirm us to be the physical fulfillment of John 3:8 which says: "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." This is a very polite and Biblical way of saying that we're sometimes unpredictable, often scattered, occasionally adorable, and entertaining without fail. In fact, aside from our mutual and constant love for the Lord, it might be fair to assume that our guaranteed qualities of entertainment and flair for drama are the most consistent things about us. We are not flighty, (on the contrary, we are quite hard headed and steadfast) but we do flit about. A lot. Twirling. And singing.

I, being a noticer, realized recently that there are some things I discuss an awful lot and the very things I spend the most time discussing, I pray about the least. Upon that realization, an idea began to form. Instead of worrying, I would sit down and write a detailed account of everything that gave me anxiety in these often discussed but rarely prayed about areas and I would be as specific as possible. (Philippians 4:6) Then I would tie the paper to a balloon, and literally cast all my cares upon the Lord. (1 Peter 5:7) I knew right away that I wanted to share this experience with Cynthia. I had every detail of this down: We would share a quiet morning writing these missives, purchase balloons, take some cute pictures for social media, and then relinquish control both seriously and symbolically as we cast our cares to the mercy of the winds. Steps one and two worked beautifully.  Here's how step three (take some cute pictures for social media) worked out: 

Yes. The combined grace and poise depicted IS absolutely breathtaking. Thank you for noticing. What's that? We handle balloons with an incredible amount of skill? Stop it. You're making me blush. Still, again, thank you for noticing. 

With one final meaningful exchanged glance I handed Cynthia my bunch of balloons (What's that? You thought one, maybe two balloons tops would have been sufficient? Thank you for that suggestion but it is obviously much easier to flit about with a dozen...) and she launched them into the great unknown, releasing care and control into the atmosphere. 

Three things happened simultaneously: 

1.) Our balloons blew to the left and lodged themselves squarely into the top branches of a very tall tree. 

2.) It began to rain. 

3.) I realized that I, the person who picks up trash in random parking lots with great concern and outrage, had just aided and abetted in the launching of twelve helium filled aluminum bird-killers right out into our precious environment and I was too short, too late, to do anything about it. 

Please note that the "rise" filter has been carefully selected to communicate bitter irony. 

Please note that the "rise" filter has been carefully selected to communicate bitter irony. 

I don't know when I've laughed that hard but I can state for sure and for certain that it's been a good long while. Nobody seems to know really, what Cynthia and I will do next, but He knows. He knows before we do it, and whatever we do He is there with us, so I know He was there that day. Not just because He is omnipresent, but because there, in the wind and laughter dancing together gale on gale, I could feel Him extra. There's a verse in Psalms that also titles one of the best Lori Wick books you could probably read that says: 

"He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; Who makes lightnings for the rain, Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries." - Psalms 135:7 

It may not be the way you would have done it, it may have been over the top and extra, but the God who brings forth the wind and sees sparrows fall from nests saw the condition of the hearts relinquishing control that day, and I don't think it coincidental at all that within three seconds of doing so all of our worries ended up tangled in a tree where we could do nothing to retrieve them. We were forced to go back inside and carry on with our lives. We literally could not handle the anxiety anymore, it was physically out of our hands and somehow, sometime between the pealing laughter and the bitter irony and going to bed that night, the worry was nowhere to be found. Out of the branches, yes, but also out of our hands, heads, and hearts. 

However you come to Him, whoever you are, He will be there. He doesn't promise picture perfect, only to be in the picture. Ever and always, right there in the picture. 

Take It Up With Tiffany's

Here's how I remember that verse in Proverbs 4:23 going: "Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." 

Here's what I got from that verse: The heart is important. Yay! All the blood comes from it so I guess that's the well. Yay! Guard that mess maybe. Yay!  I didn't like to think about that verse. On Saturday's for fun I like to go out and throw my heart at moving targets. (Hahaha. But seriously.) I am a loving person. I just am. Come here. Yes you. Anybody. I'll take you, and love you, and feed you dinner and bleach your bathroom for you. I totally will. So. I avoid thinking about that verse. Because if I really think about it, I might have to act on it, and I cannot possibly guard my heart when I am hugging or holding or bandaging or blessing everyone else's and after all, I'm fine. I'm absolutely fine. And I'm giving. God says to give. I'm a giver. Yay! 

The other day, I read that verse in a different translation, and I really understood what it meant when it says your heart is "the wellspring of life." It means:

It determines the course of your life. 

It is the source of life. 

Everything you do flows from it. 

Guard your heart because everything else comes from that. The condition of your heart determines the quality of your life, the excellence of your work, the influence you have on others - everything. else. is. impacted. by what's going on in your heart. 

This is why. This is why. This is why people quote this all of the time. It's not because it's cute. It's not because it's catchy. It's because it's true. 

(If you're happily married at the moment you are not obligated to continue reading. You are welcome to, but you don't have to.) 

Here's a word for my single people out there in internet land: Disable your cell tower's ability to pick up mixed signals. I mean it. Get into your settings, and disable it right now and if you are not able to do that, power off completely. 

I know how it is. The "what if's" and the "wait for its" and the "this could mean one of three things" two a.m. consultations with your friends. You disengage from that right. now. I promise you it IS effecting everything else in your life. 

Have y'all ever seen pictures of or visited that jewelry store, Tiffany's? It's not like a Dollar Store where you could probably swipe five or six aisles of merchandise onto the floor without notice. Everything is watched, everything is guarded, and frankly, unless you can afford that store you're probably not in there in the first place. You can witness the beauty of items. You can appreciate their value. And under careful supervision, if you're actually seriously thinking about a purchase, someone will remove a piece from a display case for you to take a closer look. Tiffany's is not like other stores. 

At other stores the policy is "You break it, you buy it." At Tiffany's I imagine, you have to buy it to break it. 

Do you get it? How you might be keeping expensive merchandise on the bottom shelf of a Dollar Store? How maybe no-one is appreciating the priceless value of what you have to offer because you don't yourself?

My friend Deandra watched a clip called "Things Christian Guys Say" once, and they kept sliding it in there "I just really want to guard her heart." It made Deandra nuts, she said we'd never heard that. She was right. We hadn't. We didn't know any guys who walked around saying "I want to guard her heart" because guarding someone else's heart is not your job. 

It's your job to be intentional in dating or any interaction with the opposite sex - yes. It's your job to hold a heart that is handed to you with caution and honor it - yes. It's your job to be honest with the people you're in close relationship with even if it hurts or humiliates you - yes. But I don't read anywhere that it is someone else's job to guard your heart. Sure, I wish a person or two had been more careful with mine, but that was not their job. 

Guarding my heart is my job. 

Guarding your heart is your job, and if you fail to do it, everything else will be affected. 

This hasn't been a post for everyone, but I know that it is timely and important for one or two. So if the one or two is you, close out of this blog and get real with yourself about the state of your heart, and what needs to happen. Invite God into the conversation, ask Him to lead the process. Then? You do what you need to do. Change what you need to change. Block who you need to block. It might be hard, it might hurt, but honey in the long run I promise you it will pay off. It will pay off in every single area.

And when the complaints come? (And they will come.) Just tell them to take it up with Tiffany's. "Every kiss begins with Kaye." (Or at least a "C" for "commitment." Come on y'all.) 

Maybe your jewelry store metaphors will be mixed, but you'll have all your signals straight, guaranteed. 

XOXO, 

Melinda 

(That just seemed appropriate...) 

 

 

Separately Together

Whenever I speak on friendship, I go ahead and tell people straight up that they need to find a Chase. I never fail to mention that if they have no Chase, they need to locate one. When I say this I don't mean "You need someone who will be voted 'Best at Giving Introductions' along side you for two consecutive Indiana Bible College chorale tours." (Because while this is a treasured shared memory of ours let us be real, there was that one night I read half the book of Psalms and made no coherent sense whatsoever. This, coupled with the time at Live Recording where I said "Halio Jesus" ... What? ... basically guaranteed that the kindness of my peers and the video editing skills of one Christopher Henderson is the only reason I was ever voted anything other than "person we keep forgetting not to hand the mic to.") What I mean when I say "people need a Chase" is that they need someone to be a mirror. To present a true picture of themselves when they have clouded vision, when they are seeing all the wrong things. 

The deep (and honest) thing I mean when I say this: "Get a mirror friend. Get a Chase" is that when I hear Chase talking, I like the me he sees and says. Generally, he sees a prettier picture than the one I imagine myself. 

I need him because he has a more accurate view of my life than I usually do.

I like that because his view of my face is genuinely and generally more flattering, which makes me feel better. 

Still one of the best pictures of anything ever...

Still one of the best pictures of anything ever...

Except the other day. The other day he sighed with such intensity that I would almost pledge that his breath crossed phone lines straight onto my ear and he said: 

"Melinda at some point you are going to have to ask yourself when it becomes sin for you to continue to flirt with what you know is not for you right now." 

That did not make me feel better. It made me feel nauseous. It made him feel nauseous. (I'm actually still nauseous thinking about it right now.) 

Believe me when I tell you anyone else who said something like that might not have been left living. 

Excuse you Chase Thomas? You have no idea what you are talking about. 

He did though. He did. 

You know why I need a Chase? Because he knows me, and when he looks at my life he does not suffer from blind spots, nor does he wear any of the various pairs of rose colored glasses in my impressively extensive collection. When he looks, he just sees. He sees me. He sees me and he knows that I am incapable of doing anything by halves, especially if it involves my heart. When I try, I end up with half a heart. 

I cannot wholly love God when I am half hearted. 

How many people have I told in my lifetime, that there is no "separately together?"

Yes or no. Hot or cold. God or Mammon. Separate or together. 

I go to war in my own spirit battling to believe that I can keep some part of the things I want the most. With one hand holding onto them at least I am halfway happy. Chase reminds me I am made for more.

This all the way God with all the world's grace offers it extended through the lips of Chase. 

So I let go to hold on. 

I let go, and am held. 

Whole-hearted and wholly loved in this holy here and now. 

So yeah. You should probably get a Chase, but you may not have mine. 

"Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." - Proverbs 27:5-6 

"If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand." Mark 3:25

Oh, and that thing? That thing you started thinking about halfway through this blog? Maybe, just maybe, let it go. Maybe try being whole-hearted and wholly loved in this holy here and now. After hours of experience I absolutely recommend it. 

Stay Brave

If you're living, there are likely times when you want to come right out and just say what you're thinking. If you breathe, there have got to be moments where you want to let it all out right as you exhale that breath. Your tired heart probably seeks for any area of grace, some real honest space where something real and honest can slip out. 

I. Just. Didn't. Think. It. Would. Be. This. Way. 

My real and honest, and my "I just didn't think it would be this way" is in reference to bathtubs. I just didn't think, at the age of twenty seven, I would still be crawling into them fully clothed to sob. I'll be real with you. I thought I would be over that by now.

I'll go even deeper, I'll let you in on an apprehension that I have: I worry I'll never be over it. 

Let's go one step further, I might as well, I've said this much: I also worry that I will be over it because there will finally be so many things to cry over that I will stop caring enough about them to actually crawl into a bathtub to cry. Numbness. That is the worst fear of all

I've never read a handbook that said it: "Living as Jesus wants and loving as Jesus loves will call you to minister to people you really don't want to talk to. Or look at. Or think about. Welcome to ministry. It's one hundred percent, absolutely foolproof, mess-guaranteed. In fact, it's a good thing you like bathtubs because you'll need one for more than crying." I've never read a handbook that said that. But they should. 

The rough around the edges shattered shards of love rake right into the center of your fragile beating heart. The most romantic liquid in the world is not champagne you know, but this careful Christ concoction of blood and water mixed - broken hearts for thirsty souls. This is how the thirst is always quenched - through your own broken bloody heart. 

That is the way love is and I am glad of it for He never calls me to love anyone in ways He has not first loved me. 

 I read these words in "Present Over Perfect" by Shauna Niequist and they resonate. Resound. I recite them to myself again and again. "Sailing around the world isn't necessarily brave. Leaving real life for two years isn't necessarily brave. What you're doing - what you're building - I think that's brave." 

Sometimes the biggest brave is staying where you are, and feeling what you feel. 

There is a brave that stays. A brave that doesn't run. A brave that falls right into the mess of the moment with God-prayers on quivering lips and hope in open, tired, hands He's made holy. A sort of stay brave that let's you bloom where you are planted, that stretches aching roots into the darkness of soil in order to ultimately grow toward light. What had Ann Voskamp said about seeds?

"If we knew anything about growth we would understand that it looks like absolute destruction." 

Seeds die, to give life to trees, to give space for fruit. 

So I stay here, stay home, stay brave. I will do it if it hurts. I will do it if it's hard. I will do it whether I like it or not. He gives me that stay sort of brave. So I do.

I stay brave in this bathtub. 

 

Hi.

Here are some of the most painfully honest words I have written in my lifetime by way of an introduction:

Hi, I’m Josephine March, and from the time I was six, I could tell you exactly how my life was going to go. Six was the year I knew because six was the year I could read and I ran right into chapter-books immediately. Here's how life would go: I would hole up in the attic for years, ink-stained fingers churning out stories, poetry, or plays that I would act out with my family and friends in my spare time. My irrepressible zeal for life would be unparalleled and I would charge every challenge with optimism and relentless spirit. In the course of time I would leave my beloved home and move to the big city where I would take the perfect job to inspire imagination and grant me the spare time needed to write – that of a governess. After this, I would meet Professor Bhaer who would be my greatest encouragement and worst critic all wrapped up in one intoxicating package of wisdom and brilliance. A couple of musical performances in German and a terrible falling out later he would show up in the rain with my manuscript and offer me his empty hands. I would, without question, fill them with mine. “Not empty anymore.” We would marry, move into a Greco-Victorian house (it made sense in my head), and impart our knowledge to a collection of lovable lost boys who we would take in at random.

This was my dream, though I never really said it out loud. Whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, this was the dream in my heart. When Bobby Killmon called me into his office for my senior consultation and asked me "If you could have and do anything you wanted, what would your life look like?" this was the dream in my heart. When I said "to write" or "to travel" or "to make a difference" or "to teach" or "to empower others" I may have meant those things, but not implicitly (without qualification, absolutely) because, implicitly (in a way that is not directly expressed), this was the dream in my heart. 

As last year rounded out at an altar, I sobbed less than gracefully into the carpet and reminded the Lord that I had already given Him everything, asking Him what He still required of me. He said He wanted Professor Bhaer. I informed Him I had no idea what He was talking about. (As far as anyone knew, I didn't. I had still never said it aloud.) He begged to differ. It turns out that He did know what He was talking about. It also, probably not coincidentally, turns out, that He might have different plans. To clarify: I have no idea what they are.

Hi, I’m Melinda Poitras, and I’ve no idea how my life is going to go. I’ve burned my own dreams down, and will now start over with just the ink-stained fingers. I fall into His heart, give Him my hands (also, probably not coincidentally, “not empty anymore”) and trust in His plans though I know not where they will lead.

This is what we do, and we are all called to do it. We drag Isaac to altar not knowing what comes next. There will always be a Lamb, but is there a ram in the thicket? Who knows. 

Why don’t we find out together?

This is what we do, and we are all called to do it. We drag Isaac to altar no matter what we've dreamed. Our destiny safe in His hands, no matter what may come. 

(Special thanks to Louisa May Alcott for writing the most beautiful dream. There is not a doubt in my mind that it was every bit as lovely in real life as it was on paper.)