Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My Perfect Little Life, Exposed
By Cortney Donelson

Photo Cred: www.getorganizedwizard.com

I am a recovering perfectionist.

I don't use that term lightly or flippantly. I'm not making a naive joke or an uneducated parallel between the compulsion to create straight lines and neatly outlined, color-coded lists and the struggles found in the pit of an addiction with drugs, alcohol, food, or sex. My husband is a recovering addict, so I know (quite directly) the significance of my statement. I have lived through the deepest lows, the hurling hurts, and the intermittent peaks of victory found in the life with an addict who has not yet relented to God's direction and purpose for his or her life.

Perfectionism is and does many things: It paints a deceptively pretty picture. It illustrates high levels of organization. It's the illusion of maintaining utter control.

Perfectionism is also disobedience, spiritual narcissism, practical atheism, and idolatry. It can become an addiction, too.

To simplify a complicated definition, an addiction is the condition of being enslaved to a practice, thought-process, or drug that can be psychologically or physically habit-forming (or both) to such an extent that it causes harm or disruptions to daily life.

As a kid, a ruler was one of my closest friends and this was not because I liked to measure things. It's actually the gold standard for creating straight edges for note-taking. As a teenager, my neat and tidy bedroom was my safe haven. I followed all the rules. Every. Single. One. I studied to my heart's content and worked my mediocre tennis-playing rear end up to the #1 spot by my senior year in high school. I twitched in the presence of clutter, and when I became a mom, my stomach tumbled when my kids colored outside the lines or didn't follow school rules. If perfection was my goal, achievements and rule-following were my means to get there. 

In my perfection, I learned all the Biblical commandments. I promised to love God, love my enemies, turn the other cheek, give away my possessions, and confront difficult situations and people in love and truth. I learned to speak the "church language" and memorize Scripture. I led Bible studies and small groups. On paper, I was the perfect Christian. So, how did my rigorous meticulousness  - my pretty little life - usher in any disobedience at all? If anyone dug more than two centimeters down into my soul, they would have balked at the hypocrisy. Mind you, I did. I didn't know it was there either.

I didn't realize that in my perfect little world, I actually couldn't love my enemies because I was judging them. In my perfect little world, I wasn't able to turn the other cheek because I felt far too much betrayal when others didn't treat me like I thought I deserved to be treated. See, perfectionists take a lot of things personally. In my perfect little world, I couldn't give away everything because I felt I had to hoard my successes and achievements to prove I was worthy of the reputation I had gained.

Then, came the spiritual narcissism... In my perfect little world, I couldn't meet others in love because there was an overabundance of truth, and I came across as a critic. Little miss perfect couldn't even comprehend others' struggles because I was so busy hiding, compartmentalizing, and denying my own.

The next step to my downward spiral was practical atheism. In essence, I was doing everything "right" and by the Book (literally). I became all too independent and self-sufficient. My quiet times with God became less frequent. After all, I had figured out this thing called life, and at times, made it look easier than it truthfully was. I was so involved in reaching my own personal goals and dreams that I forgot to ask God what His plan for me was. I guess you could say I forgot God altogether. And, that's when the idolatry began.

My perfect little world leaped onto the top of the podium, knocking the Lord right off from the spot He rightfully owns. My perfectionism had crossed the line. It was adversely affecting my life, specifically my relationship with God and by ability to love others. 

Then, my perfect little world took a misstep, one for which even I had not planned. It tripped and fell off the top of that podium to crack wide open on the pavement below...

(Stay Tuned for Part 2)

Influenced by my May 16th talk at icuTalks (click for video), 1 John 1:8, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Luke 6:37, Matthew 7:1, my struggles with perfectionism, my life as an adoptive mom, my story as told in the book Clay Jar, Cracked, and my prayer life.

©2012-2017 Cortney Donelson. All rights reserved.

Cortney's book, Clay Jar, Cracked: When We're Broken But Not Shattered is available now on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and other retailers, as well as at www.cortneydonelson.com! Visit www.cortneydonelson.com for more information and to learn about the "I'm a Clay Jar" Encourager Class for groups! To schedule speaking engagements, please email Cortney directly. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

I Know that I Know, and It Doesn't Matter
By Cortney Donelson

It's a declaration. A shaming statement. The one I know isn't true but for some frustratingly elusive reason, I still get ensnared and agree with it. Recently, I even started to own it. 

"I'm not good enough."

And, there it is. It doesn't always approach me so directly or reveal itself so clearly. Sometimes the source is manipulative, sneaky, or the lie is simply masked as something easier to digest. 

It can be fleeting ungratefulness. I wish I was more (extroverted, funny, personable, eloquent, nurturing ...)

It may be a me-versus-her comparison. I can't do what she just did. 

It could be a veiled judgment. You're swimming in the wrong pond. You aren't skilled in this area.

It might even be a soft threat. It's taking you away from your real responsibilities and making you fail at them too. 

It's an identity crusher. Who do you think you are?

I look backwards in time and try to determine when I started to embrace the thought. Yes, I know it's not truth. I always have and always will know this. In fact, it's the oldest enemy-promise in The Book. Yet, it still charms me in the darkest sense of the word. It slithers around my insecurities, takes hold of my weaknesses, and pulls me under as oil-thick waves of doubt close around my heart. Actually, it starts as a thought, but it soon morphs into a feeling. I realize I've been "had" when the feeling rolls into a choice. 

I can't do this. Why am I still trying? It's hopeless. (Insert helpless self-condemning sigh.) I should just give up. 

And, I almost did. 

I can't believe I'm sharing this. But, I must. If I continue to sit with it in my secret places, the devil will win. It's where he wins all his battles - in the dark. 

So, I'm bringing it to light. 

On two occasions these past two months, I had this thought: I wish I had never even written this book.

I struggle with perfectionism. In fact, I'll be discussing this in greater detail on the stage later this month. For now, know that my whole life has been filled with the weight of expectations. Growing up, life wasn't easy but it was smooth. I worked hard, and it payed off. Though, most assumed that everything was easy for me. I made the straight A's, excelled on all the sports teams, joined all the clubs, and so on. Their labels and expectations turned into my own labels and expectations. So much so that if anything was difficult, I thought I wasn't supposed to be doing it. 

And, that's where the world and a life following Christ intersected with a sonic boom. 

In order to write Clay Jar, Cracked, I spent three years staying up late at night while the rest of my family slept. I needed the quiet ... the space to write. To cry. To write again. I had never been a very good writer and have no formal training, so I had to learn how to write. My ever-patient editor and I spent hours on the phone painstakingly going through each paragraph to ensure my story flowed well for the readers. Three. Long. Years. 

That was the easy part. 

It took another two years of self-publishing and then for the more traditional publishing process. There were covers to design, back cover contents to write, photographs to take, a biography to write, genre comparisons to make, price points to research, copyrighting to work through, phone meetings, marketing calls, fundraisers, book launches to plan,  .... 

That wasn't the hard part either. 

No, the "Not Good Enough Lie" was reserved for this third stage. The enemy was waiting for when I was the most deeply invested and the most fatigued to snake into my mind and wreak havoc in my soul. As we all know, it's when he's most effective - when we're at our weakest. 

This third stage is the most critical. It's the point when most authors fail, for it's when we're most likely to give up. This segment is the on-going, long-term commitment to promote our stories and our messages, despite the needle on the gage moving up only tics at a time. Sometimes, the needle even falls back to zero. It's the most disheartening point of an author's journey. I hate it. 

All I ever wanted was to share my story in order to be a source of hope for others, but this world of books, publishing, competition, and other stressful activities dragged me away from my purpose. I had become so focused on numbers, finances, what other authors were or were not doing, and on what book buyers were thinking and doing, that I lost site of the WHY. I actually forgot why I had written my book. I forgot that God was in control. 

I started minimizing God's power and plan as I bought into the lie that it was all up to me, and that I wasn't good enough. Not good enough a marketer. Not dynamic enough a speaker. Not extroverted enough for interviews. So, I almost quit. The wrong side almost won. 

Thankfully, I'm not alone, and God reminded me from where my strength and power can come if I just let Him do His work. 

I am good enough because I have the Holy Spirit. I am good enough because God equips those He calls. I am good enough because I don't have to figure it all out; He already has. I am good enough because I don't have to be perfect; He already is. 

2 Timothy 4:17 --

But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.

And, He stands with and strengthens you too.  

Influenced by rest and relaxation, Philippians 3:12-15, 2 Corinthians 13:9, 2 Corinthians 4:7-9, my story as told in the book Clay Jar, Cracked, and my prayer life.

©2012-2017 Cortney Donelson. All rights reserved.

Cortney's book, Clay Jar, Cracked: When We're Broken But Not Shattered is available now on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and other retailers, as well as at www.cortneydonelson.com! Visit www.cortneydonelson.com for more information and to learn about the "I'm a Clay Jar" Encourager Class for groups! To schedule speaking engagements, please email Cortney directly. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

"For the Humility"
By Cortney Donelson

Image Cred: Unknown

Humility is perhaps the most mysterious of all the moral qualities for which we strive to understand and embrace. One could make a compelling argument that for someone to claim humility for herself might indicate its absence. As I prayerfully considered my word for 2017, this virtue emerged to color the lens through which I am now viewing the world for twelve months. I never appreciated the many facets of humility – until now. 

My simple mind had a simplistic definition. Humility would entail setting others above or ahead of myself. “No, friend ... you first” became my mantra. I used Philippians 2:3 as the foundation of my word of the year. It’s the Scripture that suggests we “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” 

Never could I have anticipated the full measure of the meaning of humility – the very fullness that God was hoping I would discover through the circumstances that were ahead. Not once had I considered that humility would have little to do with my book launch, speaking engagements, and other possible “look at what I did” traps. See, that was where my fear lay. When you put a personal and provocative story about yourself and your marriage out into the public eye where it is praised, it becomes all too easy to fall into the snares of pride and self-significance. I expected that God strategically placed “humility” on my heart in order to remind me that my story was for His glory, my book was written through His gifting, my forgiveness was His first, and love and grace are meaningless without the cross. 

As Clay Jar, Cracked: When We’re Broken But Not Shattered publishes today, I find myself in the most humbling of circumstances, and they have nothing to do with a book or a heart-wrenching story of redemption from five years ago. Before I get excited and start checking sales numbers, before my big red carpet event in Nashville, Tennessee, before I begin scheduling more events and sharing my testimony in the most public of ways ... before all that, I am being forced to position myself even lower. Apparently, I must not just get lower; I must dive down to the depths. God has shown me it’s necessary that I experience a facet of humility in which I never imagined having to engage – especially not RIGHT NOW. My jar has cracked again and I have been reminded of the poignant messages within my book. 

God has effectively (and lovingly) lowered my position in order to wholly humble my condition. Through circumstances beyond our control, my family and I are now homeless. I prefer the term houseless. After all, we have options, and I do not want to trivialize the condition of those who are, in fact, homeless in the truest sense of the word. None-the-less, we are somewhat stranded. We own one and a half acres of unprepared land and a few pieces of furniture. Oh, and we do have one and a half cars to our name. At this very moment, as millions of people have access to our broken story and I am actively praying they find a hope and a joy that eclipses any human understanding despite what circumstances scream out, this family of four is living in a rented two-bedroom apartment with our somewhat big and absolutely needy dog. One of my littles is even sleeping on an air mattress. My circumstances are less than ideal, and I had started to lose some of that hope and joy I so articulately describe in my book. 

How did we get to this position? My husband and I had a dream. A goal. It was quite a God-sized goal. In fact, I believe it was a God-honoring one. My husband and I had decided to sell our ample-sized house to build one half its size. Our objective was three fold. First, down cost – not because we necessarily had to, but because we wanted to. God had impressed upon our hearts to give above the level we had been giving, to travel on mission more often, and to serve in a greater capacity through our financial position. Together, we created a life goal that purposed us to gift others each month with a greater amount than our monthly mortgage. Second, we aimed to downsize. We were tired of time wasted during yard work, house cleaning, and all the upkeep that comes with a larger home. We wanted more of the “3 F’s” – family time, fun time, and free time. Third, we desired out-of-doors space. We wanted our kids to play in and explore nature, enjoying more privacy, peace, and quiet than our neighborhood could offer. Our dream was to build an ultra modern and ultra small home. 

So, we found 1.4 acres and bought it. 

Then, we sold our house. 

Then, we gave away all our d├ęcor. 

Then, we sold all our furniture except for a few items such a kitchen table for the apartment. 

Then, we hired a builder and an architect. 

Then ... construction costs skyrocketed. 

I’m talking like 100%. 

Now, we are without a builder. Without an architect. Without furniture. Without a home. Without a plan. That last part is the worst part for yours truly. No matter how carefully we had calculated and double-checked resources against budget through the initial stages of the process, the plan backfired. Few expected construction costs to rise as sharply as they did. High risk, high reward ... or, in some unfortunate cases, the greater the disappointment. 

As we sold the house we had lived in for 13 years and now have lost the house we were planning to build, I have been introduced to humility in the most tangible sense of the word ... the most worldly sense. After the inevitable journey through shock, anger, and despair, I believe I’m now feeling "okay." True, our dream was kinda crushed. Like a bug. We have no viable strategy and housing prices and interest rates continue to rise. Even the apartment lease price is going up in August. (I think I’m typing myself back out onto the ledge here...)

BUT ... THERE’S GOD ... We do know the One who does have a plan. We intimately know Him. Our goal was to give more. Serve more. Help others. Love others more. Isn’t that the position and condition God has, in fact, already placed us? Isn’t this where true humility is found? Being in a position and a condition to love others more than self because we have little left to distract us? Letting go of our possessions to be free from worldly idols, self-appointed dreams, and do it the way God sees best? Living in a community of all new people, many of whom don’t know the Lord? Isn’t this what my husband and I were aiming for? Don’t we trust God's promise that He will not forsake us? 

Isn’t this facet of humility unexpected but perhaps worth it? 

I’m learning the answer is yes

Prayer: Father God, You are the one true God, the only One from whom lasting hope, peace, and love come. While circumstances seem to break us, we know that as long as we are anchored in your hope, in Your Son, we can rest in the promise that You are a good God and One who has a plan so much better than our own. Thank You for this lesson in true humility and for not letting me get by with the surface level lesson. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen. 

Influenced by my prayer life, the parable of the rich ruler in Luke 18, James 4:10, Matthew 6:19-21, Mark 10:24-25, Hebrews 13:5, the book Radical by David Platt, and my book Clay Jar, Cracked: When We’re Broken But Not Shattered. 

©2012-2017 Cortney Donelson. All rights reserved.

Cortney's book, Clay Jar, Cracked: When We're Broken But Not Shattered is available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers, as well as at www.cortneydonelson.com! Visit www.cortneydonelson.com for more information and to learn about the "I'm a Clay Jar" Encourager Class for groups! To schedule speaking engagements, please email Cortney directly.