I’ve always been my own worst enemy. Cliché, I know, but it’s true. Perhaps that is why I don’t like conflict with other people, because I have enough in my own mind that having it outside my head is just too overwhelming.
Each day we wake up to a spiritual battle field, an unseen war waging all around us. Some people are more in tune with it than others, and the only hope we have in in the triumph of God.
Last night I had a dream. It was so vivid I woke up, gasping at the reality of the imagery. I don’t think the dream is coming true, but there is prodigious truth in dreams regardless of their ‘coming true’ or not. I was swimming in a pool with a little girl, and it didn’t occur to me until after I woke up that this little girl looked remarkably like me as a child. Adult me and child me swimming together. Child me squealing in delight, adult me cautiously watching; ensuring that child me doesn’t drown. And then I look up. In the sky a rocket has just launched into space, but something went wrong and instead of heading into space, it’s heading straight for our pool.
Yes, I recognize the randomness of a rocket heading for a pool with two people swimming in it, but I step back from the literal and begin to think about it on other levels too. I don’t dare begin to interpret it, but just to think about how I reacted in the dream. I watched as this rocket came straight toward us, and I could have screamed, run, cried, or even cursed. I could have woken up. I didn’t do any of these things. I stared as the rocket came closer and thought, hm, this is not how I imagined meeting Jesus. Then I closed my eyes, grabbed the little girl and hugged her tight, and waited praying a simple prayer of: hold us in your arms, Jesus.
I don’t pretend like this is how I might actually act in this situation, but when I did wake up upon impact, I stared into the darkness of my bedroom and adjusted to the reality that I wasn’t actually dead.
I have spent most of my life wanting other people to accept me, seeking validation in what the world says I have to be or who I have to appear to be, but it is exhausting. I’ve spent this week rehashing through some wounds, curses, and influences and I’m ready to be free.
In Psalm 13, the author asks “How long will my enemy triumph over me?” and I realize that my own worst enemy is, well, me. How long will I let this war wage in me? When will I just grab my inner child, hold her to me, pray that simple prayer and let God have full control?
While Psalm 13 ends with trust, Psalm 14 starts with fools–The fool says in his heart there is no God. This juxtaposition shows the consequences of continuing in your foolish ways and not learning from the lessons God teaches.
The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. I don’t want him to find me wanting. I want him to be well pleased.
Questions to ponder:
1) What battles are you fighting that you can give over to the Lord?
2) How can you teach the lessons you have learned from God to the next generation?
3) Why is giving over control so hard?
Going into the New Year most people take the time to reflect and review. “R”s that gain almost as much respect as Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic (ironic, since upon reflection those famous ‘R’s aren’t actually ‘R’s at all…what do they teach in schools these days?). As a highly paid educator, I’ve found this time of year becomes quite valuable—if it is used wisely. Once upon a time, I spent the majority of the holiday rushing around, trying to do a lot which, quite frankly held very little value. I even wound up (gasp!) working over the holiday. So instead of returning to the second half of the school year refreshed—I returned more like pack animal, just piling on ‘one more thing’ so that by the time the end of the year rolled around in June I was ready to call it quits.
That’s not how I approach this time of year any more. It became too exhausting. My new approach—one of self-reflection and re-orientation, is liberating.
Some people make resolutions: pie-crust promises to themselves for improvement over the upcoming year. But before the end of January they’re typically off the treadmill and first in line at the Cinnabun stand just like they were the previous January. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good Cinnabun, and I have nothing against weight-loss goals. But a pie-crust promise, easily made is easily broken. So I don’t tie myself down with useless resolutions, but rather I set achievable, measurable goals for the upcoming year, that measure ways that I want to grow for the next five or ten years. I learned a very important lesson about myself in the past few years: I need to change. We all do. It’s part of the evolutionary process of life. Not Darwinism, but the adaptation necessary to survive. Species survive when they adapt and change. Humans are the same way. We don’t like change, but we need it. It’s the only way that we can become who we are created to be—living breathing CHANGING organisms. Making resolutions is admirable, but turning them into a goal-oriented, driven lifestyle full of ambition. That is productive.
During this process of change I’ve learned to do two things.
Write down my goals.
Writing down your goals:
Writing down your goals may seem stupid, but there is something binding about having a written plan. Legal documents are written, witnessed, even notarized. Shouldn’t you take your future just as seriously? Don’t just say you want to lose weight, write this goal down and make it measurable and achievable.
Goal # 1: Over the course of the next three months I will lose 10 pounds by eating healthier and going to the gym at least three times a week.
Then you can map out your plan (If you need help, may I suggest Ruth Soukup’s blog, Living Well and Spending Less. She has some fabulous resources, including a free ebooklet about setting measurable goals.)
I’m single, so being held accountable for anything can get, well, difficult. But even if you are married, asking your spouse to keep you accountable for your goals can put a strain on your relationship (honey, does it look like my diet plan is working? Seems like a loaded question and a great way to set yourself up for a dishonest response or a fight). Accountability doesn’t have to be with someone you live with. In fact it is a great way to help build relationships, and there are many ways to be held accountable for your goals, but if you don’t have someone to hold you accountable—chances are you’ll begin to make excuses little by little until the goal seems less and less important.
If you’re a writer, try a critique group or a writing group in your area. If you’re looking to meet spiritual goals, find a small group to join (church is a great place to start, but small groups are where real relationships are built and where accountability happens).
Zig Ziglar said it best: “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the real problem. We all have 24-hour days. “
Creating a plan, sticking to the plan and having accountability for that plan is how people accomplish great things. And how I plan out my new year.
Imagine what we could accomplish this year if we Taylor Swift the negatives and the bad attitudes and “Shake it Off”. What if we ALL pull a Frozen on the bad habits and “Let it Go”. If each and every one of us determine to use the next 366 days (yes, it’s a leap year!) to accomplish something great, well we might just change the world.
Ashley M. Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow published by Indigo Sea Press. She has a Bachelor’s in English from UNC-Wilmington and currently teaches 9th, 11th and 12th grade Language Arts. Ashley lives with her dog, Emma, near Columbia, South Carolina.
I dried a pen. Yes, you heard that right. I put a pen in the dryer (not on purpose, I’m not that dumb, people), but as you can imagine, the results were pretty horrendous).
Then I walked into a painted doorway. Yes, you heard that right too. A painted doorway. Paint all down my arm. The doorway had no damage. My sweater on the other hand, DOA.
The printer at work decided to stop working, I was late to a meeting, I fell—twice (that’s not really uncommon, but it still sucked), and to be frank, I was tired all week long for no real reason.
And yet, I’m still alive. I have a great place to live. I’m healthy. I’m having brunch after church with my best friends. I had breakfast yesterday with my parents and grandparents (yes, my grandfather who had surgery just a couple of weeks ago on his stomach had breakfast with me yesterday morning!) and I still managed to write 13,000+ words in Clara’s Chance (and I’ll be a toothless monkey if I don’t hit 20,000 today by gum! I had an AWESOME dream last night!). Jimmy, my aloe plant, is even still alive and kicking and growing another little sprig!
My point is this: Yes, some weeks seem to be mired in the dregs of disaster with your head stuck in a dryer scrubbing for hours (thanks Mom for helping out with that yesterday—she’s really the only reason I didn’t throw the whole thing out–yes I did consider this. I went through a whole lot of scrubbing before she fixed it. And that’s kind of what Moms do.), but your heads only in the dryer for so long. Once you pull it out, you realize how bright the world is outside and there is so much more to life than ink stains and scrubbing.
Tick…Tick…Tick…Tock…My life clock continues louder with every little tick and each resounding tock it chimes and chirps wand each day rotates just a little bit fast.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” responds the girl in the salon. When did I become a “ma’am”?
Maybe it’s just me but…
I thought my life would be different. At sixteen I had a plan. I knew how my life would be at 28.
Maybe it’s just me but…
Everything seems so mundane, blasé, not at all what I had in mind.
Maybe it’s just me yet…
I know I am blessed beyond measure with beautiful people, meaningful work, and wonderful space.
Maybe it’s just me yet…
I am grateful, I should be grateful, I have forgotten how to be grateful. I am lost in a world of self-deprecation disguised as a sort of humility. I want to be proud. I want to own my pride. I don’t know where to begin.
Maybe it’s just me and then again, maybe it’s not.
These are just words, thoughts strung together as I reflect one Friday evening. I’m not even sure what form you’d call this. Maybe it’s verse, but I think it’s a kind of stream of consciousness. Really, it’s just me. Wondering. I’m not unhappy with my life. In fact most days I’m very content. But sometimes, especially recently I begin to wonder if maybe, just maybe I’m letting life pass me. And after I get done with all this wondering, I start to pray. My conversation with God is not exactly thrilling, it more just wondering about two little words: too late.
Are those not the most devastating combination of words? Too late—lost hope, dreams and future. They taste bitter on the tongue, as sour as the poison their power holds because once someone believes it is too late…
What is left to them?
That’s when God reminds me of Lazarus. (I started to say “I’m reminded of” then I realized it is no coincidence that this story launches into my brain).
The story is in John 11 and the NIV reads this way:
“Now a man named Lazarus was sick […] so the sisters sent word to Jesus. “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” […] he stayed where he was two more days.”
HE STAYED! He heard the news that his loved one is sick. Jesus knew what this meant, to the family. He knew what pain it would cause them. Agony, anguish, mental torment—not to mention what the physical illness did to Lazarus himself. It must have been painful to have ended in even a temporary death. And still, he didn’t go. He waited two days. Two of the longest days of his friends’ life (I’m sure they were no picnic for Jesus either).
Then the story continues with Jesus telling his disciples they are returning to Judea. His friends are worried because of the trouble brewing there, which makes me wonder if Mary, Martha and Lazarus didn’t question Jesus’ loyalty and love. I know I would have. Hardly able to understand why he didn’t come help their brother, they search for an explanation—even an irrational one. I imagine they might have thought that he cared for his own safety more than the well-being of their brother. Can you imagine the sick feeling of disappointed hopes and dreams? Maybe it’s just me…
Jesus tells his disciples they are going to see Lazarus who is dead and I love Thomas’ reply, but it is so sad. “Let us go that we may die with him.” Caustic, bitter, untrusting. Thomas doesn’t see the point in visiting the dead man. It’s too late. There are those words. It’s too late for him! Why put ourselves at risk?
When he finally arrives at Mary and Martha’s home, they greet him with the same response; although they greet him separately they are of the same mind. “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died. “
You’re too late, God.
Ah, ye of little faith.
Too late, oh so devastating to us mortals—as Alexander Pope said “born but to die.” Of course we will lose our hope and our faith with those words.
Restoration comes from one place alone.
And it’s never too late for God.
We may not like his timing. We may not understand his timing. But He’s never too late.
“Lazarus ,come forth!”
How I want to be raised from the deadness of disappointed hope and resurrected into the life of gratitude each and every day. But, maybe it’s just me…
Encouraging restoration, healing, and expression through writing.