On Imperfection, Gratitude, Social Media, and Skipping Devotions: Checking in on the Challenge

It is now past the halfway point of my 100 Artworks of Gratitude Challenge. If you didn’t get a chance to read about that, please check it out.

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This has been a messy process of being molded. And now I’m halfway.

I wanted to check in way more often than halfway through the process, but now is as good a time as any.

This process has been an interesting one, and I’m not sure it’s achieving what I thought it would achieve in me. But I still am thankful for the public practice or praising God with gratitude.

Some things I noticed along the way:

1. I get very concerned with the image I am creating doing this process, rather than just being earnestly and honestly grateful. Public things like this on social media are really hard for me to do because of this. I start comparing my posts to other people’s posts, or worrying about how they will be perceived and received by the “masses”. This sort of defeats of the purpose of the process entirely– to get me to focus on what I’m thankful for, not what I think I’m lacking.

2. It sometimes feels like a chore. I’m not too concerned with this one. Lot of things that we enjoy end up feeling like chores when we do them everyday for a long time. We still do them, and the feeling or the activity passes eventually.

3. It is hard to express gratitude for certain things. Some things I haven’t wanted to post because I thought it was stupid, or too trivial, or just ugly. This makes it difficult to feel genuine in the process. See first item. These two are kind of the same.

This makes me question the whole idea of publicly sharing one’s heart on the internet. Ironically, since I’m a blogger and writer. But I think it makes me turn inward to explore my own self more than question the social media aspect. What is it about me that wants to impress or compare? Why do I want to display a perfectly pretty post? Why so concerned about public perception? 

The truth is, my life is so far from perfect that I cannot even pretend that it is— on Instagram, this blog, twitter, or face-to-face over coffee. Just can’t hide it.

So let me be real with you. I haven’t been good about my time with God. I’ve skipped my devotions, slept through my quiet times, and zoned out during church. I have not done well with the “no spending” goal, and actually probably spent more than I usually do on things I don’t really need. I have been lazy, gotten pissy, and have done some pretty silly things without even thinking twice about it, and all directly contradict the whole point of this practice of mindful gratitude and simplicity.

I realize that this sounds super discouraging. And it may sound like I’m giving up, but hang on just a minuet.

The thing I have realized that I am most grateful for during this 100 ArtWorks of Gratitude exploration, the one thing that has truly proven to be a blessing through all of the posting and failing and falling, the one thing I keep coming back to… is so simple.

It’s that, even though I fail or fall short in nearly everything I strive for– the curse of perfectionism– God is faithful in his provision, love, and understanding because of Jesus Christ.

Any little bit of progress, any slight improvement, any attempt at all, is success in His eyes. It may seem like a failure and it may discourage me, but my Father continues to delight in me despite what I think of myself.

Jesus Christ has made this possible for all of us when He taught us how to live, then became a sacrifice for all the imperfection we have. God is perfect, and His holiness cannot stand imperfection, so when He looks down on our imperfect lives, He sees the blood of Christ covering those who accept the covering, and He can then call us family. This is one of the many ways of explaining The Gospel. I hope you hear it in it’s intended way.

If anything this exercise in gratitude has helped me see God as less of an unreachable deity who stands sternly over us all, evaluating and making judgement calls on every move we make, and more of who He really is: a proud Papa looking lovingly down on the works of art that He has created here on Earth (you and me!), encouraging us and giving us hope as we travel along.

And so today, I hope that no matter where you are at in this process, or even if you aren’t participating in it at all, I hope that you can feel how deeply loved you are and how much God is smiling at you as you seek to know Him. We all do that differently and we all are at different spaces, but I trust that if your attempt is genuine and your heart craves Him, He will undoubtedly answer you in the way you best can hear.

And if we are in Christ, if we have accepted His covering, His offering, His saving, let’s be grateful for that.

Shall we?

#100ArtWorksOfGratitude

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A Challenge: #100artworksofgratitude

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Lately God has been showing me so much about what it means to live in joyful hope. And also that I suck at it.

Negativity and discontentedness are everywhere, oftentimes created in my own heart and spewing from my own lips into the reality in which I live and breathe along with others.

Gratitude is illusive and escapes me in the heat of the little aggravating moments of mess-ups and maladjustments. And so I need to make a drastic change if I don’t want to be continually dragged down deep into the negative trench of discontent and pessimism. It’s hard to get out of when I’ve been practicing it for so long, but I’m ready to fight it with the persistent practice of positivity.

I won’t waste my words with more wanton phrases of failed attempts and disappointments; I will get down to brass tacks and just tell you what’s going down.

I have a challenge for you. For myself. For us. 

My challenge is simple yet radical, and it will take a strong commitment.

My challenge is to create 100 works of art that express joy and gratitude for the life I’m living. All parts of it– the messy and the magnificent alike–1 work of art each day.

These artworks can look like just about anything–remember, there is art in even our breath– so I invite you to join me no matter what your artistic inclination or experience.


Some ideas:

-List one thing you’re grateful for each day.

-Take a picture of one thing you’re grateful for each day.

-Say something positive about yourself or your life each day.

-Create a mantra (like “live out loud” or “take risks” or “be your best self”) and live it out each day.

-Give something away each day to make yourself aware of all the access you have.

-Do something nice for someone each day.

-Tell your spouse, parents, siblings, coworkers, or friends you care about them in new ways each day.

-Take time for yourself doing something that you love and that builds into your best self each day.


The clutch thing is that we must document it. I will do so, and I will also have some other challenges– personal goals for my life– and I will be sharing those with you as well. It’s important to share and document so that we can all hold one another accountable– even if no one else participates, I know it will be good for my own self-motivation.

Here are my goals: Take a picture or create a work of art that expresses gratitude each day for 100 days (will be posted on Instagram @artofbreath), spend no money on unnecessary items (wants/frivolous desires/selfish pursuits) for 100 days, focus on God’s love revealed through scripture: 1 scripture or Biblical truth each day for 100 days, think of others as better than myself and truly explore what it means to love the least of these, and to love my husband as a respectful, gentle, kind, and humble wife in a very radical and unselfish way.

I am hoping that practicing this for 100 days will imprint these habits into my lifestyle as deep and lasting character traits. I fully expect to be changed by this experience.

I hope you will join me. Please share this post, or use hashtag #100artworksofgratitude and begin your own journey. Our Day 1 of 100 begins now. 

“Just Do Something!” might be a little too liberating for some

So, I recently finished Kevin DeYoung’s book “Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will OR How to Make A Decision Without Dream, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing In The Sky, Etc.”.

The title alone has it’s own paragraph in my post, but I can assure you that this little book is a quick read, and most people simply refer to the title as “Just Do Something”. This review I am writing is on behalf of Moody Publishers, who provided me a copy of the book and the permission to post a review of it. So here goes:

Quite honestly, I found this book to be a liberating counterbalance to the hyper-cautious and fearful notion that our day-to-day decisions can screw up God’s plan for our lives. I teach Sunday School at my neighborhood church, and I also am a pretty new Christian (4 years), so I definitely understand the desire to hit the preverbal nail on the head of God’s will– It’s a desire that I’ve found many very “green” or young Christians have. So I am fond of DeYoung’s description of God’s will as more of a circle outlined by scripture, as opposed to a single solitary dot on a massive span of sinful white space.

His point is clear: Scripture can point us to universal truths that will help us live within the sphere of God’s Will. We don’t have to wait for a giant sign in the sky to go ahead and apply for a job or declare a major in college. I get that. But while I found this book refreshing and liberating, I couldn’t help but be disheartened and uncomfortable with DeYoung’s downplay of the role that the Holy Spirit has in our lives.

One of the book’s key points (it’s stated over and over again, rather redundantly) is that moral decisions matter much more than non-moral ones. As in, if the decision is simply a matter of preference or connivence, but doesn’t hurt anyone, then it’s fair game. Because of this, DeYoung’s rhetoric tends to downplay the significance of life’s biggest decisions that simply happen to be non-moral. For instance, deciding who to spend your life with and what vocation or career path to take. He almost goes as far as saying that God doesn’t particularly care who you marry or what your job is as long as you’re living in moral obedience to the Scriptures.

Now, I get that this is targeted at a specific audience, at least, that’s what I think. I believe that part of the goal that this book has is to motivate sluggish or wish-washy Christians who are either too fearful to make a decision, or too lazy. The problem for me is this: I’m not that type of Christian.

Actually, I’m the opposite. I tend to need slowing down in my decision making. I tend to need a dose of discernment to curb my reckless action. I mean well, really I do, but I’m not comfortable waiting without making a move, so oftentimes I simply make a move, without consulting the Holy Sprit. So, if you are like me, this book may encourage your usual type of craziness, because it emphasizes the need for us to get up and act!– something which we may not need to be encouraged to do at all.

The issue I have with this book is that it’s author ends up reducing the will of God to obeying the Bible. In other words, it’s message is “stop worrying about your future spouse, career, or ministry calling and work on your personal holiness”. This strikes me as rather impossible, because I truly believe that our spouse, career, and ministry calling have a great deal of impact on our holiness.

The other thing I fear that this book does is absolutely trivialize the sincerity of those who seek God’s will in their “non-moral” or everyday decisions.

Because of DeYoung’s strict delineation of moral vs. non-moral or (in his eyes) “trivial” decisions, the role of the Holy Spirit becomes little more than helping us understand and obey the commands of Scripture. I got the sense that DeYoung doesn’t put much stock in having a conversational relationship with God in which He actually speaks to us about out lives. Now, I am a little bias, because he actually references one of mine and my husband’s favorite books entitled “Practicing the Presence” and calls it out as absurdity. Quite frankly, this rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, that book is a classic. It really is.

Personally, I have experienced the direction of the Holy Spirit about a lot of matters which may seems trivial, but end up being life-changing. For instance: whether to stop being a vegetarian, or what job to accept, or who to stop and pray for on my run through the city. Yes indeed, as I look back on my 25 years, I can see many instances of God’s guidance, presence and provision though a variety of “non-moral” decisions that brought me to where I am today. These were not matters of biblical obedience vs. sin, but God was certainly concerned and involved throughout the process. And quite honestly, I believe He wants to be.

Yes, there will be times when God says “go ahead and choose whatever seems best”, but many times He has a plan, and we, as believers with the indwelling of Jesus Christ through His Spirit, need to be conscious of every way He could use us, not just in the big moral decisions of our lives, but in every aspect of it.

To you readers, and especially you young and fearful ones who think God’s will is a tiny dot and are terrified of missing said dot, I say to you: Read the book! But do so with a grain of salt, knowing that God can be an intricate part of your life if you allow the Holy Spirit to guide you.

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It Was Personal: Ferguson, ALS, Christian Genocide, and Tay-Tay

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On August 12th at 11:30pm, a 17-year-old African American boy was riding his bike on 92nd and Dobson when a silver car pulled up and fired shots at his chest. He was rushed to the ER, and was pronounced dead just after midnight. The police report stated that this boy was a documented gang member, whatever that means.

On August 13th, my husband’s and my 3rd year anniversary, I checked the news and discovered that my former student, Tay-Tay, was that documented gang member, that 17-year old bike-rider, that boy who was shot in the chest and who was now dead. I discovered this, and all the color drained from my face.

I knew there were shootings in Chicago all the time, and I had even known of kids at my school that have died, and Mike Brown was just fatally shot by a police officer only a few days earlier. All of these facts made me upset, made me outraged, made me sad.

But I don’t know. Maybe it was because I knew Tay well. Maybe it was because I recommended him for my AP Lang class and I was looking forward to teaching him next year. Maybe it was because he came late everyday to my first period class his Freshman year but still aced all of the exams. Maybe it was because of the contrast between celebrating a marriage and celebrating a life that was taken too early.

But this, this rocked me.

I won’t go into too many details about Tay-Tay, one, because he was in fact a gang member, and pretty high up on the totem pole too, and I want to respect his family’s privacy. And two, because I have other things to discuss.

But I will say a few words to explain, and a few words to commemorate.

So, many of the kids out here, they are sort of forced into the gang-banging lifestyle. Yes, it’s true that they ultimately make their own choices, but joining a gang is a survival tactic in some cases. It’s part of life here, and honestly, you don’t have to do much to be affiliated with a gang. You just have to stay on a certain block. Where you live determines what gang you’re with. It’s really that simple sometimes. And because you’re automatically affiliated with a gang, it’s easy for you to get caught up in the activity of the gang and the hierarchy of it. It’s like a snowball effect. Or at least it can be.

I have reason to believe that Tay-Tay was a higher-up in the gang. He didn’t advertise it at school, but he didn’t need to. The kids that talk the most about it are usually affiliated, but not too involved. The ones who don’t talk, don’t talk because they are involved, and sometimes, heavily so. Tay didn’t talk about it. He was so intelligent and so talented, and he could play one hell of a game of basketball. He was cute, funny, and he had the best smile out there. He was one hundred percent a natural-born leader. I loved him like I love all of my kiddos. Yes, he made some silly choices, he had a little ‘tude some days, and his ability to show up late to class and out-test the ones who came on time drove me absolutely insane!– but I loved that kid. I really did. And now he’s dead.


I can’t help but connect Tay’s death to the world around me right now. People everywhere are getting up in arms about so many issues, from Christian genocide in Iraq, to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and whether or not to dump the ice or donate, to Michael Brown’s brutal shooting by a Caucasian police officer in Ferguson, to the journalist James Foley’s ugly and filmed beheading, and I can’t help but wonder if they are all somehow related.

And the funny thing is, as many times as I’ve seen people speak out to voice an opinion or simply to raise awareness, I’ve seen just as many twitter feeds and Facebook posts and even news quotes that bash the ALS Challenge, or that question the facts of Mike Brown’s case, or that deny the global relevance of any of the issues mentioned previously. We insist that one outrage is more outrageous than the other, and that the cause of another’s choice isn’t worth caring for as much as our cause is.

But even though we are quick the point the finger, and quick to reference another tragedy, the truth of the matter is, we are really just scared of our own selfishness. Scared that we actually might care about our own lives more than we care about the lives of those people who have suffered greater than we ever have.

When I found out Tay was killed, I was celebrating my anniversary. I wanted to have fun, to laugh, and to be romantic with my husband. But when I thought about him bleeding on the ground, scraped up from his fall off the bike, a bullet buried in his chest, in the same spot where he had buried into my heart, I felt utterly guilty for being alive. And somehow, I think that maybe we all feel that way when we look at a tragedy.

When someone with ALS’s body slowly shuts down while their brain remains the same, when a black man can’t walk on the street without fear that the law enforcement might take his life, when a pregnant Muslim encounters Jesus and is executed by her own government, and when a 17-year-old boy is gunned down while riding his bicycle home from a friend’s house, we are stunned with the guilt of still being alive.

So we rage, and point fingers at those who aren’t raging enough, or raging in the wrong way. We take personally what doesn’t usually effect us personally, and we feel better about ourselves…. for a little while.

Maybe this is a first world problem. Or maybe it’s just the byproduct of being raised in a middle-class, white, suburban family and being launched into a violence-riddled, urban neighborhood where my lack of color now is the minority.

Yes, maybe it’s my white-guilt… or my privileged-guilt.

But whatever it is, it’s the same reason I broke down last night after shots were fired a block away from us and we heard the shooter– the murderer of human life– running through the empty lot next to our house. All I could think about was Tay-Tay and the hand of God that protected me in this neighborhood. I sobbed into the humid air and demanded to know why God hadn’t protected him, and whoever else might have died tonight. 

We can’t help what race we are. I know. We can’t help what hereditary disease we contract or don’t contract. We can’t help where we were born, or how we were raised, or how much money our parents had, or whether or not our government is tyrannical or just. I know this. But I still think it’s unfair that we haven’t found a cure for ALS, that we haven’t found a cure for the plagues of racism, a cure for religious discrimination, a cure for white-guilt. I think it’s unfair that Tay-Tay, the boy with the bright smile and the big potential, had his life cut short while I’m still here breathing and teaching the class that he’s still on the roster for. 

And I think I’m more upset about Tay than I am about Ferguson, or about Christian beheadings, or about ice buckets. I think my outrage at his death has caused more genuine and heart-felt tears than anything in the news ever could cause. And maybe that’s cold of me to admit, but it’s true. I felt the loss of his life on a personal level.

I knew Tay. He taught me to value my students, even if they drive me crazy. He taught me to value my life, because it can be cut short. He taught me that sometimes the greatest injustices are the ones that aren’t publicized or argued or even remembered. He taught me all of this, not during his life, but he taught me this through his death.

So I guess what I’m saying is, we need to find out what all of this death and disease and destruction can teach us–what ALS, Mike Brown, and James Foley can teach us. And when we find out, we need to learn that lesson well and never forget it. We need to let it change us. Don’t get into a contest about who can be the most upset or who can donate the most money, and don’t let the privilege of being alive make you feel guilty when you witness those that aren’t.

Instead, value life–all life, especially your own. Because it is a gift.


Photo Credit: Tay's Memorial Obituary

Photo Credit: Tay’s Memorial Obituary

This past Saturday, I looked over the body of my former student. 

I didn’t have Tay-Tay in my class his Sophomore year, although he should have been in Honors English. But he would always pass by my classroom and give me a big ol’ smile, playfully asking, “you miss me Ms. Flo?” 

Yes, I miss you Tay. I will always miss you because you taught me lessons I needed to learn. You taught me that I am selfish, and that I will always care about the things that directly effect me more than I will care about the things that don’t. 

I miss you. And I think that’s the reason why your death hurts the most. Because your death meant a loss for me.  

It was personal. 

Focused & Loving It: My Spiritual Circle Jouranl Posting

Go read about my cover on the link at the bottom of the post!

Go read about my cover on the link at the bottom of the post!

I’ve been journaling since I was a little kid. Before I could even read, I was asking my mom to write gorgeous words on paper so I could copy them down in my notebook to look at. I loved words. Something about them enticed me. It was years later that I found this was one of God’s precious gifts to me – words. His Word, to be exact. But also, my own words.
 
After I learned to write those beautiful words myself, I would scrawl long prayers in notebooks, returning to them over and over to praise Him, to ask for forgiveness, or to receive guidance. But revisiting those words involved rifling through pages, trying to find the verse I needed or what God spoke to my heart during my long rants and raves with the pen and ink. In short – it was very time consuming.
 
It was then that I discovered the Spiritual Circle Journal. With nine beautifully simplistic circles, and a blank page on top, I had the freedom to write wildly while using the circles to bring order. This made it easy to go back and find important things I had written. If I wanted to see what God had been convicting me of, I’d glance back at the “Confession” circles. If I wanted to check on my obedience, I’d study the “Action” circles to see if I truly was doing what God was asking of me. No more searching frantically through past journal entries. I had nine circles with prompts to help focus our time together.
 
I soon personalized the cover, a feature I greatly appreciate. There is something truly poetic about a cover that you designed yourself. It indicates ownership and a dedication to the words you write inside. My cover is a collage of magazine clippings and drawings I pasted there with a glue stick….
 
To read the full post, please visit Liz Lassa’s Spiritual Circle Journal Blog.