The Blog: On Second Thought

(Photo source: Trinity Kubassek via Pexels.com)

(Photo source: Trinity Kubassek via Pexels.com)

Growing up, my friends used to tease me for my “crushes of the week.” I was a typical middle school girl who enjoyed socializing and healthy attention from boys. But as I got older, letting someone into my heart was too risky. I might get hurt again. And I had no desire to go there. Sometime around high school, I cut off my heart completely from any risk associated with love.

Love was a confusing thing to me then, and if I’m honest, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me even now. Love from my father felt unsafe. Love from other family figures was conditional, and love from my mother was about to be absent. I saw myself as the only common denominator and felt utterly incapable of being loved.


I saw myself as the only common denominator and felt utterly incapable of being loved.


***

As I got older, it became increasingly hard for me in the Christian community to remain happily single, and pressure mounted on every side for me to date. Still, I wanted nothing to do with opening myself up to any type of love. News headlines, divorce in the church, friends having affairs—there was plenty of brokenness around me to confirm my fears. And if my own family couldn’t love me as a child growing up, then why would I have any reason to think a man would stick around for me if they saw me as my true self? So it is when our hearts are trained not to lament. We begin to see ourselves as the protectors and keepers of our hearts instead of leaving that responsibility to God in faith.

And then he entered.

Handsome in every way, but his looks were truly secondary to the way he esteemed others above himself. Jonathan was different from all the rest. He pursued me slowly, in a way that felt safe to me, and I enjoyed getting to know him. As we began spending more time together, I felt sure he was “the one.” We clicked. It didn’t take a lot of effort. My positive feelings were greater than my fears. For the first time, letting someone know me was fun.


Surely this man was the one for me.


I was fresh out of college, and people around us started to take notice. Each of us would receive phone calls from pastors, leaders, and mutual friends encouraging our relationship. It was like other people were seeing the “rightness” of it too. Surely this man was the one for me. I began praying for him day and night, and I even saw some of the things I prayed for come to pass. The leading to pray for him was so strong that I felt God wanted me to get a journal and write down my prayers. It had taken me years to write in a journal again—surely God wouldn’t bring a man into my life who was not “the one”! And surely God wouldn’t have me journal the mushy-gushy feelings if it were all for naught. Hadn’t I been through enough pain?

Jonathan and I sought God and wise counsel from others. We both prayed that God’s will would be done. But as life happened and we took jobs in different locations, we did not come to the same conclusion about one another. How could this be? I had prayed; I had sought God; I even had prophetic words spoken to me about him. I had heard from God.

Or so I thought.

But the relationship fell apart. Jonathan asked why I couldn’t open up to him. He asked why I rarely made time to see him face-to-face. He asked if work was always going to be my number one priority.

What did he mean? Hadn’t I let him know me more than any other man? I had prayed about us so much and thought God was telling me he was “the one.” Was I really still so guarded? Even worse than that, was I still so undesirable?


My thoughts went into a tailspin, and doubts flooded my heart and mind.


When the relationship ended, I was unbearably confused. My thoughts went into a tailspin, and doubts flooded my heart and mind. I didn’t understand it then, and I’m not quite sure I understand it now, but my if/then statements about God were wrong.

“If I follow God, then He will bring the right man for me.”

This may sound like a shallow and superficial statement, but they didn’t feel that way as I labored hours, days, weeks, and even years praying about this relationship. I felt I had wasted years praying for the wrong thing and for the wrong person. I questioned my ability to hear God correctly. This was devastating to my faith.

Do you have any wrong if/then statements about God? Have you ever put your heart on the line, only to fail to get the outcome you thought God promised you? Maybe it was a romantic relationship, or maybe it was an adoption that fell through. Maybe it was a divorce you never planned for or a death you were not ready for or a dream that was denied.


Faking fine keeps us stuck in the vicious cycle of the wrong if/then statements we were holding on to to begin with.


Faking fine keeps us stuck in the vicious cycle of the wrong if/then statements we were holding on to to begin with. God wants to help our hearts get unshackled from these chains.

This article was adapted from the new book “No More Faking Fine” by Esther Fleece. Used by permission of Zondervan. This blog post is the third installation of a series. Read part two.

To hear Esther’s inspiring story, check out her new White Chair Film:

(Photo source: Milada Vigerova via Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Milada Vigerova via Unsplash.com)

When hard realities hit, it can often feel easier to minimize the pain. It doesn’t make it go away, of course, but we often tell ourselves that if we pretend the pain isn’t there, it might just fade away.

The truth is, most of us function so regularly this way that we don’t question it. We minimize brokenness because nobody likes weakness, right? We don’t want to bother anyone with our struggles. Or we compare our brokenness to that of others by telling ourselves our experiences “weren’t that bad.” Sometimes we even joke about our difficulties, subconsciously telling ourselves that if we can just turn our pain into a punch line, we might have a fighting chance.


We minimize brokenness because nobody likes weakness, right?


Our coping mechanisms seem useful in the moment, but relying on them today stunts our growth in the long run.

I minimized my own brokenness for a long time.

At the very start of my journey into lament, one of my professors called what I experienced “childhood abuse.” I was in my early twenties, and while I would have said I had a broken past, I would have never considered myself an abused child. She told me very directly: you were physically and emotionally abused.

This not only caught me off guard but also offended me. I felt she was being dramatic. I had done some volunteering in the inner city and saw kids who were physically abused far worse than I ever was. Surely their category of abuse was more significant than mine. Surely they would need to lament, but not me. Mine wasn’t that bad.

I thought about my friends who I thought carried much worse emotional baggage than I did. My parents had rejected and abandoned me, yes, but wasn’t I rescued from what it could have been? What about people who never got out? These comparisons only led me to dismiss my pain, which in turn convinced me I didn’t have “appropriate” pain to lament.

It was not until this professor asked me if one of my “little sisters”— the daughters of a family that took me in when it wasn’t safe to be at home—had experienced the physical and emotional abuse, would I be minimizing theirs too? Would I respond with the words “at least you weren’t sexually abused”? After all, these are words I told myself on a regular basis.

“Absolutely not!” I exclaimed to my professor in my justice-loving voice. “Of course I would never ignore the abuse of a loved one.”

She asked me why it was okay that I minimized mine.

Sometimes we hear so many others-focused sermons in church that we lose the ability to know how to biblically care for ourselves. Lament requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us—the truth of what we have lost or of what will never be. We don’t minimize our pasts, and lamenting does not mean we are dramatizing it. We are going to have to stop comparing our pain to others and learn instead to take our pain directly to God, or we simply won’t get anywhere.


 Lament requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us—the truth of what we have lost or of what will never be. 


My abuse required a lament. Abandonment requires a lament. Divorce, mental illness, health issues, bankruptcy, loss, disappointment— they all require lament. “It’s not really a big deal” are words we will never hear out of the mouth of God. That phrase only tells me we hold ourselves to higher expectations of ourselves in grief than God Himself does. That phrase only tells me we have not yet lamented, thus failing to get to know God in the midst of pain and eventually to let Him take away our pain.

As we progress in our relationship with God, He opens our eyes to see that while some of our coping mechanisms may have worked for a season, continuing to live out of them can prohibit us from fully knowing and experiencing Him. And if we think this doesn’t affect every relationship we are in—both personally and professionally—we have been deceived. As we suppress our ability to feel and lament, we compromise our ability to enjoy intimacy in relationships.

Do you keep people at a distance when you’re in pain?

Do you operate out of anxiety?

Do you bargain with God in your prayers?

Do you harbor resentment toward those who have hurt you? How about your desire to control?


So many of us repeat and recycle ineffective or destructive ways of operating in the world because we have stifled our laments. 


So many of us repeat and recycle ineffective or destructive ways of operating in the world because we have stifled our laments. And not only are we destined to repeat unhealthy patterns, but many of us minimize the pain of others or even make jokes about others or ourselves to divert our attention from the wounding process. This is a coping mechanism that cannot lead to a place of healing.

This article was adapted from the new book “No More Faking Fine” by Esther Fleece. Used by permission of Zondervan. This blog post is the second installation of a series. Read part one.

To hear Esther’s inspiring story, check out her new White Chair Film:

Esther Fleece (Photo source: I Am Second)

Esther Fleece (Photo source: I Am Second)

“I have this map here, Esther, for you to see what part of Russia belongs to you. You are entitled to this land, Esther. Your ancestors fought long and hard for this land. Don’t you let anyone steal this away from you!”

It was crazy talk. We weren’t even Russian.

I started shaking. I was not prepared to see my father after such a long absence. And I was not prepared to see him so utterly different, so unstable. What had happened to him? Why wasn’t he taking care of himself? Why wouldn’t he take care of us? I fulfilled my legal obligation of “visiting” my father, but as soon as I was cleared to leave I felt myself breaking. I rushed toward the door and fell to my knees, crawling and scrambling to get out—anywhere but there. My body could not process so much pain.

Even so, I did not cry.

* * *

I was known at school as the cheerleader, the eternal optimist, the glass-half-full girl. But I was not happy anymore.

Over the next several years, my father was in and out of jail, but every time he was released, he would try to find us. The pain was making me feel delusional. What was truth? What was reality? Was his sickness something I could catch?

Restraining orders were in place, but they meant nothing to him. But so it is with mental illness in a family. It is unpredictable, sometimes unsafe, and most of the time downright frustrating and sad.

Even so, sometimes I fantasized about who my father was. It was all my adolescent brain could do to make sense of my life. I would think back to my earliest years, before everything started falling apart, and remember nice things he had done. He seemed like a family man. He seemed like a hardworking businessman. And it was devastating to see how the familiar can change overnight. Stuffing our laments makes us live in denial. I exaggerated the good times and tried to forget the bad, and in doing so, I found life much more manageable. Living with a false reality sometimes makes life easier to live. But even though I wanted a father, and would even settle for a crazy one, the pain was unspeakable when his presence became harmful.


One of the main reasons I avoided grieving it all was that I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, including God’s. 


One of the main reasons I avoided grieving it all was that I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, including God’s. I didn’t want to waste my time either. Deep down, I wondered what the point was of feeling my painful feelings. Was there any benefit? For me, faking fine was the best way to deal. I was doing the best I could, which was coping with the circumstances as they came. While this may seem to work in the moment, on a long-term level, coping is a cheap substitute for healing.

We all live with our own formulas and prescriptions for dealing with grief, loss, and disappointment. We all do the best we can, but this does not mean our ways are healthy. The problem is, our coping mechanisms are too often based on the goal of stuffing our emotions and pulling it together and appearing strong, when the pathway to healing is honest lament. It’s a shortcut and a quick fix that rarely deliver the long-term results we’re looking for.


I’ve learned the hard way that powering through is the fast track to hitting rock bottom.


I’ve learned the hard way that powering through is the fast track to hitting rock bottom. That’s the thing about our coping mechanisms— they are always well-intentioned, but ultimately they do not get us where we want to go. The good and beautiful news we’ll unpack in this book is that there is a way to walk in healing and freedom, and we find this way in lament. But first we have to clear the deck of the coping mechanisms we’ve been using to short-circuit our healing process, which ultimately lead nowhere.

This article was adapted from the new book “No More Faking Fine” by Esther Fleece. Used by permission of Zondervan. This blog post is the first installation of a series

To hear Esther’s inspiring story, check out her new White Chair Film:

(Photo source: Still Miracle via Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Still Miracle via Unsplash.com)

My wife got married today.  Well, my ex-wife.  

It seems sort of surreal in a way. It surely makes one think about the past, especially if you’re prone to being a little melancholy like me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m OK.  I’m better than OK, actually.  We’ve been divorced for 9 years, and some of the pain that I had assumed for so long would never go away, is gone.  The saying, “Time heals all wounds” has some truth to it, as does the saying, “Time wounds all heels”.  When you look up the word “heel” in the dictionary, the very last definition is “a contemptible person :  a person who is self-centered or untrustworthy.”  Yes, time does wound those people, and I should know.  I was one of them.

Personally, I believe there is nothing more painful, with the possible exception of losing a child, than being cheated on.  It was excruciatingly painful for my spouse, who was cheated on, though it was also painful for me.  My pain may have been delayed, but when it arrived, it felt like a wall of bricks were falling continuously on the top of my head.

There were times when I wished that would actually happen, or at least that something would happen that would put me out of my misery.  Ironically, when I started the affair and stepped outside of my marriage, I was trying to escape pain.

I’ve known for a long time that one of the default modes that I go into in a lot of difficult situations is either to escape from something, or escape into something. That’s certainly what I was doing when I entered the affair.  I was actually doing both: escaping from the pain of betrayal of one of my closest friends, and escaping into something new – excitement, no matter how sordid it was, and living a second, hidden life, which is deceitfully exciting… at first.

But let me warn you: This particular kind of escape is like escaping from a net that’s wrapped tightly around you, only to discover that you’ve fallen into a much bigger net that you can seemingly never get out of.  From the pan into the fire.


This particular kind of escape is like escaping from a net that’s wrapped tightly around you, only to discover that you’ve fallen into a much bigger net that you can seemingly never get out of.


There’s another phrase you’ve also probably heard: “Hurt people hurt people”. I was hurting deeply at the time, so I stepped over the invisible boundary of infidelity.  Hurt people are also, unfortunately, very short-sighted.  Picture throwing a rock into the middle of a still mountain lake,  and watching the ripples go out farther than you could ever have been able to fathom. Not a single cubic inch of the lake surface isn’t affected.  Everyone you know is touched by it.

You may wonder what my wife had done that caused me to step outside of my marriage in the first place.  The answer is nothing.  Oh, sure, we had the normal quarrels and struggles that any marriage has, but nothing out of the ordinary.  The reason I did what I did was to escape from the pain that other people had caused me.  I felt betrayed, and not just by anyone, but by one of my dearest friends, who happened to be the pastor of the church where I was the worship leader.    

We had worked together for years, and were as close as any two biological brothers could ever be, and then had a major falling out.  This man was one of the best friends I had ever had in my life, and now it seemed our relationship was going up in a cloud of smoke.  I felt like he turned his back on me, and consequently, I became mad at the guy that we both worked for: God.  


I became mad at the guy that we both worked for: God.  


I quit my job at the church and found a similar job in another state.  I uprooted my family and left everything that I knew behind, hoping that the change would renew my spirit and eradicate the growing anger that I was feeling.  It did neither.  

Escaping. Running.  

I needed to stay still during that time and let God do some work on my heart, but anger is a very powerful emotion, and it repeatedly got in my way of me doing what was most important.  I needed to forgive my friend. Instead, I allowed bitterness to grow quickly and steadily like a blackberry vine in the summertime.

It eventually became overwhelming.  I felt so incredibly justified in my anger, and when things weren’t resolving as I thought they should I became even more angry with God.  

I was on a severe downward spiral that nobody knew about but me.  Not even my wife knew the whole thing.  I’m sure she was seeing some changes in me, but I was keeping most of the really dark stuff bottled up inside.  


I was keeping most of the really dark stuff bottled up inside. 


I quit my job at the church that I used to love and to which I wanted to return, and I didn’t feel like I had a person in my life who I could really talk to about any of this. I was dead. Empty. Broken. Angry. Lost.

At the end of it all, I lost everything.  I honestly felt like I had lost my very soul.  The jarring reality of losing most of the physical stuff that’s comfortable and familiar (and gives your life a certain measure of stability) was bad enough.  But losing the presence of your family – your wife and kids at the same time – was harder than anything I’ve ever experienced.  

If there is one single thing that I could tell every man and woman on the planet that I’ve learned in my life, it’s this:  Don’t do it.  

Don’t step outside the boundaries of your marriage.  It will scar you.  You can eventually heal, but it will always hurt a little bit, even years later.  The pain in the beginning is so intense, it would be cruel to wish it on your worst enemy.  

Now that I’ve made it clear what not to do, let me leave you with what I would do if I could go back and do it all over again.  

I would do the hard work of getting healthy in my mind and spirit.  

I would talk to people who were close to me, and not assume they couldn’t help me.  

I would seek spiritual guidance from a pastor and mental guidance from a professional counselor.  

I would double down on the original commitment that I made to my wife many years before.

I thought all of that was going to be too hard.  Too much work.  But I really don’t believe there is another solution.  “Pay me now or pay me later” is another phrase you’re  probably familiar with.  It’s usually more costly to wait until later, because by then the damage is already done.

Pay the price now.  While you can.


For another story on someone who struggled with infidelity, watch our new White Chair Film:

Josh Turner performing songs from his upcoming album, Deep South. (Photo source: Stan Fletcher)

Josh Turner performing songs from his upcoming album, Deep South. (Photo source: Stan Fletcher)

Music speaks to the soul like few other things do.  The older I get, I think this becomes more and more true.  Each year adds a year’s worth of experience to our life resume’, and each year we’re likely to relate with more songs.  For example, I’ve heard a lot of songs on the topic of divorce, but until I went through my own painful divorce nine years ago, I’m not sure I was even paying attention to them.  I definitely do now.

I listen to all kinds of music, but if I really want to hear a story, I tend to go either towards country or gospel.  Both of those forms came from the same roots (along with the blues), and all three of those genres are built on the idea that things might be bad now, but they’re going to get better.  They tell a story.  These songs have lifted me out of a lot of pits, and sometimes they’ve provided me a place to process some very deep feelings.


These songs have lifted me out of a lot of pits, and sometimes they’ve provided me a place to process some very deep feelings. 


I remember really falling in love with country music in the 90’s.  Up until then I had pretty much been listening to rock music exclusively. Lots of new artists were coming out then, and some really great music was being recorded.  Many of those songs became classics.  Randy Travis had many hits during that time and he was always consistently great. “I’m Gonna’ Love You Forever” was a monster smash hit, and I loved the sentiment of it.  It was a song of proclamation and dedication from a husband to a wife, and it really spoke to me then as a married man, and haunted me later.  After Randy disappeared off the charts, I felt like I sort of disappeared too.

I saw Randy the other night. He was at Josh Turner’s album release party, an event to which I was fortunate enough to get an invitation.  An awful lot of water has gone under the bridge for Randy and me both.  I’ve gone through a painful divorce, and an equally arduous rebuilding process, and Randy has struggled through problems with alcohol, as well as a debilitating stroke.  So much has changed for both of us since the first time I heard his voice on the radio.

Before Josh played songs from his new album, he gave a special shout-out to Randy, saying how important Randy’s music, his style, and his career in general had been to his own music. Josh’s obvious admiration and appreciation for Randy was very evident.  He basically said that without Randy Travis breaking ground for him, there wouldn’t be the artist called Josh Turner that we know today.   I had heard Josh talk about Randy before, but never in person.  Seeing the look on Randy’s face was priceless. It was bittersweet for me, as I’m sure it was for the two of them.


 The thing that was apparent to me is that the torch had been passed from one to the other. . .


The thing that was apparent to me is that the torch had been passed from one to the other, graciously given and graciously received.  And I’m sure there will be a time in Josh’s future when he will pass the torch to another young artist, someone who is unknown now, working on their chops even as I type this in some corner of the world.

Then, it hit me. Realizing that we’re here for a short time, and that we have an obligation to pass things on and pay them forward is a big part of what living second is all about. Our lives here on earth belong to each other. The way we live, the stories we tell, and the music we make will have an impact in people’s lives for generations to come. We have the decision to live a story that will inspire someone else to live second, putting God and others first. Living second is about humbly passing on the torch.


Living second is about humbly passing on the torch. 


I think Randy has known this for quite some time, and from the look on Josh’s face and the things that he had to say, I think he knows it too.


Josh Turner will be releasing his new album, Deep South, on March 10.

(Photo source: Warren Wong via Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Warren Wong via Unsplash.com)

A few times each year, it happens. I go into a funk. What I’m talking about is that first, initial feeling of depression. I’ve been depressed before, maybe ten years ago and then again about twenty years ago. It’s a terrible feeling, of course. Essentially, the feeling is that life is meaningless and there’s no reason to contribute anything.

I’ve learned from experience the funk, for me, only lasts a few days but it’s ugly when it happens. I’m not talking about depression, now, I’m talking about those dark days that occasionally come for a visit.


I’m talking about those dark days that occasionally come for a visit.


Of course, my normal brain would never get tripped by the thought that life is meaningless. I know it isn’t. My faith attributes great meaning to every moment, and so it’s strange that the same truth can sometimes miss me that most often seems obvious. Of course the work we do matters. And all that we say and do matter, too. If one thing matters, everything matters. The problem is, though, my brain isn’t working right.

Most of the depression we experience isn’t rational. It’s just that our brains are too tired to think accurately about life.

The brain is complicated, and when it’s tired or not functioning at its best, we begin to believe things, feel things, subscribe to ideas that make no sense. But they can take you down all the same.

But I’ve come a long way. The existential funk doesn’t threaten me as much as it used to. For starters, they are few and far between, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to predict them.

Here’s what I mean: I go into this funk, almost mechanically, after a long trip in which I’ve spoken more than once and lost at least one night of sleep. If this happens, I can count on being in a funk for at least three days after returning home.

So here’s what I do during the funk:

1. I get some rest. I literally sleep as much as possible. The real problem isn’t that nothing in life matters, the real problem is my brain, which is a muscle, is fatigued and not functioning very well.

2. I don’t work. I give myself at least one, if not two days in which I don’t work. That’s a tough one for me because I get great joy out of my work. But when the brain needs rest, the brain needs rest.

3. I tell myself the things I’m thinking about the nature of life simply aren’t true, no matter how true they feel. Certainly there are existential dilemmas in life, but the issue isn’t life itself, the issue is control. I want to know everything and yet God has not given me all the information. I just have to trust Him, and I have to trust that the work I do somehow matters to Him in the way it mattered to God that Adam named the animals. Futility in life, then, is a lie. I may not know why it’s a lie, but I know it is.


Certainly there are existential dilemmas in life, but the issue isn’t life itself, the issue is control


4. I start working again. About three days in, I can come back to life a little bit. It’s hard at first, but about two or three hours into the work, those old feelings of life being futile fade away and I get lost, once again, in the puzzle that is my work, my marriage and my community.

Of course, not everybody’s brain comes back to life so easily.

Some people need more than just sleep. My aching sympathies go out to you if you’re reading this and these solutions seem too simple. I’m so sorry. I know there’s help in other areas and I hope and pray you’re seeking that help. Lies are powerful and deceptive.

For the rest of us, sometimes the best thing to do is hunker down and weather the storm until it passes. I hope this gives you something to think about as the feelings of futility mount up. May they wash over you and somehow feed the crops, producing humility, faith, trust and an iron discipline to press on when the sun is shining.

This blog post originally appeared on Storyline and was republished with permission.

(Photo source: Adrian Sava via Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Adrian Sava via Unsplash.com)

He has followed me around for years now.

He sneaks into the room and slithers into conversations.He’s always hanging around when I’m watching television, and he absolutely loves social media. He tries to convince me to spend too much money on pointless things and he’s always telling me what success looks like.There’s not a day that goes by that he isn’t lying to me, constantly trying to make me feel insecure and inadequate.

I hate him.

You probably know him pretty well, too. His name is Comparison. I bet you don’t like him just as much I don’t.

The older I become, the more I recognize him. I know his ways. I can spot him from a mile away. I can easily see past his persuasive messaging telling me that I need to look like her or talk like that guy. I know by now that Comparison’s definition of success is one big farce.

If I’m being honest, though, there are still days when Comparison totally wins, even though I know he’s a complete sham. It’s hard, I will say, when he’s literally waiting for me around every corner. He’s in the check out line at the grocery store, and he gets louder and louder with every swipe of my thumb scrolling through my Instagram feed. Y’all, he even shows up at church.


If I’m being honest, though, there are still days when Comparison totally wins, even though I know he’s a complete sham.


Here’s how our annoying conversations usually go:

Me: How is her skin so perfect?

Comparison: That’s what you need to be prettier and happier. Better skin. Go buy more expensive skin care products.

Me: Wait. He’s travelling the world?

Comparison: That’s what your life is missing right now. You need to start saving time and money for this and only this.

Me: She has her own company at 26?!

Comparison: Yup. You’re falling behind. You need to devote your life to getting rich and famous if you ever want to leave a mark on this world.

Comparison: Caitlin, listen to me. If you work your butt off for these things, you will be satisfied. You will be complete.

We know these are lies. We know that money doesn’t promise satisfaction. We know that the happiness on social media can be fabricated and filtered. We know that fame won’t solve all of our problems.

How many times have we heard stories of the richest people in the world committing horrible crimes, are deeply unhappy, or are disconnected from reality? And we’re all too familiar with the Hollywood beauty and fame that often ends with broken marriages, addictions, or even suicide.


We’re wasting our lives away on things that don’t ultimately matter. 


And yet, I don’t really see the knowledge of this changing the way we live. We still buy into Comparison’s lies. We still invest every ounce of our being into fitting in with the rest of the world, hoping that we’ll luck out. Meanwhile, we’re wasting our lives away on things that don’t ultimately matter.

“Okay, I know that whole fame, riches, and glory thing didn’t work out for the last guy, but maybe it will for me. Maybe, at the end of my life, those things will actually fill this pit that’s growing, gaping, and festering inside of me.”

In that moment, right when you think that prettier skin, more money, a record label, or more public recognition will make you feel whole, Comparison wins. And why is this so bad?

Because while we’re investing our time, money, soul, emotions, and brain capacity into these things that Comparison led us to, the things that actually matter in our lives begin to suffer. We begin focusing on ourselves. We become paralyzed in the mirror. Our number one priority in life is, well, ourselves.


We become paralyzed in the mirror. Our number one priority in life is, well, ourselves.


As long as we keep ourselves at the front of the line, hoping that our spiritual life, our family and community will fall in line behind us, they will actually just fall off completely.

I’ve learned this about Comparison. He will consume my thoughts with myself. When I’m stuck in the habit of comparing myself to others in order to “improve” and to fill the hole in my heart, selfishness takes root. I become king.

Like I said, I battle with Comparison daily. However, I’ve found that there’s one surefire way to fight back and win. When I remember that I am not king, and when I decide to focus on loving others versus indulging on thoughts of myself, Comparison loses his grip on my heart. When I lay down my desires and look in the bible to see what the ultimate King wants for me, Comparison doesn’t stand a chance.

I’m warning you: Putting God and others first and living second does not fit in with the rat race. Comparison will tell you that you’re wasting your time and falling behind. But remember that there is more to this life waiting for us at the end of the road, and as Francis Chan said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”


“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” – Francis Chan


Meet your neighbors. Love your family. Give to those in need. Get to know what God wants for you. Don’t let Comparison tell you what success looks like. He just wants you to look like the rest of the world, but you were made for something much greater.

Caitlin Jordan is the managing editor for I Am Second. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@caitlinr_jordan).


For another story on how the world’s definition of success did not satisfy, watch our new White Chair Film:

(Photo source: Unsplash via Pexels.com)

(Photo source: Unsplash via Pexels.com)

People like to tell me I’m “brave” for sharing my darkest secrets, but I don’t consider over-sharing about my hurts and pains and desperations to be especially courageous. It might be for some people, but I’ve always been someone with a deep need, a near craving, which borders on desperation, to be known. Intimately, fully, in every gory detail.

And since I began sharing stories about depression, one of two things seems to happen with every post.

Either I hear from someone saying they’ve been inspired to seek help through my words, or I hear from someone saying they care about me and are praying.

So, maybe it takes a certain amount of courage to open up about hardship, but it’s not something I fear, so it’s not a courage I admire in myself.

What I’m about to say now, though, I’m scared to say. For me, this takes courage.

Today, I’m happy. I’m content. I’m OK.

I have a job that I love, that occasionally stresses me out but that I’m so fond of I willingly choose to spend my day off on the work premises, interacting with my coworkers and jumping at every phone call. It might not be the “dream job” I longed for as a child, but it’s a pretty darn good job, and I really, really like it.

I get to write a lot, and writing is something that soothes me, that gives me joy. There’s something so beautiful to me about playing with words, and the English language is my clay; it’s something malleable and moldable, something I can influence and play with and form to my own desires.

Plus, people. I adore them. I think humans are fascinating, wonderful, beautiful, and amazing. I think humans are full of potential, talent, and skill. They make me laugh, cry, and clutch my heart at how agonizingly gorgeous they are. I get to spend so much time with them through work and friendship.

So, there. I’m happy. Exquisitely so. Wildly so.


 I have so often rooted my identity in my depression, that it almost feels like I’m lying when I say that I’m happy.


I’m scared to say that because I haven’t been taught or trained to celebrate the victories in life; I’ve been taught to bow my head in shame and whisper about them rather than shouting them from the mountain-top when things are going well. I have so often rooted my identity in my depression, that it almost feels like I’m lying when I say that I’m happy.

Honestly, I’ve spent so much time practicing radical vulnerability in the dark that I don’t know how to be open about the light. It might sound weird to you, but it’s true.

I’m trying. I don’t know how long this happiness will last; I’m not sure when I’ll have another depressive episode. It could be in a month, a week; it could be before this blog post is even published.

What I do know is that I want to practice celebrating often. Dancing for joy. Throwing my arms to the air and spinning about with a goofy grin, singing aloud to the songs, dancing without worrying about whether I look good or not. I want to be so grateful for the good times. I want to breathe them in and savor them like a perfectly grilled salmon that’s so tender it falls apart on my fork.


I think we should all practice celebration. Not just finding joy in darkness, but finding joy in light.


I think we should all practice celebration. Not just finding joy in darkness, but finding joy in light. It’s there, and it should be as much a thing to discuss as the hard times.

So there you have it: I’m doing OK. Today. And you know what? That’s good enough to get me through for now.

Karis is a grad student at NYU in New York City. Her writing has appeared online with Seventeen as well as Good Housekeeping. She blogs at karisrogerson.com. To stay informed about all her writing, sign up here.

(Photo source: Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash.com)

This post originally appeared on TWLOHA and was republished with permission.

My friend Don wrote a blog about you today and his blog suggests that you used to look a lot different than you do today. He says that you are the product of a poet and that before this poet’s pen, you were not a romantic holiday.

I think i would have liked you more back then, whenever that was. The truth is that you really bother me now. I think you bother a lot of people, honestly. You show up every year right after Christmas. You turn the windows pink and you sell your diamonds on the radio and I think I’ve gotten five emails from 1-800-FLOWERS in the last three days. I’m not sure how you got so much power.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that i don’t like love. I love love – I think it’s the best thing that happens on the planet. It’s the biggest dream inside me. But I bought a lie somewhere along the way. I bought the lie that says I’m not alive if I’m not in love. I bought the lie that says if I love someone but then they stop loving me or they start loving someone else, then I must have no value or power or worth. I bought the lie that says if I’m not in love, then I’m as good as dead.


I bought the lie that says I’m not alive if I’m not in love.


And if you believe that lie long enough, it makes a giant hole. It makes a hole so big that no one person could ever begin to fill it. Not even a princess. Believe me, I’ve tried. To fill it with a person, to fill it with beauty, to fill it with all the things you sell.

But I don’t think it works that way. Bono says his songs come from a God-shaped hole inside of him. He’s my favorite singer and he has a lot of things. He has great stories and a wife and kids and plenty of money. But in spite of all of those things, he says he still has this hole and he says that it’s the reason that he sings.

I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I’ve confused a girl for God, a different one every year or two, since the first day of junior high. And man, that is a lot of pressure to put on someone, to make them God. That is a ton of power to hand someone. Especially when they’re just a person. A person with questions and flaws and pain of their own.


I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I’ve confused a girl for God.


So maybe there’s a war, inside of me and for me and maybe my heart is the opposite of small. Maybe it’s the opposite of cheap and empty and alone. Maybe it’s sacred and enormous and wild.

To make a long story short, I think I’ve given you way too much power. I let you scare me and I let you name me and I let you tell me what I’m worth.

I don’t want to do that anymore.

There are dreams inside of me and those are mine and my guess is that they’re there for a reason. But for all the days like now where the dreams are asked to be only dreams, I’m gonna keep getting out of bed. I’m gonna keep living my story. I’m gonna believe that there is reason and purpose, and power in my life. I’m gonna believe that I’m alive inside a story bigger than my pain, bigger than everything missing.

It crossed my mind to try to ignore you, to try to go to bed early and wake up when you’re gone. But I changed my mind. I am part of a gang in Florida and we’re gonna get together tonight. We’re going to open our computers and we’re going to choose to believe that words are powerful. We’re gonna do our best to tell someone something true. We’re gonna ask people not to give up on their stories.


We’re gonna ask people not to give up on their stories.


Valentine’s Day, I don’t hate you. I don’t even blame you. Perhaps you did not name yourself. Perhaps you are the product of hundreds of years, hundreds of thousands of broken people and a million God-shaped holes.

The truth is that we’re all living love stories.

Peace to you tonight.
jamie


For another story about a man trying to fill a void in his life, watch our new White Chair Film:

(Photo source: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash.com)

I was curled up in a ball in the corner of my floor with tears streaming down my face. My stomach hurt, my mind raced, and my heart felt like it was being pulled in a thousand different directions.

You see, I had been dating this guy for a year and a half. Things were getting serious. We’d talked about getting married. Our parents were coming in from out of town to meet each other that day. The decisions I had made were culminating before my eyes. My life was happening. But the only problem was –  it was a story that I didn’t want to be living.

I felt no sense of peace. In fact, I was filled with doubts. Could this be right? If so, then why did it feel so wrong? Why was my heart so confused? Why did I feel like I wanted to throw-up?

I wanted so bad to be in love… but this isn’t what I had imagined.


It was a story that I didn’t want to be living.


So, with tears streaming down my face, I picked up the phone and called the whole thing off. I did it. It was time to face my fears- my fear of failure, my fear of disappointment, my fear of starting over, my fear of being alone, my fear of hurting people – and finally do what I knew all along was right.

Deep down inside, I was aching to find someone to love.  But I spent so much time trying to find “the one”, that I lost myself.

I was so confused. I had no idea what I wanted or who fit into my life. The real problem was me.

I didn’t know who I was.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, if you don’t know who you are, you’ll never recognize the kind of person who fits into your story.


 I spent so much time trying to find “the one”, that I lost myself.


It seems like a simple truth, but it’s really not so simple. Getting to know yourself can be even harder than finding someone to love.

It’s so much easier to look out than it is to look in.  It’s much easier to focus on the hope of finding the right person than actually becoming the right person.  

The most successful relationships I’ve ever witnessed are made up of two people who are confident in who they are, and who’ve become the best they can be by depending on God for help.  People who understood that in order to really find love, you have to date a person you never thought you’d date: Yourself.

As a professional counselor, dating inward is a concept I talk about a lot, but how do you do it?

“So, do I take myself out to a restaurant, or to a movie?” a girl asked me on Twitter. I had to laugh, because that’s not exactly what I mean by dating yourself.

Dating inward is a process. It’s an experience of delving into the places where only you could ever go. It’s a process of insight, awareness, acknowledgement, and wisdom. You have to peel back the layers of who you are, one step at a time. Quite frankly, while it may sounds strange, it’s a concept that changed my life, and in turn, my love life.

Dating yourself requires you to know 3 important things:

1.  Know who you are today: There’s a huge difference between who you want to be, or who you’ve been told you are—and who you actually are.  It’s easy to lose yourself in relationships by becoming who they want you to become. But you’ll never be able to know what you really want in a relationship until you know who you are.  Use this time in your life to become the best version of yourself by dealing with the habits, thoughts, and behaviors that hold you back from living your best life.  Get to know who God says you are and remove the labels that have been placed on you. Invest in yourself, love yourself, and believe in yourself. You will always attract the kind of person who you believe you deserve.


You’ll never be able to know what you really want in a relationship until you know who you are.  


2.  Know where you come from: We all have our baggage, and whether we want to or not, we bring that baggage into our relationships. Dating inward means taking the time to understand and heal the hurts of your past to the best of your ability.  It means understand ing your past, and coming to terms with the impact it may have had on your life.  But most of all, it means learning to accept those things and move past them as you step into your future.
3.  Know where you’re going: When you’re walking toward something, you’ll be able to recognize those who are walking in your direction. It’s so important to stay true to yourself by living out the unique and meaningful purpose that God has given you. Trust me, your story has far more to do with finding your purpose in life than it does with finding the love of your life.
No matter what your relationship status is – married, dating, single, or searching – we should always be moving in the direction of healing and discovering who God is in our lives. Don’t forget to date inward before you begin searching for love from someone else.

This post is adapted from concepts in Debra’s book True Love Dates, and used with permission. Find more of Debra’s dating advice at TrueLoveDates.com

For another story on finding yourself, watch Lynsi’s White Chair Film: