The Power of Presence


The struggle with only finding time to blog maybe once or twice a month is that when I finally do sit down to write, there’s so many things swirling through my head to write about that I often can’t decide! That’s part of why I’m only just now writing at the end of the month; part of it is because there’s  been so much I’ve wanted to write about that it’s felt overwhelming, and part of it is just that the holidays are my favorite time of year, and when they roll around I dive all in. I made at least half of the gifts that I gave this year, watched almost every Christmas movie I could think to watch, and have been listening to Christmas music since before Thanksgiving. On the one hand my heart aches to see the holidays leave, and on the other hand I’m looking forward to what a new year has to offer.

As far as what to write about, I was still unsure until about two hours ago when meeting a dear friend for coffee. We haven’t had time to catch up since she left for school in California this fall, so having two hours to sit and hear of her life and tell her about mine was a sweet and needed gift for my heart. We caught up on everything: classes, what we hope our future careers to be, how our relationships are going, how our families are, what God has been showing us. And when she asked me, “What’s the biggest thing the Lord has been showing you?” I finally knew what I needed to write. Because the biggest thing God has taught me through the ups and downs of the past six months has been the importance and power of presence.

It’s pretty common knowledge by now that this semester has been a roller-coaster in every sense of the word. My schedule alone was packed: full-time student, 25 hour a week barista, 16 hour a week intern, twice a month worship leader. On top of that, a large chunk of my circle moved an hour away. My boyfriend and I, who have been dating almost a year and a half now, have had to learn how to balance and communicate and flourish in “distance” (only an hour, but still, when you’re used to living ten minutes away from someone for several years, that changes things a bit). I started having freak allergic reactions halfway through the semester that were caused by an unknown thing until about a month ago. There’s been many joys and many struggles. And through it all I started learning a lot about the value of being fully present. Thus began my first experiment.

Halfway through the semester I did a social media fast. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted by life, lonely, and trapped once more in a comparison game. So I took three weeks off social media. Deleted Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, all of it off my phone. Didn’t go on it at all.

Best three weeks of my life.

Although I missed one or two engagement announcements on Facebook, didn’t get to see my best friends’ stories on Instagram or Snapchat and missed a few hip photos on Instagram, I found myself getting a whole lot more done. I suddenly had school done in three hours instead of four, was able to do a good amount more work at my internship, and magically had time to read books. FOR FUN. And take my dogs on walks. And have longer conversations on the phone with my friends. And have movie nights with my sister. Where did all this time come from?? Who knew how much time I was sacrificing scrolling through Facebook (it’s like a bad habit: whenever I’m bored I just click the icon on my phone and scroll for a few minutes). During times I was waiting (maybe in a checkout line, maybe for food, whatever), instead of going to Instagram, I was actually looking around at the people in front of me. Had a few moments to practice breathing deeply. My focus increased, my joy increased, my free time increased, and I didn’t miss it at all after the first day. I still only keep the Instagram app on my phone; the rest of them I’ve kept deleted and only check maybe once or twice a day. Although this blog isn’t about getting off social media, I highly recommend it, even for a week or two. This was my first experiment in being fully present in each moment.

My next experiment came more by force than by choice. Isaac and I hit some bumps in the road a few months ago, as all couples do, and were having a lot more miscommunications than…. well, accurate and true communications. To keep a long story short, the ups and downs of that relationship one night culminated in a very long and teary-eyed conversation with my mom, explaining everything that was happening and my own confusion and wanting to do what was most honoring to God but not feeling like I could do anything right either. My mom gave me some of the best (and what should’ve been obvious to me the whole time!) advice that I’ve received: I need to have other things to look forward to besides the time I get to spend with Isaac. My schedule had become so crammed with school and work and trying to juggle my agenda that my once a week date with Isaac had become one of the only things in my week to look forward to. That’s not healthy for me and not healthy for him, and I didn’t mean for it to get that way…. It just sort of slipped in the busyness. In the midst of the many miscommunications came my next experiment in presence: presence in day to day life. When I’m at work, leaving my phone in my purse and not my pocket and engaging my coworkers and customers in conversation. Scheduling in time for coffee dates and hikes with other people, even if I don’t feel like I necessarily have the time. Planning a game night now and again with some of my friends who are still here, or nights out with the worship team from church. And even savoring time by myself- taking myself on dates with God. It’s amazing how God redeems the time and helps us to get things done when we try to use our time to glorify Him. And it’s amazing how much more fulfilling each aspect of life became, from work to my relationship with Isaac to my relationship with the Lord. We need balance, friends.

My last experiment also came more by force than by choice. Around Thanksgiving, the mysterious allergic reactions that had been happening all semester became more severe. Up until that point, my lip or maybe one eye would swell in the middle of the night about once a month, and wouldn’t go down until early afternoon the next day. It was a mystery and we couldn’t identify what was causing it. Around Thanksgiving, I started breaking out in hives. First on my shoulder and neck, then it went away for a day, and then it came back, but this time it was everywhere and no allergy medicine was helping. The hives didn’t go away for four days, and my face was swelling right along with it. After many tears and frustration, changing laundry detergent, and trying every allergy medicine we could think of, we visited a naturopath, who heard about the craziness of this semester and diagnosed the mystery allergen as stress. He said my nervous system had basically shut down on me, and didn’t know how to cope with the stress and anxiety so it was releasing lots and lots and lots of histamine to try to fight it. He adjusted me, cracked a few things, gave me an anti-stress vitamin and told me to take some time off and do more yoga, and within a day I was almost completely back to normal.

Right as the hives settled down, I began house/dog sitting for a week. I had a whole house to myself and was on break from school. Enter worry. Although the hives were gone, they would still show up very faintly on my arms in the mornings. Every time they did, I would begin to panic, thinking they would spread all over again and I’d swell up as bad as I had a few days prior. I had too much quiet and too much time that I didn’t know what to do with, and I was letting myself worry. Isaac has always said, “Isn’t it crazy and so cool that God is literally right next to us all the time?!”. He’s said it a million times. I’d agree and nod my head and smile, but for some reason, the reality that Jesus is literally right here with me always didn’t sink in until that week housesitting. To try to fight the worry, I was listening to a Joyce Meyer sermon about worry. She brought up when Moses was wrestling with God’s assignment for Him: “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). I am. It doesn’t say “I was” or “I will be,” but “I am.” God wants us to live in the NOW. He promises grace sufficient to us in this moment, to handle whatever comes right now. He doesn’t want us worrying about what will come, or lingering in what already was. God is HERE, in this moment. He was in yesterday, He will be in tomorrow, but right now He is right here. That’s why worry usually comes when we linger in the past or the future; God’s not there. He’s here. For some reason, when I heard that, it all clicked. God calls us to be present, because He is in the present. We don’t need to worry about what will come, because God will be there too and will provide a way through whatever will come. We don’t need to stress over what was, because God was already there and wants us here now with Him. That takes away so much pressure, so much worry, so much stress. Jesus is right next to you. He is present in the NOW. And that gives us the strength, grace, and ability to be wholly present in the now as well.

All of that to say, although it’s a lesson I’m sure I’ll be learning the rest of my life, the biggest thing the last six months has taught me is how important it is to be wholly where you are. Unplug. Engage with the people around you. Make time for things you love. As we enter 2018, I’d challenge you to get off social media, even for just a week. And don’t worry- I AM is right next to you, right now. And He gives us the grace sufficient for this moment. We can be present because He is always present. Presence is so very powerful.

 I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” -Isaiah 46:4

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