Day 98 of 100: Living the Tension

Our natural tendency as humans is to have things packed up in a nice, neat little box. To know the right thing to say and the right thing to do, who or what is at fault, when to let an issue be and when to do something about it, when to push through and when to rest. To know when trouble is going to end, why something is happening to you, how to fix your personal unhealthy thought processes, how to get from where you are to where you want to be.

Life, quite simply, is not that simple.

Sometimes you do have a clear vision of your goal and how to get there. Sometimes you have a clear vision of your goal but no idea how to get there or something has frustrated your plan of how to get there. Sometimes you have no idea where you’re going but you’re just taking things one day at a time. Sometimes you know the right way to think, the right way to treat someone, the right thing to do, but it feels like you lack the strength to make that change.

Last year, I read Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits, which was a deeply transformative book for me about the tensions and unanswered questions in life. She uses language like “incubating the tension” and “living the questions” instead of resolving the tension and answering the questions. The book was clarifying about why I struggled with the tension that I did/do.

The tensions in life are coming to my attention again through this sermon series “Christian” by Andy Stanley at North Point Church, reading various articles on the pervasiveness of racism and the subleties of white supremacy (including this one from a friend from college that resonates with me), being uncertain how to react to the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage and the transgender movement, spending time with my community group talking to the homeless on the outskirts of Skid Row and not knowing what to do about the deeply disturbing and painful aspects of Los Angeles, watching some friends struggle through disciplining and ministering to neighborhood children, and struggling with how to approach issues and dissatisfaction in progress in my relationship, friendships, ministry, and work.

Frankly, I know I would wreck myself with anxiety if I even tried to resolve all these issues. I’ve been taught all my life in church that anxiety doesn’t add anything to your life, and you should learn to give things up to God.

So maybe for the sake of my brain making everything manageable, I’ve narrowed this all down to one tension, brought to mind through “Christian”: grace vs. truth.

The scariest thing to me about parenting (thankfully, I have a few years before I’m at that point) is how to teach my child to do the right thing and live in truth, and yet be gracious and forgiving.

Depending on your personality, you probably lean toward one side of grace and truth. My natural tendency is grace: I’m a bit of a conflict avoider, and so I tend to let a lot of things slide because I figure it’s not my place to judge or say anything, and while I get along well with just about everyone, people are sometimes confused as to what I’m feeling and what I think needs to be done.

I know a few people who lean toward truth: they tend to get into a lot of conflict because they’re so confrontational. If they see something wrong, they’ll let you know. I find these people refreshing to be around, because even if they’re not in the right, you know exactly what they’re thinking about and what their expectations are. At the same time, sometimes I just want them to be a bit more flexible.

The Bible says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Somehow, Jesus got this balance right. And as Stanley says, this made (and still makes) people extremely uncomfortable but drew people to Jesus. Jesus asked people to give up everything, but forgave and extended grace, then says “go and sin no more.”

The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we become like him, and therefore the better we get at balancing grace and truth. The better we get at loving like Jesus did. But this takes time. It takes effort and receiving love from God, it means taking risks and messing up a lot and returning to God. It means learning to extend ourselves grace and give ourselves some hard truth. It means doing the right thing even if it may cost us all that makes us comfortable. It means choosing to step into the difficulties and the reality of others in order to love them like Jesus did.

I don’t entirely know what this looks like in all the tensions I’ve seen in my life, but I know I can’t run away from these tensions by trying to resolve them. I know I’ll mess up, but I know God is bigger than my mess-ups and that even if I don’t get grace and truth right all the time, he’s still working.

So grace and truth is a tension I’m stepping into, because I know that in doing so I find the Jesus who embodied this tension.

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Day 91 of 100: Leadership Deconstructed

Lots of things happened at church this week. We had our week-long Vacation Bible School (VBS), started a middle school girls’ small group, and our youth group took over our Sunday morning services.

Gosh, amazing things happened. VBS is consistently an incredible collaboration of highly motivated storytellers, artists, actors, small group leaders, administrators, cooks, and coordinators of all ages in our church, to put together a week-long gospel production that really connects the over 100 children that participated in VBS to God. The middle school girls’ small group was a wonderful time of openness and authenticity over some difficult topics and fun in baking brownies. Youth Sunday was a beautiful day where the youth exercised and brought out gifts and talents many of them had no idea they had or had no opportunity to develop.

I played various leadership roles throughout this last week, and all these events were opportunities for me to apply some concepts of leadership that I’ve been researching recently (mostly from Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast and a leadership devotional my mom gave me a while ago), so here are some of the things I learned/applied, somewhat through trial and error, about leadership in this last week.

Leadership takes many styles, depending on your arena. This week, I was a skit/dance team coordinator, small group leader, and worship team leader. It took some time to figure out what leadership looks like in each of these arenas. More on this in the following points.

Leverage your teams’ strengths. I got better at this through leading skits/dances during VBS. The thing about being a jack-of-all-trades type like me tends to mean that you’re not particularly good at anything, but I think it helps me appreciate when other people are really good at something I’m decent at. Each member of my VBS skit team was particularly strong in a skill whether it be making sure we were effectively conveying the message we wanted in the skit, bringing humor into the skit, improvising during the skit, being able to convey emotion well in the skit, writing the script well, etc… It was a humbling experience of me constantly moving myself out of the way for another member with something really great to add to our performances.

Delegate. Be clear about what your goal is and why you’re striving for it. Be clear about what you expect of the people you delegate to. I did not do this well during VBS, and I learned how important it is. Delegation is a great leadership goal, partially to alleviate some of your burden but also to empower those under your leadership. During VBS, I asked my team to plan out most of the skits, but I didn’t communicate well what I expected of them, including what their message should be, what Bible stories they should base their skits on, how much time the skit should take, etc. One of my team members made a point of starting and ending our time in prayer.

You have the power to set the tone.  I started the small group session with how the book/sermon series (“Battlefield of the Mind for Teens” by Joyce Meyer) has affected and helped me in my life, sharing with the girls my personal struggles and how God has been working with me in my life through them, then opened the discussion to the girls and asked them what they wanted to get out of this small group. I don’t usually do these things, but I heard they’re a good idea and I’m really glad I did. In sharing my story, I gave the girls a green light of “safe space”, which I believe encourages discussion and tells them that they have control over how much and what they get out of our small group time. The role of small group leader is one of guiding discussion, asking questions to encourage the group to go deeper and apply principles to their lives beyond the scope of the small group itself. This differs from a worship team leader or skit team leader, whose goal is to put together a good worship set/skit for the primary benefit of the audience. Character development of the team members seems to be more of a by-product of working toward that goal.

Your team will go where you go. The role of a worship team leader is a bit like producer/performer. Worship leaders ideally have a good ear for what works and doesn’t work in a song, coordinating each instrument and voice to help the team understand who starts a song, the tempo, when to build or get softer, what key the song’s in, etc. As a worship leader, your mood tends to set the tone for the song and people depend on you to start singing, whether to sing a verse/chorus/bridge, watching me to see if I’m jumping around or if I’m going for a more contemplative vibe. It’s about organizing the music and performing in a way that allows people to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. This is a little bit less true in my skit/dance coordinator role, because every member of my team was more gifted than I in some arena, so they’re able to and should go beyond where I go.

Listen and seek unity. Always. James 1:19 says “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” This can be SO HARD when you just know what your team should do. Listening is empowering to others. Listening allows you to consider ideas that your team has that you would never have thought of yourself. This happened many times through VBS, and I learned how to ask my team what they want to do before giving my input, and often their ideas were better. Asking what my girls wanted from our small group instead of telling them what I want them to get out of it allows them to take ownership of their spiritual growth. Even if you’re right and you know what’s best, people will often not do what you want them to unless they feel heard and understood. I can name numerous times that I’ve completely shut down in front of people that I felt didn’t understand me, even though I knew that what they’re saying is right.

Leadership is a learning process. I’m always learning things about myself and about others. I’m learning how to extend myself grace as a leader, as well as extending grace and love to those I’m leading. Leadership is scary, but it makes life exciting, and I believe that anyone can lead by finding their leadership style and loving others.

Day 84 of 100: Soul Keeping

How is your soul doing?

I believe this question is deeper than “how are you doing?” or “how are you feeling?”, partially because I don’t think you can answer “fine, how are you?” to this question.

This week I finished reading Soul Keeping by John Ortberg, who asks us to consider this question.

I like to gauge how my soul is doing by my sense of “connection vs. disconnection”: am I finding meaning and peace in my relationships, work, rest, hobbies, and ministry?

I measure the health of my soul by my thoughts. Am I anxious about my life and feel like I have to “make something happen”? Am I afraid that nothing is going to get any better unless I do something? Am I imagining possible bad outcomes and preparing myself for the worst? Do I avoid making decisions or committing to something in fear that it’ll fall through? Do I mindlessly scroll through the Internet because there’s a task I’m avoiding?

The health of my soul comes out in how I treat people. Do I avoid people at work and even church because I’m afraid they think I’m annoying or a burden? Is my demeanor just a little too detached and polite? Am I trying to guess how deep they’re willing to go instead of openly sharing myself? Do I get annoyed at how I feel like I’m being treated? Do I get frustrated when others disappoint me? Do I assume that someone else is at fault when something doesn’t go right in my life?

Here’s what a healthy soul looks like to me, many of these are from a list in Ortberg’s book:

  • Saying “yes” or “no” when someone asks me to do something without anxiety, obligation, or wavering
  • Speaking and sharing what’s in my heart with confidence and honesty
  • Seeing myself and others as God sees us
  • Honestly owning up to what I’ve done wrong without being overcome by guilt or shame
  • Giving credit where credit is due
  • Knowing God’s presence and the movement of the Holy Spirit in my daily life
  • Willing to take risks in leadership
  • Going the extra mile
  • Not making assumptions about another’s character based on what I see
  • Believing the best of everyone and striving for mutual understanding
  • Working to bring out the best in others
  • Using my talents and possessions to bless others and bring glory to God
  • Developing a conversational relationship with God

This list is overwhelming to me. As much as I’d like to strive for each of these things, I know that I’ll always mess up and get down on myself about it.

Here’s my theory: Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. I can only effectively live and love wholeheartedly when in relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of all things and when I seek him first.

I’ve been testing out this theory, first by identifying the things in my life that cause me to feel disconnected from God, myself, and others and removing or limiting them (Hebrews 12:1 – …let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…) and identifying habits that help me feel “connected” to my self, others, and God and bringing them into my routine. This allows my category-loving brain to separate things into “helpful” and “not helpful.” The question I like to ask myself is, “in light of the person I want to become, is this a wise thing for me to do?”

Having a conversation with someone at work every day: energizing. Video gaming: restful, in moderation. Cooking: freeing. Deep, real talk: connecting with others. Mindless scrolling on Facebook and Pinterest: depressing. Journaling: clarifying. Reading: relaxing. Reading the Bible and applying it to my life, listening to sermons and reading books from wise Christ-loving people: engaging. Watching violent TV/movies/video games: nerve-wracking. Listening to storytelling podcasts: empathy-inducing. Prayer with people and alone: life-giving. Dwelling on a problem but avoiding confrontation: disconnecting from others. Working to reconcile a problem with another: restoring. Completing an experiment and asking for help: empowering. Trying to do work alone or in a hurry, or sitting in anxiety: draining. This isn’t to say that I think entertainment is wrong, but I believe some discernment is required to find out what entertainment and in what dosage is life-giving for you.

The soul longs for connection with self, others, and God. I believe that Jesus’ mission was and is to fill this longing for reconciliation, and that by getting to know, understand, trust, and follow Jesus that I find the connection I’m looking for. So far, it’s going pretty well. I feel more confident, more expressive, more energetic, and I’m experiencing deeper connections with people and a deeper sense of seeing God’s hand in everything. So I’m running with it. Change is happening, slowly, and it’s very exciting.

So, how is your soul doing?

Day 77 of 100: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. –Psalm 127:1

I am a doer. I like getting things done, seeing progress happen, watching myself and others grow and be transformed. I thrive on having a goal and pushing through obstacles to see that goal achieved. I can keep positive and energetic as long as I have a concrete goal in mind, and see obstacles and difficulties on my path to the goal as things that need to be removed.

I work project-to-project, which works pretty well for me as a scientist and a teacher. Complete one experiment, plan the next. Complete one lesson, learn all I can about a topic, plan the next. When I achieve a goal, I shoot a little higher and work toward that goal. The quicker I achieve a goal, the sooner I can move to the next level. I get one set of results from my experiments and think, what’s the next step? What do I do with this?

I do not like doing anything mindlessly, even entertainment. I play video games in Japanese to at least feel like I’m learning something. If I don’t see how an activity, or whatever is happening in my life, will be of benefit to my character or personal growth, I put it in the category of “obstacle” to be removed. The nice thing is that I’m very self-motivated, but the downside is as some of you may imagine, basal levels of anxiety. It’s the fear of feelings of inadequacy that come from failure or the inability to complete a project on my own. It’s trying to push down any of those fears because I believe I “should” be able to complete a goal in my work, emotional, and spiritual life.

I suspect many of you are like me, especially in a culture and environment that values progress. But since I’ve been thinking about breaking my nervous habit (you may be proud to know that I’ve gone up to 3 days in a row now of no-nail-biting!), I’m becoming more aware of how the basal level of anxiety plays a role in my life, and often hinders my productivity because I’ll do some things out of desperation or to get rid of the anxiety, which is not a good emotional state if you want to do things well.

I struggle with this, because I think of my self-motivation, my drive for achieving goals and growth, as a good thing and a God-given gift. But I also recognize my natural tendency to just do things that may seem like good things, especially in ministry, but may end up draining me out and just not helpful for anyone.

In this post, I will address some principles of the value of rest, of working to be attentive to the movement of God, and of critically analyzing the motivations behind what we do. In reverse order.

In Dallas Willard’s Hearing God, Willard poses the question, “Is this serving what I want or what God wants?” In one of his Leadership Podcasts, Andy Stanley encourages us to ask, “in light of my past experiences, my current emotions and circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?”

These questions have been helpful for me to think about what responsibilities I decide to take on. Is it to make me feel like I’m doing something good? Am I doing this to suppress my fear of inadequacy, or am I doing this because God has called me to it? Is God actually building this “house” with me, or am I building it and hoping that God will join and agree with me?

Asking these questions has brought immense clarity and simplicity into my life. If God is in the things that I do, that really streamlines my activities. I’m not trying to build houses that God is not also building. And that removes a lot of frustration when a project goes poorly or stops progressing. It takes a lot of discernment to tell if failure or a lack of progress means it’s time to abandon the project, or if it’s just an obstacle to learn from and keep going.

So here’s the balance I’m learning to strike: because I believe that God actually does want me to do good things, and I believe that God is in many of the things that I do, I need to draw my energy from God. Which means dropping some things to intentionally create times of rest and not-doing-anything to simply sit and rest with him. Sometimes I feel like God is telling me something, sometimes I feel like he just wants me to sit and be with him. But these times of silence and solitude have helped me become more aware of where God is throughout my day.

How do you know if God is in the things you’re working toward? It takes a relationship with God. I also believe that sometimes God may frustrate our efforts if they’re drawing us away from him. It takes an attentiveness to the movement of his Spirit, which comes through time and practice. I’m surely not perfect at this, but I’ve been a lot happier and calmer since I started this “rest with God” project, which has made me more efficient and helps me think soundly about the things I do instead of doing them out of fear and anxiety. Resting and spending time investing in a relationship with God has worked wonders for me. Try it sometime.

Day 70 of 100: 10 Things I Learned from Water Polo

This weekend I played 6 water polo games with a wonderful group of women at the Master’s National Tournament in Riverside, CA. It was an exhausting weekend (and I was the goalie, I can’t even imagine how tired all them field players were), but I’m so happy and I miss playing water polo a lot.

My water polo coach in college used to say all the time that water polo will develop character qualities that will be helpful in post-college life. And now that I’m in post-college life, I understand what he means. So this post will be a tribute to my 8 years playing water polo.

1) How to stick with it and get back up again despite consistent failure. Turns out I’m continuously being tested in this area, because science. Being a goalie is a mentally and emotionally difficult position, because it is very difficult to have a perfect game where you block every shot and nobody scores on you (even when us as a Division III school played USC, with all their Olympian glory, we still scored). In that same USC game, I was scored on 27 times, the most in my career. You better believe it was hard to think to myself, “I’ll get the next one” after 27. But you have to learn to develop that hopeful attitude, or else you’ll end up getting really down on yourself or you’ll start angrily blaming your teammates. Resilience is a powerful character trait that comes from athletics.

2) Blame isn’t helpful. In water polo, we like to blame things on crappy referee calls, the other girl was kicking me and pulling my suit, my teammate doesn’t know what she’s doing, coach made a bad decision. Sometimes, I see these thought tendencies show up in my work: nobody told me how to do this, that’s not my responsibility, it’s because she didn’t do her part. It’s difficult to own up to your own mistakes. Sometimes, I think everything is my fault and I’m no good and I can never get it right, which is another unhealthy thought process. Navigating that tension between blaming others and blaming yourself is very, very difficult to do well. In the end, we have to rationally figure out what went wrong and what we need to do about it: whether we need to do more conditioning or a certain kind of drill, whether we all just need an attitude check, etc.

3) Grace is always helpful. Move on. Goalies, if you made a mistake and a goal scored, recognize that it was your mistake and do your best to get the next one. Extend yourself grace. If your teammates weren’t in the right position, let them know what they can do better next time, but extend them grace. People are more than the mistakes they make, in and out of the pool. Everyone’s working hard and doing their best (and if they’re not, that’s going to come back to hurt them in the end).

4) How to not be selfish. That’s the beauty of team sports: it’s not about you. It’s about the team. It’s about working together as a team. If you only care about you, your team will only be as strong as, well, you. And one person does not win games.

5) Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. Bring out other people’s strengths, allow them to help you in the places where you’re weak, and let your strengths shine. I don’t want us to think that we’re a bunch of worms and we’re nothing without other people. Sure, we need other people. But we’re gifted and strong in certain areas, while others are strong in others. As a goalie, I was good at blocking stuff, but my passing was pretty bad. So my teammates made sure that they got the ball from me before they swam too far down the pool that I couldn’t pass it accurately. It was a beautiful thing that they “accepted” my weakness and celebrated my strength, instead of getting annoyed at me for not being able to consistently have beautiful passes and expecting me to block everything.

6) People blossom under trust and encouragement. I knew that I would love my team this weekend when people were encouraging each other to work hard and have a positive attitude. I also feel really good about myself when my teammates were starting to say things like, take off to offense early, we trust our goalie to block this shot. It doesn’t so much freak me out and put pressure on me, but it sure makes me want to support my team because they trust me. It’s pretty empowering. People often live up or down to what’s expected of them, so might as well treat them like you expect good things from them.

7) How to show up and work hard even when you don’t feel like it. Not going to practice because you “didn’t feel like it” wasn’t an option, unlike some classes in college. The nice thing about the athletic culture is that it wasn’t “cool” to not show up. You earn respect by consistently showing up and working hard. That’s a valuable trait to take into any relationship or job.

8) All of life is connected. If you’re out all night partying, morning practice will be extremely difficult. You will get pretty miserable if you don’t let yourself have fun and play every once in a while. If you’re not eating or sleeping well or if you’re not doing well in your classes or if you’re having relationship/friendship problems, it shows up in the game or practice. That’s the nice thing about athletics: who you really are shows up. My struggles with confidence have shown up in various places in my athletic career, and so I developed some measure of confidence partially because it helped me in the game.

9) Focus on what matters. Goalies can get caught off guard if they’re not watching the ball. It’s a simple metaphor. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and we all wish we could have done things differently. But if we realize that we don’t have all the time in the world, we can start learning how to use our time wisely by prioritizing what is important to us.

10) You can’t always sit back and wait for things to come to you. Sometimes you have to go out and get it. Sure, you have to be flexible and ready for whatever comes your way. Sometimes it’s in a goalie’s best interest to go out of the goal to make a steal, but sometimes that’s not the wisest decision. You have to make the judgment of when to act and when to wait. This is applicable in job hunting, dating, doing something you’ve always wanted to do, etc. I’ve found that in life, listening to God is helpful here.

Athletics are great. I’ll probably make my kids do some sort of team sport. There’s certainly a lot more to be gleaned from the world of athletics, but here’s the 1st 10 things that came to mind.

Day 63 of 100: On habits, good and bad. But mostly nail-biting.

Have you ever had a bad habit that you never broke until you mysteriously stopped wanting to do it, and then you just stopped? Maybe instead, you’re like me and you wish it was that simple.

Or maybe, you want to work something good into your routine, like exercise or prayer or some sort of quiet relaxation time, but found yourself very unmotivated to do so. If you’re trying to start a new habit instead of break one, I suggest you skip down to the solution below.

I’ve been biting my fingernails and cuticles ever since I can remember. I’ve gotten pretty good at not doing it when I’m around people, even if I’m nervous, because when I see people biting their nails in public it makes them look very uncomfortable and nervous and unsure of themselves, an image I go to great length to avoid getting across.

Someone in my church made an observation that many of our volunteers and staff (especially in our youth program) have some noticeable nervous habit. The other day I looked around and maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of volunteer/staff present at our youth event (myself included) were chronic nail-biters.

This just became more than just nail biting. I know leaders can never really be perfect people, but I don’t want my youth to be following after someone with  undealt-with basal levels of anxiety. While I don’t think that anxiety disqualifies a person for leadership, I personally want to be consistent as a teacher: if I’m teaching students not to worry (Matthew 6, Philippians 4) then I should be modeling this.

In the isolating environment of my work, I’ve found myself increasingly in my own head, and acutely aware of the anxiety and uncertainty that makes my nervous habit difficult for me to control. And while I know some people who stopped biting their nails simply because they didn’t feel like it anymore, which has never been my case, and I would like to get out of this habit like, now. But it is also apparent to me that if I’m going to break this habit, I need to address the underlying anxiety. So I’m going to break the rest of this post into 1) the cause, 2) the brain function, and 3) potential solutions.

The cause: I was listening to an episode on habits from Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast, which offered a suggestion for identifying the cause if you don’t already know what it is: every time you bite your nails (or even feel the urge to do so), take a piece of paper and make a tick mark.

This was a humbling exercise for me. My tally was 32 on day 1. 30 of them were during the time I was at work, which is nearly 4 times per hour.

So then I started to become aware of what was going through my mind during these times: from worrying about what I would need to change if my next experiment didn’t work, playing scenarios in my head of how my lab members would react to my lab presentation, trying to talk to organize things with different people about living situations next year, worrying about how to effectively communicate my next Sunday School lesson, trying to plan the next youth worship team set, wondering when I’d have time to get groceries and cook something, brainstorming my boyfriend and I’s next date or thinking about something we want to work on together. Worry had seeped into every area of my life, so anything that caused any sort of uncertainty made me react in engaging in my habit.

In all of these situations, somehow I sensed a danger or a tension: tension in knowing that I am enough and lovable (Psalm 137:14, Romans 5:8) but wondering if there’s more or something different I should be doing (James 2), danger in feeling inadequate at my work and feeling the need to prove myself, danger in worrying about what would happen if I didn’t do a good job communicating my next Sunday School lesson.

So now I want to know what’s going on in my brain.

The brain: Turns out our brain prefers physical pain to anxiety. If the brain senses danger or anxiety, the slight physical pain caused by a nail or cuticle “injury” is actually one way to distract the brain from the anxiety. In extreme cases, this leads to other physical behaviors (you know what they are) that often the person engaging in them knows that it’s hurtful and potentially life-threatening but does it anyway. Physical pain then becomes an escape from the anxiety, allowing us to “run away” instead of fully engaging with what is making us anxious, to test to determine if it’s really all that dangerous, and make a logical and sound decision of our course of action.

Basically, if I want to learn to manage anxiety, I have to allow myself to fully feel it, bring it out and think about it. Recognize the cause, remind myself of truth, talk to someone else and allow them to remind me of truth if this is hard for me to do by myself, and then determine the best course of action (or inaction, as is best sometimes). Learning to stop by bad habit comes along with learning to manage the anxiety. And with that…

The solution: To making or breaking a habit, that is. Managing anxiety through doing the things in the previous paragraph and, ultimately, learning to give God control over things is something I’ve gotten better at over time, but my focus now is on the habit itself.

I’ve still tried a lot of things to break my habit, short of adding hot sauce to my fingernails: I’ve asked people to poke me when they see me doing it (which, as I mentioned, doesn’t work because I really only do it when I’m alone), I’ve painted my nails (which worked unless the paint was at all imperfect, then the habit got worse because I was picking off the paint too), I put on band-aids until I ran out.

The suggestion my podcast gave was to give your brain a “reward”: something that it looks forward to for doing or not doing something. The key is an immediate reward: If you want to start exercising, allow yourself to eat some chocolate (only) after you exercise. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you’re looking forward to a reward, it makes the difficulty easier to endure (huh, Hebrews 12:1-2). I’ve heard the suggestion of hanging up in view a pair of jeans of the size you want to be, but I personally don’t think this reward is immediate enough. Or, treat yourself to a nice coffee drink during or after your relaxation or quiet time. Something like that.

This might be a bit more complicated for people trying to break a habit instead of make one. For me, I’ve gotten my boyfriend involved in this, who’ll take me on a day-trip or some sort of day-long date when I can get my tally to 0. That’s a pretty good reward for me 🙂 So we’ll see how long this takes.

Find a reward. Get other people involved. If you’re serious about breaking a bad habit or forming a good one, it takes a lot of effort. But I am convinced and hopeful that it can be done and it can work, because science.

Day 56 of 100: As always, a work in progress

Holy cow, it’s June.

May has been a very eye-opening and humbling month for me, of realizing that I know a lot less than I used to like to think I did.

Here are 10 things I learned in May.

1) When in doubt, wait. This month I’ve gotten excited about a few different things, started developing new passions, and taken in a lot of new information. It’s refreshing to know that God and people do not expect me to act immediately on these things, and it would indeed be wise to give a lot of thought into new things before jumping all over them (even if you think, but it’s possible and seems great). Like buying a house, for example. Which is not practical right now, though it may be possible.

2) On a related note, if you’re passionate about something, do your research before acting. I’ve been trying to do research and talk to people about what it looks like to teach high school and whether or not it’s something I can actually do. I’ve been talking to a lot of people and reading a lot about the danger of being harmful when you’re genuinely trying to be helpful. It’s the whole “teach a man to fish” vs. “give him the fish” mentality. Basically, if you’re going to help a person or community out, figure out what they really need and leverage their abilities before giving what you think they need. This satirical youtube video illustrates this. Note: I do not think this video’s goal is to undermine TOMS or accuse them of not understanding the needs of the community. I think it is simply encouraging us to think about what we do, why we do it, and whether it is helpful or hurtful. See books such as When Helping Hurts and Overrated.

3) Leaders must be humble and teachable. I’ve learned a lot about leadership through my experience teaching, going to conferences, and listening to podcasts like Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. I’m getting a sense that the best leaders are good at developing and growing people, meaning they need to really understand and be affected by the people they lead, figuring out what each person’s gifts are and developing them.

4) I’m learning how to take care of myself spiritually, physically, and emotionally. I’ve heard statistics such as: 45% of youth leaders burn out, pastors have 7th highest divorce rate, 80% of Bible college students who enter the ministry leave within 5 years… I would very much so not like to be one of these statistics. I think any profession where you’re doing a lot of giving and pouring out to people runs the risk of burnout. For me, this looks like maintaining my relationship with God before asking my students to do the same; eating and sleeping well; making efforts to not isolate myself in my work, ministry, friendships, and relationship; in general, taking care of myself so I’m not trying to take care of others on “empty.”

5) Couples counseling is incredibly helpful, even before you get engaged. My boyfriend and I recently completed a series of counseling sessions with my pastor, and it has been so great for us to get all of our past hurts, current passions and values, conflict tendencies, relationship/marriage expectations, and where we want our lives to go out in the open before deciding that we want to commit to marriage or even engagement. It’s been pretty scary and vulnerable talking about these things, but we’ve learned a lot about each other through it. Here’s a related article about this.

6) I’m a lot less afraid to ask hard questions then I used to be. I’m getting better at evaluating myself and checking my motivations behind the things I do. I’m a pretty impulsive person and I’m easily excited about things, but I always have to remember to check myself before I take on responsibilities. I saw some youth ask this of themselves this week, and that’s inspiring.

7) Finding connections between science, Christianity, and psychology makes me really excited. See some previous “Sunday/ multiple of 7” posts.

8) Spending a day to laze about and chill and be a kid is really refreshing sometimes. My boyfriend and I spent most of Memorial Day building a pillow/blanket fort and watching cartoons in pjs. It was an amazing day.

9) Figuring out housing is stressful. Would anyone like to live with me next year? We have a lot of open rooms here…

10) Feeling the tension is better than trying to wrap things up in a neat little box. There’s always a tension between the reality that you see and the place where you want to be (hah, that rhymes). We don’t like uncertainty, so sometimes we look for easy answers and ways out that aren’t helpful. I’ve been feeling a lot of tension in accepting and loving the person I am now, but wanting to grow and become a stronger person. I’m trying to let myself feel that tension and live in it instead of getting too down on myself for not being who I want to be or too complacent.

So yes, as always, a work in progress.