Monday, August 7, 2017

An Open Letter to the Recovering People Pleaser.

I have been sitting at the island in our kitchen, staring at the flashing cursor on my blank computer screen for a solid 30 minutes.  It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about.  In fact, I have pages among pages of ideas for blog posts scattered throughout a small, black, spiral-bound notebook.  But all I can think about as I begin to write out the words of my heart are my fears.

I don’t know enough about this topic to write about it.

What if I misinterpret a verse and someone calls me out on it?

What if no one reads these words?

Or worse… What if someone reads them and disagrees with what I have to say?

I am not qualified to speak on these subjects.  I’m too young.

            I care about what people think of me.  I care about other people’s opinions of me.  I care about being liked; I am terrified of being un-liked. 

Hello.  My name is Ashlee, and I am a recovering people-pleaser.

            I say “recovering,” because by the grace of God, I am slowly learning how to throw my people-pleasing habits away and trade them in for God-pleasing habits. 

            You see, for a long time, I have been so consumed with how other people see me that I have overlooked how God sees me.  For so long, I have been so worried about other people liking me that I have pushed aside my concern for whether or not I am someone who is worthy of being liked by God.  For years, I have found my identity in other people’s opinions of me that I have forgotten to consider who God says I am.
            In the second grade, our class held a math competition each week to help us learn mental math.  I always lost.  With hot, blood-red cheeks and a pit in my stomach, I hung my head as student after student shouted the correct answer before I had even had time to process the equation.  That year, my mathematic ability (or lack there-of) began to define me as I sat in my seat and imagined the judgements that were surely coming from my fellow classmates.

In the fifth grade, a girl laughed at me and mocked me, chanting to the entire locker room, “Ashlee’s teeth are HUUUUGGGE!  Ashlee has buckteeth!”  In that moment, I stopped smiling as much, terrified that someone else would point out my big front teeth.

In the ninth grade, I auditioned for our church’s youth ensemble.  When the list came out, I anxiously scanned the page for my name and broke down in tears when I was one of the few who didn’t make the cut.  I never auditioned again.  Too afraid that my voice would incite cringes and applauses of pity.

            My freshman year of college, I received a phone call from my high school boyfriend.  As he told me that he wanted to end things, that he didn’t want me anymore, my identity shattered as the whispered compliments and assurances from the past few months became meaningless, and I racked my brain, desperate to uncover all the unpleasantness I owned which were surely to blame for the break-up.

            I am a recovering people-pleaser.  I say “recovering,” because I am slowly learning that pleasing people is the opposite of pleasing God.  When we spend our days worrying about other people’s opinions, the unavoidable consequence is that we will conform to each individuals’ standards and expectations of who we should be.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Romans 12:2

            When we conform to the world’s expectations, we mask who we are in Christ.  When we are so concerned with being “good” and “desirable” and “pleasing” to those around us, we fail to be “good” and “desirable” and “pleasing” to God. 

            As I sit here and allow my fear of being un-liked to determine what I say and what I do, I flirt with the world’s expectations, and I conform to the world’s will of who I should be.  But here’s the thing, when we allow ourselves to conform to this world, we will be left disappointed.

            In the second grade, no matter what I did to improve my math skills, I could never please my classmates or my teacher with my ability.

            In the fifth grade, when I stopped smiling at those around me, instead of gaining more friends and being more liked, I lost my sense of joy and fell into a trap of loneliness and depression.

            In the eleventh grade, when I was asked to sing a solo in my church’s youth choir, I traded all-about-God-worship for an all-about-me-concert, as I sang for the applause of my peers, and was left disappointed when the solo was eventually given to another girl.

            In college, when I found myself alone and unsure as to why my boyfriend had broken up with me, I couldn’t even look at myself in a mirror without feeling disgusted, ugly, and insecure.
No matter what I did or who I tried to be, I could never win the approval of those around me.  I told myself I was dumb, ugly, awkward, and unlovable.

But that is not true.  Those are just lies that I tell myself as I try to conform to this world’s unattainable expectations of who I should be.

I am a recovering people-pleaser.  I say “recovering,” because I am slowly learning that my identity comes from who Christ alone says I am.

This is how God defines me::
Colossians 3:12 – I am chosen.
Song of Solomon 2:16 – I am beloved.
Ephesians 2:10 – I am His workmanship.
Deuteronomy 7:6 – I am a treasured possession.
Ephesians 1:4 – I am holy.
Colossians 1:21-22 – I am blameless.
Psalm 65:4 – I am blessed.
2 Samuel 22:20 – I am delightful.
Zephaniah 3:17 – I am loved.

            Friends, we need to stop defining ourselves with worldly, people-pleasing, meaningless definitions that will ultimately leave us feeling disappointed and empty, and start finding our identity in who we are in Christ.  We must stop seeking to please the world, and start paying attention to how we can please God.  And the beautiful, most freeing thing about being a God-pleaser, is that we always succeed.  God already calls us His, we only need to accept it as our new God-given identity.

            Hello.  My name is Ashlee, and starting today, I am a God-pleaser.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Beauty of Inequality.

We are not all created equal. 

As Christians, we must accept this truth.  If we don’t, then we will constantly be living in a state of comparison and disappointment.  We are not equal, nor were we made to be such.  I have never met a man who is able to carry the very breath of a human being inside his womb, nor have I met a woman who has the ability to give life with the sperm of her being.  Without our differences, the very essence of human life would be nonexistent.

Inequality is beautiful.

Last week, my family and I watched as the North Carolina house I grew up in was packed into boxes and delivered 16 hours to our new house in Wisconsin.  As one-by-one the boxes filled the new, unfamiliar rooms, we worked to make our new house into a home.  Full of anticipation, I immediately set to work decorating and organizing my new room, my head spinning with images of what it would look like once it was finished.  A couple of unpacked boxes later, I noticed the pain in my body worsening, rendering my left arm completely useless.  I couldn’t move the boxes.  I couldn’t lift the picture frames.  I was too weak.  Too tired.  Too ill.

One room away, my sister was completely done unloading her boxes and ready to begin helping organize the kitchen.  Emilee is strong.  She is full of energy.  She is completely healthy. 

We are not equal.

In a world that revolves around fairness, where is the fairness in a disease that slows me down?  Where is the fairness in one sister who is strong and able while the other sister is weak and unable?  Where is the beauty in this inequality?  I could spend hours going on and on about the inequality, the unfairness, in the lot that God has given me versus what He has given my sister.  But then, what would I have left but a heart full of disappointment as I spend my days playing the comparison game?  I have another choice, though.  I can choose to rejoice.

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, . . . in needs, . . . in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

            In God’s great grace, He deemed it good to create a variety of souls in a variety of colors.  What one person can do well, another cannot, and vice versa.  When Paul declares that his strength comes from his weakness, I believe that it is not only God’s strength that empowers Paul to continue on in spite of infirmities, needs, and distresses.  I believe it is also the strengths of the body of Christ that empowers Paul.  Where Paul is weak, others in the body are strong.

“If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?  And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?  If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?  But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.  And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’  No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (1 Corinthians 12:15-22).

In the same way, Emilee and I complement each other.  Where I am weak, she is strong.  Where I am unable, she is able.  Without her, I would simply be a hand, but where could I go without my foot?  Without me, Emilee would simply be a foot, but what would she do without her hand?

In this moment, there are 7,517,668,970 people in this world.  That’s seven billion souls.  All different.  All unique.  Seven billion inequalities.

We live in a country that calls for equality.  And while I understand, and appreciate, the reasoning and the motive, I think we are calling for the wrong thing.  You see, by striving for equality, we are asking all of the seven billion people in this world to conform.  We are asking them to hide their individual qualities so as not to offend anyone.  We are seeking everyone to paint themselves the same color.

But where is the beauty in that?  We cannot all be the color blue in the same way that the body cannot all be made of feet. 

Instead of striving to paint the world an equal color, why can’t the world just acknowledge that there is a whole rainbow of billion different colors, shades, and hues.  By acknowledging and learning to appreciate the inequalities of each individual, we will not only become aware of our weaknesses, but we will find each others’s strengths.

My sister is an extrovert.  At any given time, her words are flowing out of her mouth in a steady stream of facts, humor, and stories.  She is the life of our family.  This is a strength that she has.  But by acknowledging her strength of being able to talk to a wall, my inability to tell a humorous story well is exposed as weakness.  However, here’s the beauty of the thing::  By my family, friends, and acquaintances acknowledging that I’m naturally shy – my weakness – my strength in listening well is brought to light.  As a result, whenever someone I know has a problem, a struggle, or just needs someone to talk to, I’m typically one of the first people they come to because they know that I will listen without judgement, without interruption, and that I will listen well.

What would happen if this was the question we, as a society, began to ask?  What would happen if we, as a society, began to seek out one anothers’ weaknesses and strengths rather than striving to paint over them the same shade of blue?

There is beauty in inequality.  God created us all with a unique purpose in mind.  He created us with different talents, different abilities, different gifts, different dreams and goals, different hopes and futures, different lives, and different souls.  We were not made to be equal, and because of that, no matter how hard we try to create equality, we will never achieve it.  Instead, we will be stuck in a game of comparison.  We will be left disappointed.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!”

            There is another choice, though.  We can choose to compare our hand with another’s foot and try to do with our hand as one does with his foot, leaving us feeling utterly useless.  Or we can acknowledge and appreciate the work that one is doing with his foot and rejoice for the abilities our hand has been given. 

            The day I couldn’t move the heavy boxes, I could have chosen to sit in my room and complain to God about the lot of illness He had given me, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t do that a little.  But here is how gentle my God is…  While I was comparing myself to my sister, lifting my complaints up to God, in His great grace and mercy, Jesus lifted my head and showed me the beauty of my inequality.  I couldn’t move the boxes, but Emilee could do it for me.  Later that same day, Emilee couldn’t reach the top shelf in the kitchen to store some glasses away, for she was too short, but I could do it for her.  She had the strength; I had the height.  We complement each other.

“But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:24-26).

We are not all created equal.  And it is time we realize that inequality is necessary.  Inequality is okay.  In fact, it is beautiful.