The Dance of the Advocate

Recently, I’ve had a few friends step into advocacy. I’ve also enjoyed more time with those who have spent their lives committed to advocacy. I admire all of them, from the newly inspired to the longtime devotee. Each of you advocate on behalf of others, representing your own unique perspectives and passions: fair wages, better public education, access to better foods, breast cancer research, poverty reduction, gay rights, fair wages, religious freedom, gender equality in the church and in the workplace, and so many more. The world is better because of you but I know it’s not an easy path. I hope to offer you some encouragement with this post.

The Dance of the Advocate

It’s that moment you doubt everything about yourself. You’ve experienced so many moments of vulnerability and you feel too exposed to be comfortable again. You want to crawl under a rock or move far away. This time this mountain just seems too big.

The wounds seem too deep this time. There are far too many. And this time they came from so many places you trusted. You thought you were safe. You are embarrassed that it took you so long to realize you weren’t.

You didn’t expect those closest would turn on you. You didn’t expect their words to be so cruel. They pierced you in an unexpected way. You fear these wounds won’t ever heal.

Then in your moment of darkness, just enough light peaks through. It allows you to stop focusing on the pain for a moment and shines on the parts of you that cannot be ignored. After those countless sleepless nights, you finally own up to who you are. There is no changing who you were meant to be.

You acknowledge your errors, whether it is the poor choice in tone or the stupid decision that undermined your message. You wish you could take it back; just a simple do over would ease the regret. But you accept it as part of your journey. Mistakes will shape you. It’s so easy for others to only see your mistakes and judge you by them. It’s painful. But you know that mistakes are necessary and only those who stand still avoid them.

You realize they will never know how badly they hurt you; they may not care. You accept that you can’t make them see. That’s not your fight. You aren’t who you are for them. Once again, you decide to live up to your own expectations and you refuse to foolishly chase theirs anymore.

So you pick yourself from off the ground. You brush off your knees. You stand up as straight as your beaten back will allow.

And you remind yourself they want silence because some of your words make them uncomfortable.

But you know that discomfort makes us better. Oh sure, embracing discomfort hurts like hell. You feel it every time you speak up when everyone else remains silent. However, the conviction that change will not come without discomfort always pushes you into that pain.

Some will fight it.They will hurt you to silence you. They will fill your world with angry words. They will attack your character.

But you will not be silent. Who you are will not allow it.

Because the advocate must speak.

You speak on behalf of the downtrodden, the broken. You speak on behalf of the rejected and disowned. You speak out for the marginalized, for those whose voices get lost in the majority.

You speak because you were one of them. Or you speak because you used to hurt them. Or maybe you speak because you love one of them. Whatever the reason that inspires your voice, it gives purpose to your passion and strength to your conviction. Today, you hold that reason a bit tighter.

You remind yourself that you don’t speak for the selfishly opinionated. You don’t speak for those holding tight to their privilege or those who believe everyone else should adapt to them. You don’t speak for those who reject progress, tolerance, or acceptance. You don’t speak for those who reject empathy. You hope your words might reach them, but you don’t speak for them.

Oh but when your words reach or impact just one…you feel an overwhelming peace for a moment. You tangibly feel the purpose of your cause. But soon after the turmoil will return, and you will need to speak again.

Because there is no greater calling than the belief you should sacrifice your comfort to advocate for another. There is no more noble or exhausting of a cause.

You’ve learned that your skin isn’t as thick as you hoped. You bleed. A lot. You scar. And those scars will serve as reminders of your pain, your mistakes, and your commitment.

And you will speak. Because the advocate must speak. Even when you make mistakes. Even when you fail. You will still speak.

And just know, no matter the cause, no matter the message, if you advocate on behalf of another…

I’m here listening.

Because we need you. I need you.

So please speak up a bit louder.

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Why I Criticize the Church

Recently I was accused of being too harsh on the church on Facebook (I looked back three months, apparently 2-3 posts that challenge the church is too harsh.) It was a unfair remark surrounded by hurtful words from someone I had a great deal of respect for. But regardless of their misguided approach, it did make me realize that maybe people don’t understand this deep conviction I have. So rather than grow in frustration at their misinterpretations or hurtful accusations, I wanted to put to my blog why I, on occasion (and truly feel that I should more often), criticize the church.

First, let me establish that when I am talking about the church that I am referring to the Christian church and every person has a faith in Jesus Christ. This includes Evangelicals, Mormons, Catholics, and any other professing Christian. I’m nice and inclusive that way.

Second, let me say that I am a Christian. My faith is a profoundly deep part of who I am and it is fundamental in all of my passions and decisions. There are times in my journey where my faith is stronger, other times when it appears non-existent. But it is always present with all its questions, emotions, and experiences. When I criticize the church I am ALWAYS criticizing myself and never once exempt myself from the criticism.

Third, I am fully aware that the church is filled with people, therefore flawed. It is not a building; it is a group of people supposedly agreeing on one major thing… Jesus. He existed, he taught us lots of stuff, he died for our sins, and he rose again three days later. We seem to disagree on nearly every other thing, but we have that in common. Isn’t it nice to think how that one single life unifies us?

So why do I have this deep conviction that I should criticize the church? Well, let’s begin by removing any argument of semantics. Oxford dictionary defines criticism as, “The expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived or mistakes” It is also commonly used in art, literary texts, etc. for the “purpose of dating or reconstructing them, evaluating their authenticity, analyzing their content or style, etc.” Criticism seems best embraced in academics, where the purpose is to discover what you think, believe, or know. It is used in the political field to discuss what we have done and what we should do… or to figure out which party is doing it less wrong. Sometimes criticism is about our perception of something and sometimes it is about undeniable facts. You criticize that poor driver because you felt like he cut you off or because he did in fact cut you off. Either way, it certainly gives you something to discuss with that other driver.

But it seems that that in day-to-day life most people stay away from it. Yeah, sure, we criticize our significant other or children. We criticize our employees. We criticize that other driver. We seem most likely to criticize people that we feel we have power over. It’s why when we criticize the government and someone tries to silence us, we argue we have the authority… freedom of speech and all. It is our right, we have that authority in our country (and we all think the opposing politicians are stupid.) But it appears to me, we seldom criticize when we feel that we don’t have any power or authority. I’m pretty sure most of us who criticize a politician on FB would not actually do so to his or her face.

But why does someone need authority to criticize? Well, quite simply they don’t. We are just more comfortable taking criticism from someone who supposedly knows more than us.

Most people really hate receiving criticism. It’s uncomfortable. The feeling that our weaknesses are exposed is far too vulnerable for us. We typically avoid looking at our own weaknesses and we always try to hide them from others. So it makes sense that we don’t allow people below us to criticize us.

I believe this is why the people most angered by my criticisms of the church are pastors and older Christians. When someone young and…gasp… a female… comes along and offers criticism of the church, she is placing herself on the same level as a pastor or someone who has been on the journey for far more years than her.

But I’m not. I’m not saying I have the same knowledge of scripture or spiritual maturity. I’m only saying… I’m part of the church and I want the church to be the best it can possibly be. So if I perceive a fault or mistake, I feel that it is my responsibility to speak up.

Turn on the TV. Listen to some non-conservative talk radio. The church has a pretty bad reputation. Now, the new pope sure is helping to gain some points for the Catholics, but the rest of us are not perceived very well by everyone else. And it would be foolish to place all the blame on non-Christians and their ignorance. Self-reflection is necessary (you know… that whole verse about looking in the mirror.) We seem to come across as unloving and unmoving. Our political agendas make us seem heartless. I hear more Christians defend the death penalty than I hear them talk about redemption for the worst of sinners. Sometimes we, together, lose our way.

At 20, I loved Jesus with all my heart. I loved my Christian friends with all my heart. I loved missions and telling the world about Jesus with all my heart. But I did not LOVE like Jesus told me to love. I was too concerned about telling others how to live…what to wear, what to listen to, how to act, how to vote. I was in a bubble. A bubble that had me believing that I had it all right while everyone else had it all wrong. There is no one to blame for that but myself. I was on a journey and it could not be rushed.

Now, I’m not saying I am what every Christian should strive to be now. I’m not. I use more cuss words than Christianese (that is Christian language for you ‘non-believers” out there.) I often spend more time trying to live out my faith than developing my faith. I am too quick to speak and much too slow to listen. I’m so far from perfect. But you know what… that is why today I’m freer than I’ve ever been. Because I acknowledge I’m far from perfect. I recognize that I don’t know it all. I recognize that a long journey is okay and maturity doesn’t come overnight. I’ve had to learn how to repair relationships and how to let go of them. I’ve learned that some people will only see the worst in you and no amount of work will change them. I’ve learned that a black and white world does not exist for anyone but the most privileged.

But mostly I learned that for all of those very reasons… I have a voice in the church. Because of my unique perspective as an individual and as a card-carrying member, I have a right to criticize, maybe even 3 posts A MONTH of criticisms! I have a right to challenge other believers to follow the message of Christ as closely as we can. I have the right to criticize because I’m one of them. When I was 20, I didn’t know that I could help shape the church, I thought I only could live within the boundaries laid out for me. Then I met a man who corrupted me brilliantly. He was a pastor… and I married him. And I soon started a new journey of self-discovery, self-reflections, and most importantly considering other perspectives different from my own.

And now I love good discussions, debates, and even some good old-fashioned arguing about what it means to be a Christian (or really anything.) But I’ve learned a lot of people do not. And Christians have attacked me more the last six months than anyone else. Yep… those people who love Jesus just like me. They have said some of the most hateful, spiteful, condescending things to me. Many believe I can’t be one of them because I support gay marriage, I don’t think all Muslims are terrorists, and I am against the death penalty. I somehow lost my religion badge for those. Some believe I lost my way because I drink wine and use cuss words (I hope they don’t find out that I teach my son that actual words can’t be bad!) They want to disown me because I call myself a feminist (that apparently is the worst cuss word that I use.) But I’m okay with that because they too are entitled to their voice. I wished it would be a bit kinder sometimes, but I know mine is often far too harsh as well. So instead of trying to get them to look in the mirror, I’ll just go back to mine.

So I say all this to say, the criticism will not stop any time soon. But my posts highlighting all the beautiful people (many of them Christians) in my life will continue. But I’m sorry y’all (oh yeah…now I’m a Southern progressive Christian… and you thought that didn’t exist!) I’m still a Christian and I plan to use my voice so that others will know that not all Christians believe in one single voice. And my hope is one day, all our voices will get closer to that of Jesus.

It’s not fair.

“That’s not fair!”
“Life’s not fair.”
“But I want it!”

This conversation is on repeat in the Blair household. Our son is currently training for his career in law using this method of argument. It’s not working very well, he never gets what he wants. We try to explain why this method is flawed, but alas, in his black and white world he cannot comprehend why fairness does not define circumstances. I remember this argument with my parents. I remember the very low tolerance for my pouting and the irritation with the insistence of my argument. I understand the annoyance now. It really is annoying. But I haven’t outgrown this argument. I still use it, just now it’s an argument with myself. I’ve matured enough to at least recognize that this argument is no longer socially acceptable. As an adult I know that life is not fair, right?

Wrong. Most times, I don’t know. I only seem to remember that life isn’t fair when my friend gets a new car and I’m driving a beater or when someone else finds the perfect job and I’m still performing circus acts to get potential employers to notice me. Or the most common reminder… when I’m wearing the same dress I wear to every cocktail party and my friend is in a stunning new dress that makes everyone in the room turn. Yep. Life is not fair. And if we want to get incredibly honest, I actually recall a moment sitting on the side of my bed sobbing because I had nothing cute to wear to an event. Choking through my tears, I turn to my husband and say, “it’s not fair.” Embarrassing, I know.

I remember when we were trying to get pregnant and after both miscarriages the number of “it’s not fair” thoughts I had. Well, maybe not the number, there were far too many to count. But I remember how hard it was to be happy for my friends when they got pregnant so easily and I was wondering why my body didn’t want to work. Life didn’t feel very fair. I cried a lot. I felt angry and entitled to have a fair life.

Yes, upon reflection I can see that wanting life to be fair is a childish endeavor. By shouting to God, “IT’S NOT FAIR!” I’m not going to convince him to give me the toy anymore than my son will convince me. (I would be a constantly annoyed if I were God, can you imagine the number of “it’s not fair” he hears?) But it seems to be my default response.

So now is where I should emphasis the point that life isn’t fair. And we need to be happy with the path God takes us on and give an explanation about how those miscarriages were a blessing because without them I wouldn’t have this amazing child. And yes, that is all true. But that’s not where I am.

I read an article in the New York Times today about a child who lost his parents to genocide in Rwanda. At six years old he was scrounging the dump and trying to survive. He and many other children were homeless and without a family. They were the “forgotten” children. But someone stumbled upon him. An American running an organization took him off the streets and got him into school. The child was incredibly intelligent and driven. He excelled and eventually won a full scholarship to Harvard University. From a dump to Harvard.

I grew up in middle-class suburbia and I never even considered Harvard. Harvard was for people who lived a far more “fair” life than me. Community college was for people like me.

Our fixation on this idea that life needs to be fair cripples us. We lose all perspective. This idea forces us to focus on only those with lives that we deem “fair.” So naturally we focus on the people with the best things happening to them.  And when the best things only happen to them and not us, “it’s not fair.” But the irony of it all is that there is someone out there looking at us saying, “it’s not fair” about us.

I live in a country with freedom, wealth, and endless opportunities. I was born to a middle-class white family and with that received a high level of privilege. I never went hungry or without clothing. I learned to read and write at six years old. I was taught to articulate ideas verbally and in written form. I had the freedom to decide who I was and what my place might be in this world. I was free to question, challenge, and debate authority. I could walk away if I disagreed with someone.

It’s not  fair. I did nothing to deserve any of that.

It’s not fair. I won the lottery in my birth.

It’s not fair. Another woman with darker skin was born another place. She was hungry and without clothing. She never learned to read or write. She could never articulate her ideas. She was never allowed to choose who she was or where her place is in this world might have been. She could never question, challenge, or debate authority. She could never walk away.

It’s not fair.

 

 

Elusive Happiness

I hesitate to say its been a rough month, because of course it is all relative. The office hasn’t been much fun. We’ve experienced a bit of change, some of which resulted in people losing their jobs. Not easy to watch. For the most part, those who were laid off are handling it very well. Most looking forward to their next chapters or not stressing too much about what is coming, I’m very proud and inspired by them. I’m sure there is bitterness or confusion, but they seem to be looking ahead. However, what has caught my attention more so than their responses, has been the responses of those around them. Meaning: the people with jobs. You would have thought by the negativity, grumbling, and anger that we all lost our jobs. Not to mention those who have tried to profit from the changes. Why is it those with something are never satisfied with what they have? It all presents this idea of an elusive happiness. We all seek to be happy and want more in life. We want wealth, acceptance, love, peace, appreciation, etc. Daily I am surrounded by people whose salary is greater than 90% of the U.S. population (if you want to get your own reality check, search for median salary in the United States) and yet they feel underpaid and under appreciated. And don’t even get me started as to what we have versus the rest of the world. The median income worldwide is $7,000. MOST countries it is less than $1,700. I keep threatening my boss to bring a slideshow to my office about how the rest of the world lives. We need a little perspective.

But this isn’t just my office. This is everywhere. We live in a society focused on what we have and what we don’t have. Everyday we are bombarded with ads that tell us what we need. They tell us what will make us happy. And then we get those things, and we still aren’t happy. We continue to go after more and more in search for happiness. But worse than the increasing debt or inhibited generosity, is the entitlement we develop. We believe we are entitled to the newest car, the best phone, the cutest clothes. We work hard, so we deserve these things.

Let me stop a moment and discuss working hard. Now, I feel that I work pretty hard. I’m always busy, finding ways to fill my time if no immediate work is brought to me. And I’m not afraid to work the long hours or do the hard labor when necessary, but after reading a book about the life of women in Congo… I’ve discovered that I’ve never experienced hard work. Hard work is walking miles and miles to carry as much water as humanly possible (and after hearing the actual weight of the water, it is not humanly possible for me, even with all my yoga training 🙂 ) Hard work is spending an entire day (and they don’t think 8 hours is an entire day) working to make one dollar to feed your family. Yet, these women do not feel entitled to objects of entertainment for their hard work. It never crosses their mind, because all they are trying to do is SURVIVE.

Entitlement is an ugly thing. It creates the ugliest of situations. Think about the child that throws the over the top fit in the middle of the grocery store because he wants the lollipop his mother is denying him. Most of us shake our head at that child. Now consider your behavior, how many times have you behaved this way? Come on, you know you have. When life hasn’t worked out as you expected or someone offends you or treats you differently than you believe you deserve. Or worse than that, what about when this child watches another child get that lollipop, now the temper tantrum has been taken to a whole new level. IT’S NOT FAIR!! How do you respond when someone else gets what you want? I embarrassingly admit that I, not too long ago– I wish I could say I was a teenager– cried because someone else had new and attractive clothes to wear and I am still wearing the same things from two years ago. I literally cried. Not a proud moment for me. After about five minutes, I realized… my God… people are literally dying because they have no food and I’m upset because I have nothing to wear. What a fool I am, why do I think I deserve more than them?

As I’ve said many times, we got lucky. We were born into a nation of luxury. I’m not talking about the Mercedes in a driveway or the Gucci in the closet, I’m talking about the opportunities that we are afforded just because of the location of our birth. As an American, I am afforded rights that women across the world are denied. Even the poorest of our nation are considered rich by the world’s standards. We did nothing to deserve this. We are not entitled to this luxuries. We just got lucky.

This luck is a gift. What are we choosing to do with this gift? WIth the gift of a job and an income that provides for you and your family, what are you doing with it? Are you allowing it to turn you into someone who is entitled or are you using it to better the lives of those who didn’t get as lucky as you? Are you focused on what more you can have or are you focused on what more you can give away?

I challenge you to stop the next time that you think you “need” or “deserve” something to stop, put that credit card back in your wallet and find a more worthy way to spend that money. I typically don’t like church signs, Andy and I have a game of finding the most ridiculous ones. But the other day I found one that redeems all the others, it said, “You aren’t living life until you give to someone that can never repay you.” Too often we give in ways that we can get something back, such as recognition, better education for our kids, a better community in which to live, a better museum, etc. When was the last time you gave to someone that could NEVER repay you? Maybe find a way to do that. I bet that is closer to happiness than that iphone you are holding.

“Indeed, man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible.”  ~St. Augustine

The Trouble with Doing Right

I read this quote the other day, and the thoughts that it brought about are very much part of my journey in self-awareness. The quote is by Walt West and he say “The trouble with doing something right the first time is that no one appreciates how difficult it was.” I feel this fairly often. I’ve never been someone to take the path of least resistance, especially in regards to relationships. I’ve never been able to feel strongly and not address that with someone. Especially when I feel that addressing it is truly the right thing to do. This usually results in me feeling like I’m constantly surrounded by conflict. But no matter how hard I try, I am not content with sweeping things under a rug. Let’s talk about it, understand each other, learn something, and then be better because of it. When I am defending another person, it is nearly impossible to stay quiet.

A month or so ago, my boss just shook his head, chuckled, and walked away as I stood there challenging a superior about the way he mistreated individuals. Afterwards, my boss said, “you are absolutely right in what you are saying, it is just a waste of time, he isn’t going to change. It is a tar baby.” I know that is true, but I just cannot let him get by in life never challenged for his wrong actions. I feel that saying nothing is far worse that wasting your breath. Most times that I feel the need to speak up, it doesn’t change much. At least not that I know of. But occasionally, I say something and something changes. Sometimes, that person realizes something they never had before.  All the people in their life may have seen the way they were, but no one ever actually said something to them. No one ever told them that they way they talked to their spouse was degrading. Or that they don’t live up to their potential. Or that they keep finding themselves in bad relationships because they don’t value themselves enough. Sometimes, it makes a difference. And as hard as speaking up can be, knowing that even if only occasionally it pays off… then it is worth it.

I know some will say that my personality lends to my ability to say something. That is probably true. I am far more outspoken than most. But I’m still scared to death nearly every time I speak up. (Unless I am angry, and those are usually the cases I should NOT have spoken up.) My stomach is in knots. I hate the discomfort that comes with speaking up. But I despise the feeling of words left unspoken. I despise the thought of someone completely unaware of how they hurt another person. If someone would just show them, they might change. So much stress and hurt in their life might be alleviated. Perhaps what I hate most is to see someone with so much potential, but selling themselves short because they cannot see what everyone else can see.  But doing right isn’t just speaking up. You have to be willing to do things too. To do something for another, even if it is uncomfortable. To be seen with someone that you might otherwise not choose to be seen with. To give of time or resources, even when you think you can’t afford it. Doing right comes in so many different forms.

I have a long way to go in my ability to do and say the right things. Sometimes, I speak up when I shouldn’t. Or I speak up at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Sometimes, I speak up for my own benefit and not for the benefit of the other. Sometimes, I just can’t figure out how to do right. There is definitely room to grow.

However, the area in which I need to grow the most, is why this quote started this post. I look to others for affirmation that I am doing the right thing. And the problem is, most people don’t know what the right thing is or even more so, how difficult doing the right thing can be. When we do the right thing, there is rarely immediate satisfaction for doing it. Seldom is there a pat on the back or a resolution of the issue. Many times, things feel exactly the same way. Sometimes, it feels worse. We hope that other person will immediately see the error of the ways and thank us for our boldness, love, and clarity. I think this has happened once to me…. maybe….I definitely don’t depend on this outcome.

In my journey of self-awareness, I need to stop focusing on receiving the affirmation for doing right, and focus on the satisfaction of living according to my beliefs and conscience. My growth must occur in my ability to be satisfied with my own actions. Confucius said, “To see the right and not to do it, is cowardice.” I have to be satisfied that I saw what was right, acted accordingly, and did not live cowardly.  Whatever the case of doing right is, whether it is doing something inconvenient, speaking up, defending someone, or going against what everyone else is doing, I have to be satisfied within myself. I have to live according to what I feel it is right. (Note: It is important to seek counsel and to use that to determine what is right. No one should live on an island.)  I cannot do right because of the immediate outcome or to receive the praise or acceptance of others.  Just doing right must be enough.

My Circumstantial Journey

Allow me for a moment to get spiritual. I don’t typically discuss things in a very spiritual manner on this blog because I feel that I can address topics or ideas from the perspective of my own faith without making those without a specific belief uncomfortable. Some (more evangelical focused individuals) may find this cowardly, but in this current time of my life, due to my background and personality, I find that my faith is better lived than spoken.  I won’t say that I will always adhere to this belief or that I have previously, but currently, this is where I stand.  I wholeheartedly believe that the greatest strength of my belief system is that the principles within this system can apply to everyone regardless of their own faith or lack of faith ( in this context, I am defining “faith” as a trust in God.) However, the topic in which I want to address today requires a little more discussion of the spiritual, but I believe in a way that people of any faith can understand.  I say that this is a “spiritual” post, because some kind of belief in non-worldly things is necessary to have this particular conversation.

Alright, so let us begin. I read a quote by Oswald Chambers the other day, “We are not responsible for the circumstances we are in, but we are responsible for the way we allow those circumstances to affect us; we can either allow them to get on top of us, or we can allow them to transform us into what God wants us to be.” This quote grabbed me the other day because right now, I’m in some pretty difficult circumstances. “Difficult” is clearly relative. I’m not forced into prostitution or in the middle of a genocide. Maybe I should remember that more often. Rather, they are difficult in the way that they are emotionally draining and they take far too much of my focus. No matter how much I try to take my focus off of these circumstances, I can’t help but replay them over and over in my mind. I keep trying to handle the circumstances, to fix them and to right my wrongs. The problem with the way I am handling these circumstances is what Chambers says in his quote, “We are not responsible for the circumstances we are in.” I keep focusing on how to fix things, how to make the circumstances better. But that is not what God calls us to do. He wants to use the circumstances to transform us. What does that mean? It means, instead of praying to God asking him to help me fix the circumstances, I should be praying that God will use the circumstances to fix me.

When Tek touches the hot stove, there is no point in me focusing on undoing the burn. You cannot undo what has been done. You can’t eliminate the circumstance. Rather, my time would be better spent on teaching him to not touch the hot stove and focus on caring for the burn to prevent future scaring.  Time spent dwelling on the circumstances creates an unstable person. It is someone who is so focused on everything that is happening rather than focusing on what lessons can be learned. This person is missing the point of this journey we call life.

Self-awareness is not being conscious of the circumstances, rather it is being conscious of our response, and more importantly, our growth in the circumstance. This is where my faith enters. If I have to depend on myself to figure out the appropriate response or the appropriate growth, nothing will get done. I am a self-involved, emotional human being. In the midst of conflict, I am rarely able to see which way is up. I need a God that is bigger than my abilities. A God that is capable of understanding the bigger picture. A God that loves those in the circumstance just as He loves me. A God that engages in a personal relationship with me and desires to show me how I need to grow. I have honest friends and husband, but none of them can truly see the circumstances as objectively as I need.

I think the greatest example of this principle was shown by Jesus, just moments before his arrest. He said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus saw the overwhelming circumstance before him, his arrest and his death. He knew what was coming ahead of him. He focused on the circumstance for only a moment before admitting that His Father understood the ultimate plan. He knew that in order to accomplish the plan, He had to allow the circumstances to transform Him into what God intended for Him to be, the savior for mankind. No circumstance that I have endured even comes close to what He experienced, so why have I been so incapable of seeing past the circumstance?

Rather than following the example of Christ, I have attempted in my own power to change the circumstances. I’ve spent so much time dwelling on what is happening around me, that I did not stop to realize what should be happening TO me. It is time to stop focusing on the fact that I got burned, it is time for me to focus on how to prevent the burn from happening again and to focus on caring for the wound. If I want this journey to be one of growth, then it is time to focus on my transformation.

Side-note: And NOT the transformation of others, that is their journey to experience. But this may be another post…

So here I go, another commitment to another step in my journey for self-awareness. I will stop focusing on the circumstance, but instead focus on the will of my Father. I will stop looking at what is happening around me and trying to figure out how to change it, but rather I will accept that it has happened and look to God for the transformation into what He intends for me to be through these circumstances.

My First Step to Intentional Living: Self-Awareness

I figured out the first step to intentional living. (When I say a statement like this, always read it as “for me” because I really can’t speak for anyone else.) The first step is self-awareness. If you aren’t aware of the person you are, the impact you make on others and in this world, or the impact your choices make on you…. then how can you live intentionally. I’ve observed that self-awareness is not an easy skill to possess. Example one: Ever go to the grocery store and turn to go down an aisle and people have their carts in the middle of the aisle so that no one can get around? They are absolutely oblivious to the fact that they are preventing others from shopping. They spend as long as they like to look for the perfect spice, completely unaware that you are standing there trying to get around them. Not until you say “excuse me,” which is typically after you stand there for a few minutes with growing indignation, do they actually move their cart. Being self-aware does not come naturally. As I pondered the reason for that, it all seemed to center around the more natural skill: self-centeredness. We are so focused on our self, our own wants, needs, and desires, that we do not have the ability to have a balanced and honest view of our personality and our impact. It is ironic. We spend all this time thinking about ourselves, yet we never are able to get a good picture of who we are. If we were more others-centered, we would not spend our time thinking about what we want, but we would be focused on what others need… and thus our contribution to their needs. We would realize that we were taking up an entire aisle in the grocery store.

Now, obviously self-awareness is far more valuable than the awareness of aisle-blocking. Self-awareness allows us to view ourselves from an outsider’s perspective and make adjustments to who we are in a more effective manner. Example two: When there is a person that you do not like or a person that frustrates you horribly, do you stop and think… do I share any of the same qualities that I despise in this person? Remember the saying, the qualities you hate in someone are often the very same qualities you possess? For me, this has proven to be true. And unless I ask myself this question, I will spend my life disliking a person or what they do and be completely oblivious to the fact that I am just like them. I think this example proves exactly why we choose not to be self-aware.

When we are self-aware, we often find qualities about ourselves that we find more comfortable to ignore. Oh man, there’s that word… uncomfortable. It is why we as Americans avoid hearing about the starving, the afflicted, the oppressed. Too uncomfortable. We must realize that yes, ignorance is bliss but it is also harmful. To others and to yourself.

It is difficult to leave in a society that caters to our self-centeredness. I work in sales and I watch as the most self-centered sales professionals are the most successful. I can’t deny that their self-centeredness, makes money. And it keeps me employed. Their desire to make money drives their success.  When I turn on the TV, I am bombarded with advertisements that cater to my self-centeredness. They want me to want things FOR ME. My self-centeredness makes them money, even if it costs me and my family. Turn on the news and listen to stories about politics. It is all about every side wanting what they want. None aware enough to listen to the other point of view to consider that maybe they don’t have it all right. It is easier for the Republicans to blame the Democrats and the Democrats blame the Republicans. There is the next key word. Blame.

The lack of self-awareness results in passing blame. A self-centered individual focuses on what it will take for them to look good. Because if you look good, you feel good. And isn’t that what we all want, to feel good? Taking the blame NEVER feels good. Apologizing is always hard. Swallowing your pride, well that is my least favorite. I do hate to swallow my pride. Sometimes I will just engage in fights and examine every angle possible to avoid swallowing my pride. But the moment I step away and observe how my feelings, reactions, or thoughts affect another person… soon after I have to swallow my pride. No amount of arguing or persuading is going to make me right. Hurting someone is always wrong.

Part of self-awareness is realizing what your purpose should be. If you have established what you want to accomplish with your life, you can focus on being aware of how you are working towards it. Example three: Yesterday, Tek had his first t-ball game of the season. I’m coaching with my friend’s husband and, well, it is quite entertaining. I have to say that I struggle with a little disappointment in my son. While he is far more into the game this year than last year, he still struggles with identifying the purpose of the game. He doesn’t understand that all the other players on the field are on his team. So when the ball is hit and they all go running to get the ball, he throws elbows and shoves teammates out-of-the-way. He doesn’t realize that anyone can get the ball, they are a team. You see, when we are so self-involved that we only identify our own success, we miss out that there is a greater purpose for us. Why do we allow our own success to depend on another person’s failure. This will hurt every relationship in your life. . Rather, if you identify your purpose and work towards that purpose, all the petty and irritating things fade into the background. And when this happens, the best thing happens… we can actually rejoice in the success of others. We are no longer in competition, but rather, we are all fulfilling our own purpose.

Just as Tek has to learn that the purpose of the game is to work as a team and succeed as a team, we as adults have to learn that success is not being better than others. Middle school is over. We don’t have to compete for attention anymore. We should all be secure enough to be willing to self-evaluate. To ask ourselves questions instead of blaming others. To challenge ourselves rather than expecting all those around us to get better.

What is our purpose? Well for each of us it is a little different. And it will change over time. But one purpose we should share, is to be aware of the impact we have on the world around us. We alone are responsible for our own actions. We can’t blame others anymore. My favorite example of this is D and Brad’s son, Wyatt. He was playing outside with Andy while Tek was napping one day and he said, “Mr. Andy, can you ask Tek to stop hitting me with the ball?” (They throw big exercise balls at each other at the YMCA where we have church.) Andy responded, “Okay, I will. But you know if I ask him to do that, you can’t throw balls at him.” Wyatt’s response is classic, “But I want to.” How many times as adults do we want others to change but are unwilling to change ourselves. We are fully aware of others faults but we are unable to grasp that we may have faults of our own that only we can change. I bet we have many times felt and expressed, maybe not so honestly, the very same thoughts that Wyatt did.

I’ve found myself constantly asking Andy to change. Make the bed! Why can’t you make the bed?! Then on Sunday, when I’m the last one out of bed, I get home and realize I didn’t make the bed. (Usually, I then make it very quickly before he gets home and gets the opportunity to point it out.) I can find all of his faults so easily, but I am far more blind to my own.

So my first step to intentional living, is to approach myself first. Self-awareness begins with self-evaluating questions. If I can’t question myself and then (perhaps more importantly) honestly answer myself, then I have no right ever forming an opinion of anyone else. Daily I have to ask myself, what is the impact I am making on others? Am I adding to their lives or taking from them? Am I contributing positively to the environment or simply using and abusing the resources? Am I so consumed in my day-to-day life, that I miss the impact that I make in this world? Intentional living has to begin with questions. So I guess it is time for me to start asking them.