Thursday, September 5, 2013

Micromanaging God

Have you ever been micromanaged by someone? I don’t know many people who enjoy it. It’s rather disheartening to be asked to do a job that you are more than capable of doing and then have someone question everything you’re doing, reverse all your decisions, and take away whatever little authority you thought you had in the first place. It certainly does nothing to boost morale.

My mom used to do this to me when I was a kid. One of the chores I had to do was dusting. I would dust the coffee table and the end tables and an hour later I would see her doing it over again. What was the point of having me do it if she was just going to re-do it? I didn't do a bad job of dusting. I just didn't do it perfectly the way she wanted it done.

At its core, micromanaging is an issue of trust. People who micromanage probably had their trust demolished by someone in their past and now they’re getting their control freak on to make sure it never happens again. Meanwhile, they make everyone around them miserable. When someone breaks your trust, it’s very difficult to pick yourself up and open your heart wide again. It becomes easy to distance yourself, ignore criticism, and become a dictator. There’s just one problem with this: all relationships are built on trust. If you stop trusting people, you might as well go live off the grid somewhere because no one will want to be around you.

I've had three friends obliterate my trust. The first one was around 4th grade. She introduced me to her new best friend and dropped me like I was last year’s cool toy. In high school, one girl “unfriended” me because she thought I was making a move on the guy she liked. (Is tossing a Frisbee to a guy some kind of mating ritual I’m not aware of?) Another friend approached me with a literal gang of people I had never seen before (while I was on a date!) accusing me of telling her mother that she was doing drugs in the back seat of her car. I didn't know she was doing any such thing, but if I had, I probably would have told her mother! I was blindsided in every case. Yeah, I have trust issues.

For the past two and a half years of my husband’s underemployment, I've been doing a fair amount of yelling at God. I've been telling Him how to do His job. I've questioned His timing (Why does God always seem to act at the very last moment?), His care, and even His love. Why can’t He do things the way I want them done? And then it hit me: I've been micromanaging God. Imagine what it must feel like to know that you are the most capable being in the universe and have someone question your capabilities! God sent His only Son to die on my behalf so that I, a wretch who couldn't be more undeserving, could spend a blissful eternity with Him. And I have the audacity to question Him? Really?

I think it may be time to start focusing on the things God has done for me. He enabled us to eliminate $25,000 worth of debt in four years and stay debt-free for 14. He brought me and my husband together though we grew up 10 years apart and came from very different backgrounds. (Isn't every married couple a mini-miracle?) He provided the down payment for our current house, which saved us about $300/month and is the only way we are staying afloat financially right now. What exactly isn't He doing right? Do I really want God to do things my way? Yeah, my way would be never wanting for anything. I don’t see that working out so well for basically anyone who lives in Hollywood, so what makes me think that would work out any better for me?

This micromanager needs to find a way to trust again. How do you rebuild trust? Baby steps. What if I actually prayed for guidance on how to proceed with a major task today? Or maybe the next time that difficult person comes around I could send up a silent prayer--Lord, help me to see them through your eyes. Perhaps instead of worrying over my husband's job, I could choose instead to simply rest in God's plan and trust that whatever He's working on, it's going to be good. If I took the time to get to know God better and really watched Him at work, I would stop micromanaging because I would recognize His capabilities. The funny thing is that He was capable all along. I just have to take my eyes off myself and put them on the right person to see that.

Copyright ©2013 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prairie Salad

I am looking out over the prairie at Taltree Gardens & Arboretum on a perfect 80 degree day. It reminds me of the meadow that was next door to our house when I was little. I remember making a bed in the long grass and lying in it so that I could watch the puffy clouds as they strolled by. I wondered at the balancing plates of Queen Anne's lace, giggled as I chased after yellow moths, and stood in silent amazement upon discovering a monarch cocoon on some milkweed. One of my favorite things to do was create prairie "salads" for Mom out of mixed greens, "bacon bits" of yellow dock, and the yellow "eggs" of wild snapdragons. Most of all, when I think of that meadow, I remember joy. Pure, unspoiled joy.

Queen Anne's Lace
Yellow Dock
Wild Yellow Snapdragon
As I sit here at Taltree and watch two butterflies dance and see a hummingbird alight on a tree and spy a hawk soaring overhead, I catch a wisp of that joy and I want to seize it, bottle it, and take it with me so that I can fight off the sadness and bitterness of the world.

Is that kind of joy still possible as an adult? Is joy allowed? Can we still find pure, unadulterated joy when there are work deadlines looming and dinner needs to be on the table and chores never end?

I am learning that a lot of what keeps me from joy is my perfectionism. Why can't I shake it? Why can't I give up the control? I do a terrible job of running my own life—why can't I put my life in the hands of...oh, I don't know...the One who made the universe? If He can spin planets and hang them in the sky, I'm pretty sure He can handle my mundane life. Why can't I learn to wait? Why do I demand that God always work on my time schedule? Why can’t I just learn to trust, rest, and relax? Little happy Cherry haunts me because I struggle to believe I once was her and I can’t quite figure out how I got here.

So I have a chat with God in the prairie. I pour out my heart. I tell Him how desperately I want to let go of the control. I want to trust Him, but how? I think about how I learn to trust anyone. I spend time with them, watch them work, look at how they treat others, and observe if they keep their promises.

So if I’m going to trust God, I need to spend more time with Him. I’m pretty inconsistent with that, but I can improve. I've seen God do amazing work in my life like provide well-timed housing and $1 cars. And hasn't He turned many things I've called “bad” into good? Why should I expect the current trial to be different? What has God done in my life that I expect bad from Him? God wrote the Golden Rule, so I’m pretty sure He treats others better than anyone I know. And He always keeps His promises. So what’s not to trust?

If I don't grab hold of His grace and mercy and love every day, the world wins. So often, I start the day asking the Lord to show me how to prioritize my day and then I jump in with my Type-A boots on and do my own thing and completely ignore Him. I long to relax and let go; let go of the worry and fear and pride and selfishness and just live for today and enjoy it.

Lord, remind me each day to meditate on your Word and rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance. Show me how to wait for you and trust. Teach me to thank you for every good gift (and they’re all good). Help me realize just how big you are so that I can see just how small I really am. Teach me to abide. To rest. To love. Remind me that I can do NOTHING without you. Grant me more moments of this peace that embraces the soul.

Help me to capture this joy and never let it go.

Copyright ©2013 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Friday, July 19, 2013

"I Just Want My Life Back"

OK. So apparently, I'm not quite done with my pity party. There have been many times over the past two and a half years since my husband lost his job due to budget cuts, that I have heard myself say, "I just want my life back." When he lost his job, we lost half our income. We lost half of our living space. We lost vacations and discretionary spending. At one point we actually visited a traveling food bank to offset our food expenses for the month. For several months I was terrified that we would end up homeless (chalk that up to catastrophic thinking!). Despite the fact that I was and am a Christian, I just couldn't (more like refused to) see what God was doing. I felt that I had lost all of my coping mechanisms. I sought out counseling to help me regain my sanity. (A great idea, by the way, when life gets rocky. It's helpful to have someone who can pick you back up and set you straight.)

I was consumed with thinking, "I just want my life back."

That thought still overwhelms me from time to time. So I finally asked myself, what do I really mean when I say that? Do I want Dave to go back into ministry? Do I want more living space? Or do I just want our income back? Ouch. There's the knife. I want more money. I want more things. I want more status. Yuck. I seem to recall a verse that says the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10); and another verse that says you can't serve God and money (Matthew 6:24). They are mutually exclusive. Did you know that you can love money even when you don't have any?

I recently finished the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. It was excruciatingly challenging. It's a book about fasting from the things that take our focus off of God. Things like media and food and possessions and stress. It made me want to reboot my life and check my attitude.

I hate clutter and disorganization and...stuff. So do I really want more of it? No. I don't really want more square footage - it was too much to clean. I don't really want to eat out more - I gained 10 pounds from eating a bunch of junk. I don't really want more stuff when looking at the stuff I have makes me want to vomit because I know every single piece of stuff I own requires maintenance or thought or organization. I have better things to do with my time!

What I really want is closer relationships - more quality time with God, with my husband, with friends and family. I want to learn how to cook so we can eat out less and Dave can relax more. I want to let go of the things that I allow to steal minutes and hours from my day.

I'm not sure yet what God is going to do in our lives. I don't know if He will give us more income. I don't know when Dave will no longer be underemployed. One thing I am really trying to master is trusting God to work it all out for good. Yes, I realize it is an oxymoron to master trust. Trust by its very nature is rest. It's not a skill to be learned, it's a letting go of control; resting in the ability of someone else to do what needs to be done. That's a tough concept for this recovering perfectionist to comprehend.

When Dave and I were first thinking about moving to Indiana, he was considering two job offers. Ironically, the other job is exactly what he's doing now. What if we had stayed in Wisconsin? Would we be happier? I don't know. I know that there are a bunch of wonderful people I would never have met if we hadn't moved. Beyond that, I'm really not sure of anything. Today, I came across a thought that arrested me. It's from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. There's a line in the first chapter that says, "Maybe you don't want to change the story, because you don't know what a different ending holds." Indeed.

I can mull over the decision we made 14 years ago until the end of my time on earth, but I will never know how our lives would be different. I can't change that decision. We don't get do-overs in life. In the words of one of my favorite worship songs, "I don't have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way that He loves us." (How He Loves Us by John Mark McMillan) God loved me so much, He sent His Son to die for me. He loves me unconditionally. He loves me despite my failures. Why am I wasting time thinking about what might have been instead of resting in the arms of my Savior who is far better equipped to orchestrate my life than I am? It's time to stop telling myself that I want my life back and start fully living the life I've been given.

Copyright ©2013 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Let's Try This Again, Shall We?

Things that matter in life: relationships. When you boil life down to the empty pot, I'm not sure anything else in life matters more.

Sadly, I have failed in my relationship with you.

I haven't blogged since my spiritual birthday last year. Please forgive me. There are a couple reasons for this, though neither of them is really any good. First, I've been throwing myself a pity party and didn't invite you. I wasn't sure you would come. Who wants to come to a pity party? (All the codependents said, "Me! I would have come! I would have made you cookies or cleaned your house or hugged you til your arms fell off! I would have fixed it for you! Why didn't you tell me?)

I've been having a pity party because my life has not exactly met my expectations - which are pretty high. (If you recall, I'm a recovering perfectionist). I'm not a parent. I'm not a world-famous writer. I'm not wealthy. I don't live in my dream house. I haven't traveled the world. High expectations, wouldn't you agree?

So I've been feeling sorry for myself. I play the comparison game and see others pursuing their dreams and going on fun vacations and looking happy and I just want to crawl in a hole and cry. Of course, there is no benefit to this behavior whatsoever. It only makes me more miserable to dwell on my shortcomings and broken dreams. Pity parties are no fun.

The second reason I haven't shown up for my own blog is that I'm afraid of you. Yes, you read that right. You scare me. I worry that you won't like what I have to say. I worry that I won't say what I really need to say because I'm worried about what you will think of it. I worry that I will say something kinda spiritual and then you'll see me doing the exact opposite of that spiritual thing and you will label me a hypocrite. I worry that you'll put me up on some kind of pedestal and admire me or some nonsense like that.

Obviously I live in a fantasy world.

My delusions of grandeur are exceeded only by my self-doubts. I have wanted to be a writer since I was 12, when Mrs. Czechvala gave me an A+ on my limerick about a toad who crossed the road (hey, it rhymed!). At that moment, I thought, maybe there's something here. Come enter a typical Cherry daydream: I will write stunning books of poetry; novels that make you laugh and cry; articles that will inform and transform. I will be the next great screenwriter. I will be...famous! (To get the full effect of that statement, you need to picture me with a flourish of outstretched arms and a silent "ta-da" in the background. And while we're at it, why not add the Oscar orchestra playing me off stage as I thank all the little people for their contributions to my greatness.) This is how my brain works people.

Reality: I got a couple poems published in a university publication, wrote a monthly column for a church newsletter, and published exactly one article and one interview - at least 15 years ago. Oh, and I wrote seven posts for this blog which I selfishly abandoned. That would hardly qualify me as "a writer."

I would like to believe that writing this post will be a breakthrough for me. For a long time, I've been trying to figure out why I haven't been writing. Now that I know that I'm afraid of you, I can choose to see you for you who really are - normal, not-so-scary people who just want their lives to matter too.

I started this blog to work out spiritual truth in my life and discover what really matters. I want to get back on that journey, and again, I would like to invite you to walk that path with me. I don't want to sugar-coat my life. I want it to be raw and real. That is really scary. But I know One who is way bigger than any of my fears.

So I'm back. I hope you're glad about that. If you're not, or if you don't care, I'm okay with that. I'm writing, I'm obeying, and I'm searching. And that matters.

Copyright ©2013 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Everybody Has a Story

Twenty-one years ago today, my life profoundly and completely changed. I was “born again" – given a new, spiritual life – a life given over to Jesus Christ.

I awoke the morning of June 18, 1991 in a cold sweat, screaming under my breath from a horrible nightmare. Before I tell you the details though, I think you need to know a little of what my life before that morning was like.

I grew up feeling invisible. My parents both worked outside the home and when they were home, we often spent our time together in front of the TV. I had no local playmates until around junior high. I had three older siblings, but my half-sisters were 20 years older and my brother was 10 years older and he was the clearly favored child. I tried to get my parents’ attention by staying out of trouble and getting good grades, but their attention was fleeting, my achievements seemed empty, and I was desperately lonely.
Me in Kindergarten
By the time I became a teenager, I felt a need to “find my destiny.” I nearly died at five months old of some mysterious virus. I thought my survival somehow made me “special.” I longed to figure out what great thing I was supposed to do with my life. The pressure I put on myself to achieve was often overwhelming. Every new school year was a chance to make a fresh start. But two weeks in, I was still the same bossy, selfish, crybaby that I had always been. I was powerless to change myself.

Every week, my parents and I attended a church that gradually became spiritually empty to me. Everything was based on “doing.” So going to church just reinforced my perfectionist tendencies to try harder and be good. I had started seriously searching for God from about junior high on, but I kept running into dead ends and couldn’t really find anyone who could explain their belief in God to me that was any better than my “everybody goes to heaven” philosophy.

Confirmation Day 
By the time I was 20, I was bullied relentlessly, betrayed by three close friends, and broken-hearted from a bad choice of boyfriend. I started investigating New Age philosophy (a belief mostly centered on achieving nirvana through bettering yourself), but worshiping self just left me more confused and isolated. I often prayed to my version of God at night, but I was never really sure He was listening.

Then, between my junior and senior years of college, I met Beth, a ‘90s hippie and not the kind of person I normally hung around with. But one night there was a tornado warning near campus and we got talking about life. She asked me what I believed about God. I told her that I thought God was out there somewhere and I was trying to find a way to get to Him. I said that I thought everyone went to heaven except maybe a few really bad people. The more I talked, the less it made sense, not only to her, but to me! She explained how Jesus’ death on the cross was personal – that He died for me, for my sins, personally. She also explained Satan and hell and quoted Matthew 12:30 – “He who is not with me, is against me.” I knew that the way I was living could not be construed as being “with God,” but I also didn’t like the alternative!

That night, my mind accepted what she was saying, but my heart was not quite there yet. About a week later, I had the nightmare I referred to at the beginning. I dreamt that I was signing a contract with a devil in disguise. As I was signing my name, I saw horrible things – people being torn limb from limb and vile crimes being committed. Then I saw the number 666 being engraved in my hand in blood. I knew that was the mark of the devil. I tried to get away, but the person the contract was with grabbed my arm searing my flesh. The room went black and that’s when I woke up. My first conscious thought was “I need Jesus!” I rifled through my desk to find a pamphlet Beth had given me that explained that finding peace with God was as simple as believing that the God who made me had sent His only Son, Jesus to die on a cross to pay the penalty for my sins. I simply needed to confess those sins and trust Him to take over my life. I prayed several times, begging God to forgive me.
My Baptism - October 20, 1991
That was an amazing day. I know it sounds cliché, but when I looked out my window that morning, everything seemed suddenly brighter and more in focus to me. It really was like God had peeled scales from my eyes and that I was seeing clearly for the first time. That was the great turning point of my life.

Why am I telling you all of this? It’s my story – at least one significant portion of it. Everybody has a story. You don’t have to be a Christian to have a story. Maybe you were abused as a child or survived a long illness. Perhaps you married young, or late, or multiple times, or not at all. Have you lost a loved one? Adopted a child? Achieved some fleeting greatness?

What’s your story? Have you shared it with anyone? I think one of the great faults of our American society is that we often hide our stories. We walk around making judgments of people we know nothing about. We assume the homeless man was lazy or the CEO came from a wealthy family or the young African-American male is violent. Yet, we don’t know a thing about them. We don’t know that the guy who cut us off in traffic this morning was driving his wife to the hospital so she could deliver their first child. We don’t know that the cashier was crabby this afternoon because she was up with a sick child all night. We just make snap judgments about people and cop an attitude. I’m guilty of that.

Sharing our stories would have a profound effect on our culture. We would be less isolated and judgmental; we would be more open and far more willing to show grace to others if we knew their “stuff”. The more I interact with people, the more I see how much we desperately need to know each other’s stories. They encourage us, correct us, motivate us, counsel us, and inspire us.

So, what’s your story? Who will you share at least a piece of it with today?

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without written permission from the author. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tilling the Soul

I apologize for not blogging for a few weeks, but I need to confess something. I’m…a gardener. It’s actually worse than that…technically, I’m a Master Gardener (that's really just a fancy way of saying I took several weeks of classes on gardening and did some volunteer work). When spring arrives, I am outside planting, pruning or weeding. And this year I have a new yard to play with!

My current project is planting my first ever vegetable garden. As an adult, I’ve never had a yard that enabled me to plant vegetables before, so I’m pretty excited about this; so excited that I bought twice the number of seeds that I needed! I’m experimenting with a pallet garden (below) since it takes a near miracle to grow anything in Indiana clay.

Waiting for the seeds to sprout!
All of this planting has gotten me thinking about how many parallels gardening has to life. Did you know that Jesus used a few gardening illustrations in several of His teachings? In Mark 4, He compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed telling the disciples that the smallest of all seeds grows into the largest of all garden plants. He cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit in Matthew 21. In John 15, He explains that the key to bearing fruit is staying connected to the vine (Jesus). So, what has gardening taught me about life so far?

Renewal = Hope
I think there are few things in the natural world more exciting than that first sprout of green pushing its way through the soil in the dawn of spring. It’s a sign that things are coming alive, being renewed, and becoming what they were meant to be. This is the essence of the Christian life! The morning I met Jesus, I remember looking out the window and feeling like the trees looked greener, the sky was bluer and the people walking down the sidewalk looked more animated than ever before. It was like turning on the windshield wipers of my soul. Everything was new and fresh. After the cold gray of winter, spring is my yearly reminder that as a Christian I have an eternal hope. Regular renewal of my spiritual life is keeps that hope fresh.

Weeds Must be Killed
I hate weeds. I hate them because they are so prolific and it doesn’t matter how much mulch and weed preventer and hand-pulling I do; they find their way into my garden. It’s just like sin in my life. It’s always lurking just below the surface. A harsh word chokes my reputation as a believer; an ulterior motive destroys my good deeds; idleness steals my time with the Lord. Sin chokes out our spiritual life. This is why it is vital for me to kill the weeds of sin in my life while they are small. I know too many people who let the little sins grow into big ones and it destroyed their lives. I am starting to figure out that a little Bible reading and prayer tills my soul just like a gentle rain shower – and it makes the sin (and the weeds) a little bit easier to remove.

Growth Takes Time
When you plant something, you just can’t wait for it to reach its fullness. You want to see big, perfect flowers the second the plant is in the ground. You want the tree to shade the patio or the bush to fill in that space in front of the central air unit. You want vegetables to keep the grocery bill low. But things don’t grow in the real world the way they do in Farmville. The same is true of spiritual maturity. I want to be the mentor or the evangelist or the seasoned counselor now. I want to “arrive.” The good news and the bad news here are the same: we’re never going to “arrive” on this side of heaven. That can be a blessing because it takes the pressure off. God gives me grace! And it's far more than I deserve. I must learn to accept His grace – and then give it to others, too!

Those are just a few things I have learned from gardening. Do you garden? If not, I'm giving you an assignment: plant something. I don't care what you plant, but put it somewhere you will see it every day. As you watch it grow throughout the season, think about your spiritual life and where you are on your journey and where you would like to be. Then quench your thirst, fertilize your soul and watch your life blossom into the person God made you to be.

How does your garden – and your soul – grow?

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without written permission from the author. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Dance

I recently finished an excellent 26 week class on the spiritual disciplines. We used Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney as our textbook, which I would highly recommend. We learned about Bible intake, Scripture memory, prayer, journaling, fasting, worship, serving, stewardship, silence & solitude, evangelism, discipleship, learning and perseverance. In most cases, we spent at least one week learning about the discipline and then another week practicing it. I would say that for the most part, I stepped out of my comfort zone, did my homework and learned a lot.

However, if I’m being completely honest with myself, my practice of the spiritual disciplines has not really improved all that much and I’ve been wrestling with why that is. My answer may shock you. Are you ready? I don’t love God enough. Yes, you read that right. It’s true. If I really loved Him, I would want to spend time with Him. I would long to spend time with Him. Instead, I am unfaithful. I spend plenty of time watching TV and playing on Facebook and reading books, but I am not spending time with my God. And I wonder why I’m struggling with practicing the spiritual disciplines? I have the knowledge. I know what the spiritual disciplines are and how to practice them. I just don’t do it.

Ironically, the one thing I need in order to cultivate a greater love for God is…to practice the spiritual disciplines! It is through Bible intake that I get to know my God better. It is through prayer that I communicate with Him. It’s through worship that I learn to take my focus off myself and put it on God where it belongs. The disciplines are a little like dating. The more I spend time on them, the more I fall in love with my Savior. And the more I love my Savior, the more I want to practice the spiritual disciplines!

It’s a dance. When you dance with a partner, you generally dance in a circle and one step leads into another. I take God’s hand and He leads me into a gentle waltz or maybe a lively two-step. Sometimes, it’s a tempestuous tango. I dance, but fight Him all the way. I fight Him because I’m too lazy or too distracted by other partners. Sometimes I just dance alone. I even think I look fantastic doing it…only to realize that while I’m showing off, Jesus is quietly standing there in the middle of the floor patiently waiting for me to come back to Him.

So, what should I do? I can continue showing off only to find myself exhausted; I can choose to sit at the table, stubbornly refusing to dance (which will probably only prove that I was never the right partner for Jesus in the first place); I can choose to dance a tango and fight him all the way (gee, that sounds like fun); or I can take His offered hand and let Him lead and see where He takes me. Hmm…it’s not that hard to see which one of those is the best choice, is it?

It comes down to this: when my desire to grow in Christ becomes greater than my desire to be entertained, I will grow in my walk with Him and our dance will be beautiful and freeing. Until then, I may be entertained, but I will also find myself exhausted, empty, weighed down and alone when the music ends. Freedom sounds a whole lot better than that.

Do you hear the Savior calling, “May I have this dance?”

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.