Category Archives: Learn it

Off Stage

At church we’ve started this great series about masks. Let’s be honest, it’s awful.

Not that the preaching is bad (it’s phenomenal, actually).

Not that the content is questionable (it’s spot on).

Quite the opposite.
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It’s great, but the series is awful because every word is powerfully convicting, maybe more for some than for others, but you show me a person without a mask and, well, you’ve either introduced me to Jesus or a corpse. I already know Jesus and quite frankly I don’t have that much interest in dead bodies—so my point is, we’re all wearing masks.

Believe me, I know.

I slip mine on and off with perfect ease. A practiced professional protecting herself from pain and heartache so well she’s begun to wonder if she can even feel certain emotions anymore.

And the funny thing is—I really don’t have any reason to wear these masks. Maybe I could go back and blame some psychological history, but I know that’s more an excuse than a cause. What is really at the heart of this preemptive strike against the world is fear.

Fear of rejection.

Fear of failure.

Fear of pain.

Fear of loneliness, heartache, unhappiness…you name it.

And the tighter I hold to my mask, the less comfortable I feel in the world.

And everything I’ve been trying to avoid, ironically, becomes a reality.

But the mask is comfortable. We’ve worn it for so long it feels like it’s a part of us, so much so that it morphs into our settings, even our accessories.

A cellphone in the middle of the crowd…I won’t feel so alone if I connect to something…even if that something is superficial.

Sunglasses to hide the eyes wide, panicked, maybe even tear-filled.

Empty phrases like “I’m doing great.” Or better still…”I’m fine.” Words just to fill the void and mask the true feelings bubbling just beneath the surface.

Anger.

Depression.

Embarrassment.

All that you dare not share if you want to be accepted.

But the masks are exhausting. A charade. A never-ending play.

I’m sorry, Shakespeare (and Madonna), but life is not meant to be a stage. And all the playacting eventually will just wear you down.

We are created to be authentic.

Raw.
Real.

A piece of fruit gave us a mask, but a cross stripped it away. It’s time we reaped htos rewards.

Building relationships.

Finding wholesome entertainment.

Accepting the rest that He offers.

A life in the world, but not of it.

A life off the stage.

Free.

How will you break free?

Adjusting to Change

“Just keep swimming!”

“To infinity and beyond!”

“Adventure is out there!”

“Keep moving forward!”

The words are different, but the message is the same. In order to be successful, you can’t be stagnate. You have to move, change, adapt, evolve. It’s a basic principle of life…so why are we so resistant to it?

Because change is scary. Unknown. Different.

It’s the same reason why things like discrimination and hate exist—humans, for some awful reason, are programmed to be terrified of anything that is different than what they are “used to”; what the “know”; what they think is “right”.

Personally I think it stems back to the Garden of Eden—instinct and reasoning, fear and hate, knowledge of good and evil—none of it was ever supposed to be a part of the equation. But once it was introduced—once it became a part of the equation, well, now we have to deal with it. Now we have to use it for good, and not evil.

Because change doesn’t have to be scary.

The unknown doesn’t have to euthanize common sense.

Differences can unite rather than divide us.

If we let them.

This is not a post crusading for a cause, it is simply a reflection—because recently I decided to move. To change everything I’ve known, uproot myself from one place and leave all my friends and most of my family and settle in another place. Granted, it’s not totally foreign—it’s closer to my sister and her family—but she’s all I have here. That’s different.

I thought I’d be more nervous about this change—but sometimes change is exactly what you need to move forward. And if you have stopped moving forward in your life…then what, exactly, are you doing?

That’s not to say that making changes is easy, (I’ve already Xena-ed a cockroach and sprinkled toxic holy water over a couple of ridiculous sized spiders for one thing) but as I continue down this path I’m reminded of 2 Timothy 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Living in fear of the unknown is not an option (In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be an option for anyone, but we’ve not achieve perfection, so I’ll just keep praying on that one). Living for a future where the possibilities are endless—well, that’s my kind of change.

So I guess I’ll keep swimming forward to infinity and adventure somewhere over that rainbow.

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Ashley Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow, a Christian Romance which can be purchased at www.secondwind.com or Amazon. Follow Ashley on twitter @amcarmichael13 and Facebook.

My Mission Statement

Many businesses have their own mission statements, ways of attracting people, consumers and even workers to their products and places. Even schools have mission statements. It is a way to tell the world what you stand for, but more importantly it is a way to set a standard for yourself and for those who see you.

So why don’t we have individual mission statements? I’ve just finished reading 48 Days to the Work you Love and the final task in the book is to create your own mission statement. Of all the tasks in the book, this is the one I found to be the most profound (though there are many useful tasks that help you dig inside yourself to find answers).

This is what I came up with:

My mission is to create a world in which I am free to be creative AND analytical knowing that having high standards leads to growth, but failing to meet those standards DOES NOT require that I give up; always bearing in mind that moving forward will take me to new places, but learning from the past will keep me from becoming a flat, static, uncultured idiot. I will stay fair and honest looking for the best in people, even when I am utterly disappointed. I will work hard every day to respect people around me because only then will I earn respect. Above all I will maintain my morals and faith, without which I am nothing. 

Which leads me to this burning question: what is your personal mission statement?

A Second Chance

I’m not very good at giving people a second chance. I have a tendency to pass judgment quickly, rely on first impressions, and hold grudges.

I don’t like this about myself, but I admit that it is a weakness and probably a large part of why I’m not a particularly fun loving, devil may care, gregarious, everyone-wants-to-be-her-friend individual.

On the one hand, I can accept that about myself, on the other hand I don’t really want to accept it. Because we should give one another a second chance. It’s our responsibility, and a lesson we should learn sooner rather than later.

In church the other week we were reading about Jonah, and I was reminded of Jonah’s poor attitude and the chapter after he returns to Nineveh. For some reason, I always forget about this chapter. In my mind the story always ends with Jonah becoming Whale spit up, fulfilling God’s will and then learning his lesson…but even after spending time inside a fish, he doesn’t really learn anything. Not a blessed thing and that is terrifying. I’m not going to lie, it worries me that one could experience so much and still have such a hard heart. In fact, he gets mad because his sermon to the Ninevites is effective. His ticked off that they turn from their evil ways and repent. He gets so mad that he goes out to the desert to pout.

God sends a vine to cover his head and provide him shade.

Then Jonah gets mad when the vine, which he did nothing to cultivate, dies.

And God speaks up. He asks Jonah an important question: Do you have a right to be angry about this vine?

Great question. Jonah didn’t do anything to deserve the vine, to nurture the vine; he didn’t plant the vine—he didn’t even say thank you when it grew. Then, when it dies he does nothing to change his circumstances. He just sits and lets his head burn. Stubborn, isn’t he? Of course, this is coming from the runner—the one who tried to escape God and when that didn’t work had sailors throw him into the sea, I guess he thought that would be a way to seal his fate—but you can’t run from God no matter how far you go and if God wants to teach you a lesson no matter how stubborn you are he’ll teach on.

It is up to you to decide to learn.

How many of us are the same way? We are blessed with health, family and sometimes even wealth that we did not earn and rarely deserve. We are living in a world of entitlement, but as Romans is so quick to remind us—all have sinned and fall short so we really don’t deserve anything but death, destruction and punishment. Some people, no matter what, some people are determined not to be happy. No matter what they are determined to be miserable. In fact I’m not even sure they would know what to do with happiness if it grew from a vine and slapped them in the face.

You see, it’s so easy to forget about Jonah 4 because no one wants to see Jonah as a whiner—no one wants to remember the man who survived a whale’s belly as a complaining, stubborn, unhappy man. Because it doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t someone whose been given that SECOND CHANCE be able to empathize more with people who are seeking a second chance? Shouldn’t he rejoice with them, be joyful and grateful?

And yet, he’s angry! Angry that God would save them. He FORGOT too. He forgot his own transgressions and somehow I doubt he was as pure and sinless as he pouty face would suggest.

And then the bitter sting of hypocrisy sinks deep into my skin. Don’t we struggle with the same problem? We’ve all been given the same second chance, and we all think we deserve so much more than we actually do.

We think we deserve happiness.

We think we deserve contentment.

We think we deserve a life of leisure where we get what we want when we want it.

But we don’t.

We are all sinners.

We deserve misery.

We deserve sickness.

We deserve death.

Just as a murderer deserves to pay for his or her heinous crimes, each and every one of us deserves to pay for our sins. But OH how quick we are to forget our own sins when we look around and see someone else sinning. “Well,” we say to ourselves with our noses stuck up in the air, “at least I haven’t cheated on my wife like Bill. Bill deserves punishment. How could he show his face in church? He is such a sinner!”

What if Jonah had accepted their conversion? What if he’d stopped feeling that it was unfair, that they deserved less than he, that they were his equals? Now I don’t presume to rewrite the Bible, but I do want to look at another perspective, because after all, that’s what this blog is about. So Jonah 4 might have read a little like this:

1)And Jonah was pleased and joy filled his heart. 2) He prayed to the Lord, “Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? How could I be so blind and flee to Tarshish? I know you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in Love. A God who relents from sending calamity. 3) Now, O Lord I see how it is better to live than to die. Praise your holy name.” 4) And the Lord blessed Jonah and the Ninevites…

Because the thing is we’re all sinners. Some of us don’t want to admit that we sin, and that’s worse in a lot of ways. We go to church, sing in the choir, attend Bible study, join every committee, but forget that we are more than just an organization. We are, and should be, designed to love everyone, not gossip about their shortcomings, or worse ignore and run away from their suffering.

We’re designed to be God’s image.

But we’re not in God’s image when we are unforgiving and self-righteous, sulking in the desert of our own iniquities and sin.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what happiness is and why we pursue it. It’s not in our declaration of independence by accident. And we often take it for granted. I’ve come to the radical conclusion that happiness is not as illusive as we try to make it. Happiness doesn’t run from us, we run from it. Pursuing happiness may be a right, may be what God had in mind in fact, I don’t know. But what I do know is that Proverbs 25:26 says: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked,” but John 4:14 says: “ but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” All you have to do to quench the thirst is drink. But we resist the water just like we resist happiness. Why?

Because it can’t be that simple, can it?