Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Grandmother's Last Christmas Gift

*The following was written in July of 2014.  It took me over five years to work up the courage to write it, but I wasn't ready to share it yet.  I think the time to share has finally come.*

You never know when you’ll be ready.
For instance, it’s July of 2014, and my grandmother died in February of 2009.
I’m sitting on a screened in porch at a house where I’m dog sitting, and it just occurred to me that I’m ready.
For the past five and a half years, I've grieved my grandmother’s death and celebrated her life.  I've needed to write about it, and badly, but haven’t quite been able to do so.  I haven’t been ready.
Because how can I even begin to put into words who my grandmother was to me?  How can I describe the way I feel when I smell something that reminds me of her—a feeling that can only be described as her.  It’s more than a feeling or a scent or a sight or anything tangible, this presence that she’s left here, imprinted on my life and on who I am and on everything I've ever been or will ever become.
            But I do think her when I smell the aroma I now know is the scent of stale perfume mingling with even staler cigarette smoke.  When I was younger, the smell didn't have a name or components.  It was just the way my grandmother smelled, a smell that was so completely her and all the things I felt when I was with her.  It’s ironic that the masked, fragranced cigarette smell I associate so closely with her is what eventually killed her.  And yet, I can’t bring myself to hate that smell, for it brings with it the memories of all she meant to me.
            And I realized while writing that how wrong it was, because all she meant to me was really all I meant to her.  For that was the impression she made on me—that everything she was could be reflected in how she loved me, in how she loved others.  That’s why when I smell perfume and cigarettes, I feel safe.  I feel loved.  I feel important.  I feel all the things I was to her.
            I remember the seemingly hundreds of feral cats and sweet old dogs lining the porch of her house.  It was the house with the hollow concrete stairs leading up to the animal covered porch.  I’d make sure and jump on that step, just for the satisfaction of hearing the low hollow thump.  And those stairs eventually cracked (probably because I, and every other child in the family, jumped on them so much) and were replaced with something more substantial, and it’s all just a metaphor of how things never stay the same.  And my childhood has been replaced with something more substantial, but I still listen for the hollow thump of that step.  I still strive to breathe in a bit of her when I smell the perfumed cigarette smoke. 
            And at least my memories are good, for now.  They’re not as hollow as they once seemed.
            I remember Christmas.  There isn't anything more to say on that, and still I know I have to try to describe something that can’t be described.  For Christmas was always partially defined by her.  Christmas was never complete until we had gone to grandma’s house.  When most children longed for Santa to come, I’d anticipate along with them, but the anticipation carried on throughout the day.  I knew more was to come, and more would include family, food, presents, joy, togetherness, love. 
            My grandmother lived for Christmas, and I take after her in that.  But, oh.  It was her show.  She started her Christmas shopping in January, buying multiple gifts for everyone.  The tree was perfect.  In my childhood, I always thought it looked like the sort of Christmas tree one might find in a magical fairy forest, all white and shining.  The tree we had at home was green and plastic and boring, covered in cheap ornaments containing pictures of me and my brother and sister.  I knew those ornaments meant love, anyway.
            But my grandmother’s Christmas tree was the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen.  It was covered in magical snow that never melted.  When I got old enough to know better, I realized the white tree wasn't really covered in snow, but rather, in cheap aerosol flocking.  But there were pictures of me and the other grandkids in plastic ornaments scattered throughout.  And when I got old enough to know better all over again, I realized there really was some magic in that tree.
            Presents surrounded it, and everyone expressed a few words of guilt about how much we had compared to the less-fortunate before we ripped into those presents.  And parents would complain about how much stuff they had to carry home, while the kids would revel in their new treasures.  And grandma would sit in her chair and smile.  Everyone gave her gifts, too, and she loved them.  But the present she wanted most was one that she had given to herself—a family that surrounded her, a family she loved so much.
            I got older and my grandmother got older.  She was sick for a long time before she died.  And I didn't always cope well with that, and she knew it.   I wanted my grandmother to be young and beautiful, as I remembered.  I wanted her to sit on the stool behind her kitchen counter and tell me stories about when my mother was a little girl, or about how much she hated it that time granddaddy grew a beard, or about silly things I did when I was really little.
            I think back on it now and realize I should have asked her so much about her.  I should have asked her about her childhood, about her own grandmother.  I should have asked what it was like to grow up with so many siblings.  I should have asked her about how she met granddaddy, or I should have asked to hear again how they had to wait a year to get married because the minister said they were too young.  I should have asked how she felt when she became a mother, to my mother, for the first time, young and poor.  I should have asked her how hard it was to work and raise six children.  I should have asked her how hard it was to be a State Trooper’s wife, always on the move.  I should have asked so many things, just so I could know her.  Because it occurs to me that the only way I knew her was just as my grandmother, as the one who loved her family.  As the one who loved her grandchildren.
            As the one who loved me.
            And on the last Christmas I ever saw her, the last day I ever saw her, she gave me a gift. 
            When I was a child, I’d get many gifts from her.  I’d get dollar store trinkets that I thought were the greatest toys in the world.  I’d get more expensive toys that I’d brag about.  I’d get clothes and books and toys and music boxes and jewelry.  When I was older, in my twenties, she gave me a diamond cluster ring.  She had saved up and bought one for all her daughters, daughters-in-law, for all her granddaughters.  And to this day, it’s one of my most valued possessions.  It was something she wanted to do for those she loved.
            But the gift she gave me that last Christmas was more valuable than the ring or any other gift she gave me.  She was so weak.  She didn't even look like herself.  And I was shocked to see her like that.  My mom had tried to prepare me, but nothing could have prepared me to see my beautiful, strong grandmother in such a frail condition.  I don’t think I hid my shock well.  But she was my grandmother, and I loved her.  I took her hand.  I told her Merry Christmas.
            She said to me, “Ruth, I love you more than you’ll ever know.”
            That was the last thing she ever said to me.  She knew it would be the last thing she ever said to me.  I was too much in denial to realize it.  But she knew.
            And that was her last Christmas present to me.  It was the embodiment of every Christmas present she had ever given me.  It was, pure and simple, her love.
            My granddaddy remarried a few years ago.  He had been married to my grandmother for 60 years (and almost 2 months).  They celebrated their 60th anniversary on Christmas Eve.  She died a few days after Valentine’s Day.
            When my granddaddy told my mother, his first child, he was seeing another lady, a year or two after my grandmother had passed, he was so nervous.  He had only ever loved my grandmother, and wasn't sure how the rest of the family would accept his new relationship.
            He needn't have worried.
            Because when my grandmother had an opportunity to accept someone into the family, when she had an opportunity to love someone, she took it.  And we all followed her example.  No one in the family had trouble accepting the precious lady who would become my granddaddy’s new wife.
            As I was writing this on the screened in porch, thinking of Christmas while it’s the heat of July, the wind was blowing.  Now it’s calm.  And I’m calm, though there are tears of memories and love in my eyes.  I’m waiting for a Christmas that will never come again, longing for a smell that I’ll never smell again, hoping to hear that hollow thump that I’ll never hear again.
            And it’s all right.  The change I wasn't ready for I’m still not ready for.  And I think I've come to realize that I’ll never be ready for it.  It’s all right.  It’s just all right.
            Because there’s always room for more.  I can have the memories of the sounds and smells and feelings.  I can have the wintry chill in the air that enhanced my excitement of going to grandma’s house.  I can have this warm breeze that calms me now.  I don’t have to lose anything in order to gain anything.
            That’s love.  There’s always room.  And I don’t know if I’ll ever have a child of my own, let alone a grandchild.  But I hope I do, and I hope that if I do, she knows me.  She doesn't have to know that I’m insecure about everything or that I love Rich Mullins music.  She doesn't have to know that I once had a cat named Bradley that was my best friend, or that I got my heart broken in college, or that I used to sit out on borrowed screened in porches and write.
            Because, in a way, everyone we meet becomes a different person when we meet them.  We have a version of who we know them to be in our minds, in our hearts, that is just a little bit different from what anyone else knows in their minds or hearts.  And I don’t know who my grandmother was to everyone else.  I just know she was my grandmother.  I know she loved me.  And partly because she loved me, I know how to love others. 
            That was her last Christmas gift.
            I can’t wear it on my hand like a ring, nor can I play with it like a silly toy.  But it’s in the memories—the perfumed smoke and the hollow steps.  It’s in the summer breeze and the Christmas chill.  It’s part of the present, part of all I do, all I say.  Her love that always, always makes room.
            The windchimes chime now, and I am ready.  I’m ready to write.  I’m ready to live.  I’m ready to remember.  I’m ready to love. I’m just ready.

            I’m ready now.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Glory Shown (Christmas 2014)

Often, I find myself being drawn to the more mysterious places in Scripture. Some of my favorite passages are where God does something really unusual, such as when He wrestled with Jacob or when He spoke to Elijah in a still small Voice.  And I suppose it could be argued, quite easily, that the entirety of Scripture is the story of God doing something really mysterious and unusual.  It's the story of the Creator pursuing His creation. But sometimes the stories and characters in Scripture seem commonplace.  I think that people then got so busy "doing life" that they forgot the mystery.  And people today do the same thing.

One of my favorite mysterious stories from Scripture is about Moses.  Here's a man with a great and terrible past--with insecurities and hesitations.  He never really wanted to lead.  But God called him out.  By the power of God, he had spoken to Pharaoh.  By the power of God, he had done signs and wonders.  By the power of God, he split the waters so that the Israelites could be free from their Egyptian bondage.  And by the power of God, he led the people, with riches to spare, out of the land of Egypt.

He spoke God's words to the people, and the people vowed that they would do all that the Lord had spoken.  So Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to speak with God.  He was gone 40 days and 40 nights.

The people, who had so quickly vowed to do all that the Lord had said, just as quickly turned away.  Tired and afraid of waiting, they made a golden calf to worship in the place of God.

When Moses learned of this, he grieved.  God threatened to desert the people.  Yet Moses dared to intercede with God for his people, the people God had given him to lead.  And he knew that he couldn't continue to lead this stiff-necked people without God.  He knew that they needed God with them.

And Moses said, "Show me Your glory."

A few years ago, I tried to figure out exactly what glory is.  I know it's obviously something to do with having great honor, worth, and/or majesty, but I don't think I've ever heard a satisfactory definition.  It's a word that is frequently used and perhaps overused, but I'm not sure how many people, if any, really know what it means.  The closest I got to figuring out glory was by reading a thesaurus.  I found nothing really helpful in the synonyms (all of them seemed to fall short), but then I read the antonyms.  Base.

When I think of something that is base, I think of something lowly--the lowliest.  I think of something that is lower than anything else.  I think of something stuck on the bottom of my shoe, but not something even sticky or foul-smelling enough to worry about.  It just stays on the bottom of my shoe, trodden upon, ignored and forgotten.  Glory is the complete opposite of base.  It's the highest.  It's above anything else.  It's something so high that base fools like us can't even define or imagine it.

And that's what Moses asked to be shown from God.  He wanted to be shown GOD in all His fullness, in all His GLORY.  Moses knew that he needed to see pure glory if he were to continue leading the stubborn people of Israel, those wrestlers with God.

So God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand, for He knew Moses couldn't see His face and live.  After God had passed by, He allowed Moses to see His back, where He had been.  He allowed Moses to see the glory that had passed.  But He didn't let Moses see Him face to face.

Bethlehem was a small town, unimportant, as towns go.  There, not in a palace or a mansion or even an inn, but in a stable, Mary, Joseph, and the lowly shepherds were the first ones to peer into the face of God.  He didn't look glorious, I'm sure, all tiny and red and potato-headish (as newborns tend to be), and probably covered in birth goo.  He didn't have a lot of power and might.  In fact, I can't think of many things weaker and more helpless than a newborn human being.  There were many alive at the time who probably would have thought as little of this baby as they would of something stuck to the bottom of their sandals.

The Beloved Disciple wrote in John 1:14, " And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

The Word--Jesus--became flesh, and came down here to this base world full of base people.  And we saw His glory.  Moses' prayer was answered, not in the way he expected, and years after he prayed it.  What he had seen was a partial revelation, but He later revealed the full.  God showed us His glory--not just where He had been and in what He had done, but in what He was doing.  And the world finally could see God face to face, for God had become like us.  God was with us.  Moses had asked for God to be with them in the wilderness.  Those in the wilderness needed God to be with them in the time that Jesus walked the earth.  Those of us today in the wilderness need God to be with us now.

And because God, the Father so full of glory we can't even comprehend Him, chose to set aside His glory and come down here to this base world, in the form of a weak little baby, we no longer have to walk through the dark wilderness alone.

And the very act of setting aside so much for so little is a glorious act in itself.  It's one of those mysterious moments, when God does something really unusual.  That's probably why Christmas is my favorite time of year, a time to celebrate the miracle of God being with us.  Emmanuel.

We have seen His glory.  We are not alone.  He is with us.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My "Mental" Illness

Depression has been in the spotlight a lot lately, particularly in the recent and tragic events of several celebrity suicides.  People are talking, and that is very good.  People are taking notice, and that is very good.  As someone who has experienced occasional depression, and who is currently experiencing depression, I am glad that more people are realizing the need to take depression seriously.

And I hesitate to blog about this subject for several reasons.  I know it's controversial.  Those who believe specific things about depression, whether it's because they've experienced it first-hand, by walking through it with a loved one, or because they've studied it, are very adamant in their beliefs. Matt Walsh wrote a blog shortly after the death of Robin Williams that got all kinds of backlash.  I'm not afraid of backlash, but I am afraid of hurting people, as Matt Walsh did in the writing of that blog.  I did like a lot of what Walsh had to say, but if he did anything wrong, it was that he did the same thing that a lot of people who oppose his ideas on depression and suicide do, as well.

A lot of people seem to think depression is the same for everyone who experiences it.  Even if they don't think that's what they're thinking, their attitudes towards suicide seem to indicate their true thought processes.  People go to the extremes of thinking that all people who commit suicide are either making a horrible conscious choice, or that all people who commit suicide are too mentally ill to think clearly.

I don't have all the answers.  It's okay not to have all the answers, by the way.  But in talking about this with some others via social media, I realized what my thoughts on depression are.  No one who is experiencing it experiences it the same way.  And I don't have the grounds to say that all suicide is always the result of a conscious, awful choice.  I've been in some dark places.  I've been in some very dark places where it was all I could do to fight the demons (that I believe are both literal and figurative) that told me the world would be a better place without me in it.  But I've never attempted suicide, and God forbid that I ever do.  I don't know what it's like to be in that dark of a place.  I've always had control of my thoughts, to some degree, even if it was all I could do to just keep telling myself to hold on until morning.  Morning always came.  The night was so, so long.  But, oh, morning always came.

Some people might not have been able to think clearly enough to realize that morning was coming.  I don't know.

So I can't make any blanket statements.

But, and this is a but that might offend or hurt some people, I think there's a danger in going too far in the opposite direction and saying that all suicide (and all depression, but I'll touch on that later) is always the result of mental illness.  Our society doesn't like to deal with things that just can't be easily dealt with.  We like excuses.  We don't like to blame ourselves.  And we don't want to speak ill of the dead.  It's easier to deal with something like suicide if we can tell ourselves, "This loved one who left us didn't choose to leave us.  It was the depression.  It was the mental illness that killed my loved one.  It's the depression's fault."

I don't want to be insensitive.  I've lost friends to suicide.  I've had friends who have lost close family members to suicide.  It's awful.  There's just no way around that.  There's no sense to be made of it.  Yet we're a society that wants things to make sense.  It's easier to say that suicide is a result of a disease than the result of a very, very bad choice.

In the case of Robin Williams' death, many factors might have been at play.  He was suffering from Parkinson's and might have been having hallucinations.  But the thing is, we really don't know what was going on at the time of his death.  Sometimes, we just don't know.

And that's okay.

It's okay to not know things.

I think that we forget that sometimes, and we try to explain things.  We try to make excuses.  We try to find ways to make things make sense.

The problem is, suicide doesn't make sense.

It just doesn't.

I don't wish to offend.  I don't wish to hurt.  The thing is, if you're upset enough by anything I wrote above, chances are, you've already been hurt.  And deeply.  And I'm sorry.  I'm sorry for what you've been through and what you're going through.  Surviving a suicide is a grief no one should ever have to bear.  It doesn't make sense, and sometimes this world doesn't make sense.  And I'm sorry.

But sin and death exist in this world, and really, they were never meant to.  We're all subject to pain and grief and loss and hardship that God never intended for us.  But when Adam and Eve fell from grace, sin entered into the world, and we all have to bear the consequences.  Sometimes the pain we experience is the result of our own sin.  Sometimes it's the result of someone else's sin.  Sometimes, it's just a result of sin in general.  And this world is a hard, hard place in which to live.

And this is something else that might offend people, but I've already taken offense.  I take offense to those who make blanket statements about depression.  I take offense to those who say that all depression is a mental illness.  If all depression is the result of mental illness, then, because I experience depression, I'm mentally ill.

And maybe people who make such blanket statements are trying to be encouraging by saying that my depression isn't my fault.  I don't think that experiencing depression is my fault either, necessarily, but I'm not comfortable with this idea that I don't have any responsibility in how I live as a depressed individual.

If I wake up in the morning and don't want to get out of bed, I still get out of bed because I have things I'm supposed to do.  Is it easy?  No.  If I'm at work and I numb and disconnected from reality, I still work and try to invest myself in what I'm doing.  Is it easy?  No.  My particular brand of depression is more numb and apathetic than sad (though if I let myself have a pity party and invite my anxiety, I can get ridiculously sad pretty quickly), but I learned a long time ago that life is a whole lot more than what I'm feeling.  If I don't "feel" what I'm doing, that doesn't make it less real.  What I do is still important, even if I don't "feel" it.

And others might not be able to overcome it that easily, and there are definitely days when I struggle more than others.  But my depression is NOT a mental illness.  And what's more is, I don't necessarily want to be rid of it.

I read something somewhere (I wish I'd written down the source, sorry) that made some statement that depressed people's minds were so distorted that they didn't realize it was preferable not to be depressed.  Maybe that's where I am.  Maybe all of these thoughts are just the result of a mental illness, and therefore I'm just absolutely crazy.  But I don't think so.

I've been depressed, on and off, throughout my entire adult life.  Seasonal depression almost always hits me in the autumn, but I experience it at other times, too.  And what I've learned is that I do tend to think more deeply when I'm going through seasons of depression.  Artistically, some of my best song lyrics and writing have come out of times when I'm struggling.  And maybe I should think to ask God if I could have creativity without depression, but I've always kind of figured that it's connected.  I don't mean just creativity and depression; I mean life.

Life is not just joy.  Life is not just sorrow.  It's not just bursts of creativity or comfortable silences.  It's a journey, and I seem to be taking the scenic route.  Others have had problems with that, but I don't despair of who I am.  Sometimes my depression helps me slow down and look at things others might have missed, or that I might have missed if I weren't looking.

I don't see depression as a mental illness.  I don't see it as a gift either, really.  It's just something that is, that's part of what I have to experience along with everything else in this wonderful, awful life.

And this is more than just that old cliche about the only difference between a blessing and a curse is how you choose to see it.  I just know that I've got a path in front of me.  I don't always see the next step.  I just put one foot in front of the other, and pray I won't stumble.  And sometimes I do stumble.  And sometimes I retreat back a few steps.  And sometimes things are harder than others.

But one thing I'm sure of is that there is mercy in the struggle.

There is so much mercy.

Because the only illness I have is the same illness the whole world has.   It's not really a mental illness as much as it's an illness of the soul.  It's called sin.  There's only one cure for it.  And I'm just grateful that through all that I've experienced, I've met one named Jesus who has saved me from sin and self forever.  I struggle.  Oh, I struggle.  But my hope is in Him.

I can't speak for anyone else regarding depression.  All I know is that He's the One who has given to me songs in the night and joy in the morning.

And I figure as long as I'm traveling along this road of life, that's the way it's supposed to be.

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Experiences With Essential Oils, So Far

This isn't usually the sort of thing I blog about, but lately my blog has had no real rules.  So, without further ado, I must admit that, my friends, I've become a hippy essential oil lady.  And in this blog, I will vomit just about everything I have learned about using essential oils.  Fair warning.

I post about my oil experiences a bit on "the Facebook," and so I get a few questions from time to time.  Lately, I've gotten a LOT of questions.  Essential oils are gaining popularity, and people are curious.  I'm no expert.  I'm still pretty new at essential oil usage (just started using them back in April or May), and I'm still learning.  I will still be learning, as there are many, many different oils, many, many different blends, and many, many uses for each oil.  But, since I keep getting questions, I thought I'd go ahead and write about my experiences with essential oils, so far.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor.  The statements I make here are based on my own experiences using oils and are not to be taken as medical advice or expertise.  If you use essential oils, please do your research on each individual oil or blend so that you can use them SAFELY (especially if you are considering using oils with children or if you plan on taking oils internally).  Please also keep in mind that not everyone has the same reaction or experience to each oil.  What works for me might not work for you.  I might be able to handle a particular oil or blend without diluting with a carrier oil, but each person needs to see what works best with their own individual skin and body chemistry.  Also, the uses I list below for these oils is not an exhaustive list.  There are many uses for oils, so do your research!  "The Google" is full of all kinds of info.

What brand of oils do I use?  I use Rocky Mountain Oils, which I either get from their website OR I order them from Native American Nutritionals.  The companies recently joined, and so both sites sell the exact same oils at the exact same price (unless there is a sale on one of the sites), and they are shipped within the same time frame (usually takes 3 work days to get my oils after I order them).  The reason I use both sites is because I've learned that sometimes one site will offer sales on certain oils or free shipping deals.  I have also found promo codes on various blogs that are useful only on one of the sites or the other.  I try to take advantage of any sales from either site in order to save money.  I like saving money.

RM oils are therapeutic grade, pure, organic, and not to mention, awesome.  I decided to go with RMO because they offer high quality at a lower price than some other companies.  I originally got into essential oils through a friend who is selling Young Living oils.  The oils I got from her were great--I have no complaints about their quality.  But they were EXPENSIVE.  RMO offers similar quality at lower prices.  And I can also go online and order whatever I need whenever I want it, without having to go through any multi-level marketing middleman.  It's nice having that convenience.  I personally don't care what oil brand you go with, as long as you do your homework and get high quality, therapeutic grade oils--especially if you plan on using these oils medicinally.  If you just want some peppermint or cinnamon oil to keep bugs out of your house, go get something cheap.  If you're using this on your own body or on your family--spend the extra money to make sure you're not getting something that can hurt you or your loved ones.  I looked around and read a lot. I read several other blogs that had tested different oils (I wish I had the money to do that for myself, but I don't), and RMO came out on top in many of those tests.

Here are all the oils or blends I have used.  I am still fairly new at this whole thing, so I do plan on using more oils in the future.  I also want to note that I haven't gotten around to purchasing a diffuser, and I'm still on the fence about whether I want to or not.  I'm not sure a diffuser is something I'd even use enough to justify buying one.  Other people use them and love them, but I'm bad at upkeep (*coughI'mASlobcough*), and I housesit so much that I'm often not even living in my own house for weeks at a time.  A diffuser would probably get buried under some laundry or knitting somewhere.  But other people like them.  So if you're looking into diffusers/oils that are good for diffusing, I'm not your girl.  Yet.

(*EDIT* I have recently started using a diffuser.  I don't have a lot to say on the matter, except I like it.  I don't feel knowledgeable enough to say much more than that.)

Melaleuca (AKA the oil that is hardest to remember how to spell...well, probably not, but still...):
Melaleuca is basically tea tree oil, except that tea tree is a slightly higher potency (I plan on purchasing tea tree oil from RMO, to see how it compares to Melaleuca, but that's not in the budget yet).  This was the first essential oil I tried.  I originally used Melaleuca from Young Living, and it worked well.  When that ran out, I purchased Melaleuca from Rocky Mountain.  Their quality is about the same.  RMO's Melaleuca has a slightly less pungent smell, but I noticed no difference in how the oils worked.  I have had dry scalp issues for years.  I use melaleuca in my shampoo, in hair oil, and a few other hair products.  The thing that really does the trick, however, is a scalp treatment I use once a week (the recipe is at the end of this blog post). This has been the only thing to help with my severely dry scalp--seriously, before I started using this, my scalp was flaking and peeling so badly that I felt like a leper.  As long as I use the weekly scalp treatment, my head doesn't even itch!  I also put a few drops of melaleuca in my skin toner (recipe below) and in my store-bought moisturizer.  Melaleuca is supposed to help with acne--and I'm one of those unfortunate adults who still has occasional acne breakouts.  I still get acne, but not as much as I did before using the melaleuca in my moisturizer.

Lavender: Everyone says that lavender is the most versatile oil, and it's true.  I use lavender to soothe (and heal) my severely dry hands.  I put a few drops in my store-bought lotion, and at night I use coconut oil with a few drops of lavender oil mixed it.  I slather my hands with the coconut oil mix and cover my hands with white gloves.  This has been the only thing that has helped really heal my dry, dry skin.  I've tried just about everything, so this was what really sold me on essential oils.  I originally got lavender oil from a friend selling YL.  When I ran out, I purchased a new bottle from RM.  I like RM's smell a little better, but the oils are really about the same quality.
I also use lavender with other essential oils in an allergy mix (recipe below).  The allergy mix works so well that I've been able to give up Claritin!  I put lavender in my hair products and in the weekly scalp treatments, facial toner, and in my store-bought moisturizer.
Last week I burned my finger on a hot pan.  Usually, such a burn would blister by the next day.  However, I just put a drop of lavender oil directly on the burn (it's one of the mildest oils--please don't try this with a different oil or blend without checking to see if it's safe), and the next day, you couldn't even tell I'd been burned.  Lavender's smell is wonderful and relaxing.  If you're going to try out essential oils, I recommend lavender as the one to start with.  NAN/RMO sells two different kinds of lavender.  I use the Lavender Bulgaria, as I read that it is a little more potent than the Lavender Hungary.

Peppermint: Another extremely versatile oil!  I use it in the aforementioned allergy blend.  If my back/neck/shoulder muscles are tired, I put a drop in a handful of coconut oil and slather it on my back.  I don't always use it in my scalp tonic, but sometimes I'll add a few drops to help cover the smell of the apple cider vinegar.  This is a "hot" oil for some people, so please make sure you test how your body reacts if you plan on using it.  I do just fine applying it straight to my skin, but you might need to dilute it with a carrier oil, like coconut oil, jojoba oil, or almond oil.

Pink Grapefruit: I originally got this oil because I thought it might help improve my mood to inhale it.  I love the smell of grapefruit! Inhalation didn't seem to make much difference in my mood, but I started reading about how some people like to put grapefruit oil in their water for weight loss.  I thought I'd give it a try.  I didn't notice much weight loss, but what I did discover is that putting a drop of grapefruit oil in my water not only gave my water a wonderful refreshing flavor, but it REALLY helped energize me.  If I'm feeling sluggish in the afternoons, I add a drop or two of grapefruit oil to my water.  It really gives me a pick me up to get me through the day.  *NOTE* Please educate yourself before taking any oil internally.  Many people who use oils choose not to take them internally, regardless of the oil's quality.  If you choose to take oils internally, make sure you are using a therapeutic grade oil, as many cheaper oils contain dangerous additives or are extracted using unsafe methods.  Some oils (such as melaleuca) are toxic and should NEVER be taken internally. RMO oils are safe to be taken internally if they are not toxic, but this is a decision you should make for yourself.  In other words, don't just go order a bunch of oils and start drinking them.  Do your research!  Make an informed decision!

(*EDIT* I have recently stopped taking any oils internally.  After reading more on it, I decided against using them in that manner.  I feel it MIGHT be unsafe, and even if it's safe, it seems unnecessary.  This is still a choice you must make on your own, and please do research.)

Lemon: Lemon is a great little versatile oil.  A lot of people use it in cleaning or use it to flavor their water.  As of right now, I just use the lemon oil in my allergy mix.  There are a couple of different kinds of lemon oils available from RMO.  I got the Lemon USA Pressed Peel.  It smells really, really good!

Rosemary: I use this oil in all of my hair products and in my scalp tonic, as it is good for hair growth and strength.  I love the way my hair smells when I use rosemary in it.  There's also a lot of evidence to support that inhaling rosemary oil is good for memory.  I'm not sure if it helps my memory, but the scent of rosemary oil does help me relax.

Bug Off: This is a blend of oils sold by RMO.  A blend differs from an oil single as it contains many essential oils that have already been blended by the company.  Bug off contains lemongrass and citronella, among other oils, which are useful in warding off insects.  I made my own bug spray with this (recipe below).  It worked just as well as something I'd buy from the store, only without the added chemicals--and for a fraction of the price.  I figure one bottle of Bug Off will last me through several "insect seasons"--well worth the investment.

Aligning: So far, this is the only oil I've used that I haven't just absolutely loved.  I do think it's helping, but for me, it hasn't produced the dramatic results it seems to provide for other people.  I'm still using it and testing it to see if I start to notice any real difference that it makes.
I have had back/shoulder/and neck issues and accompanying dizziness for months.  I was seeing a chiropractor, but that stopped helping, and it got too expensive.  Since this oil blend is known as "a chiropractor in a bottle," I thought I would give it a try.  I applied a few drops along my spine, particularly around my neck and upper back.  At first, all this oil did was make me dizzy.  As dizziness was one of my neck/back symptoms, I thought perhaps that I was just having a relapse.  But I noticed there was a correlation--I'd apply the oil, and a few minutes later, I'd start to feel dizzy.  As a result, I started using the oil only at night, right before bedtime.
I still apply this oil to my spine every night.  I'm no longer having sensations of dizziness, and sometimes when I apply it, I will note that it is a lot easier to pop my neck.  It might be doing its job, and I might just not know it.  I think the original dizziness was actually the oil working to realign my back and body.  I was feeling dizzy because it was working, but my body was used to being out of alignment and protested being put back in alignment.  But I'm not 100% sure.  With that being said, I'm not sure whether this blend is a good one for me or not.  I still have an almost full bottle, so I will  keep using it for a while.  Other people have used this blend and had a lot of help from it, so my personal experience with it is not to be taken as the norm.  But if anyone out there has used Aligning from RMO (or a similar blend from another company, such as Balance by doTerra or Valor by Young Living) and has experienced dizziness or headaches after using this oil, please leave me a little note in the comments.  I really thought I was going a little crazy when I started having adverse reactions to this oil, so it would be nice to know if anyone out there has had a similar reaction.  It does just go to show you that not everyone has the same reaction to an oil or blend.  And sometimes your body just needs to get used to an oil or blend. Note: This oil is dark, due to the blue tansy it contains, and it might stain clothes--but in my opinion, you'd have to really be trying to make it stain anything.

True Blue: Okay.  This is the stuff.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE True Blue.  Since having all my neck/back/shoulder issues, this blend has been an absolute life saver!  True Blue helps me so much with the pain, but it's also anti-inflammatory and calms tension!  It contains both peppermint and wintergreen, so it smells a bit like Winterfresh chewing gum, but it also contains blue tansy, which serves to calm and soothe.  I absolutely love the smell.  My body has started reacting to the smell of True Blue before I ever apply the blend to my skin.  I smell it and immediately feel calmer, more relaxed.  If I'm in pain, the smell serves to alert me to the fact that relief is coming.  I apply this product directly to my back, neck, and shoulders, placing a drop on whatever area is in pain at the moment.  Sometimes I'll slather on some coconut oil to my whole upper back region after applying the oil.  This provides exceptional pain relief and promotes relaxation.  I use this stuff almost every night before bed, and as needed during the day.  I've found I haven't needed it as much during the day, as it really seems to be keeping the inflammation in check.  I love this stuff.  I'm not exaggerating to say that it has greatly improved the quality of my life.  If you have pain due to inflammation or arthritis, please look into this blend.  *Note* This oil is dark, due to the blue tansy, and can stain clothes, but, as I said, you'd really have to be trying to make it stain your clothes.  I figure you'd have to be wearing a white shirt and apply drops directly to said shirt to really have any problems.  I mean, if you're clumsy, like me, just don't wear white while applying this oil.  Roller bottles are really good options for clumsy people who spill stuff, btw.

Feminine Aid: This is another blend that I just can't stop raving about.  I got this oil because I heard that it helped with three things that plague me: 1) Anxiety, 2) Depression, 3) GIRLY TIME CRAMPS.  I suspect it's the latter of those three things that give Feminine Aid its happy little name.  To be honest, it doesn't help too much with my cramps.  I did apply a little to my abdomen during my last girly time (yeah, I'm blogging about that, get over it), and it helped a bit.  It took the edge off my pain, but I still had to take ibuprofen to be functional.  I've read other reviewers say it was the only thing that helped them with cramps, so if you're having issues, it's worth a try.  It also helped my manage some of my, how shall I put this?--FEELINGS during girly time.
But I really wish this blend had a different name, because it's not just a girly time oil.  It's an every-day-can't-be-without-it oil.  I suffer from mild anxiety and depression.  It's manageable, but lately, due to all my back issues and stress and life in general, I've had a harder time of things. I figured I'd try this blend to see if it helped me deal with my anxiety and depression.  I put a drop or two behind my ears, on my wrists, around my ankles, wearing it much like a perfume. At first, I noticed it helped a little.  It would keep me a little more focused.  The smell was calming.  I was happy with it.
But a couple of weeks ago, this oil did something that absolutely astounded me.  I had had an awful day.  Just awful.  And I had a lot I still had to do that day.  So, during my short amount of time to myself, I did what any reasonable anxious person would do, and I started having a panic attack.  I've had them from time to time, but I've had them more frequently as of late.  I was having trouble breathing without hyperventilating.  I was crying.  I couldn't calm down.  I felt completely out of control.  I couldn't stop the negative thoughts from overwhelming me.  But I reached for my Feminine Aid.  I took a good sniff straight from the bottle (inhalation is the quickest way to get an oil in your system), and then I applied a drop behind my right ear.  Then I started to put a drop behind my left ear, but I noticed something.  My breathing had already become even.  I immediately felt calmer.  The bad thoughts went away, and I felt grounded and reasonable, immediately able to see life realistically instead of thinking the worst and letting it all overwhelm me.

Y'all.  That essential oil blend stopped a panic attack in its tracks.


That stuff is legit.

I am NEVER leaving home without Feminine Aid.

I'm a believer.

If you have mood issues, I strongly recommend this blend.  It's all kinds of amazing.
*Note* It took me a while to become accustomed to the smell, as it's very earthy and musty.  In my opinion, it smells very different in the bottle than it does on your skin.  On my skin, it smells like a nice musky perfume.  I think your body chemistry will change the scent a little, so if you get this and are turned off by how it smells in the bottle, give it time.

Immune Strength: I have only just started using this oil, so I'm still figuring out the best way to use it, as well as how well it works for me.  I was having some lingering sore throat/cough issues, and I thought I'd try this to see if it would knock it out.  I diluted some in coconut oil and rubbed it over my throat.  I also put a drop on each foot, near my toes (this is a HOT oil blend, so my foot is the only place I feel safe using it undiluted).  That seemed to help my breathing, but I still had throat pain/chest congestion.  After reading a little more on this blend, I did put a drop in a glass of warm water and drank it.  I did this two nights in a row.  I'm not sure if the oil is the culprit, but I had an upset stomach the second night.  I stopped taking it internally after that, but I did notice that the cough is gone, and my throat is feeling better.  That cough and sore throat had lingered for almost a month, and I finally feel like I'm over it.  I'm not 100% sure, but I think that drop of oil in the water I drank is what knocked out that cough.  I might try just gargling with a glass of water and a drop of Immune Strength the next time I have a sore throat.  I've read so many good things about this oil, so I'm definitely going to keep trying to figure out the best way(s) to use it.  I'm considering adding a bit to my allergy blend, but I haven't decided yet.


Note: When I use the word "recipe," what I mean is "this is the general idea."  Honestly, when I cook and when I use oils, I never do things exactly the same thing twice.  But here's basically what I do when I make certain things using essential oils.

Scalp Tonic:

1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
3/4 cup Water
3 drops Melaleuca Oil
3 drops Lavender Oil
3 drops Rosemary Oil
1 drop Peppermint Oil (optional)
1 teaspoon Olive Oil (optional) (if used, reduce amount of water)

Mix water, ACV, and optional olive oil.  I don't always use the olive oil, but I find that it helps improve my hair if I use it occasionally.  Hot oil is a good hair treatment.  When I use the olive oil, I microwave the mixture for about 30 seconds to get the oil nice and warm.  If I'm not using the olive oil, I don't worry about warming it up--although a warm mixture feels nicer on your head.  It's up to you.
Pour mix into an 8 oz. spray bottle.  Add essential oils.  Close bottle and shake vigorously for a few seconds.  Lean your head over your tub or sink and spray contents on your scalp, occasionally pausing to massage mixture into your scalp.  When bottle is empty, gather all hair into an elastic band, wrap your head in a towel, and leave mixture on for at least 30 minutes.  It won't hurt to leave it on longer.  I once forgot I had the treatment on, and watched a good 2 hour movie before remembering I needed to wash it out.
When you've left it on a bit, just wash your hair as normal.
I do this scalp treatment once a week, and my scalp doesn't itch or flake anymore!
You MAY want to follow all this up with a leave-in hair rinse which includes:
4 cups water
A "splash" (appr. 1 tbsp) ACV
3 drops Melaleuca
3 drops Lavender
3 drops Rosemary
1 drop Peppermint (still optional, but since you're leaving even a small amount of vinegar in your hair, the peppermint REALLY helps eliminate the residual odor that might linger after your hair dries).
Pour this over your head after you wash your hair, and just leave it in and go on with your life.
I don't always do the follow up rinse, but sometimes it helps my scalp even more. I do the follow-up rinse about once a month.

Facial Toner:

1/4 cup ACV
1 cup Water
3 drops Melaleuca
3 drops Lavender

Mix all ingredients in a bottle.  Apply to face as needed with a cotton ball.

Allergy Mix:

Equal parts:
Lavender Oil
Peppermint Oil
Lemon Oil

It's that simple.
You can put a drop of each on the soles of your feet, or you can premix a blend.  I actually use two different kinds of mixes.  At night, I use a mix of these oils in a base of coconut oil.  I rub the mix all over my feet, as this provides allergy relief, as well as makes my feet all soft and dainty!
In the morning, I use a roll-on bottle (can be purchased from RMO or NAN websites) with equal parts of the oils already mixed together.  I simply roll a little on the soles of each feet (particularly near my toes), and then put my socks and/or shoes on.  It sounds a little silly, but it really works!

If I'm feeling particularly allergic on a certain day, I'll get a glass of water and put a drop of each oil in it.  I'll gargle the oil water for a few minutes.  It helps even more.  Some people go so far as to take this oil mix internally by drinking it or putting it in capsules.  But usually, just putting it on my feet is enough.  I was taking Claritin every day, and I'm off it now.  The oil blend actually works better than the Claritin!

*I might try adding Immune Strength to my allergy roller, as it seems to help alleviate chest congestion and sore throat pain.  If I do, I will use much less IS than the other oils.  Maybe 1 part IS to 2 parts of the others.

Bug Off Spray:

Fill a 4 oz spray bottle almost completely with water.  Add 20-30 drops of Bug Off.  Shake well before each use.  Spray on Bug Off spray all over your skin before going outside in an area where you might be exposed to mosquitoes or other biting insects.

So far, that's my limited experience with essential oils.  But I'm always trying to learn more.  I want to try new oils and new blends, as well as learn new uses for the oils I already own and love!  Please share your own experiences/recipes/questions below.  I'm learning that there's a whole community of essential oil users--so let's help out one another!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

At the Top of the Hill

I used to be a runner.

I ran in 5ks and 10ks, and even did a half-marathon and a 15 mile fundraiser run (that turned into a walk-jog near mile 12, because I didn't train as well as I really needed to).

A few things happened, like me having weird knee pain and back pain and general laziness, that made me get out of the habit.  And maybe I'll be a runner again.  I don't know.

When I was a runner, I preferred to run alone, but that was never a rule.  I'd occasionally run with my friend Mary, or I'd run with my running group, The Second Wind.  We would meet up at a park in a ridiculously small town that was about 10 minutes from the not-quite-as-ridiculously-small town where I lived.  We would usually just run the mile loop at the park, and really that was all I knew of the town.  I knew they had a Sonic Drive-In, a CVS, and a few schools, but I didn't spend much time in that town.  It was ridiculously small.

But I ran that mile loop a lot.  Probably more than 100 times.  It was familiar.  It was comfortable--even that big hill near the end that I hated so much.  I'd always try to run faster when I got to that hill, just to show it who was boss.  And even when it beat me and I had to walk it, I got to the top.  And in the springtime, my favorite time to run, on the other side of that hill were honeysuckle bushes.  That heavenly aroma, my favorite smell in the world, was my reward for conquering the hill.

And I deserved a reward.  That hill was hard.  It was a very hard, awful, butt-kicking hill.

But at the same time, it was familiar.  It was something I knew was coming.  I knew how to mentally prepare for it.  I knew what I had to do to pace myself before reaching it.

But one of those times where I met with my running group, the guy leading us decided to lead us out of the park.  I had no idea where we were going, as I had only run that mile loop (with that familiar hill).  I'd never ventured outside the park in this ridiculously small town.  And even in a ridiculously small town, I was uncomfortable.  I had no idea where we were going.

We ran down Main Street.  We turned a corner onto a street I don't think I'd ever been on before.  We ran past homes and tiny little shops.  I took it all in, trying to figure out exactly where I was.  We ran down this street for maybe half a mile before I realized I sort of knew where we were.  The road we were on connected with another road I had driven down, but I'd always been on the other side of it.

We did take that road, and I figured out where we were pretty quickly.  But had we kept running on the path we were on, we would have run up another hill.  And this hill wasn't one I'd seen before.  It wasn't familiar to me.  And at the top of that hill was a house I'd never seen before.

Fast-forward about three years.

I'm living in that unfamiliar house at the top of that unfamiliar hill in that ridiculously small town.  I've been living here over a year now.  And this ridiculously small town isn't so scary anymore.

But as I drove past those homes and tiny little shops along the street where I now live, I couldn't help but remember how foreign they once looked to me, as I ran an unfamiliar path.

And that hill that once looked almost foreboding to me, the hill that I didn't know, well, it's my home.

I've been wondering right now what's to come of my life.  I feel completely overwhelmed sometimes, completely stuck where I am.  I start things and fail to accomplish them.  I try, only to be beaten down by circumstance, or worse, by my own laziness.  I trudge the same paths, and they're familiar, but they're tedious.

I need to face a new hill.  I'm scared because I'm not ready.  I don't know how to prepare myself for something I don't know.  But I need to face the hill.

Because at the top of it might be something I couldn't expect, something I couldn't imagine, something that might change my life.

I don't know how.  I'm not ready.  But I think the time is coming fairly soon, and I'm going to need to take that first step up that hill.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do Not Be Afraid: Part Two

Christmas season is coming.  It's kind of what my calendar revolves around.  I spend Septemberish-Marchish celebrating Christmas.  That's sixish months of the year.  And I'm okay with that.

And every year, I theme my Christmas and my year around a word or statement from the Biblical Christmas story.  This year, the theme has been "Do Not Be Afraid."  And God has taught me a lot through that theme this year.

And I don't think He's finished.

So many good things have happened this year, and so many hard things have happened this year.  I am battling depression right now big time.  I usually do in the autumn, when it gets cold.  But this year, it started in the summer and never let up, and then hit me all over again in the autumn.  Right now, everything is hard.

Even writing is hard, so sorry I haven't updated this very much.  ...not that anyone has really wanted to read it anyway.

But when I started thinking about what theme I would have for next year, when I started looking at different words or phrases from the Christmas story, I realized that I'm not quite ready to let go of this year's theme.  I still think there's a lot I have to learn.  And I think the lessons are going to get harder from here on out.

I'm a really independent person.  I am introverted and need a lot of time to myself.  And while I love people, I really don't need to have a lot of people in my life to be happy.  I can be alone and be just fine.  But I've had a lot of health and financial issues this year.  I've had some hard stuff happen--not devastating--just hard.  And I really think God's leading me to start letting other people help.

I don't like being taken care of, but I think God's leading me to start trusting people a little more, and stop depending on myself for everything.  It's hard, because trust is hard.  I know I won't let myself down, and if I do, I only have myself to blame.  That's comfortable.  Trusting others isn't comfortable.  Relying on others means I have to let go of that little bit of control that I'm still holding on to.  I have to trust God to help me trust others.  I have to open myself up a little bit more.  It's scary.  It's more complicated.  It's hard.

But I don't remember God ever promising us that following Him would be easy.

And it's weird how He's leading me to be courageous and strong even in something like relationships with others.  But here I am, still hearing Him tell me: "Do not be afraid."

So, I'm looking forward to 2015, not knowing at all what to expect.  I know it will probably continue to be hard.  I know that there will be new challenges, new obstacles, new choices, new risks.  But He tells me not to be afraid.  He tells me to be courageous and strong.

And I have learned and am still learning that love is worth the fight.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Find a Way


My temptation is the temptation of Moses, who, when God called him to speak and gave him words to speak, claimed that speech was too difficult for him.  He asked, begged, God to use someone else.

Sometimes it seems that there's no place in this loud world for quiet people.

It seems the only choices for quiet people are to remain quiet and unheard, or to become as loud as everyone else.  Some are able to do this, but not me.  Not me.  So I ask for an "Aaron," one who can speak on my behalf.

Except I've learned that it doesn't work.  People who want to speak for me are not people who listen well.  The loud, too often, misrepresent the quiet.  They assume instead of questioning, or when they do question, they question without listening.  It's not their fault so much as it's just my ever-present struggle--I'm misunderstood.

The quiet are often misunderstood.

So I'm tempted to fade into the background, to let someone else go in my place.  I'm not strong enough.  I'm not talented enough.  I'm not brave enough.  I'm not capable enough.  I'm not LOUD enough.  And no one would listen to a quiet person like me anyway.

And since I'm often misunderstood, some might see me naming my flaws and think that I'm just being humble.  But the truth is that the line between humility and pride is so thin that it's hard to tell the difference between them.  Sometimes, I don't even know if I'm being humble or proud.  But when I focus more on what I CAN'T do than on what God CAN do, I really don't think I'm being humble.  Not at all.

So my temptation is the temptation of Moses, the pride to remain silent when God has given me something to say, to ask for Him to use someone else.   I'm not worthy or capable of speaking His words.  And who would listen to me anyway?


The world is loud, and I am quiet.  That's a fact.  But that fact does not excuse me.

A prophet doesn't get to choose to be a prophet.  And why would anyone choose such a task?  To speak truth to a world that doesn't want to hear it?  That's asking for a heap of trouble, and more importantly, that's asking for incredible pain.  Because a prophet doesn't weep because people hate him or her.  A prophet weeps because people would rather believe lies than truth.

And lies are extremely, extremely loud.

And I am quiet.

But I have something to say.

And so the conviction is very simple.  The conviction is very complex.

Find a way.

Find a way to speak.

The prophet's job is to speak the truth, both in love and power.

The prophet's job is not to make people listen.

In a loud world where so few have ears to hear, a prophet must find a way to speak.

Even the quiet ones.

Because Love demands action, and faith demands obedience.

And He commands me to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid.

All my insecurities must fade in the light of who He is.

It's not easy, and no one ever said it would be.  And my path isn't the same as other's paths.  I can't speak for anyone besides myself.

But as for me, it's time I found a way.

I am quiet.  I will always be quiet.

I will find a way to speak.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

On Not Being Afraid

It occurred to me just this morning that it's over halfway through September.  The year is ever so gradually coming to a close.  If you've been keeping up with my blogs for a while, you might know that I have a theme for each year that I choose from the Biblical Christmas story.  This year's theme: "Do Not Be Afraid."

And what an interesting year it has been.

I had no idea how many lessons God would teach me, nor did I have an idea of how He would teach them.  At the beginning of the year, I figured God would teach me how to be less fearful or something.  I really didn't know what to expect.  It's been a journey.

This year, I learned to let go of things I didn't know I could let go of, and I learned to embrace things I didn't know I could embrace.  I've learned to say yes, and I've learned to say no.  I've learned how to follow, and I've learned how to lead.

I've learned that sometimes you have to gather in faith.  I've learned that sometimes God calls you to scatter in faith what He once had you gather.  And it's good.

I've learned that when I am weak, He is strong.  And you'd think I'd know that one by now.  It's funny how we think we have things figured out all right, and then God shows us our pride in a completely different light.  He is so faithful to show us our need, as well as His provision, and it's good.

I could list all of the various lessons, the various trials.  I could list my victories and my failures and my insecurities.  But, honestly, it's been done.  If you've ever read my blog before, you should know I'm weak.  You should know I'm insecure.  You should know I'm fearful.

And maybe the most important thing I've learned this year, this year with the theme of "Do Not Be Afraid," is that it's okay.  It's okay to be afraid.

Because all my life people have told me that it's not okay to be afraid.  Because people say "don't be afraid," like it's something we actively have some minute amount of control over.  They say, "If you fear, then the Bible says you haven't been perfected in love."  They say, "Well, in the Bible God and His angels tell us over and over to not be afraid or He commands us to be strong and courageous, so we should never, ever be afraid."

But I have to wake up every morning and stare at the ceiling, facing the unknown.  I have to walk outside the door of my house into the world, just praying I don't get too dizzy (due to my neck pain) that I pass out in the driveway.  I have to start my car and hope that it actually starts and doesn't break down on the way to work.  I have to go to work and deal with people who ever, ever threaten my insecurities.  I have to go to social things, whatever they may be, that overstimulate me and threaten to cause anxiety attacks.  I have to go to bed at night, staring at the ceiling again, facing the unknown.

I'm freakin' terrified.

And I think that I probably should be.

And I don't think anything is to be gained by pretending I don't have any fear.

Because I figure that overcoming fear and being perfected in love isn't a matter of just praying a prayer and being cured of fear forever and always.  I figure being perfected always involves a process.  I figure that being perfected in love means you choose love over fear in the millions of little every day issues and problems that arise.  When someone hurts my feelings, instead of brooding in my insecurity, I can choose to love and forgive and remember that others have insecurities too.  When I'm afraid to talk to someone because I don't know how much commitment that friendship might take, I can choose to risk it and love anyway.

And I figure I haven't been perfected in love.  But I figure that I am currently being perfected in love.  And I figure that One Day I'll be fearless, but I'm not there yet.

And I figure that if God and His angels repeated His commands "be strong and courageous" and "don't be afraid" over and over and over again, it's probably because we need the reminders.  We need them constantly, and not because we're fearless.  It's because we're naturally fearful.  We can't just pretend that away.  If we could pray a prayer or sprinkle magic holy dust on ourselves and be fearless forever and always, we wouldn't need the numerous reminders.  God gives them to us because He knows we need them.  We're fearful.  We're ever so fearful.

And that's okay.

Because "not being afraid" isn't about willing myself to get over my hangups or willing myself to go do something that would normally scare me silly.  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with taking risks, but risks should only be taken wisely.

And I'm not exactly talking about worldly wisdom.

Because the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  And I'm still learning how to be afraid, but I figure the best way to be afraid is to fear God above anything else.  Not in a way that we tremble before Him in constant trepidation--though we should.  We absolutely should.

Because of who God is, we should tremble on our faces in utter terror.

But because of who God is, we don't have to.

Because fear has to do with punishment, but we're being perfected in love.

But when we fear God, we're accepting all He is.  We're accepting all He's done for us.  We're accepting that He is stronger than anything else that we could possibly fear.  So what, then, is left to fear?  Nothing, really.

But our minds don't fully grasp that, and, well, how could they?

So we still fear.

But He has left us His Word, and He has left us His Spirit.  He didn't just tell us "be strong and courageous" and"do not be afraid," He tells us now.  He tells us now because He is with us now.

So when I stare up at the ceiling, facing the unknown, I'm not facing it alone.

And I figure the only way to "be strong and courageous" is if we let Him be strong and courageous through us.

In the big things, in the little things, my fear is going to be real.  My anxiety is going to be real.  And maybe I'd like it if I could be that fearless person that everyone thinks I should be, but I'm not.  I can't be.  At the end of the day, all I can be is His.  That's enough.

One of my favorite musicians, Mitch McVicker, put out a song on his last CD, Underneath, entitled "Danger."  I'm posting it below, because it's all kinds of amazing.

If you're afraid, don't kid yourself.  Nothing is really gained by that.  But in your fear, don't forget that He's here, and He's patiently reminding you not to be afraid.

"Show me Your Love is more than what's dangerous.
Just let me know You're here,
And I'll be brave.
I swear."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Theories on "Listen" (Doctor Who)

I know I've written two Doctor Who themed posts in, oh, the past two days, but this shouldn't become the norm.  I think.  It's just that last night's episode of Doctor Who, "Listen" was extraordinary.  It left the viewer with a lot of questions.  Since this is actually the first time I'm experiencing new episodes of Doctor Who with the rest of the world (and not just playing catch up on the Netflix), it's pretty exciting to get to form theories and such.  This shouldn't become the norm, and if it does, I'll create a separate blog for my nerd posts. :-D  But for now, here it is.

The following absolutely contains spoilers, so don't read this unless you have seen the episode.

There are a couple of really obvious questions from last night's episode.

Question 1:

 What in the name of Tom Baker's scarf was under that blanket?

As the Doctor pointed out, there were two possibilities for what was under the blanket.  It was either just a kid playing a prank, was something else.

Let me go ahead and say that it was not a child under that blanket, at least not a human child.  I work with kids and know that even a really weird kid would probably not carry the prank out that far.  After he/she had scared the others pretty well, he/she would have probably just thrown off the blanket and shouted "BOO!"  A child, even a weird one, would probably NOT sit/stand there under the blanket acting all creepy for as long as that thing did.

Plus, we got a very fuzzy, distorted image of whatever was under the blanket, and it wasn't human--unless it was a human wearing a mask of some sort.  If it was a kid wearing a mask, then running away kind of defeated the purpose.  If it were a kid wearing a mask, then the kid would be wearing it to play a prank and scare people.  Running away and slamming the door was a bit pointless.

So it wasn't a kid.

I have a couple of theories of what it might have been.

A Different Alien Theory:

First, I don't think it was the same creature the Doctor was looking for.  The Doctor was looking for a creature that was a perfect hider, a creature that wanted, more than anything, to remain hidden.  Now, he conjectured that these creatures might come out of hiding for children, the elderly, the mad, people whom no one would believe.  That might explain why the creature was so bad at hiding if just Rupert were in the room, but that doesn't explain the creature's odd behavior if Clara and the Doctor were also present with Rupert.

Because if a creature were trying to remain hidden, why in the world would it noisily climb onto a bed and under the covers?  It was unnecessarily revealing its presence, if not its appearance, and in a very obvious way.  Why would the creature do that if it was a perfect hider?  That doesn't make sense.

Now, it could be that this creature got overly curious--perhaps it was a child (just not a human one).  It could be that this creature realized it had been discovered, and it got momentarily curious.  Then it shied away at the last second and fled the room. That's entirely possible.

But I think it more possible that it was a different alien, one that was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Stranger things have happened on Doctor Who.  This alien had been what originally scared young Rupert, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  When Rupert got up, however, it scurried off to a corner or closet or something to hide.  When Clara came in and climbed under the bed with Rupert (a little sketch, you think?), the alien tried to make a run for it.  But if you remember, the Doctor also came into the room.  The alien must have seen him coming (possibly already knowing the Doctor's reputation for being dangerous to unwelcome aliens on earth), and so it hid in the closest place he could find--under the covers.  When it thought it safe to flee, it did.

It Was Clara:  It was Clara.  It was Clara the whole time.  Isn't that what we learned?  Perhaps Clara realized she had been the one scaring everyone all along.  So she used the Tardis to go back to the children's home a few moments before she had originally arrived.  She put on a mask, just in case she actually was seen.  Then she sneaked into Rupert's room.  She hid under his bed and made creepy noises.  When Rupert stood up, she grabbed his ankle.  While he was freaking out, she rushed off into hiding and waited until her former self came into the room and got under the bed.  Then she climbed on the bed and under the covers.

So, Clara is the creature under your bed everyone.  No need to fear anymore.  She's like 5'2 and skinny.  I think we could all manage to take her down.

All I know is, I'm going to be searching her apartment every time they show it from now on.  I want to see if she's stashed Rupert's blanket somewhere.

Find the blanket, find the alien.

Question 2:

"What was knocking on the spaceship door?"

Sorry, everyone, but I don't buy the whole "the ship is just settling" or "the atmosphere around the ship is disturbed" or whatever nonsense the Doctor, Clara, and Orson were making up to make themselves feel better.  There was something out there.

Well, the knocking on the spaceship door really reminded me of the Midnight episode.  This was the seriously creepy episode where the 10th Doctor was riding on a bus with a bunch of strangers (and Merlin...?) to see the Sapphire Waterfalls.  They were on the planet Midnight, which had a sun that emitted Xtonic radiation that would almost immediately kill every living thing.  So they were apparently alone out in the middle of nowhere, since nothing could survive outside the bus.  Well, the bus broke down, and something started knocking on the bus door.  Then there was an explosion that killed the drivers, one of the passengers got possessed by an UNSEEN alien presence that mimicked voices. almost stole the 10th Doctor's voice.

"Listen!  It's me!"

All turned out well, obviously, but the creature was never seen.  There was never a good explanation for what that creature was, or of what it wanted.

Theory: The creature from "Midnight" was the same sort of creature the 12th Doctor was looking for in "Listen."

Imagine a race of creatures, I'll call them the Listeners.  These creatures feed off the voices of others; they get their nourishment merely from listening to the words of other creatures. They aren't malevolent.  They just want to survive and coexist with us.  They are perfect hiders, and NOT the same creatures that grab ankles from under beds--those really are just nightmares/primal fears/Clara Oswalds.  They're just Listeners.

I think it was a Listener who took the Doctor's chalk and wrote "Listen" on the chalkboard.  It realized the Doctor was onto it, and decided to have a little bit of fun.  Maybe Listening to the Doctor for so long had made it a bit quirky.  I wonder if a Listener can get indigestion if it listens to the wrong kind of voice for too long...hmm.  I digress.

Now, the creature the 10th Doctor encountered in Midnight was a little different.  I think this creature was a criminal, by the standards of its own people.  Perhaps it had gone insane.  Instead of merely listening, this creature decided it wanted a voice of its own.  It decided it wanted to master the voices of other beings instead of just passively listening and existing.  It had probably tried to steal the voices of other beings before its kind stepped in and banished it into the wilderness of a planet where there was no possibility of life--where there were no voices for it to listen to.  I think they left it there to die.

And I think these creatures take a very, very long time to starve to death.

Well, when the 12th Doctor was on that space ship, it was the end of time.  There were supposedly no creatures left alive in the whole universe.  The Listeners are obviously not typical life forms, however.  They were still alive.  And since there were no other beings in the entire universe for them to listen to, they were starving.

These creatures were not malevolent.  They didn't mean any harm.  But they were desperate for voices to listen to.  That's why they knocked on the door.  That's why they made themselves known.  They desperately wanted inside that ship where there were voices--the last voices in the universe.

When the Doctor unlocked the door to the ship, and the creatures opened it, he didn't speak.  He was too busy trying to hang on for dear life and not get sucked outside the ship to his death.  The creatures still had nothing to listen to.  When Orson pulled him back to safety inside the Tardis, the creatures were furious!  They made all sorts of noise and tried to get inside, just starving to listen.

I'm not sure if these creatures are why we talk to ourselves or not, but I am no longer going to feel so crazy when I do talk to myself.  I'm just feeding the Listeners.  Hopefully,what I'm feeding them is something pleasant to the taste.

Meh.  Voices probably taste like chicken.

So what are your theories about the creature(s) from "Listen"?  Do you think we'll learn more about them in future episodes, or do you think Moffat will just keep us hanging?  I think it's better sometimes not to know.  Knowledge has a way of taking the fear out of something, and well, as Clara told the very young Doctor, "It's OK to be afraid.  ...Fear makes companions of us all."

Let me know what you think.  Maybe my next post will be less nerdy, but until then, Allons-y!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Unlikely Person Who Changed My Mind About Matt Smith

If you didn't already know, I'm a Doctor Who fan.

Suffice it to say, this post probably won't interest you unless you, too, are a Doctor Who fan.

Also, let it be known that if you aren't up to date with Doctor Who, there might be some slight Spoilers, Sweetie.

And since I'm already being direct, I might as well go ahead and state that David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, is, and very likely will always be, my favorite Doctor.  Perhaps that is why, when David Tennant didn't want to go and Matt Smith GERONIMO!ed his way into the TARDIS, I decided I didn't like this young guy with the angular face and derpy hair.

This was more than the usual, "You've redecorated the Doctor.  I don't like it," phase that most Whovians go through upon a new regeneration.  The more I watched the 11th Doctor, the more I felt that something vital to the Doctor had been lost.  He could be serious, even properly scary-angry at times, but I felt like he never had enough depth to be the Doctor.

In the 50th Anniversary episode, the 10th Doctor was dubbed 'the man who regrets,' and the 11th Doctor was dubbed 'the man who forgets.'  And I certainly agreed with that assessment.  It seemed as though the 11th Doctor had forgotten everything that had happened before his regeneration and just awkward-giraffe-danced into this completely different and new AmyPondRiverSongCrackinWallFezEnthusiastStevenMoffatSilenceWillFall thrill ride.  He just went Wibbly-Wobbling throughout the universe, handing out paradoxes like jelly babies.  He wasn't the 10th Doctor.  He wasn't the 9th Doctor.  He wasn't any of the older Doctors that I started watching, either.   He was something different--too carefree, too flippant, too flirty, too clueless, and just, well...the wrong kind of silly.

Honestly, if it hadn't been for Rory, I would have stopped watching.  Love a Rory.  Rorys are cool.

So, when it was announced that Matt Smith was leaving the show, I was thrilled.  Just thrilled.  It didn't matter who it was who replaced him (though I prayed that Moffat would wibbly-wobbly something together and get Tennant back for good).  I just wanted him gone.

When Peter Capaldi was announced, I was pleasantly surprised that they were going for an older Doctor.  When they surprised us by revealing his famous (infamous?) eyebrows in the 50th Anniversary episode, I knew we were in for something amazing.  When the 11th Doctor regenerated into the 12, and he started disliking the colour of his kidneys in a rich Scottish brogue, I felt like all was right in the universe.  Ding dong, the Smith was dead.  Which-a-Smith?  The Silly Smith!  Ding dong, the Silly Smith was dead!

...Speaking of the wrong kind of silly.  Sorry.  Sorry everyone.  So, so sorry.

Well, I waited for months, like the rest of the world, for the first full Capaldi/12th Doctor episode.  And it. was. brilliant.  HE was brilliant.  All Scottish and angry eyebrows and mysterious.  I felt like the Silly Smith was gone, and this Doctor, this older Scottish Doctor was going to get back to the Doctor's roots.  He was going to be something new, but something old at the same time.

But, as I watched, I noticed something I wasn't expecting with the 12th Doctor.


Behind those ferocious eyebrows and wizened face was a man who was frightened, just terrified.  What frightened him so?


Maybe it's because he's Scottish, or maybe it's because he's more mature, or maybe, just maybe, it's because he's more childlike--but the 12th Doctor is honest, blatantly honest.  It's not that he doesn't have the capacity to lie.  The Doctor lies, of course.  But he knows that "people don't need to be lied to."  He's very direct, very straightforward, sometimes obnoxiously so.  He doesn't conceal his thoughts or feelings well, nor does he really even seem to think he should.  And I think he just might turn out to be the most complex Doctor yet.

The 12th Doctor is beginning to face himself, again

I never understood Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor.  I thought he was just ridiculous most of the time.  But, like many things in the universe, I could never really learn to appreciate him until he was gone.

But I realized through the 12th Doctor, new as he is, what it was that I really didn't like about the 11th Doctor.  We were reminded many times through out the 11th Doctor's reign that "the Doctor lies."  The 11th Doctor told many lies, many of them bold-faced, and often to those he cared the most about.  But I recently learned that there was one person the 11th Doctor lied to the most.

Again, himself.

The 10th Doctor was brilliant, just brilliant, and I dearly miss David Tennant as the Doctor, but one would have to be a fool NOT to see that he got a little scary and dark near the end of his reign as the Doctor.  Along with all the other demons that the Doctor has had to carry throughout the centuries, I think 10's seriousness all just got to be too much for him.  He had lived too long, indeed.  When the 11th Doctor came along, he NEEDED to be "the man who forgets" instead of "the man who regrets."  The regret had become too much.  And so he donned a bow tie, proclaimed it cool, and went on an awkward romp through the universe.  Rules didn't matter as much.  Everything was cool.  As long as he could keep that pesky crack in the wall from destroying the universe, more than once or twice, everything was cool.  He could flirt with his future wife/best friend's daughter while said best friend was still pregnant with her.  Everything was cool.  He could quickly forget his wife and start wildly flirting with an Impossible Girl who was, in another time and place, a Dalek.  Everything was cool.

But the 11th Doctor wasn't silly for silliness' sake, as I long believed.  He was silly because he couldn't fully face all the darkness that was within him.  He couldn't bear to think of all that he had lost.  He couldn't bear to think of why or how he had lost it.  He needed to forget.  He needed to lie.  So he put on a young face, a bow tie, occasionally a fez, and just pretended he was far more carefree than he actually was.

But age caught up to him.  Time caught up to him.  He expected to die, and I think a part of him was relieved.  He had managed to run away from himself until the end.  I think it was as a childish man in an aged 11th Doctor's body that he accepted a new regeneration cycle.  And maybe it was that gift of life that got his attention.  Maybe it was the knowledge that his fellow Time Lords really were still alive out there somewhere.  Maybe it was just that he was tired, so, so tired, of running away.

But whoever it was that "frowned him this face," I think it is clear that the 12th Doctor isn't running away anymore.  No more lies.

We're only a few episodes into his regeneration, but I'm already seeing that the 12th Doctor is afraid, but he's starting to face his fears.  He's starting to face himself.  He doesn't like what he sees.  It saddens him deeply.  It terrifies him.  But instead of running away and pretending to be strong, he's allowing himself to be vulnerable.

He doesn't mince words.  He doesn't do social graces.  He admits when he needs help.  In fact, he almost demands it, as if he can't think beyond himself--like a child.  In some ways, even in a more mature form, the 12th Doctor is more childlike than the apparently young 11th Doctor.  And it's this vulnerability, this acceptance of who he is and how things are, that make him intriguing.  I think he's going to wind up being one of my favorite Doctors.  It's too soon to tell, perhaps, but I very well may end up liking him as much as the 10th Doctor.

As for Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, he will never be one of my favorites, but I have a much greater appreciation for him now.  I understand him.  I actually want to go back and watch all of his episodes again with my renewed perspective, so that I can give him another chance.

And it took Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor for me to understand the 11th.  That, more than anything else, shows me how truly remarkable this new Doctor is.  I think we're in for something amazing.  I think we're going to see both more darkness and more light in the Doctor than we have seen in quite some time.  I think it is going to be fantastic.

Just fantastic.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Thoughts on Loving Leadership

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post entitled Loving Leadership, in which I shared some some things about leadership that I've learned in my experiences as both a leader and a follower.

But I've been thinking more about leadership lately, and I thought I'd follow up with another blog on loving leadership.

There's a popular children's game (or it used to be popular) called Follow the Leader.  The game was simple.  The leader would walk in front of a line of other children, and the followers would follow the leader around.  Sometimes the followers would just walk in line behind the leader, and sometimes they would mimic the leaders actions.

With children's games like this, it's no wonder I grew up with an image in my head of a leader being someone who goes in front of others.  And certainly, that is part of what a leader must do.  A leader should go before the followers.  A leader should either already know what's ahead or be the one to experience it first.

But I've been reading in Genesis lately, and I've realized there's another aspect of leadership.  I noted this aspect through two bad examples of leadership.

In Genesis, in the beginning, God created everything.  He made the earth and the skies, the sea and the land, the plants and all the animals.  And He made Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden.  They were allowed to eat from every tree except one.

It was never really clear how much time passed before Satan tempted Eve, and she ate of the fruit.  They might have lived quite happily in that garden for centuries.  They might not have lasted the week.  Knowing sin and temptation like I do, I'm going to guess it was the latter.

So Eve ate the forbidden fruit and really messed things up for everyone.  Thanks a lot, Eve.  Humanity was cursed forever because you just had to eat the fruit.

But I have one question.  Where was Adam?

Let's see if we can figure out where Adam was:

Gen. 3: 6 Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 

That's interesting.  That's very interesting.  According to Scripture, Adam was right there with Eve when she ate the fruit.  I'm assuming that he was also there during the temptation.

And I'm not going to speculate too much on this, but I'm assuming also that Adam was already the established leader in the relationship.  I do know that part of Eve's curse was that her husband rule over her, but I think a Godly sort of husband leadership was already in place before the Fall.  If this was the case, then why didn't Adam speak up?  Why didn't Adam protect his wife?  Why didn't Adam stop her from doing what they both knew to be wrong?

He didn't do any of these things.  Instead, he ate of the fruit when she gave it to him.  He just ate it.  And later, when they got caught, Adam started the finger pointing.  He blamed Eve, and what's worse, he blamed God for giving Eve to him.  But my question still stands.  Where was Adam?

Because although Adam was right there with Eve, he wasn't present in the way that he needed to be.  I do not discount Eve's grave sin; she was at fault.  However, I would be so bold as to state that the greater sin was Adam's.  He was the leader, and as the leader, he should have stood by what God had commanded.  He should have protected his wife.  Instead, he went along with whatever she said, and thus, humanity was cursed with sin and all its wages.

This isn't Scripture, but I really like something John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost.  When God questioned Adam for his sin, and Adam blamed Eve, God had an interesting response:

"Was she thy god?"

Was she?  Perhaps so.  For instead of following God's leadership, instead of being the godly leader that he should have been, he just went along with Eve's sin.

I have another example from Genesis, also involving a husband and a wife.

In Genesis 19, we have the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  We also have an unusual case of a lady, identified only as Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt after turning back to look at the doomed cities.  The angels had warned them not to look back.  But Lot's wife did, and she was also destroyed.

But my question here is similar to the one I asked in the Genesis 19 account.  Where was Lot?

Genesis 19:23-26
23 The sun had risen over the land when Lot reached Zoar. 24 Then out of the sky the Lord rained burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord. 25 He demolished these cities, the entire plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground.26 But his wife looked back and became a pillar of salt.

Now, it's not clear exactly where Lot was when his wife looked back, but one thing is abundantly clear from the entire account of Lot's escape from Sodom.  He was terrified.  He didn't want to leave; the angels had to drag him and his family along.  He didn't want to flee to the mountains, but instead pleaded to be allowed to run to the small town of Zoar.  And after his wife became the first Morton's girl (yes, I went there), he took his daughters off to the mountains, after all, because it turned out that  he was also afraid to live in Zoar.  And that's when things got disgusting all over again, but I digress.

See, I think it can be assumed that Lot was running ahead of his wife.  It sounds as though he just might have reached the city before she did.  I think it can be assumed that he wasn't running with her, nor was he running ahead of her as to lead her, but he was running ahead to save his own skin.  And, again, I'm assuming much here, but I think it's reasonable to say that Lot's wife might not have looked back if Lot had been with her.  Had he been leading her out of love, running with her, she might have survived the flight from Sodom.  As a result, she might have been there to guide her daughters to make better choices.  The Moabites and Ammonites (born of the incestuous relationships between Lot and his daughters) might never have existed to cause strife with Israel.  A lot of sin might have been prevented if one man might have been less fearful for his own sake, and more concerned for the welfare of his family members.

Sometimes, a leader has to walk on ahead, go on before, to lead the way.  It's much like in those silly childhood games of follow the leader.  But I'm learning that a good leader sometimes leads in a much different way.  Instead of walking on before, sometimes the best leader will come along beside.  Because we're not children playing silly games anymore, and I've learned that people are more likely to follow well when the leader is able and willing to come down and meet them where they are. 

I have one other example of a leader, but this is a good example.

When Jesus called his disciples, they came.  They left their fishing boats and nets and family members and they came.  Immediately.  When Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector and sinner, he came.  Why?  Why would these men follow Jesus just because he told them to follow?  

Because Jesus wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty.  He wasn't afraid to dine with those tax collectors and sinners.  He wasn't afraid of what others might think or even of what others might do.  He came along others and met them at their point of need. 

If anyone had any right to point fingers, it would have been Jesus.  If anyone had any right to save his own skin, it would have been Jesus.  But Jesus didn't flee from pain and death.  Jesus didn't pass blame.  Jesus loved.  And people followed him.  People still do.  I certainly try to.

And I know I'm still learning to be a leader.  Shoot, I'm still learning to be a follower.  But I know I've got to be humble and accept my own weaknesses.  I know that I have to trust beyond all my fears.

It's hard to follow.  It's hard to lead.  It's even harder to do both at the same time.  But I think a person has to learn to do both in order to be really good at either.  We need to trust God to come along side us as well as learn to come along side others.  We need to be humble as well as confident that the One who gave us our leadership abilities and positions is guiding us as we lead.  We need not to point fingers.  We need not to be afraid.  

We need to follow the Leader, and we need to trust Him as He leads us to lead.