New Year’s Resolutions

To ring in the new year of 2017, late in the month of January, my mom, my four sisters, myself and some of my nieces met together for a brunch.  This was a first for us, and it was a very meaningful time.  It was a needed time.

So, why am I writing on this now?  Ha.  We are half-way through the year!  Let me explain.

One of the activities we did that day was writing our “New Year’s Resolutions” on 3×5 notecards, and then if we wanted, sharing with the group.  It was such a great idea, it truly helped me to slow down and be intentional about what my priorities really were for the year.  Afterwards, I placed my little cards in my Bible as bookmarks and needed reminders for my daily life.  Here we are in July, and halfway through the year and I smiled this morning as this particular resolution marked my Psalm this morning.  Rest.  True Rest.  Did I even know what that meant when I wrote it?  I certainly didn’t know what all my year would hold… that’s certain.  But, I smiled because I thought the definition of rest has taken on a new shape, and new meaning for me in so many ways the past few years.

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Rest.  True rest.

That’s what she said in January – beginning 2017.  Here we are in July.

I like to visualize rest thinking about our cat Thomas.  Now that fellow knows how to rest!  He has a little routine every day.  And it all revolves around rest, I’m pretty sure (well, that and eating..).  He has his morning stretches, his breakfast, his nap on Paul’s top bunk, snacktime, naptime on Wesley’s bed, snacktime, naptime on couch, snacktime, aggravate our other cat Romo time, snacktime, and then relax-time on back of couch or in our laps to complete his evening before bed time.

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The only time he doesn’t rest is when his food bowl is empty.  Not only does he not rest,  WE can’t rest.  Because he paces, stares, and even gives a little bite (if it comes to that!) to remind us “MY BOWL IS EMPTY.”

Kinda like me.  I can rest when things are all nice and tidy… all my ducks swimming pretty in a row (and for the record, I can’t even remember when it was that way for me.  I am thinking they are not even ducks at this point… maybe chinchillas?).

But, oh God where is the rest when things aren’t the way I want them?

Not when things are hard and confusing.

Or, when I have needs that I feel aren’t met.

Not when I feel I’m wronged or shorted from what I deserve.  (Ouch).

Or, how can I rest when the storms are big and unexpected… and the lights seem to flicker on and off.

Where are you?

And, He reminds me.  The wind and waves know my name.  You can rest.

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Throughout the years, lack of sleep has become my nemesis.  I’ve learned some practical ways that help.  Sleep association patterns:  Reading before bed, journaling my “to-do” list for the next day, calming playlist, lavender scents, relaxing a wee bit on my caffeine intake :), less screen time, good hydration, etc.  All great aids!  Definitely have proven to help me greatly!

But, maybe you will agree with me… there seems sometimes to be no cure for an anxious heart.  When you toss and turn on your bed, and sleep seems so far away.  Your pillow may be the only one you trust with your tears, but God sees.

What was the Psalm that my resolution from January had randomly marked?

“When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
 When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.”

Psalm 94:18-19

What’s the true rest I want to practice?  Trusting Him.  Allowing His words to console the deepest corners of my soul.  Letting go of what others think, giving Him all the heavy things I carry, fully embracing His forgiveness and grace, trusting that He is at work in all areas… even the ones that may be difficult to understand.  Entrusting each step to His wisdom and ways.  Reaching for His word when I want to ruminate on issues.  Committing myself to pray, even when there aren’t words, or when all I want to do is complain or worry. Looking for faithful friends who can listen, pray for me, and share needed perspective and truth to my ears. Settling my mind to know I am not the “fixer” of anything, I’m just a girl who has the opportunity to love others, as I have been loved. Loving is easy, when you spend time with the One who loves you.

Sleepless nights will still find us.  Anxious moments will come.  That’s for sure.  But even in those moments, we can have the gift of true rest.

2017 –  A year of rest.  The gift of rest that we can all embrace.

 

 

when the world feels too big

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A couple years ago, one of my professors gave us the assignment to choose a movie clip that visually and emotionally helped conceptualize what helped us to push through difficult circumstances in life.  Immediately, I knew which clip I would choose.  Living in a household with my five sons, we watch a lot of super-hero films, and one scene in one particular “Superman” always has stood out to me, and moved my emotions as it resonates so deeply with how I have weathered the storms of my life.  As I googled looking for the clip, ironically the clip was titled, “The world’s too big, mom.”  See, in my life there have been major storms I’ve weathered, disappointments that have cut so deep, gut-wrenching pains that seemed too big to face… fears that left me wanting to hide away.  Feeling like a little helpless child that doesn’t know what to do, faced with big people decisions that I don’t want to face.  I’ve called out to my Father during some of these moments, “It’s too big.  It’s too difficult.  The darkness is too much.  Where are you?”

And, He’s always there.

He’s always reminding me in so many ways that He only needs me to take the next step, and even then He will give me the strength and light needed for that next little step.  Not simply giving me more strength…. He is my strength.  Make it small.  What are you facing today?  Breathe in, breathe out.  Seek Him. Read His words to you. Rely on Him.  Hear His whisper.  He will get you from this moment to the next.  The world is big.  The world can feel overwhelming.  I may feel very small and frail some days, but my Father is strong, good, full of love for me, and an ever-present help.

 

Man of Steel (2013)

Two Kingdoms & Hope For A Weary Heart

img_8382Straddling two kingdoms. Some days I feel my legs stretching into the splits as the crevice between the two grows farther and farther apart in my heart. Looking down and wondering about a free fall. The tears flowing down my face from the pains of this one, while I gaze into the bliss of the other. When will there be no more dying, no more pain, no more ugly… and oh God, I cry out… where is the justice? The windshield wipers clicked back and forth in the rain… I wish I had one for my eyes too. Where is the justice? For children who suffer abuse around our world, for those suffering mental health that are judged and criticized while they are suffocating, for the hurting and the rejected. For the kids who hear whispers behind their back about their clothing, hanging their head in shame.. Don’t you think they wish they had nikes?? Or clean clothes? Don’t you think that they see the differences? Don’t we understand that no matter how tough the exterior is everyone would love a comfy bed like yours or a hot shower in the morning to be a norm? Don’t we know that every soul on this earth is struggling along every day just wanting to know true love… just like me and you?

But, oh the screaming and labeling. The shouting and the angry voices. The fear… the insecurities.

And so where is it that my heart lives? In this struggling, fighting, insecure world? Or does my Saviour invite me to look elsewhere?

Seek His kingdom now. We are in this world… not of this world. My heart is breaking for us as we straddle the two, but oh that we might more and more gain sight of the kingdom He offers!

We must awake all our senses to this gift. Take a deep breath, and inhale the fragrance of His grace. What we don’t deserve, but so freely given. My pastor this past week in his sermon said, “free, not cheap.” No, not cheap – this costly, precious exchange of His life to give us ours with feet set firmly in a new kingdom! May we stretch out our arms and let it flow… We have the opportunity to be the healing hands of Jesus.

For those struggling with mental health who need to be carried!

img_8386For the poor and rejected!

img_8385For the neglected and forgotten!

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For those without a voice!

Aren’t these the ones that Jesus reached out to? Didn’t He come to seek and save the lost.. the broken.. we that are in need?

img_8310Because the kingdom that He invites us to seek.. Oh, my friends! This is the kingdom of a radical Saviour who sees the value of a soul!

It’s a kingdom of hope!

It’s a kingdom of peace!

It’s a kingdom of joy!

It’s a kingdom of love… love that is patient and kind. Love that isn’t selfish or rude, or seeking its own interest. Love that isn’t boastful or conceited. Love that doesn’t get excited over wrongdoing… running in corners to whisper or delight over tragedy. We know the passage.. but do we really sink into the passage? Do we see how God pours out that passage lavishly all over our own lives?

Oh God, Your kingdom, come..

What will your heart given to the complete trust and reign of God look like? Take a minute to ponder that… Seek His kingdom first, Christ says. And all will be added. So, we look at the line we straddle, we lift our eyes up to Him, take a deep breath… and free fall into His love. His kingdom. Every choice, every thought, every talent.. all His. What’s in your life that you can place to use in His kingdom? Why, simply your all. All. All. How shall we walk in one kingdom, and live in another? That’s the miracle He offers us. Seek His heart today. Openly look to Him with eyes afresh and clean…not clogged up by the media, fear, or our own understanding. Lean in; freefall in His love. God will guide you as you navigate this messy world with a pure heart to fight in His kingdom for the news of this love.

For meditation: 1 Cor 13, Proverbs 3:5-6, 1 John 2:15-17, 1 John 4:18-19, Matthew 6:33-34

To A Wild Rose: Straight From the Heart of Joy

Today the series continues, and I’m beyond honored to have one of my heroes share with us.  She’s a ginger-snap that I like to call my little Toodles.  Joy is a giant-hearted person who continually shows me what true perseverance, courage, and faith look like.  Joy is the fourth in my lovely quintet of sisters. She graduated Cum Laude in 2015 from Stephen F Austin University with a Bachelor of Arts for Creative Writing.  Currently, she is a Masters Candidate in Creative Writing and a Teacher’s Assistant with the English Department at Arkansas State University.  I pray that this post reaches deep into your heart, as it did mine.  

Rings left by coffee, stains left by people

I almost always buy my clothes second-hand, coffee-stained sleeves and lipstick-stained collars, worn-down and fraying and faded and beautiful. I love the history that comes with an article of clothing that has been worn by a stranger: it could have gone hiking in the Smoky Mountains, could have soaked in the tingling, woody smoke of a campfire, could have spent days in bed cuddling a newborn, or drinking coffee and watching old movies. I love that things have histories. They do not begin and end with me and my personal joys or tragedies. The world spins, and I am only a small part, watching.

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Isn’t it amazing that the people we love live on beyond us? It is not as if, after we have lunch with a friend, they get in their car and immediately vanish from existence. They may disappear from our sight and our mind—but they are now in their own little world, experiencing their own little joys and tragedies. They are mysteries to us. We can speculate: are they eating lunch right now? Are they slathering mayonnaise on bread or making too-strong coffee with heaping teaspoons of sugar? Are they happy? But we never know, for certain. We are stuck in our own limelight. They have exited off stage and are in the dark of the wings.

Like most Americans, I am guilty of being very self-absorbed. I live in my own head, with ghosts of old words. In my life, I have been hurt by individuals who entered and exited. Their cruel words become a stain on my sleeve, their lies broke a button on my shirt. I repeat the thing they have done to me like a mantra: hurt, hurt, hurt. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I forget that they have exited off the stage, that they are living out their own mystery elsewhere, and I become obsessed with the way in which they have changed me.

As a woman, I have lived through a series of expectations. I passed through them like wandering through bewildering rooms in an old house. Sometimes I felt very lost. I was raised with the expectation that I would marry and have children, because per the culture, that was God’s plan for women. Guys I liked told me that they thought women should be modest and cover their legs, their breasts, their hair, but also stay in good shape so that they could be sexy. Men in churches told me that I should be submissive to authority figures and not argue or dispute ideas publicly. Teachers told me I had to try harder, because women still didn’t get the opportunities that men did unless they went above and beyond their male colleagues. Friends reminded me that I should major in a field suited to a woman: like teaching or nursing, because other jobs were too masculine.

But I didn’t want any of that: I wanted to be a leader, a shaker, a dreamer, a doer. I used to pray to be magically transformed into a man, because I thought men’s lives must be more exciting. For a few years I bound my breasts and wore boxy clothes to pretend I didn’t have a figure. I rejected every romantic intention of any guy that came near me; because I thought love meant submission to degradation, meant agreeing with my partner’s crazy thoughts, meant shutting up when I disagreed, meant taking abuse…out of love.

Looking back, I recognize myself as an intelligent, creative child who was just curious and excited about everything. So much got stifled by those well-intentioned comments to be more ladylike, to talk quieter, to dress feminine, to eat less and stay in shape, to find a husband, find a husband, find a husband.

Now I know better; I know as a woman I am just as whole and full of potential as a man. I believe in the adventures of being a woman. Yet I am guilty of letting these old comments stain my perspective on myself. Sometimes when I’m teaching I think, Wow, I sound bossy. Sometimes when I’m standing in front of the mirror I think, My teeth are so ugly and fang-like, so gross. I like rock music and science fiction (that’s not ladylike), I prefer other people to cook for me (I’ll never be a good wife).

Recently I found out, due to some issues, that it is almost impossible that I will ever be able to have children. My first thought was: I guess I’m not a real woman. But that thought was ugly and untrue, that thought was an old ghost of someone who told me, once upon a time, that the only reason I was born was to serve a man and have babies.

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And I know that thought is untrue because the women I love are doing amazing things. They are sometimes mothers and wives, yes, but they are also personal trainers and musicians, globe-trotters and activists, counselors and preachers, nurses and nannies, business-owners and orchestrators, singers and dancers, makers and creators, dreamers and soldiers, rockstars and fashionistas, bakers and brokers. I see them jogging in the morning. I see them at coffee shops, reading for pleasure. I see them wearing clothes that make them feel good. I see them building fences and chopping wood, plastering walls painting houses. I see them moving abroad to Italy or China. I see them fighting crime, speaking out, turning in their abusers, being so very loud and so very lovely.

And I am in awe of them.

I am in awe of you.

You are my mentors and heroes, you are why I tell the ghosts to shut up, and get off the stage. You are why I silence my fears that I’m bossy or unladylike or weird. You’re why I’ve learned to love being a woman again.

Because whatever unkind words have been spoken to you, whatever little rips and tears have been made to your soul, you wear yourself with grace and purpose when you live to be who you truly are. When you gamble on yourself, when you believe in your dreams. You are as beautiful as that dress, hanging in a thrift shop, that dress that has been danced in, twirled about. The dress that has seen the sun and rain both, that is worn in as soft as down, yet sturdy and durable. There are stains, yes, but they are beautiful because they tell me your story: you survived, you overcame, and you are still needed, yes, and desirable, unique in your history.

It’s hard to leave the old expectations behind, because they resurface quietly, they are still little wounds that are healing. Yet: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

It is best to let the ghosts go.

We are surrounded by victors and achievers and those breathing heavy and dripping sweat because they are running ferociously down the path set out for them, they are living their true purpose. I would much rather listen to their voices, strained and panting though they may be. Wouldn’t you?

To A Wild Rose: Straight From the Heart of Tracie

Next up in the series, you have the pleasure of meeting my friend Tracie.  We’ve known each other quite a few years from the days of pushing our little ones around in baby strollers, to now sharing the bittersweet moments of waving goodbye as our “babies” drive off to college.  Tracie is proud mom to three amazing kiddos, and wife to Pastor Richard Boyd.  She serves our school district as the Help Desk Technologist, and is one of the most giving ladies you’ll meet. From taxiing around our kiddos, giving me much needed reminders, and so much more I’m blessed to know Tracie… and I think you will be too as you read her honest, open words.  

As I sat this morning, all alone, looking at the decorations in our house, drinking coffee, and remembering where each ornament came from I was flooded with love, and something else.  I realized I have wasted alot of time.  I have held grudges, judged others, not forgiven, and not shared the gospel like I should.  My dad is in the hospital right now, and I just lost my grandma and a lady who was a spiritual mother to me, so my heart is kind of heavy.  More than the heaviness of the loss of people, is the loss of time.

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I didn’t speak to my dad for five years when I was a teenager, and I have always felt a little estranged from him, but last year when his dad passed away, things changed.  He needed my help, and I freely gave it.  We have had the best relationship in this last year because I let us.  I let go of old hurts and pain and just loved him where he is.  I let him love me in his way, not the way I want him to love me.  I let go and let God.

My dad is not saved and I have tried to discuss it with him before, but he doesn’t see a need for a relationship with Christ.  I have tried to live my life in front of him, and hope that it has been a witness, but as I sat there this morning I thought, “Has it been?”  “Have I shown the love of Christ with my grudges and un-forgiveness and judgmental-ness?”  “Would anyone want to know about Christ watching me?” The answer is no.

Young couple holding hands in the wheat field on sunny summer day.

Time is short people!  Even if you don’t believe in the end times, you can look around and see how fast time passes!  My daughter is looking at colleges, my son is grown and gone, I will have another teenager in a month, time has passed me by!  I have wasted something God has given me with “MY” hurts, that I really haven’t shared with the fixer of those hurts, Jesus.  

Please don’t let the time continue to go by another day having “junk” that keeps you bogged down to the point that you can’t live for Christ as you should, or share the gospel like you should.  Forgive people, love people, and tell people about Jesus.  There is someone looking at your walk, whether it is your children, husband, friend or stranger.

Walk in a walk that they will know He is walking with you.

To A Wild Rose: Straight from the Heart of Emma Jane

Today as we continue our series, To A Wild Rose, I want you to meet my friend Emma.  I’ve known this curly-headed, inspiring brunette since she was 5 years old, and I’ve watched her grow into a young woman who challenges my heart to love strong and always stay careful of complacency. Her mother,who shined so bright in Jesus, went to her eternal home in 2011, and Emma continues Jamie’s legacy by singing of the Love that endures forever.  Emma is big sis to four little sisters, completing her senior year of high school, is quite the musical gal (sings, plays piano and ukulele, songwriter, etc..) and is in prayer as she chooses the direction for her life this next year.  Read the words from the heart of a courageous young lady.  

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Those of you who know me are well acquainted with my thought-pattern or lack thereof. It’s mildly hilarious considering how hard I try to be a writer.  All I ask is that you read to the end. I promise it’ll make sense (hopefully).

I am not a gardener for sure, but I have always loved plants. Cacti especially. Momma was never a gardener either….. I was blessed with a jack-of-all-trades for a dad. Most every year, we had a gigantic garden. Even though I complained about working it, I loved every minute I spent with my parents out in the sweltering heat. I learned a lot about plants over those summers in the dirt from my daddy. I love how God gives us real-life examples of aspects of our walk with Him.

Roots are extremely important to a plant. They are the source of life.

They soak up all the goodness that the plant needs to flourish, and they offer protection. A tree with deep roots is going to be harder to blow over than a tree with immature, weak roots.

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In June, I was uprooted from my comfortable home and thrown out into a new church, new school, new life. These past six months have revealed my strengths and weakness like no other trial in my entire life. I have spent days and nights crying out to God, in desperation when I see all that I am missing out on. I have spent long evenings, dancing on the dock in front of a glorious sunset, praising my Creator for this great love He lavishes upon me. I have been taking care of my roots, so to speak. Through this trial, I have been seeking God. It is not always easy, In fact, it’s never easy. I constantly pray that God instills a desire for deeper roots. Through all of this, I am reminded of how easy it is to fall into “surfacey Christianity.” We go to church, post inspirational Jesus quotes, and try to be decent people. Beloved, we are so deceived! Relationship with God is so much more than these. When God draws us, He woos us with His love. He courts us, and calls us into this divine covenant with Him where we offer ourselves, ugly, broken, hurt, and confused.

Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called His children – 1 John 3:1

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This love is my comfort. This love is my hope. I feel like I spend way too much time missing things that often I fail to appreciate and love the present. In the midst of my hurt and confusion, God is God, and He is GOOD. He wants more than anything for us to be pulled deeper into a loving relationship with Him. So spend some time with Him today. Let your roots go deep, so you can withstand the crazy stuff life throws at us.

He will be like a tree planted by water: it sends its roots out toward a stream, it doesn’t fear when heat comes, and its foliage remains green. It will not worry in a year of drought or cease producing fruit – Jeremiah 17:8

To A Wild Rose; Straight from the Heart of Abby

Once again, I’m delighted to have my niece Abigail as a guest post for my blog.  She joins us in the conversation regarding women, and as always I’m in awe and grateful for her transparency. Abigail is beautiful mommy to Mr Liam Jonathan McBride.  This past January her loving, devoted, one-of-a-kind husband Jonathan went to his eternal home, and Abby remains here carrying on the legacy of love giving to all she encounters.  You can read a little of her story here.  She manages her home business, The Little Farm Kitchen, and also manages her little growing farm! A braver, stronger, more loving ginger snap of a woman you will not meet.  And, I’m priviliged to be her Aunt and a recepient of that love. Lean in, listen, and let’s continue to stay mindful and in prayer over this vital topic.  

In all honesty I have been avoiding writing this. I kept going over topics in my head that I could write about, but I couldn’t get this out of my head.

You see, the last 11 months of my life, no matter how I tell it, it has not been what I ever imagined. And I think that sometimes as Christians we try to glorify our trials. Today I just want to be brutally real with you all.

I am a strong person. I know that. People who know me know that. But I would like to put forth the notion to you that mountains are strong, trees are strong, there are many strong forces, however after enough small persistence of any given thing, they slowly begin to fade. It’s almost undetectable. First it’s just small things, you don’t smile quite as big, your laugh sounds pitiful in your own ears, you look for excuses to “check out of life” not in a suicidal way physically, but emotionally and mentally. You begin avoiding people who can truly see you. You begin avoiding anyone that might catch a glimpse of what’s underneath your surface.

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I would love to believe that I have only been doing this in the last 11 months, but I know that I have been doing this since I was about 11 or 12 years old. I smile and laugh and reply “I’m fine!” But deep down a little voice is saying “I’m not fine, please help me!”. In my life I have suffered mental, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. I have lost my husband. I have seen my family torn apart by another family member, I have seen some of the Devils best handiwork. And even after ALL of that, I reply, “I’m fine!”.

What we as men and women need to understand is that brokenness is the beginning of healing. Our culture loves to shame and ridicule those of us who admit that we aren’t ok, it seems sometimes especially the Church. If we do not acknowledge that we are indeed broken, how are we to begin the process of healing? It is impossible. Today I ask that we all do our part to break the stigma of shame that has been cast on Depression, Mental Health Disorders, Anxiety and many other prisons of the mind.

And finally, yes I am weary! I am weary of doing good, and being repaid with bad. I’m tired of pretending. I’m tired of seeing people treated like with hate and disrespect. I’m tired of people defending and protecting pedophiles and abusers and turning their backs on their families. I’m tired of not seeing more good in this world than bad. I’m tired.  But I’m not done! Just as the persistence of bad wearing and tearing down overtime, so works the persistence of goodness and love. And I’ll be darned if I let the bad wear me down to the point of defeat. If we will persist in doing good, if we will persist in giving love, if we will persist in being strong, if we will persist in teaching respect through our actions, over time, and maybe not in this life, but over time, we will see the rewards.

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Dear friends, let us not grow weary in doing good. You never know if you might be the last face someone sees as they seek help and hope. And when we do grow tired, remember there is someone out there who wants to truly see you and know you and help you.

You are so loved.

Meeting Rita

ritaEleven years ago.  September 24, 2005.  I remember the day all too well.  I remember the night even more.  As I stared at the TV screen as a wind-blown Geraldo reported the damage to me that was occurring in my southeast Texas.  All I could do was pray… for my husband, all the first responders trying to keep safety for others, those trying to keep the chaos at bay, and for all those in danger.  Hurricane Rita swirled with fury into our community recorded as the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever.  A category five that tragically took over 100 people’s lives that day.

The boys and I had left Hunter earlier that afternoon and also left our first home, and our sweet lab Maggie behind and made our way to stay at my dear cousin’s home in Tyler, Texas.  Reluctant wasn’t the word, as I pulled out of our driveway, tears brimming over in my eyes as I said goodbye.  My gut told me that this was the end of something…. Or the beginning of something… whichever way I want to look at it, maybe.

The next morning an early call finally came from my husband, who sounded so exhausted.  He was ok, and he was safe.  My heart was so relieved to hear his voice!  Maggie was safe, too!   He hesitated as he began to tell me that our home was not ok.  We had received severe high wind damage, resulting in part of our roof being peeled back, rain pouring into our home.  Light fixtures fallen, sheet-rock peeling back off the wall… everything wet, wet, wet, wet.  Our privacy fence, and roof to our pool outbuilding was found in various places… including across the road and field from our home.  It was all a wreck.  We comforted each other, “We’ll get through this, Joani.  We have each other, and that’s what counts,” Hunter reminded me.  So true.  What beautiful truth.

The following weeks without electricity compounded the devastating damage to our homes effected by this storm.  While my husband and all the wonderful community helpers, local law enforcement, fire departments, and disaster relief teams worked hard to clean up, re-build and help our community survive… the south’s heat and humidity continued to work its way with mold growing everywhere and anywhere Rita’s water and moisture had shown itself.

When I finally was able to re-enter the community, my heart sank as I saw such devastation everywhere.  But, my heart was lifted high as I saw weary faces all around, with smiles on their faces, love for each other in their hearts, and hands to help.

To be honest, to write all of my thoughts about the journey we began September 21, 2005 would be a novel.  So many beautiful moments, so many wonderful helpers, and some dark, dark days, too  — all part of God’s road for me.  And, honestly, I actually have written one!  Just not ready to share it all yet… Haha!  But, today being the anniversary I just wanted to share with you a bit of hope when days look dark, and the night even darker.  When the storms swirl in, and fear makes us tremble.  When so much is lost, that it’s hard to see what remains. 

SunRiseThe One who calms the storm in my heart, the One who created the sea, and told it where to stop.  The One who knew you and I before we were born, and knows every day that we will live on this earth.

He is greater.

There was a very sad moment of big realization for me as I held James’ blankie in my hand.  In our haste and emotions as we left for Tyler, I left it behind.  Now molded and ruined.  He was four at this time, and my grandmother had crocheted it for him at birth.  He loved that little green blankie.  He slept with it every night (sometimes even brought it to the grocery store with us, but shhh don’t tell him I told you ;)), and he loved how his fingers slipped and fit right in between the stitching.  My Mema is with Jesus now.  I miss her so much.  I sat and held the blankie close, ready to toss it in the trash with all the other debris of memories.  Crying, I felt the pangs of the loss of innocence for my children in this broken world, I cried for the interruption of their joyful times spent in the pool, the normal routine with play-days and school days with friends, the loss of all their belongings.

And, then right there, that still, perfect, small voice whispered to me.  Sitting on a moldy, wet carpeted floor, with piles of trash bags containing my home, mosquitoes buzzing in my ear… crying my eyes out holding a child’s little blankie…

I am greater.

Greater than all this.  And, I am here. 

Yesterday, as I woke up and opened my Bible, 11 years later, I searched for a verse of comfort for this season’s storms.. they aren’t a physical hurricane for me, but this world still has some swirling, whirling chaos trying to run my life some days.  The verse I ended up reading wasn’t the fuzzy, feel good one I kinda was looking for, it was so much more.  Deep meaning for true deep down comfort:

 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12:26-29, (ESV) 

My life has been shaken. Shaken with things that felt like was shaking even beyond my core. Sometimes to the point of wondering how I will ever steady my footing again. My friend, what I have seen is that through my shaking He has been my rock that doesn’t move. Clinging to that steady rock, keeps me steady even in the biggest storms. I may shake, but my Father does not.  An amazing part is that through my pain, through my sufferings, through shaking like a leaf and standing vulnerable and helpless before my King, He has not only guided each step by His hand, but He has shaken off many things that needed to be stripped away, and He has replaced them with things that can never, ever be taken from me.

A quote that has come to have more and more meaning for me through the passing years, written in a book called “A Grief Observed,” by CS Lewis is this:  “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already.”

He is greater.  This I know.

Meeting Rita.. a new beginning.

forgiveness like a crown; reconciliation as an option; freedom to heal.

In the past few months especially, I’ve had several of those conversations that leave you reflective, and desiring to help others through these murky, messy complicated heart, mind, and spirit battlegrounds.  This topic I’m about to share my thoughts on, is one that I understand can be quite controversial with people.. I’m quite certain that there are many who will read this that are much more educated, theologically more sound, and all-around possibly more skillful to speak to this subject.  But, this is the clumsy offering of a person who has wrestled through some of these pathways.  I’ve listened to many pain-filled stories, and have talked to my Heavenly Father often about it, and now I can sit with coffee cup by my side, peace in my heart today staring at this screen sharing my heart with you.

One such recent conversation began in a group-class, where we discussed the topic of forgiveness.  A friend of mine, who has suffered sad, devastating abuses.. emotional, physically, and spiritually looked up with tear-filled eyes… “How can I forgive?  When I make myself be around him, I feel panicky and my mind feels so confused.  I feel so wrong. Why can’t I love stronger? I thought I’d forgiven him, yet everyone tells me I need to forgive and forget and move forward..”

And, looking into those pain-filled eyes, my heart broke for the condemnation she and others were heaping upon her, adding to the years of pain she had endured.  Oh, my Father, now we are heaping heavy burdens onto her weary soul in your name?  In the name of love?

flwoerOh my precious friend, what my Father has lovingly shown me through many pain-filled tears of my own is that forgiveness and reconciliation are two very different things. By summary of definition;  Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.  John Piper suggests that some of the following may be indicators that forgiveness has taken place; resisting revenge, not returning evil for evil, wishing them well, grieving at their calamities, praying for their welfare, seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you. We also would do well to remember that this is a spiritual journey that we each individually walk through in our own way, in God’s perfect timing as He is our healer and help.  We don’t “fix” others, we have the beautiful opportunity to love, LISTEN, contribute what we can to help, and to encourage others.  He doesn’t fix… He heals!  Forgiveness is a beautiful work that God does in our hearts — It’s truly a miracle that we can all experience, and the freedom releases us to soar!

——- > Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relations.. So, our hearts and minds can most certainly be in a place where we do not wish for revenge, and even our heart may break for those who have wronged us.  We might even be in a place in which we pray and hope and believe for God’s very, very best way of love for that individual, whatever that might look like.  But, we must also with caution and carefulness seek reconciliation to the level that is safe for our heart, mind, and life.  There are many reasons for which I believe in some situations “restoring a friendly relationship” is not best or safe emotionally, spiritually, or mentally.  Sometimes, it may be that the reconciliation process just needs a more lengthy time to build trust, and security… Sometimes, it will never, ever be healthy to reconcile.  Especially, if the abuser is unrepentant and continues to wound, justify and blame-shift.  Often, we might get confused with what love is, and what love isn’t.  Making someone feel good about themselves, isn’t really love… and a person who has destructive mentalities and behaviors often continues on in their pathway, being enabled to continue by all the “feel-goods” from well-meaning people who think they are loving.  “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love is glad when truth is spoken. Therefore love aims at truth. It supports truth. Sometimes the truth is that the damaging behavior of another person cannot be in our life at this time, even though we have forgiven, or are working through that process..  Drawing close to the Father’s heart, knowing His freedom, seeking for truth in His word (and maybe less of other’s opinions), and resting in His love is a beautiful time of healing.

Forgiveness like a crown….

Reconciliation as an option..

Freedom to heal.

It’s ok, my friend, that you aren’t “strong” enough to sit at a Christmas dinner across from your childhood abuser (and actually facing and speaking the truth to say you don’t want to is being brave, truthful and courageous!)  It makes sense, my dear friend, that you feel panic attacks when feeling pressured to be “friendly” with someone that has given you tremendous pain in your life, and you are still trying to heal from the wounds.  You aren’t flawed when your heart requires needed time, space, and the ability to process.  Our Father weaves beautiful grace through these processes..

A few weeks ago, a helping friend of mine sat with me in my place of tears.  She reminded me that Christ not only died to set me free from the wrongs, and yucky messes my heart cooks up, but all those atrocities that were done against me.  The shame I carried for that which I have done, and the shame for that which was inflicted on me…. ALL taken care of at the Cross.  He traded my sorrows, my pain, my burnt-up ashes of dreams and innocence, the wrongs, and torment… HE TRADED IT ALL for my freedom.  For me, and for you.

All. Traded for the crown of beauty.

Not only the wrongs I have committed, but those that were committed against me… I am laying at His feet.  “Here it is, Jesus. You paid, what those who hurt me could never repay, and I don’t know how to get rid of..  You died to set me free. All the brokenness I’ve created, and the life-whirlwinds others have created for me… you want me to trade for YOU.  You died, so that I may live. The acts of others may try to slay my very soul in ugly, dark brokenness, but my Saviour lives through me to make ALL new and beautiful and ALIVE.”flower 2

“Trade these ashes in for beauty
And wear forgiveness like a crown
Coming to kiss the feet of mercy
I lay every burden down.”

~Don Moen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and freedom to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of our God’s vengeance;to provide for those who mourn in Zion;

to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the Lord
to glorify Him.”

Is. 61:2-3

*Hi Friend, if you are reading this and are currently being abused in any way.. please reach out to a safe place.  1-800-799-7233 is the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, 1-800-656-4673 is a safe place to discuss Sexual Abuse, or talk to someone you trust for help.  There is hope and there is help.

tears & smiles — guest post

The following is a guest post from my niece Abigail McBride.  The best word I can use to describe Abby is real. She is purely authentic and shares her love with a pure vulnerability. Because of that quality she is one of the most inspiring, strong women I have the privilege of knowing.  When I falter in my faith, I see clearly the strength of my God by seeing His light transparently in her life.. I do not take it lightly that she gives us the opportunity to peer into her soul, and I’m so grateful for a heart that desires to share a message of hope for those of you who might be reading and can find encouragement for your own grieving heart.  

 

Funeral home.

Burial.

Memorial service arrangements.

These are things no 20 year old should have to hear, especially when it’s referring to her husband.

But I did. I heard them, deep down in my soul. I heard the phone call, telling me that I needed to get to the hospital. I heard them tell me that he didn’t make it. I heard them tell me that they had done everything they could. I heard them ask me if I was ready to see him. I heard Liam fussing in the background because he was hungry. But I didn’t feel much of anything. Numbness. The kind that takes over your mind body and soul, trying to desperately shield you from the reality of what you’re facing.

I remember walking in, getting the news. And the only thing I could say was “No”. No this isn’t real. No this isn’t happening. No, no, no. Because, you see. We had plans. Great big beautiful plans. Plans for us, for our house, for our children, for life. But in an instant it was like our plans had never been dreamed. They were just a memory. MY plans. MY life. MY future. And it was all gone. In just an instant.

I walked in and saw him, laying there. He looked so childlike, so innocent and so completely peaceful. I was jealous. I walked in and knelt beside his bed and wrapped my arms around him. I can’t describe what came next, I was immediately calm. I breathed him in. Tracing my fingers over his face. He was with Jesus. I knew that. He was happy. I knew that. He was whole. I knew that. He was complete. I knew that. And somewhere deep inside me I heard a voice say “Abigail, don’t push God away. He is the only one who can get you through this.” Call me crazy, but I know that was from Jonathan. Because in life, he always pushed me closer to Christ. So why wouldn’t, in death, he do the same?

Am I telling you that I haven’t yelled at God? That I haven’t screamed into my pillow in complete despair? Am I telling you that I heard that voice and said “okay God, I’m good. You’re right. I’m fine. This isn’t so bad. This doesn’t hurt like hell. I’m okay with this.” No. It hurts. More than anything, it has completely shaken me to the core. I want MY plans to go back to the way I wanted them. The way WE planned them. I look into my son’s face and I see a little boy who won’t remember his daddy. He won’t remember the bond they had, how he would scream with delight when he saw Jonathan walk through the door. He won’t remember their bedtime stories, their nightly prayers, or going on walks outside. He won’t remember the pride and joy that Jonathan had for him, the look of complete love that he had every time he got to say “this is my son, Liam”. But I remember, and I can’t wait to tell Liam. He loved this little boy so tenderly and strongly at the same time.

I have chosen to put my future in Gods hands. I know his plan is greater than I can imagine. I know he cries when I cry and his heart hurts as mine does. I know he wants his very best for me. I know that he gave me Jonathan for a reason. And now, he’s gone for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is. I know he sees Liam and that he’s going to provide for him. In every area. We don’t always understand why life happens the way it does. And it hurts. It’s incredibly hard to be human. It’s hard to love someone and then have them taken away. It’s hard knowing that you’re going have to explain to a little boy one day why his Daddy isn’t here.

My comfort is found in God. And in remembering Jonathan as a man of God, my best friend, my love, the father of my son. A man who accepted me for who I was. A man who had a servants heart. A man who loved like Jesus did. Jonathan set my standards so high. I know how a man should treat his wife. I know how a man should love his family. I know how a man should treat his children. I know how a man should work. But most of all, I know how a man should love God fiercely. I will continue to thank God for giving me Jonathan, even if it was just for a little while.

I’m not here to preach to you about how when you follow God that it’s going to be a rose garden. It just not that way. There are trials. Trials that make you want to run and hide. But I can tell you this in full confidence. MY God will carry you through. MY God will give you strength you never knew was possible. He gathers up the broken pieces and creates something beautiful, not perfect, and not what you had before. Something different, something  that you look at and say “Only God could have done this.” Because, truly. Only he can take the broken and make it whole. The wounded and make them well. The tears and make them smiles.

I can smile because I know that Jonathan is whole and with Jesus. I can smile because he loved me and Liam. I can smile because Jesus promises me that one day I will see Jonathan again. Until that day, I can smile knowing that more than anything, that’s what Jonathan wanted for me.

 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28, (ESV)

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