maintenance required.

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This light keeps flashing on my dashboard when I start my car. Even though I know it’s going to be there, I feel my stomach flip each time “Maint Req’d” clicks on & off. It’s a little less alarming than when “Check Engine” indefinitely lights up and makes you rethink skipping that last oil change, lest you want to shell out $500 to a man named Steve who apparently found eight other things wrong with your vehicle. Warning signs are never a fun surprise.

I’ve turned the key and watched this light blink a few times before turning off again. I tell myself everything is fine. It comes and it goes away and the car keeps running and I keep moving along. I’ve done my due diligence of Googling “Maintenance Required light on a 2005 CRV” and it’s not detrimental. Maybe a mileage trigger took place or an engine code is making this little light blink. Everything is Okay and yet I know that eventually I’m going to have to take this car in, get it checked out and shell out some dollars to fix whatever is going on. Otherwise Steve might be getting a more serious visit.

Isn’t it funny how we see all the warning signs and reminders of a breakdown but we keep going until it’s necessary? Until life literally can’t go on without some greasy hands working to clean out and rewire what’s under our hood?

Nostalgia is one of my favorite feelings. I love looking back and reminiscing on good times. Buzzfeed articles about toys & bands from the 90’s/early 2000’s are food for my soul and I will never get tired of a good Throwback playlist, especially if it has “Shoop” on there. Whenever a major anniversary comes up I want to celebrate it with Memory Lane and rainbow sprinkles. Looking back shows us where we came from and it’s always been an encouragement to me to keep the hope that there’s even more to come.

But sometimes a year goes by and I want to fast forward to the good part.

My personal “Maintenance Required” light has been blinking for twelve months. It blinked once in July 2016. It blinked a few times the following September. It came back on for awhile in November & December and really started to stick around in February. I ignored it and kept going. I drove around yelling the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s 1989 album to drown out the light’s clicky reminder that my insides need to be checked out. And I thought I was doing a good job of faking Okay until this month when my “Check Engine” light signaled the Breakdown.

You know the Breakdown – your insides feel all spinny and for some reason you can’t quite point to what’s out of balance. You watch an episode of The Office and it makes you cry because you forgot how freaking EMOTIONAL this show is. You brave a new community alone for the 2nd month in a row and even though your brain rationalizes that all the good ones take time, your heart just wants to be known and it makes you a little sad. You try to keep your routine and find your footing but even all of the encouraging texts & love letters in the world can only point you to truth. They can’t force you to grab onto it.

For some reason I’ve felt more like a failure in almost every area of my life because of my choices throughout this year, especially in the areas that I hold closest like my faith and my relationships.

I don’t know where I got this measuring stick. I’m not failing – far from it – and according to a couple of my people I seem to be handling new pressures and challenges with grace. Maybe that’s because all of the midnight 1989 yell-sing sessions have lead me to perfect the art of Taylor Swifting it – appearing like you have it all together but secretly knowing that you’re probably unstable and a little psychotic due to your own self-destructive habits but it’s chill because at least I don’t sound insane (right?). Such is the life of an mid-20’s-year-old.

There’s a brand of Christianity who are pros at Swifting their way through life. Our sins stay on the surface and usually revolve around how prideful we are or how we could have done better by really being present with our camp cabin instead of sneaking away for a nap. They rarely circle around our love of sex or alcohol or anything that makes us feel a little less chaotic inside but still allow us to show up on Sunday with our collared shirts on & our hands held high. It’s a way to keep people at a distance so we don’t risk being found out: that we aren’t Okay, we constantly do what we know isn’t the best for us, and our favorite bands aren’t actually from Hillsong.

My prodigal heart is embarrassed to look my Jesus in the eye and say I tried and admit that I was given the world and I blew it on one too many shiny things that made me feel seen.  Honestly, my pride still doesn’t really want to do the long walk back home. I used to say I would never be “that person” because I suck and really just wanted to belong to some exclusive club where try-hards were rewarded for being the most liked and compared their holy merit badges. I want to point to great successes in the past and cover up the ways I messed up in the last year to justify my place at the table. But that person would just be a fictional character of who I am today. I’m invited to the party as long as I’m honest about which name is on the guest list.

Life with Jesus is more than a game of Simon Says to make you feel like you know what you’re doing. It’s not the feel of belonging in community, it doesn’t just happen on Sundays. It’s not choosing an occupation in ministry because having “pastor” in your title keeps you in check. It’s not raising your hands at the right times or tweeting out a bible verse or saying yes/no to things because you want to appear clean. It’s a Maintenance Required light reminding me that I’m in a constant process of breaking and being made whole again. Thank God, I’m still in process.

I’m still hopeful for what’s next. I’m still learning how much I need grace. I’m still thankful for the little community I have near and far who remind me who I am. I’m still standing and singing and I’m still so prone to wander. I feel it.

If you feel like you’re on the outside looking in, just know I’m there too. You’re not alone, but I think it’s time we come inside. Rumor has it there’s a party waiting for us and they even have rainbow sprinkles. Let’s go home.

 

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the key to resilience

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“When Life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”

Why is Life giving me lemons? It’s February and lemonade doesn’t make sense, making that saying null. Sometimes I want to throw those lemons right back at Life. Life, take back your lemons, I don’t want them! You can’t even do much with lemons anyway!

Then Life is all “No take-backs!” and I’m stuck with these freaking lemons.

This season has been a doozy for me. Nothing particularly heartbreaking or life-altering has happened, but little things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to have been piling up and eating my insides. It’s easy to let this spill over into 90% of conversations I have:

“I just need to vent for a second.”

At every little defeat I have been throwing myself a pity party and I wanted everyone else to join in with me. I’m all for lending a listening ear, but I received an attitude check the other day when I was “venting” to a friend. I realized that I was not speaking life-giving words. My heart was bitter, my joy was diminished, and I didn’t feel any better after my vent-sesh because nothing was actually different. All of this whining left a gross aftertaste in my mouth, which usually means I should start praying.

And get my hands on some Orbit.

My generation has this stigma where everyone is allowed to whine about their life on social media if any part of it is not what the world told us we should expect. Humor is sarcastic and opinions are critical instead of constructive. All of this hostility is not becoming of us, Millennials. We look like a bunch of Pig Pens from the Peanuts walking around with a dusty cloud of negativity that infects everything we touch. Posting on social media about how much your day sucks over mine doesn’t change the situation we’re in, it just makes us look grimy.

Whether I vent to a friend or on social media, asking others to validate my problems is just another form of complaining.

And complainers are annoying. We all know them, too – they’re the people where when you ask “How are you?” they  respond with everything going wrong in their life. Complainers are joy-suckers. They magnify their own life’s little tragedies over seeking joy in ALL circumstances. It’s selfish, really. Complaining isn’t something we were made to do, and yet we default to it so easily whenever things go wrong.

This doesn’t mean that we are not allowed to feel sad or frustrated by life’s circumstances. I also think it’s important for healthy, honest sharing to happen within communities about where people are at spiritually – and that might include some parts that aren’t all shiny and happy. But there is a way to still be resilient by recognizing that things don’t always go the way we want them to and still choosing to walk forward.

Resilience has much less to do with my feelings and much more to do with my choices. Resilience is choosing joy, despite circumstance.

Choosing joy in a sucky circumstance is simple: you create it.

God is a fixer. A redeemer. A healer. A re-arranger of sorts. God is making – it’s a process, people! – ALL things new.

Creating is the exact opposite of complaining. When someone creates, they are proactively not being ok with the present state of things and have chosen to change it into something different. Creating ushers in newness and wipes away the grimy layer of negativity, defeat, and even apathy about the way things currently are. When I create, I feel satisfied and full because that’s what I am made to do: to make and fill and subdue this earth.

You don’t have to be an artist or a musician to create. You can enjoy the process of making anything – whether that’s writing a poem, arranging flowers, coding something fun, forging a new trail on a run, or cooking really bomb enchiladas. Exercising your creative muscle is less about the outcome and more about the healing process of making something new out of what you have now.

For the past two weeks, every time I felt that little swell of “woe is me” rising up, I chose differently. I cooked a meal. I tried a new hair style. I lettered a verse for a friend. I learned a new dance and sang a new song and I haven’t once felt like moping, even on the especially gray days.

It’s hard to throw a pity party when you’re in the process of creating something different. So next time if Life hands me lemons, I could whine about how annoying they are and how I can’t even do much with lemons… or I could squeeze the crap out of them make something useful. If I don’t have sugar for lemonade, the least I could do is make a salad dressing.