Friday, April 21, 2017

How to Find Direction and Make Decisions (for the Chronically Indecisive and Directionally Challenged)

I have always been directionally challenged and indecisive, and not simply when it comes to navigating on the road. I have never felt like there was a crystal clear direction for my life, and while I have been able to feign indifference or completely fake it for the majority of my short life, my lack of direction has ultimately been a point of insecurity and fear. Last year I opened up about this in an article about what to do when you don’t know what to do. Since then I have grown a lot. I cannot say that I have arrived, that I know exactly where my life is headed and I have a thorough ten year plan - who in the world really does? - but I have come quite a ways and that in and of itself is cause for encouragement. 

Before I launch into this article, I want to establish a couple of things. Direction does not necessarily entail happiness. I know people who have their lives all planned out, who are focused and decisive as heck, who make all the mature choices at all the right times and I know that these people struggle just as much as the next human being to be satisfied and content. And while decisive focused people may seem less flighty, they are just as prone to doubt their choices and direction.

Also, direction does not necessarily mean having a ten-year plan or any sort of plan at all. It simply means you know where you are supposed to be and what you need to do for now. When you know you are where you need to be today you do not need to worry about where you will need to be tomorrow or next year. Direction is more of a security in who you are. Direction is trust and faith that our lives and our goals are ultimately not up to us but in God's hands. We can make our plans but God has his way - we don't have to bear the weight of that anxiety because he has taken care of it. 

My point is, do not mistake direction for security, joy, and contentment. It can be easy to pretend that our security and happiness comes from our jobs, our plans, our relationships, and our success but I think it has been proven over and over again that this is not the case. I firmly believe contentment is a state of the mind and heart - it is an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness that can and should be cultivated in any season. The Apostle Paul in the New Testament is an excellent example of this.

Before we confront our indecision and lack of direction we have to confront the source of it. I am convinced that a crisis of indecision—of not knowing what we want to do and not knowing where to go—is always a crisis of identity. If we would begin to know who we are, the decision-making and sense of direction would naturally follow. As Christians, our identity is firmly secured in Jesus Christ. To know who we are, we first must know who he is and be continually acquainting ourselves with him. We do this by reading His word and committing it to memory, by worshipping him, by coming to him in prayer, and by partaking in the fellowship and communion of the saints and finding our place in his church.

In short, put Christ’s kingdom and his righteousness first. And don’t worry about the rest, don't worry about direction – all of that will be added to you. 

One symptom of indecision, and a personal pitfall of mine, is people-pleasing. I have noticed this trend in my life. When I do not have a personal sense of direction or identity, I simply resort to people-pleasing and trying to measure up to all of the expectations everyone in my life has for me. Let me tell you, it gets exhausting after a while because everyone in your life will tell you something different – everyone in your life has a different idea of what you should do for school, work, and relationships. Trying to please everyone only leads to confusion and compromise. It’s exhausting and it’s not sustainable. 

When we put Christ’s kingdom first, we suddenly have a filter for all of the feedback we receive from everyone in our lives. We know how to prioritize the varying opinions and advice we receive every day. We know who to go to first for wisdom and we know whose input and feelings need to take precedence in our lives. 

Here are a few of things to remember as you transition from that season of waiting to knowing what to do and actually deciding what to do next.

Be content waiting for direction. There is so much that can be gained in simply waiting. Good things come to those who wait, it's true. Everything worthwhile is worth waiting for and God always has the greatest good in store for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. So do not be afraid or restless in the waiting. I know it is difficult when we often do not even know what it is we are waiting for or when life seems to be passing us by. It is tempting to make impulsive choices and decisions we do not really want to make simply because we are afraid of staying in one place. But the strongest roots come from the times when we ground ourselves in one place. God often does his greatest works in the slow arduous seasons of waiting, even if that work is simply cultivating a contended heart in you. 

Life is a series of seasons. There is no one end goal or destination for your life apart from eternity with Christ and the glory of God. Leave off the temptation and pressure that says you have to find that one thing—that job, relationship, life-calling—that will completely fulfill you, because you already have that. You do not have to find the place where you will belong forever in this life—you already have that too, in Christ. Instead be open to change and the turning of the seasons. Recognize that what God calls you to in one season might not be what he calls you to do in the next. There is a time for everything. 

God honestly does not care that much. Now, I do not want you to misunderstand what I am saying here. God cares about the decisions you make. He cares that you glorify him in everything you do. He cares that you do not idolize your choices more than you love him. He cares that you entrust everything to him. But he doesn’t care whether or not you go to college, what kind of job you have, what your annual income is, how other people perceive you—he doesn’t care about these things half as much as we are prone to. Remember, everything you accomplish in this life is for this life only, except that which is done for Christ’s kingdom.

Friday, April 14, 2017

What it Means to Be a Friend

A post shared by Dani Jeanne (@accordion2dani) on

"A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow."
-William Shakespeare

A couple months ago my friend Bridget had this idea for a weekend getaway. The weekend was originally intended to include my sister Ruth, who is soon-to-be-married this summer. Then we decided – why not include as many of our friends as possible? As we discussed ideas for the weekend, we concluded that so many of our friends have a lot of good things going on in their lives and so many of us are moving on to big futures this year. It only made sense to touch base now and seize this opportunity. So we did. My friend Bridget is truly the mastermind when it comes to organizing a weekend excursion! I think it is fair to say the weekend was everything we anticipated it to be - and more.  

Friday evening began with dinner at her favorite Mediterranean restaurant and the night was concluded with ice cream after a viewing of Beauty and the Beast. Saturday was occupied with a lot of food, exploring local used books stores, antique malls, coffee shops, and even taking a hike in a Nature Preservation. The day was concluded with drinks at a beautiful speak-easy bar and dinner out on the town! And of course we all dressed up in our finery.

Sunday morning we went to worship together and then went our separate ways after lunch. It was the perfect close to a perfect weekend.

A few years ago when I moved out of my parents’ house for the first time, I was scared.  I was scared that I was making the wrong decision. I was scared that I had just run my life into a virtual dead-end. And I was scared that I would lose my friends in the meantime. Not all friends are forever. Some come as blessings for a season. And others continue to come back in spite of the turning seasons. While seasons of loneliness and isolation can be hard, I learned a lot in the years that followed my move.

I learned that loneliness is not necessarily a symptom of being alone. Grief and depression are experiences so unique to each individual and they can be painfully isolating because it seems no one can really understand how we feel. I have always struggled to share my emotions with my friends and family, especially when I am in the grip of depression, because it takes me a while to understand my own feelings. I had to remind myself that it was unreasonable for me to expect my close friends and family to fully understand the way that I felt when I did not completely understand it myself.

I learned that spending time with friends, even if it’s as simple as going out for coffee or eating lunch together, is therapeutic, especially when you’re depressed. There were few times I felt like being with friends when I was in the grip of grief and depression and there was more than one occasion when I backed out of a social engagement altogether. I was blessed with friends who persisted even though I was a pretty bad friend. It was hard sometimes to be around close friends and family, but they persisted nonetheless and I am so thankful they did. Because even though my heart was not always in it, even though I was weary from grief, even though it was hard to be around happy people – every moment spent with friends and family, every weekend road trip, every night out to the movies, every dinner, sent a subtle message to me.

“I still want you as a friend.”

“You still have something to offer.”

“Your story is not over.”

Grief can be emotionally and spiritually debilitating. It makes you feel empty, weighed down, and overwhelmed. Grief can inspire guilt and feelings of worthlessness. I often felt I had nothing to give or contribute in my relationships except sadness and pain. And I felt like no one could possibly understand. Admittedly, I was not the best friend all of the time, but I am so thankful for the friends who stayed with me nonetheless, who confided in me, who visited me, who dragged me out of the house on a weekend, who called me and propelled me to get back on my feet.

This is the meaning of a true friend – not someone who understands you completely or even agrees with you all the time, but someone who loves you and is there for you even when they know they don’t fully understand you – someone who has seen you at your worst and loves you in spite of the ways you have failed – someone who does not see your differences as barriers, but celebrates your differences and appreciates the perspective, wisdom, and insight you have to offer because of your differences – finally, someone who recognizes you as the new creation in Christ that you are and continually reminds you of the truth through their words and actions toward you.

My sister Ruth and I agreed that as tired as we were at the end of the day, the weekend spent together was pretty perfect and we hope this is not the last weekend like this. Whether it’s just us or all of our friends together, we conceded that we should and would always make a priority to come together like this, to have some kind of retreat together. Friendships between women are so emotionally and spiritually therapeutic and vital in so many ways. Here is to these strong women! I am so blessed to know them and call them friends – I look forward to getting to know each and every one of them more over the years.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Hope Was Never Meant to Be Buried

Over the past couple of years I have taught a Sunday school class to a group of Pre-K/Kindergarten students. We have revisited stories that are all more or less familiar to me and the children, the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, the story of the Israelite peoples’ redemption from slavery out of Egypt and their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. This spring we are revisiting the Book of Genesis and going through the stories of the first families God called to be a people unto Himself. As you can see we have been journeying through the Bible in somewhat of a nonlinear fashion – hehe. Whether in Genesis or in the Gospel of Matthew, the curriculum we use does an excellent job of tying in Jesus Christ and the Gospel into each and every lesson.

I have to confess, when I first started teaching Sunday school, my heart was not really in it. My heart was not in much of anything at that time. I was coming away from my brother’s death, leaving the remnants of all my ambition and the place I called home behind me, and I had arrived at what seemed to be a spiritual wilderness. I had my hope but it seemed to be buried underneath an avalanche of pain, sorrow, resentment, confusion, and shame. I had lost it somewhere in my past or so it seemed.

This season of life – this year – has already brought about remarkable change for me, my family, and my church family and there is still so much ahead. Some prospects are sad. Some are incredibly happy. All of it intimidates me. Parts of my life are about to become remnants of the past. New life is about to spring forward. Life is forever this strange paradox of pain, hope, joy, and sorrow all mixed together.

I have shared before on here about emotional regression and how the two years following my brother’s death were defined by a lot of emotional regression, a constant striving after and yearning for the past. I recently revisited the story of the Fall – Sunday School lesson again – the story of the first violation against God ever committed. I wonder how many years Adam and Eve waited for a Savior who would redeem them, for the day God would welcome back into the Garden. I wonder how many years they spent yearning for the past – for that perfect fellowship with God and the innocence, peace, beauty, and harmony they had lost in this world.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe they died believing hope was buried somewhere behind them. Because they kept telling the stories to the children, they kept passing down the story of God’s creation, the Fall, God’s covenant with his people, and the promise of salvation. They told these stories for generations until they were eventually documented by the Spirit-inspired hands of Moses and many other men that followed until they finally reached our hands. We have the whole story now and we know they were not wrong in holding onto hope.  

Here is the thing about pain. You have to walk far enough away from it and you have to keep walking for some time before you actually believe better things are ahead, before you believe that your hope is not buried in the past. We humans can be so shortsighted. We place our hope in people, money, princes, rulers, policies, and nations. But hope is the stuff of eternity. It’s untouchable, unbreakable, and embodied in the Son of God who waits for us standing at the right hand of God. 

This life is not long but it is hard and there are days when we face a stormy ocean with death at our backs, and it’s hard to believe there is anything ahead, any escape or way through this. On those days, wait for the sea to part. Wait for God to act. Search expectantly for his might and power. Keep searching, even if it takes months and years. Keep waiting expectantly. Our God does not forget His children. He will make a way.

But never, ever believe that hope is behind you. Hope was never meant to be buried.

We will sing to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a Red Sea Road
When we can’t see the way
He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a Red Sea Road. 
-Ellie Holcomb, "Red Sea Road"

Friday, March 17, 2017

When You Lose Someone

Grief comes with a set of expectations and I have never felt like I live up to them. I couldn’t really cry at my brother’s wake or his funeral. I couldn’t really absorb the shock of my brother’s death or be genuinely sad until about a month later when I was alone, driving away from my hometown to where I didn’t know yet. People always expect me to be really sad on the anniversaries of his death, the funeral, his birthday, but honestly I never find these anniversaries particularly riveting because I can anticipate them and prepare myself for them. If I ever share something I have written on one of these anniversaries, like this article for instance, I usually write it weeks or months in advance. Maybe it’s the anticipation that hurts more than the anniversary. It’s the realization that it will be three and then four years since he’s been gone and you never really know when this realization will hit you but it’s usually not when you expect or when others expect it will.

This next week would have been my brother's twenty-first birthday and it occurred to me recently that I’ll never be able to go to a bar with my brother. We’ll never go out for drinks. He’ll never bring home a six pack. And let me tell you that if anyone would be excited about being able to legally purchase beer and drink Scotch with his dad, it would be him. I know he’s not missing that but I am.

Ben and I never had a lot in common by way of personality, but one of our few similarities was both of us had more ambition than we felt equipped to or capable of accomplishing. High expectations are the natural consequence of being born into a family with a PhD wielding professor for a father and a music teacher/genius for a mother. Every homeschoolers' nightmare is to wake up and realize that they are actually relatively average. Mama always told us, The test scores do not accurately represent how smart you are or what you are capable of. But neither of us ever felt very smart or especially gifted. And both of us understood how important it was just to have someone there who really believed in you. Ben always believed in me. He was convinced I was the “smart one” even though the test scores always said otherwise and even though he was the one helping me with high school Algebra. (And besides we all knew Greg was really the smart one. ;) )

We would have arguments—I kid you not, arguments—over who was smarter. I swear that kid could argue about anything. They would go something like this.

Ben would be stressed out and going off on a rant about how he was going to fail in life.

This rant would usually be inspired by a recently acquired less-than-perfect score on an assignment or exam.

I then would say something reassuring like, “It’s just one assignment! You’ll be fine.”

Then he would say something like, “Dani, I don’t think you understand—you’re smart—”

I would cut him off with, “Oh, and you’re not smart?!”

“No, I mean, a different kind of smart—you’re smart and you’re really talented—”

This remark typically inspired a large incredulous snort from me. “Ben, I am not that talented. Besides, you’re really talented too. You just have to be more confident!”

At some point Ben would start belaboring his point simply because he liked to argue just to argue and that’s when I would draw the line.

The argument would usually end with me declaring, “This is so stupid! Why are we even arguing about this?!” And then Ben would reveal his hidden stash of candied orange slices in the car or crack a joke and we would consider it a mutual unspoken truce.

I have always been an independent person. I have always hated appearing less than self-sufficient to anyone. It's a prideful insecurity of mine. However, Ben was one of the rare souls in my life I never hesitated calling if I needed help with anything because while he might criticize my flighty blondness and my space cadet stunts, he never once made me feel small for them and he never missed a beat in helping me find a solution. He always loved being the hero and maybe that's why I always went to him first, because I knew that deep down he never helped people out of resigned obligation but out of a genuine love for helping others. He would show up when you needed him. And he was always on call.

When you lose someone you love you lose a part of you. You lose a version of yourself. You lose the person your loved one drew out of you, the person they inspired. This was a part of grief I did not anticipate. It’s the part of grief that inspires emotional regression—that grasping after and striving to rediscover that person you once were, that person you were with them. But you just can’t. As soon as that person is cut from your life, that version of you is gone too. You have to move on and move forward.

Be wary of deliberately cutting people from your life because when you cut someone off from you, you are cutting off a part of yourself and you may be surprised with what you lose.

The hard part of losing someone is that you do not get a replacement. There is nothing there to fill the vacuum. And nothing ever will fill it completely. But there is space for new life to grow where your old life and old self was uprooted. In many ways I am still the same person I was when my brother died. I am the brunette girl with secret blond roots. I am the flighty, distractable, indecisive dreamer. I am the girl who has brains but little common sense. I am the girl who tends to bite off more than she can chew, the one who’s a little too ambitious for her own good. I am the girl who will never give up her red wool coat. However, the last few years have taught me to take care of myself, to deliberate before taking action, to be a little less flighty and more focused, to push through even when it's hard, to make things happen on my own, to get up, show up, and keep going even on the days when the waterworks won't stop and everything seems to trigger the painful memories.

But every now and then I still miss that old version of me. I miss him. I miss us. I miss everything we never were able to experience together. I miss the people we never got to become. I miss the uncle I never got to see him be. I miss the man I never got to see him grow into. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Favorite Things || Spring 2K17 Edition

I realize that it *technically* is not quite spring yet. However, the weather feels like spring, the trees are blossoming, the flowers blooming, the honey bees buzzing (you get the picture) and by the time I get around to writing another one of these posts it will probably be summer. So spring it is. I can't believe it. I can't believe I am already halfway through this semester. The time really has flown. But I digress. Without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things these last few months:  
  • Hearing my little students on Sunday morning say, “I can’t wait to find out what we learn about today!”
  • Hugs, kisses, giggles, hide-and-seek, and candid conversations with my contemplative nephew and my spunky sassy niece
  • Sunday afternoons with family and friends. These are the good days. 
  • weather like spring in FEBRUARY. Give me more, please. (yes, i know this means the summer will be miserable)
  • evening runs in the pink sunset glow (they don't happen often enough these days)
  • stretching and getting significantly more flexible (the splits are going to happen this year...or maybe more like in the next five years, but they are going to happen)
  • new music from Michael Bublé, Allman Brown, Colony House, Ellie Holcolmb, and Allison Krauss
  • seeing Newsies Live! in theaters - if you missed this you missed out big time
  • chai spice and matcha lattes (fuel for life my friends)
  • reliving high school in my General Biology college class (the nostalgia is real, folks)
  • learning to use my new Instant Pot - it's been an uphill battle since apparently i have a phobia of steam
  • writing news articles and (fake) obituaries for my Journalism class! 
  • catching up with good friends over coffee
  • making wedding plans with my sister and getting oh-so excited for the future!
  • seeing plans become reality one step at a time
  • witnessing God's providence every day in the big and little things! 
And there you have it! What are some of your favorite things this spring season? Please share!  
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