Dear Ginger: Seeking and Waiting

dear ginger

Dear Ginger,

I’m trying to wait but how do I know what God wants me to do?  I feel like I can’t tell the difference between His voice and my voice… and I want to.

-B.

Dear B,

Thanks so much for writing!

First, I want you to know that God speaks to all of us differently and calls us in different ways! Check it out: Moses experienced the radiance of God, Paul got a light, Isaiah had to run naked for 3 years, Ezekiel watched dry bones, Elijah saw the fire, felt the quake, and then found God in the whisper, Gideon was visited by an angel, and still others were met by talking donkeys and storms that held them at bay.

The important point in your question is that you are aware and you are seeking. When you desire to be in God’s will, He HONORS that.

That being said, have you ever heard of the game Sardines? I used to play it all the time as a kid. It’s almost a reverse of traditional “Hide and Seek.” In Sardines the “it” person goes to hide and everyone else counts. Then everyone heads out looking for the person – we’ll call them “the sardine” for ease. If I find the sardine, I have to try to hide WITH that person in their hiding place. This continues until there is only one man left standing. The last person to find the crew will be “it” in the next round.

And? I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with anything.

The truth is that for a long time I thought of my relationship with God as if it was a game of Sardines … especially in high school and college. I wanted to know God’s will for my life so desperately. I felt that no matter how hard I asked or looked I just couldn’t determine what God wanted for me. I looked at all of my friends, confidently making decisions, and couldn’t help but think that they had all found the answer.  That was it.  The entire world was hiding with God in a huge game of Sardines and I was the last one still looking for answers.

Everyone else can find you, why can’t I?” I would lose heart and I resign myself to being last.

Confession: I feel like that, every once in a while, even to this day. I’ve read and memorized Jeremiah 29:13 until it’s practically a daily saying: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Mark Batterson writes, “God wants you to get where God wants you to go more than you want to get where God wants you to go.”

I don’t know about you, but that truth about God let’s me take a deep and contented sigh. Even in the midst of confusing times, waiting periods, or even silence – I can find joy and peace from knowing God isn’t hiding – He is simply teaching me to seek after Him. Don’t give up! Continue to pray, to ask, and to follow.

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” 1 Chronicles 16:11 (ESV)

Praying for your time of waiting!

Following,
Ginger

Dear Ginger: Book It

dear ginger

Ginger –

You read A LOT of books! How do you recommend getting started reading books? I have such a huge bookshelf with so many I want to read when really I feel like the Bible is the one I should be opening for the few moments I have each day to read. Do you set book reading goals? I sometimes think I’m just not a reader. But I feel like that’s like someone saying “I’m just not a runner.”

-L

Dear L,

As soon as you compared reading to running I totally understood where you were coming from. For years I was the non-runner in a world of race-loving friends. I strongly felt bibs were for eating and NOT for exercise. But there’s something about a goal that can get me to do the most unexpected things. I have to say it, declare it, and then just go for it. Thus this non-runner came home with her 13.1 medal.

run run

I love that you are setting a goal for reading. I think the “Book It” reading program in elementary school might have fostered some of my early page-turning. Winning prizes really appealed to me, and then the love for literature soon followed. I don’t enjoy all types of reading, some books make me want to poke my eyes out. I need stories throughout even a non-fiction book to stay engaged and interested. But I suppose I also just enjoy learning. I prefer to read paper books, although I do enjoy my Kindle while on vacation. I love to mark up my books with underlining, highlighting and lots of notes. I think it keeps me engaged and helps me to find passages that I want to refer to at a later time.

The list that your question came from just happened to contain a lot of Spiritual Growth material. I talk about a lot of books, but the list has been growing since I was about 13 years old. I also happen to have attended a ton of Bible studies that went through books and also have a degree in theatre ministry from College. Much of my required reading from school still sits on my shelves. But aside from that, here’s how I usually approach reading.

I spend the morning reading my Bible, usually over breakfast. I am a “MUST HAVE BREAKFAST” gal so it’s an easy way to make sure I get fed in every way possible. I typically read one page from “The Valley of Vision” prayer-book or “My Utmost for His Highest.” Then I start an entry in my journal and read anywhere from 1-4 chapters of whatever book of the Bible I’m currently reading. (I do set some goals in Bible reading. This year I’m reading through the Gospels over and over. There’s not a number of times I’m hoping to hit all four, I simply wanted to focus on the words of Jesus. So I suppose you could say it’s a theme rather than a goal.)

Since I eat lunch alone, (or dinner when I lived by myself) that’s when I spend a good portion of time reading whatever book is next on my list. I usually ask for books on my Birthday or for Christmas after keeping a running list of suggestions from others in the front of my journal all year long. I don’t have a “finish this by this time” goal – I just read a book until it’s done. Some slower books can take me 2-3 months on my lunch pace… but if a story or theme catches me I will usually make my lunch last a little longer each day.

I used to read fiction in the evenings until I realized I was reading more Harry Potter than anything else. (Not joking.) I needed some veggies and protein in my high-carb reading diet! I now typically only read fiction on vacation. It gives me something to look forward to and a good reason to load up my Kindle.

I’ve also learned that it’s ok not to read every page of a book. I’m not in school any more. If I’m struggling through a chapter for too long, I just move on. That’s really hard for my personality to allow, but I started considering that option after perusing these posts from “Following to Lead.” (How Do Leaders Read So Much? and To Read A Book in An Hour)

Like running, there are days when you pull out the book and do the work even if you aren’t feeling it. But don’t let a missed day keep you from jumping back in after a break.

Hope this helps! Does anyone else have any other suggestions for L?

Following,

Ginger

Dear Ginger: How can I be happy?

dear ginger

Dear Ginger,

…I have convinced myself that I am the most self-conscious person on earth. Which is probably true. I have never believed truly that I am beautiful or that I am a good person. And after reviewing your website I wish I had the help you receive from God. Truthfully I am not the most religious person out there… Right now in my life I am absolutely self-conscious about everything I do, unaware as to what I will do in my life, or how to be happy in life. So my question is this, “How can you achieve a happy life? With no doubt in your my mind that you are beautiful on the inside and out and that you can rise from the ashes and become something new.” It seems so easy to say but impossible to achieve. I am sorry for the long letter, but I’ve really never really opened to anyone or asked for help. Thank you so much for reading this letter…

Best Wishes- S

Dear S,

Thank you so much for your heartfelt and beautiful note. I finished reading and immediately admired your maturity and honesty. Thank you for taking the time to write and share so much of your struggle with me.

I am so sorry that you’ve never felt lovely, good, or confident in whom you were made to be. I hurt knowing that you’ve been bullied or made to feel less-than by anyone else in this world. But I can also hear the glimmer of hope in your question: “How can you achieve a happy life? I have no doubt in my mind that ‘you are beautiful on the inside and out’ and that you can ‘rise from the ashes’ and become something new.”

Thank you for entrusting me with this precious question. First of all, let me say that I don’t know if I will be able to answer in such a way that you will feel any immediate change in your life. My own growth and self-worth have taken place over several years and dramatically over the past year through counseling. It’s true; my faith plays a huge role in the way that I see myself. My belief in God does influence how I handle the worst days. So even if we come from a different spiritual place I’m just going to speak from the heart and pray that something I type encourages you in your own journey.

I remember when I was in fifth grade and played soccer on my school’s team. We were called the Lions and proudly wore purple and gold. On one particularly sunny day I was dressed in uniform and standing on the sideline just waiting for my chance to play. Only I wasn’t really ready. I had completely stopped paying attention. Out of nowhere, a soccer ball came flying in and hit me hard in the face. It was a pretty rude awakening. Not only did the ball burst the blood vessels in my left cheek, but it also raised a pretty nasty bruise in rapid time. Of course fifth grade pictures were scheduled for the next day. True story. Pull out the yearbook and the rest of the class is all facing forward in their photos. I’m the only one facing a wall in profile.

We can quickly lose sight of the fact that we are in a battle here on this earth – and that’s a dangerous place to be. If we don’t recognize that we are in the middle of a fight, we are left vulnerable. There is no such thing as a sideline when it comes to battle. We don’t call time out. Think of the movie Lord of the Rings or any big battle scene from an epic film. The soldiers are ready for war, the challenge has been given, the screaming speech has been delivered, and now the two sides are running toward each other in slow motion.

Now picture those thousands of men fighting when suddenly one of them starts daydreaming. He notices a spread of wildflowers on the ground and promptly sets down his battle-axe to gather a bouquet. Highly unlikely, right?

We’ve got to keep our heads in the game! It’s those times when we forget we are actually warriors in an army that we incur the greatest injuries. Just like my soccer ball to the face scenario, I allowed my weight struggle to influence my self-esteem to such an extent that I was crippled for battle.

Here’s what I mean by battle. I believe that we were created for a purpose. You weren’t a random speck of dust or anything close to an accident. The God who created the universe imagined and designed you to enter this world at a specific time. I believe that 100%. God created both you and I as human beings with a mind and a heart, with fears and desires. Not only that, he created us to live out an incredible story during our time on this earth. Sometimes though we let the distractions (our worries, stigmas, body issues, fears) keep us from living out the role that we alone were created to fill. It is a daily battle to not get discouraged from that very purpose.

Here’s the thing I’ve come to know and believe about God: He doesn’t force himself on us, but He does invite us to participate in His effort to overcome the conflict and junk in this world.

That’s where I think lasting happiness originates. (Confession: I’m not “happy” every day but I have found a source of joy that’s more than momentary.) When I drop the distractions of how I look and feel and just pursue loving others and living an exciting story – I find joy, peace, and contentment. No amount of journaling, self-help, or positive thinking changes my outlook for long. It’s the living that changes my perception and brings fulfillment. The recognition that my smaller story has a HUGE part to play in the bigger story God is telling gives me purpose each and every day.

“What if the positive and negative turns of your life have prepared you for something great? …Do you know that the world needs something from you? There are probably days when you feel like the world would be better off if you stayed in bed but it isn’t true. God created you and He created you with the power to bring light into darkness and order into chaos. You are necessary. And the sooner you believe that, the sooner you’ll bond with God in living a great story.” (Donald Miller, Storyline)

So where do you start? Find yourself a quiet place, maybe the library or your bedroom. Turn off distractions and take time to really consider the story your life is telling and the one you want it to tell. List out all of the gifts that make you unique, the things you enjoy and are good at. What do you like to do? What are some goals you want to accomplish in your life? Take your time.

If you need somewhere to start on your list I can already tell you that you are a gifted writer! I didn’t post your whole letter today, but you should know that you have a powerful way of conveying ideas. I’m so glad you were willing to be vulnerable and ask for help.
Take the vulnerability you have on the page and translate it into some of your relationships. If you continue to struggle with eating or cutting at any point please, please take a step and share with a trusted adult. I believe you have an incredible life ahead of you filled with both happy and challenging moments. The hard moments make the joy that much sweeter in the end.
Your story matters. You matter.
Praying for your journey,
Ginger

Dear Ginger: Bullying

dear ginger

Dear M,

Thank you again for your willingness to write in and share the struggles you are currently facing. Last week we took some time to talk about a large portion of your letter: what to do when you don’t like how you feel or how you look. I hope you’ve been encouraged by that discussion.

I wanted to take additional time this week to address the other component in your letter. Specifically these sentences:

There is a girl who called me a “fat seal” this year and that really hurt me. She’s bullied me since the 5th grade and this year I started cutting. I told my parents but I really need someone’s advice who has also struggled with not liking yourself. The very first night when you talked about how I’m God’s masterpiece. But I still haven’t figured out to deal with her because she constantly likes to bully me.“

You aren’t the first to bring up this dilemma, nor will you be the last. It deeply saddens me to know that bullying of any kind takes place in our schools, much less between two girls. Navigating middle and high school is tough enough without the added emotional stress of a bully. I am so sorry that you are experiencing so much hurt. I want you to know that I care about your pain. I can understand why the words of someone else have the power to keep you in self-worth limbo. I experience some similar comments when I was younger… and they still hurt.

I was also a child (and teen) who was very insecure about how I was perceived by others. It doesn’t take much for your confidence to be stripped away, does it? I can vividly recall the words of the unkind boy at my grandmother’s swim club and the girl I overheard in passing at camp. I don’t remember what I wore on the first day of fourth grade but I can clearly picture a boy walking up to me quite candidly and declaring, “My dad said you got fat this summer.

Not, “How was your summer?” or “I wonder what 4th grade will be like?” or even “I don’t know what to think of Mrs. So-and-so.” Not only do I wonder what compelled the boy to share this information, but I also wonder what made his father decide to proclaim that message to his son. One sentence and I carry it always. Isn’t it amazing how hearing from others can affect how we feel about ourselves?

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.

That’s a joke, right?

Words sting. They can scar. But rather than just accept the negativity and hide those thoughts in the back of our minds, I want to encourage us all with this verse.

The weapons we use in our fight are not the world’s weapons but God’s powerful weapons, which we use to destroy strongholds. We destroy false arguments; we pull down every proud obstacle that is raised against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5, GNT)

Why start a discussion about bullying with a verse from the Bible? I believe the Bible holds the answers for some of our most challenging situations. When a bully comes with harsh words this verse reminds us that we destroy the false arguments and instead choose to believe what our Creator says about us.

1. Take those hurtful thoughts captive and replace them with truth from the Bible. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” What usually causes a bully to act out? Insecurity. Don’t let this girl’s insecurity rob you of the worth and confidence you have from your Maker. God has a unique and special plan for your life, so don’t let the words of another keep you from remembering that!

“When you choose to believe God’s Word, your emotions may not follow immediately. Does that mean you aren’t trusting God? No. Faith is often exercised in the context of a struggle, in the midst of conflicting thoughts and emotions… When we trust in God, we will experience many obstacles to faith, but placing our trust in His Word- not our feelings- will see us through.” (Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance)

2. Talk to your parents, a teacher, or a trusted adult if the bullying continues or escalates. I know you mentioned that you had spoken to your parents at least one occasion. Be sure to keep them updated and apprised of the situation. I realize no one wants to be a tattletale, but if this situation is causing you as much pain as you say, it’s worth doing whatever you can to make it stop.

And you’ve likely tried this, but I still want to mention it. Firmly look this girl in the eye and tell her to please stop. Use a clear and confident voice. If it seems as though she is going to lash out again, simply walk away and remove yourself from the situation.

3. Pray for this girl. What?! I know you might think I’m crazy, but here me out. We already discussed the fact that this young woman is likely struggling with a large dose of insecurity. Things could be really difficult at her home. Perhaps she’s been bullied before and this is her way of making sure she’s the biggest fish in the pond. Whatever the case, chances are she’s wounded and hurting on the inside.

Here’s the thing, there are several of Jesus’ words that I’d prefer not to practice. I don’t want to love my enemies; I’d rather be cold and distant to them. It’s hard to forgive.

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:43-44, NLT)

Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart. Prayer is interceding with God on their behalf, and the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good. He is not talking about praying for our enemies to be run over by a truck. He’s not talking about praying for lightening to take them out.  We are to pray that their hearts and ours be softened, be changed, be reconciled. That may seem far-fetched and impossible right now, but I’ve witnessed firsthand how praying for someone who hurt me has actually released me from a lot of pain and anger.

4. Cultivate positive relationships. Some seasons of life can feel pretty challenging and lonely if we don’t have friends to turn to. I’m praying right now that you have girls in your class or at church who can love and encourage you for the beautiful young woman you are. If you feel like those kind of friendships are few and far between, then begin praying regularly that God would bring you a kindred friend.

When I moved a few years ago I began to pray a prayer that went something like this, “God, you know that I’m lonely. I would love to have a friend who will encourage me to grow, and will challenge me to be the best version of myself. Help me to be a kind and generous friend to whomever you bring into my life.” God has slowly and surely provided new relationships to fit the bill of kindred friends.

M- God is for you. He will give you the wisdom, strength, and encouragement you need each day. Don’t lose heart. I’m praying for you and here if you want to write again.

Following,
Ginger

Thursday Tips: Eyes Up

Yesterday we started walking through M’s complex thoughts about self-worth, anxiety, and what to do when we don’t like how we look or feel. Obviously it’s not something that can be answered in a short blog post or with a pat answer.

Acknowledging the truth, that we will never live up to the world’s standards is essentially step one. Step two is to then choose to live and see ourselves through God’s loving eyes. But step three involves our eyes.

When I get so focused on my own worries, imperfections and failings I get caught in a crazy cycle of self-loathing. One long look in a mirror, a step on a scale, a harsh word from a classmate… any of these can send our self-esteem reeling out of control. So we ground ourselves in truth, and then we look outward!

The truth of the matter is that joy flows most often when we take a step back from ourselves and notice those around us. Joy comes from blessing and encouraging others, rather than focusing on our own needs. When life is “all about me” it leaves little room for the joy that emerges through loving people.

The next time the tears threaten to overtake you, try one of these tips before you give up.

1. Make cookies and give them to friends and neighbors.

2. Write a letter (snail mail!) to a grandparent, relative, or teacher who has been instrumental in your life. Thank them for the role they have had.

3. Leave a flower for someone and don’t tell them who it’s from! Instead just include a note that says, “You matter. Thank you for being you!”  Have fun encouraging from a distance.

4. Go for a walk outside!

5. Turn on some music and dance in your room.

6. Offer to help your mom cook dinner.

7. The next time a volunteer opportunity is presented to you, say “yes”!

8. Go through your closet and collect clothes to donate to a local charity. That sweater you wore once last year might just make someone else’s day.

9. Take time to collect runaway shopping carts in the parking lot and return them to their homes.

10. Commit to only use texting and social media to encourage other people. No more lamenting, moaning, or complaining.

11. Invite someone in your family to go out for lunch, your treat! Plan the “date” and even dress up to make it more special.

12. This list could go on and on, so start making your own!

I know that counting my blessings is a huge kick in the pants when I need to refocus my gaze, but this list can also help in those moments when the hurt threatens to knock us down. We each have so much to give to a world in need!

I pinned this photo on Pinterest this week. I love the thought behind it. Let’s find our passion and get to loving others!

purposeful

Happy Thursday.

Following,
Ginger

Dear Ginger: Self-Perception

dear ginger

Dear Ginger,

I was at the conference this weekend and your story really touched me. I have trouble with self-confidence. I always have trouble trying to find who I am. Or I’m never good enough. I play sports, but I’m never the best. There is a girl who called me a “fat seal” this year and that really hurt me. She’s bullied me since the 5th grade and this year I started cutting. I told my parents but I really need someone’s advice who has also struggled with not likening yourself. The very first night when you talked about how I’m God’s masterpiece. But I still haven’t figured out to deal with her because she constantly likes to bully me. I feel like I’m always worried about something or stressed. I tried making myself throw up, but it didn’t work so I didn’t try it again. I don’t like how I feel or look and I was wondering if you could help me. –M

Dear M,

There is so much packed into your letter. It sounds as if you are really overwhelmed by your world right now, and I don’t blame you. Any ONE of the things in your note would be enough to leave me anxious and worried. But you mentioned self-confidence, finding yourself, being good enough, bullying, cutting, identity, anxiety, self-destructive behaviors, and not liking how you feel or look.

I’m planning on responding to the issues you’ve raised, but I wanted to let you know that I’m going to break up my thoughts into at least two parts. The first will cover your own self-perception and the second response (next week) will concern the bullying aspect of your situation. I am so sorry that you’ve experienced such unkind words.

Self-Perception

Right off the bat I’m hoping you had the chance to watch the video I shared in yesterday’s post. It’s a clip from a recent Dove Beauty Campaign. Here’s the link just in case.

I think this clip is picking up so much steam around social media because it speaks to a feeling we all have. We focus on our imperfections, weaknesses, and flaws. A six-minute video demonstrated so clearly how we can miss the big picture of who we are and how we are really perceived. Did you notice how age wasn’t a factor? These woman, whether 19 or 45, all struggled with this issue.

So first things first: you are not alone. It may seem as though the rest of us have this aspect of life together, but the truth is that all of us have our hard days where we doubt our beauty and worth. We let magazines, movies, and celebrities tell us what is beautiful and valuable. If we take marketing, media, and culture at face value we are left believing that this list is what makes you important:

Clothing
Body type
Sex Appeal
Education
Popularity
Notoriety
Celebrity
Prominence
Talent
Money

Need I go on? It takes five minutes of channel surfing to discover what we are told to value. And that’s why what I’m about to tell you is going to seem so trite and simple, while at the same time controversial.

Trade the list.

I do not live up to the standards set by this world or Hollywood. My teeth will never be white enough, nor my thighs skinny enough to even come close. There was a time in my life when I was willing to trade anything to hit that standard of beauty. I was tanning, dyeing, whitening, dieting, and doing everything in between. But then my life became so inward focused that I was missing out on what would have brought true joy and value to my life. Yes, I could spend four hours in a gym every day and keep up a perfect weight and figure, but then I wouldn’t have time to do so many of the things that I actually love.

M, what do you love to do? Do you have gifts or passions? Do you love singing, reading, playing sports? I know you mentioned not feeling the best at anything, but I think a majority of us feel that way. I am not the best at anything. I have lots of 3rd place ribbons and honorable mentions to my name. I was not the valedictorian or the prom queen. I was never destined for American Idol, Olympic Trials, or the National Spelling Bee. In the grand scheme of blogs, mine has fairly low readership. But I had to decide along the way whether or not being the best at something was really my ultimate goal. It’s just not. I’ve had to let that one go. So instead, I just started doing what I love to do. I took my passion plus a desire to impact the lives of other people and that’s how I live my life. Can I tell you how freeing it is to stop trying to live up to someone else’s list?

Your value, purpose, and significance are deeply important in this life. The question is: where are you looking for those things?

purpose

“…Millions of people spend a lifetime searching for love, acceptance, and success without understanding the need that compels them. We must understand that this hunger for self-worth is God-given and can only be satisfied by Him. Our value is not dependent on our ability to earn the fickle acceptance of people, but rather, it’s true source is the love and acceptance of God. He created us. He alone knows how to fulfill all of our needs.” (Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance)

At the conference I talked about our desire to be known and to know who we are. I truly believe that the source of that answer is found in our Heavenly Father. As the One who created you, He knows you very best. You have worth because He says so. There is nothing you could do to gain or lose His love. That is a promise we can take to the bank every day. I do not have to be successful or pleasing to others to have a healthy sense of worth. My worth comes to me from God. I read in His word over and over how He feels about each of us as His workmanship, His poeima, His masterpiece.

Worth It

In his book, The Search for Significance, (which I highly recommend) Robert McGee walks the reader through these same questions and issues. He makes a strong point in this diagram.

There are two possible options we can choose to determine our self-worth:

-The world’s system: Self-Worth = Performance (what you do) + Others’ Opinions (what others think or say about you)

-God’s system: Self-Worth = God’s Truth about you

M, I can’t make you know this just by saying so. This has been a long journey for me too, but so worth it in the end. I’m going to share some tips and resources through the rest of this week, but I want you to know that I am praying that you would turn to the One who knows you when everything on the outside says you don’t measure up. Please, please tell someone if you ever consider cutting or hurting yourself again. I am praying that your desire to hurt your body would disappear as you grasp the depths of His love for you.

“How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.” (Ephesians 1:3-6, MSG)

For more on this topic check out these posts:

Dear Ginger: Uncomfortable in my Own Skin
Prove It!
Inside and Out
Fearfully and Wonderfully
True You: Self-Esteem
True You: Beautiful
God Looks at the Heart

Following,

Ginger

Dear Ginger: A Challenging Friendship

Dear Ginger,

What do you do about friends that aren’t really good friends to you? I have a friend that is mostly negative and bitter. He gets mad at me often and says some mean things because he’s lonely and hurt. I always forgive him and try to stay his friend and encourage him. Sometimes he stays mad at me for days, weeks, even a month and then says he misses our friendship.

I get so confused as to whether to end this friendship or keep trying to encourage him. I eventually do miss him after a certain time. We have known each other for 10 years. Right now, he is not talking again to me. Eventually he will contact me. If I respond then we seem to fall into the same trap of friends again and into him being mad at me. Should I cut him off completely?

This has been going on for a couple of years. What would Jesus do?

Thank you,

D

D, Thank you so much for your note. This sounds like a very frustrating situation. I’m so sorry that your friendship is in a cycle that seems bent on repeating itself. While I do not know your friend or exactly what he says to hurt you, it doesn’t sound like he is treating you like much of a friend at all.

I know that the Lord is honored by your willingness to forgive this man. It’s clear that you have done everything in your power to provide multiple opportunities for him to change his behavior and responses, all to no avail.

I suppose I want to remind you that the Jesus who said to pray for those who persecute us and to forgive as we have been forgiven is also the very same Jesus who told the disciples to shake the dust off of their sandals if they were not welcome in a city or home.

Good friendships are life-giving and sharpening.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, NIrV)

Negative friendships and relationships tend to have the opposite effect.

“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33, NIV)

From what you have described, I don’t believe you’ve found yourself in a sharpening friendship. So how should you respond?

Continue to forgive. 

“Forgive the things you are holding against one another. Forgive, just as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13b, NIrV)

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the other person to die.” -Anne Lamott

From your letter it sounds as if this is something you are attempting to do each time you are wronged. Forgiveness is for our own protection, it releases us from bitterness and the need to hurt back. Dr. Less Parrott III says, “Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. One may forgive the violations of another person yet not continue a relationship with the offender… While forgiveness is an indispensable prelude to reconciliation, it does not require a continuing relationship with the violator.”


Yes, we are called to love everyone, but that doesn’t mean we have to be friends with everyone. That may sound like a harsh reality, but I believe that sometimes it’s simply better to take a step back from a friendship. If a relationship displays repeated patterns of hurt, it may be time to reevaluate the situation. The Bible says that for the sake of the Gospel we should be prepared for hardships and persecution, but I don’t believe that’s something expected of you in close friendships. Here’s what I mean…

Loving our friends means being willing to say the hard truth.

It is “…a mistake to confuse forgiveness with excusing. Excusing is letting a person off the hook. Forgiveness keeps people accountable for their behavior. Nor is forgiveness tolerance. We do not have to tolerate what people do just because we have forgiven them for doing it.” (Smedes, Forgive and Forget.)

As I read your letter I couldn’t help but imagine how I would respond if you told me this was a dating relationship. If you were a teen girl writing in about a boy you had been seeing for a few weeks I would encourage you to let this relationship go. In the book, “The Art of Rejection” by Hayley and Michael DiMarco, they write, “Two people can destroy each other in ways other than abuse. If you find that your spirit is weakening, your heart is breaking and you don’t know why, then maybe you are in a destructive relationship. If you can’t say that this person makes you better emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, you need to think about changing the situation. Relationships should make you both better, not worse.”

I believe that principle can easily apply to friendships with the opposite sex. I’m not here to tell you that those aren’t possible; I just want to check in and make sure that you aren’t taking on a role that one of his male friends should fill. (I do hope this guy has close male friendships.) If this is a pattern of behavior in all of his relationships, this man has a true heart issue going on that will require time, energy, prayer, and even counseling. Long story short: I don’t believe that you are the one to fix him or this friendship.

My advice, and I am not a pastor, counselor, expert or psychologist: Lay out your feelings clearly. Express what behavior you expect from a friend and how he continues to betray the trust worthy of a friend. Explain that you are willing to be friends if he is willing to act as a friend. Anything else and you will have to step away from your friendship.

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May you have the courage and tact to move forward with peace and without animosity.

Please know that this response comes humbly your way.

Following,
Ginger

Talents

dear ginger

“My best friend always gets the main character after auditions for school plays and other things. It has really hurt my feelings this time, so bad. What should I do?” – M

Dear M, I can’t tell you enough how much I feel for you right now. I have been there, and not just figuratively. I was the girl auditioning for choirs, concerts, and plays and feeling as if I would never get to take center stage. It seemed as if no matter how hard I tried, it just wasn’t good enough to get the lead.

But your situation is even more challenging!  You are managing your own disappointments while also having a best friend who you probably want to be happy for… but find it so difficult to do so. That makes sense. When we want something for ourselves it can make it REALLY hard to be joyful for others. So what I want you to know first and foremost is that I understand why you are hurting. But I also want you to know that this is a situation that just might repeat itself as you get older.

Gulp.

What do I mean?

Comparison is a sticky business. When I set my sights on wanting what someone else has, it can lead to all sorts of  envy and bitterness. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend my life always hurting because someone else seems to have it made. I need you to remember something right off the bat. God has gifted all of us differently. He is telling a unique story in your life that will look different from any other story.

Did you know that there’s a parable in Matthew 25 that actually talks about comparing our talents. For real. Here’s the set up: Jesus is talking to His disciples and explaining the Kingdom of Heaven with a story. Here’s what He said…

“The kingdom is also like what happened when a man went away and put his three servants in charge of all he owned. The man knew what each servant could do. So he handed five thousand coins to the first servant, two thousand to the second, and one thousand to the third. Then he left the country.”

Notice anything interesting so far? This translation of the Bible (CEV) uses the word “coin” while other translations utilize another term for a coin: a talent. But what I want you to be sure and see is how each of the servants was given a different amount of money to take care of. When I read that something inside of me wants to scream, “But that’s not fair!” I probably feel that way because of how easy it is to compare “coins” with my own friends. Some of them seem to have everything! They have crafting abilities, a way with words, perfect families, lots of money, trips galore, trim bodies, lots of popularity… I could go on and on. Sometimes I sit back and wonder why we don’t all seem to have the same amount of “coins”.

Let’s keep reading the story and see what happens.

“As soon as the man had gone, the servant with the five thousand coins used them to earn five thousand more. The servant who had two thousand coins did the same with his money and earned two thousand more. But the servant with one thousand coins dug a hole and hid his master’s money in the ground.

Some time later the master of those servants returned. He called them in and asked what they had done with his money. The servant who had been given five thousand coins brought them in with the five thousand that he had earned. He said, “Sir, you gave me five thousand coins, and I have earned five thousand more.”

“Wonderful!” his master replied. “You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!”

Next, the servant who had been given two thousand coins came in and said, “Sir, you gave me two thousand coins, and I have earned two thousand more.”

“Wonderful!” his master replied. “You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!”

The servant who had been given one thousand coins then came in and said, “Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest what you don’t plant and gather crops where you haven’t scattered seed. I was frightened and went out and hid your money in the ground. Here is every single coin!”

The master of the servant told him, “You are lazy and good-for-nothing! You know that I harvest what I don’t plant and gather crops where I haven’t scattered seed. You could have at least put my money in the bank, so that I could have earned interest on it.”

Again, I want to scream, “That’s not fair! You didn’t give him the same amount as the others and now you are getting upset with him?”

Here’s the thing: Jesus is telling us that He wants us to do our best with WHATEVER we’ve been given. We look around and it see other people with way more talents, gifts, money, or opportunities than we do. But God created you, M, to be uniquely talented, gifted, and called to live your life for HIS glory. He wired you with your likes, dislikes, talents, and quirks. I’m sure your friend is a lovely girl, but I want you to know that you are too! You are both precious daughters of the King of Kings. No matter what happens in an audition, you are always the one He picks!

This may not be your time in the spotlight. It could be that your chance to be the lead will look more like mine… I was the understudy in 10th grade and finally got to have a go as the lead character. It was so exciting. But more than my time on the stage as an actress, God is teaching me what it looks like to serve Him even in areas where I may not feel all that skilled. He wants me to love my neighbors and get to know them, even if it feels awkward. He wants me to play Jenga with high school students. He is teaching me to honor my friends by hosting wedding and baby showers, even when I’m anything but crafty! And He is leading me to open up my home and be more hospitable, something I’m not really wired to do in my own strength. It’s not my thing. And yet… it is because He is calling me to do so!

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I might feel more comfortable holding a mic and speaking from stage, but God is all about stretching and growing me to be more like Him. So even if I’m a “one thousand coin” person, my calling is STILL to do whatever I can with the time He has given me. I could spend all my time wishing I had more coins, or I can do something with what I’ve got!

Each of the servants was given something, and apparently it was given to them depending on their abilities. Please note that the master didn’t expect the man with two talents to have turned in ten.  He had no control over the amount he was given, but he did have all the control over what he did with it. The master did not outline what they should do with the money, he simply asked them to make more with what they had been given.

The quote I shared on yesterday’s Imperfect post comes straight out of a book by Erwin McManus called Awaken. This section gave me a window into this parable and it has given me a lot to think about. In my own life I let the “ten thousand coin” friends get me down, rather than finding joy in their success. Comparison stole my joy. Here’s the quote in a larger context:

“Why did the third servant bury his bag of gold? He was afraid of his master; he feared he would lose his gold and then be punished. This is where many of us have been misled or at least have misunderstood. We’re absolutely afraid of God. We think if we risk and then fail, then God is going to punish us. We are paralyzed by the fear of failure because we misunderstand the character of God. Life doesn’t have a failsafe. Failure is real and can be very painful. God, though, isn’t looking at failure but faithfulness. He’s not waiting for you to fail so he can punish you or succeed so he can pillage you. He wants to celebrate your life.

Jesus loves you so much, M. He delights to see you doing something you love. Even if you struggle along the way, remember that He just wants to see you be faithful with ALL of the gifts He has given you. I’m praying that Galatians 6:3-5 in The Message Translation will speak directly to your heart today. It reads, “Live creatively, friends… Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

Keep creating joy in this world for Him. Please write again soon.

Following,
Ginger

Dear Ginger: Apathy

dear ginger

Hi Ginger. Lately I have been struggling with the sin of apathy in my Christian life. It has become so bad that it has started to affect my prayer life and reading of the scriptures drastically. I feel like I have tried so hard for so long to climb out of this rut, and I simply don’t feel that I have any more strength left in me. I recognize that this is a problem, but I just don’t know how to deal with it anymore. I yearn for the passion and zeal that I used to have for the Lord and I want to get back to that place so badly, I just don’t know how. Please help me!

Sincerely,
Fallen and I can’t get up

Dear Fallen…

As I read your question, I thought to myself: From one “Fallen to another “Fallen.” That’s the truth of it. If only we stayed up for the whole journey, right? But this tug and give seems to be part of the human experience, even in the life of faith.

My first hope is that you aren’t living under the yolk of a “try-hard life.” Obviously God desires us to be walking toward Him, leaning forward, drawing near on a daily basis… but at times in my life I let the guilt of my own stagnation actually push me FURTHER from Him

Imagine you and I meet up for coffee regularly. We have a 4:00pm date each and every Monday. And say I missed one Monday, just totally forgot about it. You would expect me to be apologetic. I might buy your coffee the next time and beg profusely for your forgiveness. Not that ridiculous… but imagine if I did that EVERY time we met up for the following year. You couldn’t get a word in edge wise for the first half hour of every meeting because I was talking about the guilt I feel. Guilt has a way of keeping us from an intimate relationship. Because the truth of it is, you would likely grow tired of the routine and might eventually lament, “Would you please stop apologizing? I just want to spend time with you!” 

I recently pulled out my prayer journals from high school and college and discovered a common theme at the start of every entry. I expressed so much guilt. All. the. time. 95% of my interaction with the Lord was just me apologizing. I wonder now if God ever wanted me to just enjoy my time with Him – to let Him speak to my heart and encourage me in my walk… even if it wasn’t perfect. Confession to the Lord is a beautiful thing, but I was living in the land of self-condemnation… and I just want to make sure you aren’t camped out there as well.

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For MANY years I spent most of my prayer time asking for forgiveness for not being focused or passionate. I began to feel burnt out and unsure of how to initiate the growth I desired. I know that I fall into thought patterns where I assume that I’m the only one who struggles. I’ve been a believer for as long as I can remember. I have lived in church all my life.  And yet, I sometimes worry that I’m the only one who’s thinking: “I don’t know how to do this… pray, fast, be spiritual, choose which way to go.  I should be better than this!”

And then I read a book that spoke right to the heart of my struggle: Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli.

“Spirituality is anything but a straight line, it is a mixed-up, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter godliness that turns our lives into an upside-down toboggan ride full of unexpected turns, surprise bumps, and bone-shattering crashes.  In other words, messy spirituality is the delirious consequence of a life ruined by a Jesus who will love us right into his arms.” –Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality

Amen to that.  I feel like I’m in a life-long journey of admitting my mess. I spent a large portion of my life being terrified that someone would figure out just how much of a mess I was. But the first step is admittance.

Hi, my name is Ginger and I am a spiritual mess. My time in the word is sometimes sporadic, my prayers distracted, and my heart selfish.

But thank God for grace that covers my fears… and mess. Thank God for grace that covers us both!

Now that we’ve covered that side of things, I wanted to tackle the rest of the question. How do we fan the flame in our relationship with the Lord?

Some ideas for you – as it seems like you already have some sort of a routine in place: 

  • Change up your routine from time to time.  (Sometimes I read from a different translation or at a different time in the day. Sometimes I read a book, and sometimes I take a walk outside while listening to a podcast. Watch the checklist – this is a relationship!)
  • Remember that walking is still moving! Just keep moving forward.  (Some days I can read a whole book of the Bible in one sitting and other days I only make it through a verse or two.)
  •  Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or if you’re just off your game. Pick it back up tomorrow.  (Don’t let guilt keep you away from a gift!)
  • Find exciting new ways to pray. Try writing out your prayers, doodling and drawing, praying with someone else, making a prayer box… write your requests on slips of paper and then draw 1-2 a day to specifically pray for. When they are answered, post them somewhere visible.
  • Volunteer/serve/encourage someone else! Write out Bible verses and send encouraging notes to friends and family who might need a pick me up. Maybe even try it anonymously. Joy comes from blessing and encouraging others, rather than focusing on our own needs. When life is “all about me” it leaves little room for the joy that emerges through loving people.

Remember, if a relationship is worth growing, it’s worth pursuing even on our lamest of days. Your efforts will be rewarded!

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” 2 Chronicles 15:7, NIV

I love this reminder from Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman:

“Emotions don’t have a brain. They are reactors. They may respond to truth, but they may also respond to lies with the same passion and conviction, sometimes more so. You must decide if you will trust the feeling or if you will trust the truth.”  

It’s important to remember that your spiritual journey is a marathon, not a sprint. You will get tired, just like a runner. That’s why you need the nourishment of God’s Word, the encouragement of fellowship, and the care for your temple to see you through the tough days of training! Hang in there. Keep talking to God.  He is FOR you, and not against you!

Remember that He’s not holding out on you, waiting for you to get it together.

Remember that He sees you and He hears you. 

Remember that His promises are precious and great.

Remember that He loves you and He has given you everything that you need to live a great story and grow in His love and Word. Hang in there.

When your strength runs out – that’s when He goes to work! “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV)

Praying for freedom from guilt and the passion you so desire.

Following,
Ginger

Dear Ginger: Uncomfortable in my Own Skin

dear ginger

Hey Ginger!

I am struggling about my self-confidence. I know that I am supposed to love myself for who I am and everything. But I am truly stuck. Some girls at school are calling me names, and it is just bringing down my confidence in myself. I don’t cut myself or anything, but I have tried cutting, but I just won’t let myself do it. I was just wondering what would be the best way to raise my confidence in myself. I have talked to my parents, but I am just too scared to tell them that I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. Have a great day.

-S

S- Thank you so much for your note and for sharing what’s going on in your heart. I’m so sorry this has been such a season of pain and sadness in your life. I want you to know that I’m praying for you especially today.

First of all, I want you to remember that you don’t have to be afraid to share with your parents about how you are feeling. I think they would care deeply about your hurts, just like they care about your successes in school. This is a tough battle for a lot of teens, and especially a ton of teen girls, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal. Bullying is a really big deal and I can understand why it leaves you feeling negatively about yourself.  I want you to really think about telling your mom or dad. I know there have been times when I’ve been scared to share things, but it’s usually because I want to protect someone else, or because I’m afraid that they will be disappointed. Trust me, your parents will love you no matter what.

Secondly, I’m sorry that you feel so STUCK.

I know that I was stuck in a pattern for a long time in my life. I felt like I was a car in the mud and no matter how hard I pushed on the gas, the wheels would just turn and dig me down further.

You see, I’ve always struggled with loving the way that I look – especially when I felt that I didn’t fit in with other girls my age. It seemed like everyone else could eat whatever they wanted and still look the same. I felt like there was nothing I could do to stop worrying about my boday and start actually be comfortable in my own skin.

I didn’t try cutting, but I did make myself throw up. Sometimes we think we can do something drastic to feel differently or make a change, but the truth is I needed something stronger than myself to create change. I needed something stronger than self-esteem, self-confidence, and quick fixes. Hurting myself was only… hurting myself. I was digging my wheels deeper into the mud.

Even now, as a 30 year-old, the lie that says: You aren’t good enough because of the way you look – creeps in and wants to threaten all the confidence I have in the Lord.

So what do I do when that lie knocks on the door of my heart?

1. I claim truth. I read and remember the words that God has said about me.

2. I remind myself the value God has placed on my life.

3. I drop the lie that if I can just raise my self-esteem everything will get better.

4. I keep myself encouraged and grounded by reading the words of others who have struggled just like I do.

5. I cling to WHOSE I am, rather than who I am or how I’m failing.

6. And finally, I remember the hard road that I’ve walked and how I don’t want to go back there again. I’ve got too much to look ahead TOWARD. I want to keep fighting.

I needed something outside of ME to pull me out. In my own story, God has used His Word and Truth, books, accountability, and especially counseling to give wisdom and insight into my “stuck” situation. But more than anything, God has replaced my self-doubts with confidence in Him through a deeper relationship with HIM.

I believe that God does not desire for us to stay in that muddy place. He wants to pull us out of the pit. That’s why I want to recommend some resources for you today.

1.    Lies Young Women Believe (blog and book) by DeMoss and Gresh

2.   The Search for Significance by Robert McGee

3.   Graceful by Emily P. Freeman

4.   Perfectly Unique by Annie F. Downs

5.    2nd Corinthians chapter 10 (especially verses 4-5)

God wants our hearts, and is fighting for them. I truly believe this. And I’m happy to say that He is helping me get free, even in the smallest of ways. That’s my same prayer for you.

No matter what I might infer about my looks or weight… or even what others might say – the TRUTH is what I must cling to, even if I don’t feel that it is true…

“You are a beloved creation of the God of the heavens, that created you just like you are. When you look in the mirror and you don’t like what you see, you need to remember that the God who remade this sunset right here, He formed you in your mother’s womb, every part of who you are. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of, there’s nothing to look at and say,

“It’s not beautiful.”

You can’t look at some airbrushed picture of someone who doesn’t even look like that in real life and compare yourself to that. That’s not the reality of life. But what you are, is perfectly made by God of the heavens and He meant it on purpose.” 

― Lacey Mosley

I’ve found the secret of freedom to be different from what the world says. I haven’t learned 6 steps to higher self-esteem. Instead I am learning to reprogram my mind and know my Heavenly Father MORE. How He sees me is the only thing that matters.

Praying for your heart today, S. Please write again soon.

-Ginger