Raise Them Strong

photo-1445820133247-bfef6cc162a7

The other day my youngest and I were out and about with friends and headed to the zoo.  I’m not sure what the girls were even talking about.  But you know tweens. They talk, laugh, and giggle at just about anything and everything.

We were headed down the interstate and I hear mine say,

“Life is severe!”

I can’t remember anything else she said after that.  That got my attention.

photo-1450084195263-9a8b47617097

She’s 12.  And, life has proven to be severe for her.  Now, in all good perspective, I understand we aren’t sitting in a cancer ward, or at a funeral home, or living in a war-torn village.  All things considered, it is an overall blessed life.  But, for her, it has had some challenges.

She has had to walk away from a community that she has known since she was four-years-old without barely a goodbye.  This was where she realized her passions and had some dear and strong friendships.  This community had become incredibly personal to her and the center of much of her life.  Her father’s job was over and she was soon cut off from many she considered family. Her world was turned upside down over night and a once safe place, was no longer safe.

She has faced anxiety about her future and the loss of the only world she really knew.    Unfortunately, she has learned tough lessons on rejection and betrayal, grief and loss.

11949464_10208016339112839_6410654275708581477_n

I’ve been thinking about my children and how, as a parent, I have gifts I need to give them.  After some of the things we have been through lately, resilience is one of the very best I can give.

It’s not something I can bestow upon their heads by tapping a diamond encrusted wand and sprinkling some pixie dust.  Now, wouldn’t that be a trick!  So much cooler…and easier!  But, alas, this gift doesn’t come that way.  But, its value almost can not be measured.

photo-1447939327228-66b1930fc80a

“Life can be severe, but you will make it!  You will be just fine.”

One of the worst things I can do is kill myself making everything work out exactly so to my children’s specifications and requests.  Because, life happens.  Jobs change, you don’t always make the team, the doctor’s report comes back ugly and scary, you aren’t always the chosen favorite, and sometimes people walk away.

As a young adult, I  had my first taste of hardship.  No matter how hard we tried, things didn’t seem to go our way.  Instead of the Midas touch of gold we had the leaden touch.  It was quite a rude awakening.  Up to that point, we had enjoyed lots of success in college and things ran quite smoothly.

photo-1450151156983-86161cfa704d

I know there are many who learn hard lessons way too early.  Much earlier than anyone would ever wish.  But, I grew up in an upper middle class, church attending, two-parent household, with a younger brother, a dog, and a cat.  Everything, pretty much, except the picket fence.

So, you can imagine my shock and fear when I was faced with significant hardship for the first time.  I was a young married pastor’s wife starting a church from scratch.  It was tough.  We barely made enough to live, much less bring another human into the world.  Yet, we did.

It wasn’t an easy path.  Fast forward 15 years and unknown to us, a whole new level of hard was stretching out ahead of us.  Yet, this time, we had three very impressionable, young humans in tow.

photo-1437669514390-0eda00923cc8

When they were younger, we could protect and shield them from much of it.  But, now, not so much.  They are smart and perceptive.

I get discouraged when I begin to think through questions that rattle through my brain.  I feel a panic that threatens to scorch my heart.

Why do my kids have to experience such things?  

Why do they have to experience loss, rejection and betrayal?

So many things I didn’t have to experience until adulthood.  

photo-1418743342338-5ee869c68e95

But, here is the next question.

Why not?

Self pity rises up and threatens to suck the life and light out of everything if we don’t ask this simple question.

Why not? 

Who are we to expect to escape hardship?

Seriously.  Jesus said we would have trouble, but to take heart, because we can overcome because of Him.

photo-1416163026265-0bc340a710e4

So, as unpleasant as it is, we have to face the truth.  We are not exempt.  Our great hope comes, however, from our great source.  We live in this fallen world.  But, we are journeying towards the other side.  Bumps, bruises, scars and all.  We are stronger, smarter, wiser, tougher and more resilient than ever.  We have a story to tell.

A story of a God who walked through the desperate darkness with us.  Church hurt is excruciating.  Being wounded in the house of our friends is a tough pain to swallow.  As, a mom, I would give anything to protect my children.

There is much we can shield them from, but you can’t shield them from life.  

If we want to raise strong, emotionally healthy adults, we teach them how to walk through pain and disappointment.  It is better to learn how to be strong and resilient early in life.  You are then equipped to walk this life out with grace.  These aren’t lessons merely talked about, but lived out day by day.

Af0sF2OS5S5gatqrKzVP_Silhoutte

I have met some of the most open, grace-filled, and loving people in the last few weeks.  They are becoming our new community.  These people have been through about as much as we have—maybe more.  But, they are good, kind, big-hearted people.  They know what it means to travel through the hard, dark places and come out stronger on the other side.

That’s what I want to be.  And that is what I want my children to see.

photo-1443948308135-d57fc66de368

Unexpected Graces

 

1-1234699141PRLF

Well, here I am sitting in the saddle.  It feels good!  I have missed this place! I’m glad to be back.

It’s been a rough and tumble couple of months since I last sat down.  When I took a break right before Christmas, I never anticipated the journey I would embark upon.  Frankly, it was like someone gave a monkey a match.  It has been quite a ride.

12716211_10209143679655648_1404086195426651687_o

I needed this time to regroup and set my heart and mind right.  I have been too afraid to write, honestly.  Afraid of what just might come out.  But, it is time.  And, I am grateful.

In an effort to cope with our pain and lighten the mood, our family began to refer to this season as a “plot twist”.   In stark reality, our lives have dramatically changed.  Due to painful circumstances, my Love resigned his position at the church we pastored for over seven years.  Sometimes, it is just time to move on.  There comes a time when you realize the odds are not in your favor and for everyone’s sake, you have to make an exit.  You just hope to do so with grace.

I do believe it has been one of the most hurtful seasons we have experienced in life and ministry.  After 25 years, we have experienced our share of disappointments and set backs.  But, this, by far, was the one of the biggest gut punches of them all.  The only other to compare would be the sexual abuse of our son by a trusted friend and church worker.

her-tears-grey-puddle

I have learned quite a few lessons in our time here in Virginia.  Some are pretty tough.  But all have been for my good.

Our time in Virginia has been anything but easy.  We have endured some losses.  But, I also can look and see some beautiful gains.  I would be shallow if I didn’t recognize them.

A few years back I began my own One Thousand Gifts journey.  It was a life saver, really. Each day I would count out my gratitude, line by line.  I am beginning a new one.  It’s important to remember the gifts from our journeys.  If not, it could get terribly discouraging!  So, it is time.  Time to refocus my attention.

journal

One lesson I’ve learned is, “God gives good gifts.”  Some seasons we just have to look a little harder.  Many times they are hard gifts.  I look back at our journey…it is unlike ANYTHING I’ve ever experienced…yet, I still find beauty in the charred rubble.

Light only shines through cracked vessels. 

So, when people ask me if I had known then what I know now, would I still have relocated to Virginia, I’m never sure how to answer.  In the natural, it does not seem worth it.  We have paid quite a high price.  We certainly didn’t know all we were taking on.

Truthfully, I don’t like that question at all.  My first instinct is to scream NO, of course not!

Injustice,

hatred,

jealousy,

abuse,

unfair expectations,

rejection,

financial loss,

illness,

anxiety and depression,

plots and schemes,

abandonment,

betrayal.

Who would?

df26c006fa5aa6c371c195a58fbf0918

When I look at that list of pain, it would seem hardly worth it.  I could easily drown in that sea of loss and hurt.  I do see, however, the gifts from God’s hand that He gave in the middle of such ugly hard.

So, I choose to look at the gifts.  It is time. 

11947605_10208016280711379_5278790613076934361_n

Friendships,

children discovered their gifting,

memories made,

bound family ties,

new dreams inspired,

spiritual growth,

loyalty,

a sweet canine companion,

hope,

peace,

increased faith,

grace from unexpected places,

deep kindness,

lessons learned,

lives changed,

wisdom,

provision,

protection,

opportunity,

divine encouragement.

I am most certain I have forgotten many other blessings.

I have a sneaky suspicion I am not alone in this listing.  We are not unique.

11949464_10208016339112839_6410654275708581477_n

We all have experienced our share of pain and loss.  I simply refuse to get stuck here.  I don’t want to live in the muck and mire.  I will not suffer needlessly.  I want free of it.  And, the only place I know to start is with gratitude. 

Christ does not promise a trouble-free life.  No, indeed.

EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST-CHRISTIAN

This world is fallen and is coming undone.  People disappoint.  No amount of dancing can undo that fact.  But, I have learned something else.

Light shines out of my broken places.

God is mending in such a way that light will warmly glow and draw others in.  They will meet Him there.  It isn’t about pretending to have it all together.  No one understands such living.  It is a fairy tale and too great a weight to drag around.

12346402_10208592832404811_4671665384202200831_n

So, once again, I have picked up pen and tablet and will scribe my gratitude.

I won’t forget our pain, for it has left a mark.  But, mostly I will remember with a heart of gratitude all God is and was to me in the pain.  The strong arms that have held and carried.  I will remember.  All that was meant for my harm, is turned to good.  Nothing can ever take me from His hand.

That is what I will remember.  That will be my focus.  There is beauty to out-sing the ugly.  For it is well with my soul.

12615664_10209001008088948_3467437942845045546_o

Where Is Your Life?

11050750_10207682225000195_7700269781450035954_n

It’s been a really great summer.  Sleeping in (my favorite!), road tripping around the area, reconnecting with friends, reading, watching my boy play ball, and playing taxi.  Pretty much loving life and feeling grateful.  We enjoyed a great day for our anniversary.  We kept it simple and relaxing.  And I am so thankful.  My kids are pursuing their passions, living life and having a good time doing it.  God is blessing their lives and you can see His love for us.

11755132_10207682169318803_2872658066503856346_n

 

11760255_10207682170318828_9135424489220213665_n

In the last few years, I haven’t always been able to say that.  Maybe that’s you, too.  We’ve experienced financial reversal, faced rejection, suffered at the hands of people and felt like we were going through hell.  I realize that isn’t the warm and fuzzy thing to say.  Suffering depression, anxiety and PTSD was never on the order list we sent up.  When 4 out of 5 in your family have to be medicated just to handle daily life, I’m telling you, that’s not what you order up.  Who does?

But, it happens.  Life happens.  I remember a couple of years ago, living life with a teenager and   just being thankful we were dealing with normal teenager stuff.  We had come a long way.  Moving from constant crisis mode to dealing with everyday issues was such a relief.  I even found some much needed humor in that.

A few years ago, I was walking the neighborhood, thinking life would never get back to normal.  I just wanted it to so desperately.  Whatever that was supposed to be.  What I thought was normal life, happened to be a private hell for someone most dear to me.  That was an eye opening thought.  A paradigm shift.

1914882_1242133580007_8284500_n

Life changes—often on a dime.  We had more stuff going wrong and our lives turned upside than I had ever thought possible.  But, following dreams and doing big things, often stirs up the waters.  We weren’t living the status quo; life threw not-status-quo stuff back at us.

But, here we are a few years out and life has smoothed out just fine.  In the heat of it, when your neck is being scorched by the fire and heat, life looks pretty much like it is never again going to smooth out.  That seems like a very distant memory.  I got you on that one.  We are looking eyeball to eyeball, and I say, I know it.  It hurts.  It really hurts.

11390311_10207331662836360_8853771884085697499_n

I was reading some Scripture today and wanted to share it with you.  My heart skipped a beat when I read it.  Yes!  I felt it!  I knew it!  Psalm 16 is a great chapter.  Take a look at it with me.

Keep me safe, my God,

for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;

apart from you I have no good thing.”

I say of the holy people who are in the land,

“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”

Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.

I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods

or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;

you make my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;

even at night my heart instructs me.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.

With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

my body also will rest secure,

10 

because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,

nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.

11 

You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

11745325_10207682213959919_780548936178013690_n

Verses 5 and 6 really lit up for me.  Go ahead! Check those out again!  Many of the first years of living in Virginia were beyond hard.  It has been a challenge testing everything we were made of and then some!  But, we’ve come out on the other side.  We’ve fought hard and won!  We trusted in Him and depended on Him to get us through.  We took refuge in Christ.  We kept our eyes on Christ.  I really don’t know where we would have ended up if we hadn’t had Christ.  People will disappoint you;  people will betray and reject you.  Christ is forever the one where our hearts find peace.

So, back to the present.  Life is good.  Life is beautiful.  When you taste the bitter, the sweet is so much sweeter!  When you walk through the darkness, the light is that much brighter!  When you lose things precious, the blessings are that much more treasured.  You have to experience the sad to appreciate the joy.

10377546_10207682188079272_7144724199801993123_n

Such is life.  My life boundaries are falling in pleasant places.  That makes me happy.  We are doing life.  It’s not perfect, but what is?  But, it sure is beautiful!

Do I Have To?

images-3

I have experience.

Lots of it.  Some of it has come with kicking and screaming, but I have experience, nonetheless.  “What experience?” you may ask.

Well, it is …..

stick-to-it-ativeness. 

Yeah.  It’s not as beautiful as it sounds.  Trust me.  Everyone has one of two tendencies.  That is to fight or flee.  And, actually, I am by nature a flee-er.  Many times the option of “flight” seems pretty alright to me.  So, honestly, I don’t come by this naturally.

But, I am married to….you guessed it!  A fighter.

No, not a fighter, as in, he can’t get along with people and stirs up conflict.  He is the kind that won’t run from a battle.  He knows what is needed and will fight to see it happen.  He’s not a quitter.  His philosophy is, “I may not be smarter or more talented than others, but I can certainly outlast anybody!”  Um, clearly, this has made for some great fun over the years.

I like comfort.  I don’t like to go through the stretching and retching part of life.  I like for everyone to like me.  I want no hardships and certainly no sacrificing.  I want dreams and projects to flow smoothly.  I really don’t want conflict, hate it in fact.  I certainly don’t want to be judged or misjudged.  I like for the tasks I set my hand to to flow without hiccups or roadblocks of any sort.  I want everyone to agree with me and my opinions. And, I certainly do NOT need or want rejection.

It hurts. The hard stuff hurts.

Life tends to bring along those moments when we must choose.

There isn’t any way around it.  Someone or something intrudes into your dream or boundaries.  Something important is at stake.  The life or death of it depends on whether you stay and fight or run and flee.  Maybe it’s your family, a child, a dream, or a way of life. Maybe it’s your calling or vocation.  Perhaps it is fighting injustice or standing up for what or who is right.  Whatever it is, you will have to choose.

Either way, everything hangs in the balance.

I’ll give you 3 examples from my life.  Perhaps you can relate.

First of all, my husband and I started a new church back in 1994.  We were young.  We were inexperienced and truthfully didn’t have a clue as to what we had joined up for.  We were still trying to figure out who we were at the tender age of 24.  We had seen great success stories and figured we could pull off something just like those.  It took 7 years to reach the goal of 100 people.  It took even longer to acquire our own facility.  We worked hard.  It certainly wasn’t for a lack of hard work and sacrifice.  We barely survived on the meager salary.

About the third or fourth year in, I was done.  We had faced apparent failure on many levels.  I wanted to quit so badly!  My husband?  Oh, yes, I know he did.  But, we didn’t leave that congregation until 2008.  He would pacify me by telling me to just give him until May.  If things didn’t turn around by May, we would think about going somewhere else.  Well, he knew that once winter was over in Iowa, things always look better at some level, come May.  I figured him out, finally, about the third year of being told that.  I’m slow.

Second story.  In 2008, our family moved to Virginia to our second congregation.  This seemed as if our dreams were answered in one fell swoop.  Not long after moving here,  it seemed as if we had stepped into a nightmare.  This was a very different hard than our Iowa challenge.  We faced intense obstacles, setbacks, reversals, personal attacks, rejection, strife, and twisted plots.  The personal and professional price has been high. This church was in deep crisis and they weren’t in the mood to be helped.  So many times I could have been packing boxes on a moment’s notice.  All my husband needed to do was give me the word.  I was more than done!

Final story.  The first three years in Virginia seemed like they were from hell.  We took a huge financial hit when the real estate bubble burst and we needed to sell our house and move to Virginia.  Then, my son came to us and told us he had been sexually abused for three years by an authority figure.  Then, my other child was diagnosed with a serious medical condition after months of intense, unexplained pain and slow debilitation. Then, my father passed away after battling Alzheimers for 13 years.  This all happened within the first three years after moving to Virginia.  There were moments during those very difficult years I began to question the presence of God in my life.  I wasn’t so sure He could be trusted.

images

Here’s the deal.

At any given point in my life, I desperately wanted to throw in the towel.  The pain felt greater than the reward.  And, yes, there have been some serious sacrifices made that only God will be able to make right.  But, we didn’t quit.  There were no magic formulas or bribes to hold us steady. The only promise we had to go on was God would see us through.  It might be painful, it might look ugly, but we would make it if we just didn’t quit.  “Those who quit remember the ordeal.  Those who endure remember the adventure.”  That has become a life value of sorts.

There are many giftings we don’t possess.  There are quite a few things we do well; there have been many mistakes along the way, too.  But one thing which doesn’t require talent or gifting is something we do have—“outlast-attude”.  We can outlast just about anything.

images-1

You have to dig deep.  You have to stare your giant in the face and stare it down.  It’s not easy.  But, find the grit and the depth of character to outlast anything life throws your way.  Needless to say, I’m thankful my Honey had enough hutzpah for the both of us!

Your whole life and legacy depend on it.  Everyone who follows after you, depend on it.  It’s not just about you anyway.  It never has been.

images-2

Forgiveness…..It Makes Me Sweat

Forgiveness.  The word makes me sweat.  

I am an emotional person.  I feel things deeply. I take things to heart.  My heart gets bruised.  And, it’s not just about me.  I am madly in love with my husband and children.  They are my world.  When they hurt, I hurt. When bad things happen to them, it might as well be me!  I am very emotive….so much estrogen.  Just ask my family.  (Think mother bear!)

The biggest lesson of my life came in October 2011.  Desperate to end his nightmare, our child spilled his hurt and pain to my husband.  We knew this person.  We thought she was safe—she wanted to be a youth pastor and we were mentoring her towards that end.  We thought we knew and understood her well.

Apparently, we didn’t.

The days that followed were full of rage, pain and complete shock.  We navigated the legal system, detectives, and victim advocates in a haze of unbelief.  Not unbelief of our child’s story.  We never doubted him.  Sitting in the detective’s office, trying to answer endless questions, we just couldn’t figure out how we had gotten to this point.

How could someone do this to one of our own and to our family?

I never dreamed, in all my days, I would be sitting

in a courtroom listening to all the graphic details of the abuse.

Who does?

Betrayal of any kind is painful. 

At this level, it was hard to breathe.  We had done so much to better the life and future of this caregiver; providing opportunities for a future that would not have come anywhere else.

We did receive justice in the legal system. We are grateful.  It started the healing process for our boy and for us. We felt heard and understood.  Unfortunately, in today’s culture, male victims of female perpetrators many times don’t receive equal justice.   But, we did. And that is nothing short of a miracle.

But, see, this is where it gets gritty.

As Christ Followers, we are taught to forgive.

  For the longest time I wasn’t in any place to forgive.  I needed  time and space to process and heal.

And I honestly think God was okay with that.  I learned something important.

Everybody moves at their own pace and the journey is cyclical—just like in the grieving process.

FORGIVENESS   IS   NOT   EASY   NOR   CHEAP.

I have to say, there are some days I don’t feel as if I have forgiven very well.  Most days, three years isn’t long enough to pay for the level of trauma, fear and pain he endured.  And, if I am really honest (please allow me),

I can’t understand how God could forgive this, much less me.

 

I know this: If I surrender my deep betrayal and pain to God, and follow His lead, He will walk me through this difficult journey of forgiveness.

I am learning that forgiveness is a journey.

This past week was a perfect example of how much work I have left to do, but how far I have come!  It was a milestone in our journey.  He knows we are human.  We are not perfect in this earthly skin.

I think forgiveness isn’t a one and done type of thing either.

It is a process—a lifelong journey that brings great peace.  I imagine I will work the rest of my life to forgive fully and completely as I know Christ does.  I know God knows my humanity.

He gives me strength and power to do what I can’t seem to do on my own.

As you can see, it makes the top 10 of the hardest lessons I will learn in life.  And I’m still trying to figure it all out.  It is a team effort with God leading the way.  I’ll follow in His footsteps and I know all will be alright.

What about you?  Do you have something that screams for forgiveness but you just don’t know how?  Can you give yourself grace knowing God does when you are walking hand in hand….moving in His unhurried rhythms of grace?

 

My friend, I know it is hard.  I hate the cliches.

But, God is jealous for you and is aware of your pain.

Sit and listen for His rhythm of grace.