Those who want the best

In a conversation while watching TV, my husband and I reflected over the death of the TV sitcom. Streaming has killed mainstream TV, and the idea of sitting down with kids to just watch a family TV show seems dead. Gone are the days of shows like Who’s the Boss, Family Matters, and Growing Pains.

Growing Pains…not just physical, but those emotional ills we go through when anything in life or relationships change. That’s what the show was all about.

It’s what life is all about. And throughout mine, I’ve had my fair share. Even well into my late 30’s and even as recently as a couple years ago. As just like the sitcom, Carol, Mike, and the others had the Seaver parents; and I had people who helped me, guided me, and truly wanted the best for me as I was growing through them. 

One is a colleague I look up to. I admire her and her professionalism. In a conversation this week, we were discussing some of the challenges for the new school year with staff changes; one of them being the previous week’s meeting that I had been asked to lead. The one that had not gone as planned. I told her how a few years ago I probably would have left that room crying, and cried about it for days; but these days I no longer take things that are not about me personally. Her response was unexpected. One I was not needing to hear for validation (though in the same years I would have needed that, too), but confirming in a way. 

“January, you are exactly right. You have grown so much. It’s been so awesome to watch you develop into such a great therapist, and a really strong leader.”

I was humbled. Coming from someone who five years ago, scared me to death…yes I was humbled.

And I said as much-that she used to scare me-because five years prior I had sat in her office as a resident in counseling with 2 years of overdue paperwork needing signatures. Having not attended any groups in the last three months, because I was meeting the requirements of everyone else around me, and not the path of the career I said I was passionate about. Her promise to never sign another overdue quarterly report after that date stuck with me, and I vowed to myself I would never turn in another one late. And I didn’t. I also never missed another group supervision. I made sure my placements knew those were monthly commitments I had to meet as part of my residency. She was right-I could have sat there and made excuses. I could have given up. But I didn’t. I owned it. Fixed it. And didn’t do it again.

Now…I’d like to say I never made another mistake I had to be held accountable for, but then I would also have to tell you I am superhuman, and I am not. I have had to own my junk. Fix it. And suffer some growing pains. And each time someone has been there who has truly wanted the best for me. Someone has had to show me the crack, the area needing growth, and push me to fix it.

And we hear that a lot: “I am telling you this because I want the best for you,” or “I wish you the best.” But does everyone? And how do you know the difference? Because there is a difference.

Here’s an illustration to help you: 

 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. John 21:15-17

Jesus gave Peter instructions and asked Him to serve Him, as He had been instructed to do previously. If you love me, you will go on serving as you have before; but you will change your behavior. 

Leaders, friends, loved ones who want the best for you-don’t hold your past missteps against you. Jesus didn’t do that to Peter. That colleague had not even remembered those reports-I had. She had just silently been watching me grow. 

Those who want the best may have to call out a fault. A blemish. May have to ask you to correct a mistake, or an area of growth, but they do so in gentleness, in love, and with the understanding that you have the opportunity to make it right, and even get better. It’s not to hold these wrongs over your head for later. They don’t yell at you, or shame you. Or keep them in their back pockets as ammunition to keep you from moving forward later.

Those who want the best SEE the best. Potential. And not just the products of your mistakes. They can’t wait for you to bloom into what you will become. They even want to help you do it.

Now, those who really don’t want what is best for you…but maybe for them? 

At first, they tell you the mistake is no big deal. You are forgiven. You have some time to make this right, and may even encourage you with a plan. But then it shifts.

They keep a record of your wrongs. Like receipts. Adding them up to list them each time you mess up. They remember that meeting 5 years ago, and won’t let you forget it. They even remember why you were there. 

They see a crack. And instead of gently talking to you about it; they expose it. With maneuvering of others in front of you and your gifts, desires, talents. They may even poke at it to expose the weakness more. 

Those who want what is best for them? They want competition. If you do happen to fix the crack? To move forward? Bloom? Grow? Despite the adversity? Don’t expect an ally. Expect the silent treatment. And an all out lack of support. These people may even just ghost you. 

These are the people who would have never went to Peter and asked him to feed their sheep, but would instead be talking to the sheep about Peter. Or would have already replaced Peter with a new first mate. 

You get it now? 

Those who want the best for you, sometimes don’t get to have the best conversations; because they are the ones willing to have the tough ones.

The ones that may cause pain, but instill growth.

The ones that may hurt a bit, but are necessary for change.

The ones that reveal cracks, but are crucial for repair.

These are the best. 

Don’t be afraid of those who challenge you. Because they are the ones who just may be conduits of your strongest growth. Those are the ones who want the best. 

Fix my thoughts

It woke me in the middle of the night. After several weeks of a sinking feeling. That feeling that even though you woke up feeling okay, something was “doomed” to happen. After several weeks of unstoppable bouts of crying. Of chest pains I attributed to a bronchial infection. Pain so bad in my abdomen woke me and kept me up through the night. I spent the remainder of that night on my bathroom floor, in the fetal position, convinced I was dying. Or simply just going crazy.

These feelings of dread. Sadness. And unexplained physical pain had gone on too long.

“It sounds like you have been having panic attacks. Have you been under a large amount of stress lately?”

Had I? Yes. I had. I had spent the last several months dreading going to work. Crying on my way there, and my way back home. It took immense effort each day to even get myself out of bed, because I was terrified of what angst would await me at work as I arrived.

The thoughts that I wasn’t doing a “good enough” job.

The late evenings staying, often neglecting my family just so others could not find fault in my work.

The many times I took the actions and criticism of others as the gospel, and beat myself up over it.

The nights I lay awake worrying if I even had a job. Or would have one in the coming years. Irrational thoughts. What if they don’t believe me? What if all my work doesn’t matter and only whether I am liked does? Will I be fired?

“Have you ever been treated for anxiety?”

But that word was used for those who worried about tornadoes, and packed their basements with enough food to survive the zombie apocalypse they could not stop worrying about. I don’t worry about everything. So….anxiety isn’t what this is.

But the word “anxiety” that is thrown around by many, and the stories above that are used to illustrate its existence-they are not what it really is.

It’s exactly what I had been feeling. I had been worried. A lot. About my job. About my clients. About what others thought of me. About how this affected my family. About my health. And all this worrying? The excessive thoughts that kept me up at night? They were wrecking my life.

Everything had to be perfect. Sometimes to the point it was done over and over and over again until it was. Even if I lost sleep. And some of the things that I thought I had overcome. From which I had healed came creeping back to the surface. Triggers from past events that were now compounded by new ones.

(Note: Not everyone’s anxiety symptoms are the same. Nor are they the classic symptoms most documented in medical journals. If you suspect you have anxiety, be sure to talk to your doctor).

And…I needed to overcome this thing once more. It was consuming me. My thoughts. My sleep. My spiritual health.

I had to get back to myself.

And while seeing a doctor was the first step. Fixing my behaviors. My thoughts. Knowing what triggers sent me in a panic. Even disconnecting from people with whom I engaged were many of the others.

My particular brand of anxiety took captive of my brain. My thoughts. And once it successfully mastered its task, it took over my body. To stop it I had to wrestle those thoughts. Understand the triggers in my body, and get back to baseline.

Here are some of the things that worked for me:

Color. Seriously. Color. It seems very childish, but that is often the very reason it is calming. It takes your brain back to a simpler time. And it calms the fear center of the brain at the same time.

Paul had something when he said to think about what is good. Negativity breeds negative energy and thoughts. If we focus on all that is bad, we will believe that all is bad. Shifting our focus on the things that are going well in our life, shifts our daily focus on what is good. This applies to the company we keep. When we surround ourselves with those who are positive, and treat us well. We tend to feel better as well. It’s OK to evaluate the people with whom you spend your time in order to heal.

Keep a journal. I write. Constantly. Maybe because my brain never seems to stop. I keep several journals. One where I “dump” all the junk from my workday, so I can go home to my family refreshed. One where I reframe negative thoughts. And one where I write down anything that keeps playing a loop of angst in my head. It’s also how I determined what was triggering my anxiety attacks (which I know now were related to feeling a sense of helplessness when others are denied their voice or safety). The process of thinking it, identifying it, and then writing it out, provides your mind with a blank slate. You’ve released it. It’s as close as you can get to talking it out with a trusted confidant.

Speaking of trusted confidant. Find someone you trust who will hold you accountable, in love. For instance, I have a handful of friends that I know will bring me back down to earth when I’m out of control in my head. I also know I am not perfect, and I tend to lash out at those who live with me when I feel attacked. My husband is one of these people. And, even though I don’t all the time, I make an effort to ask: “How can I get better at that? How should I respond instead so that it doesn’t hurt you?” Since I know these people will speak to me with genuine love and concern, the feedback they give is received.

Pray. Pray for peace. Pray that God will clear your path of any anxiety triggers. Pray he will place loving and understanding people in your lives. Prayer is what honestly sustained me, and helped me get up after the nights I lay crying on my closet floor.

And, because sometimes you need to-see a therapist, or ask for medication. And know that this is OK. As a believer it is acceptable to utilize the gifts that have been provided to others through Him. The gift of science. And the gift of wise counsel. Seek them. Use them. Wisely of course. It’s not shameful. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you less of a believer in God’s power. No. Admitting you need help makes you quite strong.

In addition, fix your thoughts on the one who can help you in your time of need. Find a Bible verse you can go back to each time you start to feel those unwanted, irrational feelings again. Because you will have bad days. Everyone does. Here’s one for you that helped me remember that my anxiety would not win my heart or mind, and kept me focused on those good and true thoughts of which Paul speaks:

So do not fear, for I am with you: do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

He held me during those trying days at school. He held me on the bathroom floor. He holds me when my thoughts were fixed on all I supposedly wasn’t.

And He will hold you, too.

Are you up there, God? It’s me, January…..

And we are confident that he hears whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. 1 John 5:14-15

Are you there

I have this routine right before I put my “game” face on at work. Before the kids roll in the door, and a moment of peace is no more. Originally, this routine consisted of administrative tasks. See, my “day” job doesn’t involve simply talking to children about making better choices, teaching them to think before they act, and cope with their big emotions. I have the pleasure of documenting all of this for proof that all of it actually occurred to insurance companies.

Those administrative tasks are important. But, I quickly began to abandon them each morning to begin my school day with my Father. That’s right. Because this better choice giving, think before you act speaking, and emotion coping can’t happen on my own.

I need someone to work through me to give these children what they need. Because on most days, I make poor choices, think before I speak, and handle some tough emotions, too. And, I need the help of my Father on the days I am barely hanging on.

Lately, I’ve had these doubts if He has even heard me. Has He heard my prayers and pleas in the morning? My cries at night?

God, are you even listening to me? Don’t you hear me down here? 

On this particular morning as I sat at my desk like any other, frantically praying over each student, each situation they and I would face, I heard the chorus of the song I was playing in the background:

I believe you are listening. I believe you move at the sound of my voice. -Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Dove’s Eyes

I stopped….and I wept.

How could I doubt that he heard my call? Had he let me down before? Most certainly not!

Maybe I can’t see it now. But, He is listening. The boulders. The mountains. In my life. In every life of those for whom I am praying. He hears my calls. My pleas. My strangled sobs to him.

God. He is still there. He hears this voice. And, He is listening to this willing servant.

You will pray to him, and he will hear you. Job 22:27

What if Love is the Purpose?

“The clearer we capture the vision of our new identity in Jesus Christ, the more we realize that our deepest needs for security, significance, and satisfaction are met in Him and not in people, possessions, or positions.” -Derwin Gray, Limitless Life

I have shared previously how I have struggled on several occasions with my purpose at work. While I know that I am called to a different mission at some point in time, I find it hard to wrap my mind around the purpose for this current mission. While I continue to “make tents” for a living, I struggle with my attitude, with my ability to give Him the glory for everything in a given day, and to sometimes even seek His guidance in the midst of my tent building. Instead, I have one thing on my mind…

“Do we think God has given us the jobs we have simply to make money, pay off debt, and buy more stuff?” 

Honestly? Yes…

As I sat the other day sulking because I had been chewed up and spit out over something beyond my control? Yes, I am counting down the days until my next pay check. That reward that says this “tent building” means something. Some days my only mission is to get through 6 hours of work, so I can clock out, go home, and well…get a paycheck!

All while contemplating the purpose in it all. A purpose in what I do each day. A purpose to get me out of bed each morning. A purpose to get me through another day.

Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations. Jeremiah 1:5

Until I realize I already have one.

To be His child. To be His prophet. His Ambassador.

My purpose then is not in what I do, but how I do it.

Do I hide behind my office door hoping to cut myself off from the world? Do I sit and sulk because on any particular day I just don’t want to be in this particular place? Do I get instantly offended or angry over every little thing I consider to be a slight?

Or, do I show the love that God has shown me to others? To those at work? To those I meet in the hallways? Those that stop at my office door? Those that may be behind the computer screen of an angry email?

My purpose is to be loved by God and show this unconditional love, not only to myself, but to others.

“As ambassadors of Jesus, we see the entirety of our lives as His platform in which His kingdom is spread to every corner of the planet.”

As I thought all day about how to answer that one email, I remembered who I would be representing-Christ.

The one who endured far more condemnation and harsh words than could ever be spewed in a simple email.

Who loved me. Who died for me. Who calls me to be His Ambassador. Nothing more.

So today…in this place, my sole purpose was to simply be this: Love.

To send love and kindness across the lines of an email server to someone who needed it more than me.

And, that’s a reward no paycheck could ever replace.