Makeup & Masks.

The other day I was driving to work, crying.

I normally drive to work, but not usually crying. In fact, the crying is very rare and only certain things set me off; men crying in films, confrontation and cutting onions.

I’m not great at mornings and so often forgo things in order to get more sleep; hair, makeup, breakfast. Over time I realised that I could sleep for a little longer if I did my makeup in the car. I have a reasonably long drive to work, which means I can get away with doing most of my makeup whilst stuck in traffic and at traffic lights.

So this particular morning, I had left for work with my makeup undone and the tears sporadically falling. I figured that once I got these pesky tears under control, I could start my makeup routine. Any girl can tell you there’s no point bothering with mascara if there’s a potential for tears. What a mess.

But just when I thought I had them under control, they’d start back up again. It was a disaster. I was nearly halfway there and I hadn’t started my makeup. Eventually I just decided I needed to get this show on the road and even if it meant I had to touch up my makeup, I should at least start. Weird thing was, as soon as I started to actually apply the makeup – I instantly stopped crying and the tears never came back. BAM, crisis averted.

Immediately I was hit with the incredible symbolism of that moment. That I literally was covering up my face and in doing so, covering up my pain. Hiding it away under a layer of Napoleon & Lancôme.

Does this kind of moment sound at all familiar to anyone?

Perhaps it’s a big but fake smile that you’ve perfected over the years. Perhaps it’s a busy routine that stops you from feeling. Perhaps it’s a critical spirit or an intense sense of humour or a perfectly curated instagram feed. Layers and layers of “makeup” so perfectly applied that you’ve forgotten you were hurting in the first place.

What’s your go to mask? What do you do to hide the pain that you’re experiencing? What’s your routine that prevents you from being real and vulnerable with people?

Masks are deceptive little things.

With my makeup mask firmly in place – it was incredible easy for me to move on with my day. I could pretend it had never happened. It didn’t have any impact. It didn’t hurt. I’m good, over it – ‘look how perfect my face (life) is’.

With my makeup mask firmly in place – it would have been easy to arrive at work and pretend like nothing had happened. How ridiculous to answer ‘how are you this morning?’ with a ‘not great actually’. How crazy to ask for help, for someone to talk to?

The problem with masks is twofold.

You stop yourself from healing, actually forgiving and forgetting. The mask tricks you. You didn’t actually work through it – you covered it up. When you take your “makeup” off at the end of the day, all that grit is still there.

You also prevent anyone from being a part of the healing process. The mask tricks people and says ‘back off – I don’t need you’. You prevent relationship – which when you’re alone, mask-less – is all you really crave. Honest and real relationship.

The whole thing is crazy. No one wants to hide his or her pain all day. No one wants to shun honest relationship. So, how do we stop? How do we get better at being honest with each other, with ourselves?

I don’t really know. But writing this was step 1 for me.

I want to learn how to be real and vulnerable. And not just because it’s trendy to be authentic but because masks are tiring and toxic for me and for you. It prevents me from dealing with the not so perfect parts of life and it prevents you from connecting with me – the real me. Yuck.

When I figure out step 2, maybe I’ll let you know.

Learning Pain’s Name

I started a new role at my work approximately 3 months ago. Where I work there is a lot of movement and I am the 3rd person backfilling the role this year. The lady I work with however has been in her position for many, many, many years – especially given the movement. She is well known and is a wealth of information about the organisation and has been pretty invaluable to me in my learning. I noticed something funny after my first couple of weeks and that was that people would walk past our open office plan area and greet her as they normally did – ignoring me in the process. I wasn’t’ mad or offended – they didn’t know me, probably thought I wasn’t going to be around for long or we just hadn’t been introduced and it’s weird to greet someone if you don’t know their name.

Having now been in this role for a little while I’ve noticed that some of the people have learnt my name or we’ve been introduced and will now greet both of us as they pass through and others still just greet my colleague and act as though I am invisible. It’s semi awkward when my colleague is away for the day and they actually do need to come and speak with me and have to acknowledge the fact that even though I’ve been here for so long – they don’t know my name and what I do. It’s not awkward for me, just for them. All of a sudden they need my help and it’s a little weird.

It got me thinking about how skilled we become at avoiding things in our life.

I used to be an expert at avoiding pain. Out of habit you walk past something and greet the familiar and while you may wonder about the strange intruder – you aren’t prepared to make yourself a little uncomfortable and introduce yourself – ‘Hello pain, I don’t think we’ve met before’. It becomes easier and easier with time to pretend that pain doesn’t actually exist and you spend your time greeting and focusing on the familiar joy and good times. Meanwhile, pain is over there growing in skill and importance and just waiting til the hurt becomes so big you eventually trip over it.

I think they thought I would eventually move on – that they wouldn’t need to get to know me. Why spend time on someone that wouldn’t be there for very long. She probably can’t help me with my query – I’d prefer to talk to someone I know. I’ll come back later when someone familiar returns.

The problem with pain and avoiding it is that eventually the joy goes on leave and all you’re left with is the hurt you’ve been avoiding for the last 3 months. By that time – pain is a fully fledged integrated member of the workplace and you actually have to go through her to get your work done. You actually need pain’s help and while it might have been a little uncomfortable walking up and saying ‘Ok let’s get this over and done with – pain, I acknowledge you’ its way less awkward than the alternative.

Don’t pretend your pain isn’t real, that it’s going to go away on its own or that you can avoid it. You can’t. The more you avoid it the more painful it becomes. The longer you refuse to learn pain’s name, the more it shouts ‘I’m here and I’m going to let you know about it’. The longer you pretend its invisible – the more comfortable and integrated pain becomes. The longer you think it’s going away the more intent it is to stay.

Yes it might have been a little awkward at first, but if they’d just introduced themselves – maybe I could have helped them, maybe pain could have become a friend. I believe that it’s possible to turn the thing you hated most into your greatest triumph. Don’t be afraid of dealing with pain, put a name to it and start dealing with it.

Drawing blanks.

Lately I’ve been drawing an overall blank about what to say here. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, in fact I think I almost have too much to say. However I find myself sitting in front of an empty word document/piece of paper and drawing blanks. Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of a process or a journey, anything that comes out is a bit risky. You might be in a great place today, but tomorrow is undecided. You’re still working through whatever it is you want to write about.

I love that while I can’t currently articulate what it is I’m thinking or feeling, there is still someone who understands. I love that while words evade me completely – I can rely on someone else’s wisdom. I love that God is big enough to handle all of it.

 
“I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.”
— Elisabeth Elliot

Chapter 3

I love reading. I love words and I love stories and so I love reading, I always have. Still despite my love for it, as I’ve gotten older – I tend to get out of the habit of consistent reading. My life might be busy or I’m doing a lot of reading for university and so while my love for reading remains true – the actual reading slows down. Sometimes I stop reading because I’m busy or sometimes because I came across a challenging book. It sort of stumped me and I’m struggling to get into it.

I know what I like to read. I know what are ‘easy reads’ for me and which authors and which styles of books I can knock over in a day or two and which ones will tend to drag out. So if I know I just want a good, quick, easy read – I know where on the bookshelf to look. I sometimes (quite often) read the same book twice (multiple times actually) because I know how much I love it, the safe option. However sometimes I get adventurous and think crazy thoughts like ‘Perhaps I should mix it up and read this autobiography, or this thriller, or this classic novel’. And then I start to resent my adventurous crazy side because it’s kind of hard. You just can’t get into and you’re stuck at Chapter 3 and it’s just not happening.

Sometimes I find myself re-reading the same words over and over again and getting nowhere. Sometimes I put the book down for so long that when I finally do decide to give it another shot, I’ve forgotten everything that happened and I have to start from the beginning – and yet I’m still stuck at chapter 3. Fast Forward 5 months and I still can’t finish Wuthering Heights. It’s meant to be a classic, it’s meant to be good – it’s just not for me. So I shelve the book, annoyed that it somehow beat me and I pretend I never even started it. In fact I remove it from the shelf so it can’t taunt me. And yes, I have a strange relationship with reading.

Oh boy did I get slammed when I realized how much my relationship to reading and books related to my relationship with pain and processing.

Sometimes in life we shelve our feelings for some particular reason. Something hurt us, pretty bad – but for whatever reason, we shelved the emotions. “I can’t deal with this right now – so I’m just going to put these feelings over here and come back to them later”. Perhaps you are the same in that you tried giving it a go – you sat down and said ‘I’m going to deal with “blank” issue now’. You got going and you were reading and dealing and then you got to about Chapter 3 and you stalled. It got too hard, you weren’t seeing any results and you gave it up. You shelved it and thought ‘perhaps pain really isn’t for me, I’m actually looking for a quick easy read anyway’.

I don’t need a really great book analogy to explain that unresolved pain or issues from the past – need to be dealt with. They might not trip you up now – but no matter how “together” you are – they will trip you up at some point.

Unresolved pain is like that book you could never finish. You’ve put enough distance between yourself and the pain that you almost don’t remember why you were hurting. You spent enough time away from it or neglecting it or kicking it further underneath your bed where everything you’re looking for seems to hide and you almost don’t remember why.

What really sucks is that now you have to re-read through Chapters 1 and 2. The stuff you wished was behind you. The stuff you need to deal with and remember so that you can move past Chapter 3.

 As humans, we’re conditioned to believe we can just pick up where we left off.
You can’t.
As humans, we’re conditioned to shelve our pain and process it later.
We never really do.
As humans, we’re conditioned to ignore the little signals and triggers that unresolved pain emits.
Those signals are signs of deep emotional damage and it’s worth taking a look.

I know it seems hard and tedious and painful – but you need to pick that unfinished book up off the shelf. You need to pick up the pain and allow yourself to feel it and then move forward. Don’t pick up the ‘easy reads’ and just try and coast through life taking the easy way out. You need to know that beyond Chapter 3 is when the story starts to get good. It’s when you start to invest in the character – it’s when you figure out the character’s purpose and direction and it is only when you finish that book – that the story is complete. I’m not saying you’ll love the book or even that it gets easier – but it will be complete. Only then can you be whole.

Strength in Joy

Lately I’ve been so aware of the heartache of life. Situations that people find themselves in where there actually is a physical response to emotional pain. A literal heart ache. In talking, thinking and praying through these situations I keep coming back to the words ‘The Joy of the Lord is my strength’. The phrase comes from Nehemiah 8:10 in which we are instructed ‘Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’.

I think it’s one of those wonderful things we say to people who are grieving but I never want to be someone who just says things for the sake of saying things and so it warranted further thought.

I’ve never been more aware of the acute difference between Joy and Happiness. Happy is an emotion, joy is state of mind. Happy is temporary, Joy is eternal. There’s something so powerful about true joy and I think that’s why we tell people ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength’. It’s not some iffy wiffy statement that proclaims, if you are happy and you just try a little bit harder to find some ‘joy’ in this trial, there you will find your strength. Fooey! Anyone who tells someone that, hasn’t been through heart ache or is having you on.

Have you ever met someone with true joy? So often it seems like nothing gets them down, that somehow they turn every hardship into opportunity. These are people who have grasped pure joy. People with joy aren’t easily beaten, they aren’t easily bruised and when they are, they have the strength to rise and try again.

If true joy seems a little unattainable, or a little too tough at times the best news that I have is that it’s the joy OF the Lord that is your strength. Supernatural and complete joy only comes from God. Let his joy and delight be your joy and delight. It won’t fix your problems, but you will find strength in pain.

1 Chronicles 16:27
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

Psalm 28:7
The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.

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Hope and Breaking

Have you ever experienced crushing defeat?

There’s a definite difference between regular old defeat, which still isn’t fun, and soul crushing defeat. Defeat occurs on a regular basis. You fail a test, you mess up a proposal at work, you made a fool of yourself, you sung a wrong note. Soul crushing defeat is worse. It might be those very same circumstances, but your heart was involved.

You desperately needed a pass and you’d put everything into that assignment. Soul Crushing Defeat. You messed upon a proposal at work that you’d spent hours and hours on and it means you won’t get that promotion. Soul Crushing Defeat. You made a fool of yourself and went out on a limb with that special someone. Soul Crushing Defeat. You sung a wrong note in front of hundreds of people who laughed. Soul Crushing Defeat.

This is the worst kind of pain. When you’re brought so close to something that means so much to you – only to have it flop and turn into icky mess. You were so sure that God had whispered to you that this was finally your moment – you walked right up to the doorway and you were about to step into your dream and the door got slammed in your face. You were so close to the dream that the door kind of pinches you on the nose and throws you backwards. You’re left a little bit (or a lot) broken and crumpled on the floor and getting up seems like the hardest thing, let alone trying again.

There’s a very fine and awkward line between Hope and a Broken Heart. Hope means opening yourself up to the possibility of defeat, to the very real possibility of a broken heart.

However, the line between Fear and Eternal Disappointment is also fine. In fact it’s barely a line at all. I want to shudder when I hear quotes like ‘You miss 100% of the shots you never take’, but it’s actually true. You will never get what you want if you are always afraid. If you never took a chance.

I can promise you, from very real and personal experience, that taking risks can mean failure. It can mean defeat, even soul crushing defeat. But everything important in life is worth a risk. It’s worth trying. It’s worth a little defeat. It’s worth putting yourself out there. Don’t be afraid of hope. Don’t be afraid of a broken heart. Don’t be afraid.

The Hunt for True Love

Love is really the thing isn’t it? I mean it was the thing back in biblical times, it was the thing back in the 18th century and it’s still the thing now. It’s what consumes so much of our money, time and emotional resources. We search for it. Fight for it. Live for it. Die for it. True Love. You’re kind of kidding yourself if you aren’t interested in it.

As a single Christian female, the hunt for true love is unique. In fact it’s basically the opposite to how those outside the Christian worldview search for love. We aren’t in a position where we can try, try and try again. Trial and error gives us a bad reputation.

It’s a really fine line between knowing what you want and writing down those all important characteristics and then allowing yourself to be flexible, open and acknowledging that sometimes God knows what we need better than we do.

Throw into the mix the whole confusing concept of God’s timing, your life’s calling and the slowly diminishing number of Christian males on the market, and girls begin to panic. We start lowering our standards, we stop letting guys make the first move due to fear of being alone and we push push push.

But I mean really? What’s a girl to do?

Evidently, girls don’t know what to do. They don’t know when to be bold and when to hold back. They don’t know when something’s right and when something’s wrong. They fall for the worst kinds of men and then wonder why they are unhappy and alone again. In fact, most of the time they just wonder why they are alone. What’s wrong with me? Am I not pretty enough? Is my heart too broken? Do I cry too much? Am I too outspoken? Casey Chambers anyone?

If you kept reading this post thinking that I’d have all the answers, then I’ll be honest like I always am and tell you right now that I don’t. I think people would assume I have it figured out.. so many of my friends are all married and settled and I seem pretty content so I should know right? Sorry ladies. I’m also in the dark.. BUT.. despite the fact that my last relationship was so long ago that I actually forget how old I was.. I know quite a lot about the Hunt for True Love.

I remember when I met my true love. I remember falling in love. I remember specific moments and I remember specific seasons. I remember bad times but mostly I remember good times. My true love makes me laugh, cry and fall on the floor so grateful for how much He loves me.

Oh I know it’s cliché.. Fall I love with Jesus and all your problems will be sorted? Really Steff? That’s your answer. Thanks for the help.

I don’t want to offend anyone, but if that answer wasn’t a good enough answer for you – then I’d hazard a guess that your quest for true love is unfulfilled.

I’m so rarely lonely. I’m so rarely confused or frustrated or concerned about timeframes. And that’s not because I’m overly confident, or I have a healthy relationship with my Dad or just because I’m busy and my life is naturally fulfilling. Trust me, I could choose to be unhappy and scared and alone. But I’m just not. I made a choice that God was enough. It doesn’t always feel like that, but I always know that He is.

Actually, maybe I do have it figured out. Isn’t that the goal? To really be in love with Jesus and to never live life afraid of being alone. I think God actually cries when His daughters feel alone. You are NEVER alone and you are NEVER far from His thoughts.

Pure truth.

Dreary dreams.

Realistically, there are a lot of reasons why today, while reading this blog, that you could be filled with sorrow.

Natural Disasters. Financial Difficulty. Death. Loss of a relationship. Unemployment. Family Breakdown. Physical Sickness. Emotional Sickness.

You could even be really petty and whinge about something like the weather. Or that you haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in months.

Who holds your joy?

If joy is found in wordly things, then the world holds your joy. If your joy is found in all the moments God gives you, then Christ holds your joy.

When you find yourself in moments of despair or sorrow – where do you turn? Do you turn to the world or to Jesus?

Who you turn to shows so much of who is in control of your life. Is the world? You’ll be dissapointed. Are you in control? You’ll be dissapointed. Is Jesus? He will never leave you or forsake you. His mercies are neverending and new every morning. Pain in the night – but joy in and through the mourning.

So, who holds your joy?

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. Psalm 16:11 NLT.

Five is a Four Letter Word

While it’s quite obvious I pay more attention to my other blogs than to this one, tumblr is a great post inspiration tool. I follow mostly fashion blogs, a couple of blogs that post about tv shows I like, and anyone who regularly posts nice images (and of course people I actually know). But in the midst of the great posts, you can get some kind of awful ones. The ones where the blogger decided to actually post their real thoughts (people think ugly things) or the EMO type posts. I saw one that got me to thinking about a five letter word that I think is really difficult to deal with.

I think LOVE is a hard word for a lot of people to say. But for me it’s probably not so much, love, as is it TRUST.

If I really think back to the root of any kind of pain I experienced, it wasn’t from a lack of love, or unreturned love or love necessarily gone wrong. Almost all pain, can be traced back to broken trust.

Divorce. It’s broken trust.

Abuse. It’s broken trust.

Gossip. Broken trust.

Failed economy. Trust again.

Relational breakdown. Broken trust.

No matter what the hurt or pain, at no point in my life, do I believe I forgot how to love, or that I refused to let love into my life or that I became afraid of love. If anything, because of the pain, I give away love to the wrong kinds of thing. Love isn’t the issue. Trust is. I don’t trust people. I’m afraid of people breaking my trust. I withold the most important parts of myself until I feel like I can really trust people.

If you don’t trust, then you don’t hope. You don’t put your hope in things because of the fear of having your hopes dashed. A life without hope isn’t really a life at all.

Life shouldn’t be lived like a blind fool where you trust everything. I wouldn’t let just anyone borrow $2,000 off me and TRUST that they would return it. But a live lived hidden because of pain, an inability to trust, is a sad thing indeed.

People will let you down. Life let’s us down. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t been at least slightly bruised by life and I know far too many people who’s life wounds are deep and painful and raw. But I’m slowly learning to put ALL my hope and ALL my trust in someone who never lets me down. I’m not as scared of trusting others because my trust is ultimately in my heavely father.

The key to heart issues is often trust. We think we need sort out our ‘love’ issues, when really we need to ask God to heal us and help us with our issues with trust.

Pain

I want to get better at dealing with pain.

It seems like a funny way to think about pain. I want to do better with pain. It implies that there’s a different way to handle obstacles, challenges.. and well, pain.

My life has had many painful moments, like so many people that I know. Nobody’s life is immune from pain. No amount of wishing or consistent prayer eliminates pain from our life. But despite having many painful moments.. I think I’ve gotten consistently better at hiding from pain. Shoving it away.. like someone living in pain was a sign of weekness. I’ve always been kind of ‘tough’ and I think that can be a good, but mostly terribly bad thing. It means somehow – you think you might have the strength to deal with pain on your own. You’ve ‘managed’ before and so you’ll ‘manage’ again.

If you aren’t giving God 100% of your pain – you probably aren’t dealing with any of it at all. At least not successfully. I’ve decided to start working through some unresolved pain. It’s buried so deep that it will most likely take a while to resurface. But I think it’s important.

I say all of this publicly on my blog – because mostly, I say it for you. YOU that someone who is reading this. Maybe you’ve got some unresolved pain. Maybe you’re actually just knee deep in an awful situation right now. Maybe trouble seems to follow you around and you feel like you’re always trying to catch your breath. Please.. please.. please work this through. If you can do it with a notebook and your bible.. please do. If you need someone to walk it through with you.. then please ask someone.. ask me! If you actually need professional help – swallow your pride and just get help.

It’s OK to experience pain – you’re not less of a person because you feel pain. But we should work through it. There’s a world out there who needs us to be a little less broken.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33