Four Lessons I Needed to Learn

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So far this summer has been simply wonderful! 

There have been some great moments of relaxing and recharging…with plenty of celebrating thrown into the mix.  Graduations and anniversaries and young love.  The Reynolds’ are living the moments and dreaming of the future. 

Never mind it is July already! Somebody should slow the calendar down.  

I’m in the middle of learning life-changing lessons. I figure I write best about the things I have learned. I will throw this one out there first. 

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If you are so busy you cannot eat at home on a regular basis or are not able to stay on top of life’s basic demands, you are too busy.

It doesn’t seem very spiritual, but it is. I don’t share this to heap more mom guilt.  Lord knows, nobody needs that.  But, it is a sad realization I have come to.  Perhaps I’m the only one needing to learn this?

I know we all live full and complex lives.

But, I’m convinced meaningful life is not meant to be lived at hyper speed. So fast you can’t breathe or even think clearly.  That was my life six months ago. 

It wasn’t for a lack of money or resources to handle the responsibilities, it was lack of time. It wasn’t for the lack of skill in the kitchen. I figured if I just could pull it together better, at our speed of life, then all would fly straight. I have to admit, this pace didn’t even feel right, but what was I going to do?

I realize now (but, suspected then) the quality of life I was missing out on.  Yes, so many good things filled our time.  Serving others, leading productive ministries and raising well-rounded children. But, holy goodness.  It was not a healthy pace.

So, lesson number two–

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Sabbath, solitude and silence are essential to good living. 

I am experiencing the beauty of these practices.  What an ahhhh moment this has been for me.  Oxygen to my soul. I have to admit, it wasn’t by my own design.  Life just kind of worked out that way. I didn’t really have a choice.

But, it’s the best thing that has happened to us!

I’d like to encourage you to find simple ways to simplify and bring solitude and sabbath to your world. So much chaos is competing for our attention. These quiet moments are where we hear God the most clearly. 

Sabbath and solitude are the antidote to chaos.

A book is always helpful, I think.  The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski will challenge you. Check it out.

Let’s go for the third lesson.

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What you see is what you get.

Literally. 

Are you looking for God? 

Are you noticing He is right in front of you? 

Creation calls out to us and testifies of his presence.  If we are moving so fast we don’t even notice the world around us—the intricacy and detail of this physical creation passes us by.  Perhaps he made all of this just for us.  For our appreciation.  In order for us to understand him better. 

But, do you even get to enjoy it?  Appreciate it?  Value it?

I didn’t.  So much around me, yet, I flew past it and didn’t acknowledge the gift of creation and life.  Sometimes, the most spiritual thing I do is sit, take in a deep breath, close my eyes and sit.  That usually leads into contemplation and gratitude. Try it; you might like it!

And, here’s numero quatro.

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When people disappoint and hurt us or walk away OR when things come to an end and suffering and pain invade our lives, we can stand firm and serene.

We rest in the HOPE and the knowledge of who we are in Christ.

None of these things are irrevocable or will harm us permanently. No loss is lasting or defeat is final.

Life will bring pain. No doubt about that. These things are not the final declaration upon our lives. We know that the Kingdom of God will conquer it.

What do we need to do now, in this moment?

Pray,

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In this, rests our HOPE. Instead of focusing on the loss, pain and disappointment, focus on the gifts that have come. There are indeed many gifts.

I know I want to hear that still small voice. Christ speaks powerfully to my heart in the still small ways. It’s amazing how I can hear when I listen. 

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He has taken me on a journey of resting and healing. 

The thing is, I didn’t even realize I needed rest and healing.  But, he did. 

He intervened in my chaos and began setting it to right.  It’s amazing how in service to God and others, we can miss so much.  I certainly don’t even begin to think I’ve got a corner on God and all he has to reveal. 

That is why we all need, for our own sake, to stop, look and listen.

Those sacred habits I had started dropping, I now look forward to with so much anticipation. 

I know now that to sit quietly with a slowed heart and mind will yield blessing.    These are the gifts I’ve been given.  And, what gifts they are!

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Enough

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Do you ever feel like this?

Like life is a cross between “hang on for dear life, dig in and paddle fiercely…all this with eyes squeezed tightly shut.”  Maybe you can relate.

I’m learning to live blueprint-free.

Learning to be fed daily from His hand. To rest and trust.  These are scary, uncharted waters for a Planner.  Oh, I always felt I trusted God to lead my life.  I worked hard to surrender my will and follow Him and His plan.  But, I guess when the paycheck is rolling in and security is sure and there aren’t any real risks in your life, it’s easy to “trust God with everything.”

Oh, well.  I’m no longer there.

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And it is either trust or flail.  Those are the options.

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The one clear message I hear over and over is “rest, be still, be quiet, trust.”

“I’ve got you; I’ve got this; quit trying to do this in your human strength; I will fight for you.”

Over and over for the last four months.  When it’s easy to remember and when it’s not.  He plays the message in different ways and in different methods.  Some days I get it, some days it is harder for me to grasp.

Sometimes, weariness overcomes and wears me down.  Often, the hurt from loss threatens to overwhelm.  There is a very real understanding that we are not enough.

We are not enough.

We are not enough.  

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In our own strength we are never enough.  Only in our weakness is His enough-ness allowed to shine forth. We take our small broken pieces…bundled up or scattered by the winds of life…either way.  The only way you can be enough is when they are surrendered and placed at His feet.

The broken shards.  Some pieces have been so pulverized there isn’t much to show for it.  Just scoop them up.  Scrape them all up and lay them down.

Then.  And only then, are you enough.

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I can’t do enough, be enough, plan enough, or think enough. No amount of strategizing, fixingunderstanding, speaking out, or even forgiving is enough.

It’s all nothing. 

Nothing in the eyes of the Father.  He doesn’t want all of that.  He certainly doesn’t need all of that.  All that doing only serves to enslave us and wear us out.

Trying and trying and trying.  I am finding that is a favorite word for me.  Interestingly enough.  Trying. I tried.  I am trying.  I try.  I say that about accomplishing “important” goals or certain mindsets or mastering certain disciplines.  For the love of goodness!  No wonder I am weary!

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I am busy doing all of these right and holy things in order to live the right way and learn the right things and please all the right requirements and all the right people.

How have I managed to slip into law living?

I have nothing.

In myself.

I’ve given Him me and with that everything He wants I give Him free reign.  And that, my friends, is costly.

He can’t do much with the know-it-alls, self-righteous and the Pharisees.  Those missing the grace component.  These are not pliable or teachable enough.  Those who ignore the plank in their own eyes, nearly tripping over it, yet scream about the log in someone else’s.

He isn’t impressed.

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Until we realize our nothingness without Him, we are a miserable lot.

NOTHING + JESUS = EVERYTHING.

I have recently found myself a part of a community whose mantra is this very thing: NOTHING + JESUS = EVERYTHING.  And you want to know what is cool and beautiful about that?  There is nothing to prove!

They don’t try to impress and they don’t need me to either. They just love.

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It is a grace-filled living.  They are open arms and grace-filled hearts.  For whether we think we have something to bring to the table or not, we don’t.  Not really. If we live in grace, we don’t get to pick and choose who deserves the gift of grace.  We know we all are nothing in ourselves and in desperate need of grace at any given moment.

Resting is not something I do well.

I used to brag.  I would say, “I don’t rest.”  My friends would joke about me sneaking a nap on myself.  I don’t brag anymore.  The mandate is clear.

I’m learning to rest.

It’s amazing what becomes “normal” living.  And, when it is ripped away, you begin to breathe and see the unhealthiness of whatever it was.  I’m getting it.

I just need Him.

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All but the very essentials in my life have been stripped away.  And, I do not exaggerate. The tearing away has been painful and great.

It is not punishment.  

It is a realigning, calibrating, and refining.

The souvenirs from the past journey don’t translate to this new one.  The stripping away is of divine appointment and not of my own hand.

Run and leave; and don’t bring anything with you from one journey to the next.

Don’t long for the past.  Exhale.

It’s feels like looking through a glass to the other side of the window.

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This is divine rest.

It is a separating from the old in order to be ready for the new.

There is preparation in this separation. 

If I don’t rest, I feel a panic bubbling up from the deepest parts of me.  And weariness.  And here we are again.  God knows.  So, for the umpteenth time, until I finally believe it down deep, He calls me to rest.

It is counter-intuitive.  Everything screams to plan and prepare.  To do and do.  But, His strength is made perfect in my weakness.  Yes.  I will sit and rest in His arms.

Give up the nonsense.

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He knows it all.  He sees it all.  And that is becoming enough for me.  I can’t settle the score or balance out the scale or bring to pass that which needs to be.

I leave that to Him.  And that is enough.    

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Gifts in Odd Little Packages

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Rainy days.

Following God.

Trusting Him.

Relying on Him.

Depending on Him.

Sometimes the answers don’t come in the way you expect.  Sometimes the answers are not sounding like what you had in mind.  Sometimes the gifts are wrapped in odd looking packages.  They even come a little banged up and looking a little worse for wear.

Some days come with the rain drops and grey skies.  Some come full of sunshine and gentle breezes.

As a mom, I would give anything for the gifts to always be sunny and blue-sky filled.  What do you do when the answers and the gifts look anything but that?

Needles and IVs and tubes and wires and beeps and clicks. Hospital beds and quiet rooms.  Where is the hope in this and where is the joy in the promises?

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Teaching your children that some things don’t look or sound like good gifts, but indeed they are.  That’s the starting place.

How I wish our gifts and answers didn’t require doctor visits and hospital visits and infusions.  Yet, here we are.  Good people given to administer health and care to hurting and tired bodies.

That’s a gift.

Compassionate hands and tender souls working to understand the pain and do something, anything to make it better.  God knows.

I could let myself run free down the highway of fear and burden and disappointment.  A young body feeling older that it should and hurting more than seems fair.

 But, let’s point to God.

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Yesterday, I realized I had lost some very important birthday cards I had bought a few days earlier for two special little people.

I could not for the life of me figure out where I had put them.  All I know is we have had some crazy-wild wind blowing through and everything felt like it would blow away if it wasn’t bolted down.  A neighbor I didn’t even know met me at the driveway, said she found some cards in a sack blowing around the empty lot….were they mine?  She thought maybe they would be.  Yes, yes they are.

This is such a funny, cool story to me. 

No, they weren’t priceless and irreplaceable.  Just a couple of birthday cards for some cuties.  But, I was perplexed at their loss and just moments before had searched the car for them.  She dropped them by, all fine and good and undamaged, although they had taken quite a ride on the wind.

This made me laugh!

Somewhere between being unloaded from the car and before making it inside the house they were whirled away for the ride of their short, recycled-paper life.  Soon to be picked up and rescued by friendly neighbors.

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Now.

This is not meant to be some overly-spiritual analogy or goose-bump-filled story.

It was just a gentle reminder whispered to me in that moment.  As silly as a couple of cards are, and seemingly insignificant in the whole scheme of things, they were needed.  I realized that if God can help me get my missing cards back, He can answer anything and be everything I need him to be.

Please don’t roll your eyes and exit out of this post!  It’ll be worth it, I promise!

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Here’s the deal. 

We are well on our way into a new adventure.

Currently, no job.  

The Husband is wrapping up law school with graduation in May. 

Without a job, there is no insurance and no income. 

Fortunately, our insurance is extended into the summer.  But, if I’m not careful, I begin to ask what about after that? 

No insurance–how do I make sure my Love receives the best gift in medicine he can? 

It can cause a Momma’s heart to fret. But, not to worry. 

These last few months, God has been busy showing me in various ways He has a plan.  He had a plan before we knew we even needed the plan.  What men intend for negative, God turns for good, in the lives of those who follow Him.  We can ride that all the way home!

God is helping me understand His shoulders are broader and His arms are stronger than my cares.  He loves me. He loves my children. He loves my family more than I can ever fully understand.  He knows our need. 

He has the plan. 

In fact, He only does things really well, and works to bring all things together in perfect order, in just the right timing.  And, further, He knows what we will be needing BEFORE we even know we have need—long before we are in need.  

So, with our future unknown to us (but NOT unknown to God),  I sit here in this special unit of the children’s hospital watching my child being infused with a medical gift.  This will be a regular occurrence for the foreseeable future.  No, I wish this was not part of his journey.  Surely, to never have this need in the first place would be an amazing gift. But, God’s divine plan is better.

And, I will trust.

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This man-size boy just trying to live life to the fullest.

Following his passions…running bases and hitting balls, making music and loving his family. God has a beautiful plan.  Even in this imperfect story, God is weaving great gifts and miracles into the fabric of who this man-child is.

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 I am thankful for the gifts God gives and the hope and peace that lies right within reach. 

I only need to focus on the promise of Him never leaving or forsaking. 

So, whether they are little paper-reminders of God’s awareness or flesh on hands or the beeping and clicking of monitors, I choose to see these as extravagant gifts He gives.

My hope is built on nothing less than Christ and His love for me and mine.

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Raise Them Strong

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Time to Get Off the Merry-Go-Round

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God is teaching me. He’s teaching me something important.

All those worries and cares and concerns. Those problems without ready solutions. The struggles and disappointments. They are all real. Very real.

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But, the question He is posing to my heart is,

“Where is your focus? Is it on all of that stuff

or is it on Me?”

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Yes. That is the question rolling around in my heart and mind today.

It’s not like I haven’t had to ask this and learn it before.  But, here we are.  He’s brought out the big guns this go around.  This may be the biggest lesson in trusting God I have had to walk through.

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I find I am weighed down with concerns and worries.  As a Momma, I have three souls I am locked into.  I watch and listen.

Remember when your babies were newborn, fresh from heaven, tucked into the cradle? Did you listen to and watch those babies breathe? I feel like that is where I am with my Loves even now.  It just comes from deep inside of me.

Last night I realized I am tired.

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I constantly roll around in my head all the concerns, trying to work out solutions.  My brain runs from one issue to the next.  And round and round it goes. Like a merry-go-round, my brain spins and spins.  It wears me out.  Because for these situations, there are no easy, quick answers.

I do believe it is the most bone wearying tired.

To carry burdens you were never intended to carry.  Running around plugging holes, propping up the sides that start to sag, stitching up wear and tear. Running and running…round and round.  I get one thing fixed and then something new pops up.

It makes me tired.  And weary.

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So, God is asking me an incredibly important question.

Am I focusing on the long list of worries or am I looking to Him?

The view is quite tiring if it’s the list of concerns.  But, if I am looking to Him, I gain strength.

Today, as I was taxi for my baby girl, I was tired.  Some things didn’t turn out as I would have liked today.  Dealing with a chronic illness with one my Loves, my Momma’s heart hurt.  I was disappointed for him.  I was desperately working to look at this new information with a glass full approach.

And as I drove, I imagined having a serving tray.

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As I drove, I loaded each concern on the tray and imagined handing it over to God.  Piled high.  A real “here ya go, God!”

Why was I feeling like I had to come up with solutions?  His answers would be better suited anyway.   They would be custom fitted and tailor-made specifically for each situation.  Why did I feel as if everything was resting on me?  That I am responsible to make all the answers and solutions and resolutions happen.

Crazy making that is!

And, oh, what a weight!

It’s just too much for one heart to carry.  I was never created to carry and fix and solve them! Yet, I had taken on that burden on my own.

Was it because I didn’t think I could trust Him to come through?  Or was it because I have an insatiable need for control?  I guess it doesn’t matter why.  It’s just not mine to carry.photo-1453224424525-aeb893f2f1ca

Sunday night our pastor referred to Isaiah 53.

4 “Surely he has borne our griefs

    and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

    smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

    and with his wounds we are healed.”

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Actually, the entire chapter is a beautiful perspective changer during this Holy Week.  If you haven’t read it in a while, you should.  But, my attention centers on these two verses.  He bore all of our sin and shame and endured it all to death.  He carried the weight and died our death so we wouldn’t have to.

And even yet, He wants to carry our grief, sorrows and cares.  He is intimately acquainted with our anxiety and pain.  He was beaten beyond human recognition for our very lives…for our salvation and healing.  Why would we not want to entrust Him with all things?  If He carried that, will He not carry those things we care about?

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So, as I reflect on this passage and the beauty of 

Christ and all He has done for me, 

He has shown me I am not capable 

of carrying around this load on my own.  

He is my sorrow bearer.  

It’s cool when the pieces of His teaching start to come together.

I know this is a lesson I have learned in the past, but seem to occasionally forget.   We have to be reminded…and often.  He loves us enough and is patient enough to do just that.

I am grateful.

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Life is Beautiful!

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During these last few months, I have been on quite a learning curve.  If I’m honest, I have to say I recommend a mid-life plot twist and I don’t!  It’ll be the ride of your life!

But, really.

Just imagine going back to graduation—high school or college—just as a young whipper snapper.  With all sorts of possibilities and the world as your oyster, you look with anticipation toward all your options.  That is where we are.  And it is breathtakingly beautiful and scary–all at the same time!

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I remember a couple of years back being envious of my oldest as he was setting off for his first year at university.  So much youthful excitement and a no holds barred approach–I was envious. 

I was so excited for him and all the unscripted future had for him.  I remembered what it was like to have your whole life ahead of you.  So much hope and promise.  So much anticipation to follow new paths and dreams!

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And, now, here I am.  I am ready.

I have spent 25 years of ministry serving as a pastor’s wife.  I use to tell my Love, I love being his wife, no doubt about that.   Just maybe not a “pastor’s wife” sometimes.  I learned much and gave everything I had.  The role comes with difficult tasks.  With some cool opportunities and blessings thrown in along the way, too.  Now, though, I am ready to do new things…serve in a different way.

Our new beginning is before us.

Given to us as a gift.

Staring into the sunshine, the road is wide open in front of us.

Only this time I have three world-changers in tow.  This road we chose over 25 years ago, has presented them with many unique challenges and opportunities.  Each child has processed and walked them out differently.

As I sit and look at the bright and shining future, we have these amazing kids to guide and shepherd.  This time around, it is not a solitary journey or private decision to be made.  Change is hard for even the strongest of us. I have no doubt God has a beautiful future for each in my tribe.  We just have to guide them into this bright new future.

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Shepherding.

That was the word God gave me for this season with my babies (they will always be my babies.  can we just agree to let me call them that?  just humor me!)  Even with all the excitement of a bright future the transitioning has been challenging.  More so for some than others.  Loss is hard.  But God is greater.

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My Love and I must shepherd our children well through this transition.

 We have a responsibility to guide our children through the shadows.  Through the tears.  The goal is to get EVERYONE to the other side.  I told my youngest Little,

“In this family, we are all for one, and one for all”.

We stop and sit with, pick up and carry, hold the hand, give love and receive love.  We shepherd our children through the pain of rejection, loss, betrayal, and disappointment.

No one will be left behind.

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I have always hated the pre-flight airline spiel about putting your own mask on first and then your children’s.  I understand the logic and know it is best.  But, my overly compassionate self screams, “I will put their’s on first, thank you very much!” But, that doesn’t really make sense, does it?

So, I have decided I am in a similar spot in my life.  It is time for me to get my oxygen mask on first and then I can administer life breath to them.

These world-changers deserve the very best I can give them.

There is wisdom to give and hope to share.  There are dreams to help them dream.  There is a future brighter than anything of the past.  Even with all the beauty we did experience, there is more to be had.

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I need something to give to them.  So, here is what I am going to do to strengthen myself.

  • Exercise and build physical strength. 
  • Write…which is following my own dream.
  • Give creative Bible journaling a try.
  • Attend weekly worship at a safe and loving church.
  • Read for enjoyment and growth.
  • Stay accountable to wisdom.

There it is.

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I have been busy working hard to keep my family between the ditches…putting out fires, battling fears and wiping tears.  Because, sometimes life just hurts.  All of that is incredibly important.

But, now it is time for me to get out of that defensive position and into the intentional, offensive position.

Now, here is the next important piece of the puzzle.

My Love is leading spiritually intentional and strategic discussions during dinner on Wednesday evenings. 

With a preteen and a teenager in the house, it can’t get too serious or stifling.  But, God gave this idea as the perfect way for us to shepherded them.  Like most moms, I do much of the crisis management throughout the days; one of Dad’s roles is to give purposeful direction.  They need his voice and strength cloaked in velvet.

 We will not allow the negative to win.  We will not leave anyone behind.  We have bright future days.  I will not live on the defensive, but work from a place of intention and strength.  For what the enemy means for destruction, God transforms into beauty.  He will shepherd us.  We only need to cooperate.

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Unexpected Graces

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Christmastime–Oh Holiest Night

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Christmastime is a great reminder.

The candles are lit and sparkling beside the nativity.  They focus my mind.  No doubt we have fancied and freshened that holy night so long ago.

My nativity.  Each piece set in just the right spot.  I love these earthy colored pieces I have collected over the years.  I have several Christmas collections, from Santas to Nutcrackers to reindeer.  But this one?   It speaks to my heart in such a deep way.   Recently, I have begun adding my Advent candles to the display.  I’m so glad I have!  There is such a deep, beautiful peace residing in this scene.  It draws me in.

Have you ever gone through something so challenging you felt as if you lost God?  Or, maybe you thought, He just left.  Circumstances and pain erect a barrier so dense it is hard to sense any Presence?

I have.  It was the darkest, scariest period of my life.  Everything I believed seemed in question and the pain threatened to choke all hope from my heart.  Sometimes that happens in life.  He warned us it would come.  We all face trouble at some point.  We are often surprised, shocked, and even, disabled by it.   I was struggling.

But, here today, I don’t want to focus on that.  Just believe me when I say it was a dark night of the soul.  Even in that darkest moment, a miracle flicker of light began to shine through.  When I was feeling God had left me, He spoke to me loudly and clearly.

I knew then and there He does not leave us or turn His back on us.  Our pain in the darkness often hides the light, but He remains by our side.  Where was I looking?

I was distracted by the pain.  I lost sight of Him.

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He is amazing that way.  This giving of the greatest gift.

Christmas is the greatest reminder of the greatest love.  Yes, He came on that holy night for us.  But, it is a beautiful reminder to me He came and He never leaves.  Joy and hope flutter to life in my heart when I sit and remember how He is forever with me.

Our lives crash into the world’s agenda and, inevitably, pain and hurt comes.

Real, life-altering pain.  Chaos and crises run rampant.  But, we can rest in the knowing He is with us.

Ann Voskamp said in her book, The Greatest Gift “No matter what intends to harm you…God is never absent, never impotent, never distant.  You can never be undone.”  That thing that was meant to destroy you and make you think God no longer sees or cares, will not be your end.  In fact, He has a great way of taking all the broken, ugly bits and turning them into the most beautiful creation.

God will use it to set you apart from the crowd.

Yes, the lion roars and speaks lies of hopelessness and desertion and death.  But, God.  He intends no such thing.  I don’t believe all things happen for a reason.  It just doesn’t work.  But, I do believe He takes all things thrown our way and will redeem them for our good.  Now, that works.

And, while He is at it, He stays right there with us.

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The JOY to come from such a realization is priceless.  So, sitting here looking at my nativity and thinking of days gone by and the ones yet to come, I can rest in the knowledge I am never lost, forgotten or abandoned.

His very coming is proof.  Proof of His abiding love.

Such joy comes from realizing no matter what comes my way, He’s got me.  No scheme of man or evil plan will ever remove me from His hand.  So, allow this Christmastime to set this truth in your heart.  Every time you see a nativity, allow it to remind you of His never-ending presence in your life that was made possible because of that holiest of nights.

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What Did You Say?

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Stuff happens.  People say stuff.  People do stuff.

What I am asking myself is, “Ok, so what are you going to do with that?”

Words hurt.  Words get into your heart and soul.

I am noticing unkind words spoken about me or someone I love leave a mark.  I am getting better at being able to look at what was said and putting them into perspective mentally.  I can look at the situation and logically realize these people speaking have no real consequence in my life.

To put it honestly, they really mean nothing to the big picture of my life.  I don’t mean that rudely.  In relationship to my life, they have not invested in me nor are they a part of the circle of influence in my life.  They have not walked with me or listened to my heart.  They’ve not prayed for me and are not committed to my welfare.

Yet, words can be crushing.

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The Scriptures say there is power of life and death in the tongue.

Proverbs 18:21 says,

“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” 

Have you given any thought to the words you speak to others?  I am paying more attention.  It matters.  It’s too easy to quip off something without thinking of the consequences.

But, my experience this past week has been on both ends of the spectrum.

I have heard words spoken to me and loved ones that were more poison than fruit.  Words that had the potential to bring death.  But, then I have also heard many loving words of life.  Words that speak life, hope and encouragement.

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Which ones am I listening to?

I have had to do some hard work to properly deal with the hurt that came from the hurtful words.

Logically I understood the place those words have in my heart and mind.  Yet, the words caused a grief I could not shake.  It settled over me like a heavy blanket.  It took a couple of days to shake off the heaviness that covered me.  The words were an indictment against who we are and everything we hope to be.  Cruel and dark.

These words tried to carve a giant, black X over our hearts.  

“Not good enough.  Not EVER going to be good enough.  Broken.  Not loved. Hopeless.  Death.  Rejected.  Inadequate.”  

But, after my Sweetheart and I prayed over our hearts and those we love, the true work began.   It has proven difficult to shake off the death grip of those words.

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It’s not coincidence that hurt follows on the heels of victory or success.

The Scripture talks about a “lion who comes to steal, kill and destroy.”  Lions are stealthy and swift.  The lion worked steadily all week through a totally different and unrelated  interpersonal issue.  This work was meant to distract me and cause me to lose focus.  Then on the heels of great joy and victory, a lethal strike came from a completely unexpected angle.

I began to wonder.

Why do I listen and take to heart more the words of hurt than the words of healing?  Why can’t I shake this?

It takes hard work.  I knew I had a choice.  Either I was going to give up and lose the ground I had fought hard to win, or I was going to army crawl, if need be, through to victory.

What do you do when you don’t want to become the victim of a strategic spiritual attack?  Scripture says we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers we don’t see.

 Sometimes it is confusing.  It isn’t so easily recognized.  Hurt is hurt.  Misguided and misinformed people often are unwittingly used to strike and wound.  It sure looks human.  But, really it is a spiritual attack in nature.

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So, here is what I have done this past week to counter attack and increase my strength.  It doesn’t come easily.

It requires a concerted and mindful effort on our part.

I realized I can either roll over and let this disrupt God’s work in my life.  Or,  I can fight, quite literally, the Hell out of my situation.

It’s working.

  1. Pray over the words spoken to you.  God has the power to nullify the effects on our hearts and mind.
  2. Cry.  It hurt.  I am human.  I can’t pretend it doesn’t—nor am I required to.
  3. Remember, actively, who I am in Christ.  He calls me good.  That is enough.
  4. Fill your world with worship.  I’ve been listening to worship music quite a bit lately.
  5. Read the Word and soak in life-giving words.
  6. Turn to a trusted friend to hear your hurt.  Mine was a safe place to bandage my wounds.
  7. Put it into proper perspective.  Remind yourself of the truth.
  8. Keep moving.  Keep doing the good you know you are doing.  Don’t quit.
  9. Keep giving it to God.  We can be slow.  It often takes repeating.
  10. Be mindful.  Be careful not to rehearse and relive the words over and over. They can settle in and take root.

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I realized something the other day. 

Have you ever felt God reveal something to you?  Well, He did the other day.

He gently spoke to my heart.

 “Who are they to mark what I have declared GOOD, as not good?” 

That pierced my heart and mind!

God has called me and mine GOOD.  He has taken our pain and wounds and broken pieces.  He promised to heal and has done a mighty fine job!  And, then someone declares that divine work “not good enough” and “broken”?  That is not part of His plan.

God does all things well.

We don’t always know all the good work He is doing in a life.  This very fresh lesson gave me pause even today as I sat and talked with a loved one.

There would be no carving of an X today.

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Withering Cherry Trees!

 

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Sometimes I look around and become, well, unhappy.  Dissatisfied.  Discontented.  Ungrateful.

Do you ever do this?

I see the laundry still hanging out long after its dry.  I see the messy rooms just begging for me to put some order back to them.  I look at my vehicle.  It’s not the newest or shiniest—it has driven my family a lot of miles.  It has some scuffs and little scratches and even a dent someone put in it and didn’t bother to leave a note.  I have some drawers that are sticking and not closing right.  And, gosh, the to do list.  It could use some whittling down.  Due to all of those many miles I taxi, and my own responsibilities, I can’t seem to figure out how to cook healthful meals as much as I want.  And let’s not mention, a few pounds may have been added.  I have a pile, or maybe a couple, that house several “to handle later” items.  I hate those.

You get the picture.  Life.  It is going mighty fast. Some days stuff just falls through the cracks.  Maybe it’s just us.  But, I’m not thinking so.  My husband has a favorite saying.  I have to admit, it can drive me crazy.  God love the man.  He’s right.  We don’t always want to hear it.  But, he’s right.

Here it is.  “You are going to have to reframe.” 

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God bless this man of mine.  Yes, sometimes, I think if I have to hear that again, I may fall over dead. Right there, right then.  One time I told him I already knew that.  I knew all of his tips and tricks, but I just needed a good cry. Dr. Husband let me have that good cry.  All of that minutia and wounded-ness from self-criticism had taken its toll.  I had hit the tipping point and had NO interest in reframing ANYTHING!! (It may not have been said in an inside voice.)

Well, he’s right.  In life, we are faced with stuff.  The detritus of this crazy life.  In the natural life, too much stuff, too many cracks for things to fall through, it all piles up.  In the emotional life, we are faced with the constant refrain of “not good enough.”  And it all seems to add up to “NEVER good enough.”

I have a passage of Scripture that I love.  I think you will, too.  Habakkuk 3:17-19:

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted.  Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty.  I’m singing joyful praise to God.  I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.  Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.  I run like a deer.  I feel like I’m king of the mountain!

I know this passage is talking about seasons of life when provision is low and they are depending on God to save the day.  But, it sure seems to fit life when things are not as we would like them and we just desperately need His help to reframe.

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So, look at the line where the focus changes.

It says, “I’m singing joyful praise to God.  I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.“  And from there to the end of the passage, the writer has done some major reframing.  Dr. Husband is right.  Imagine that!  It’s true, you know.

Reframing is the key to taking the ugly and untidy, worn and used and shining them up to beauty. 

I can look at any given situation—whether it’s the ginormous mess or the task overlooked, again and again or the critics who are unkind and careless—and look at it in ugly, harsh tones.  Or, I can do some editing and enhancing, shifting the shading, perhaps zoom in or zoom out.  It’s my choice.  I can put the frame around it in a new and pardigm-shifting perspective.

We can look at the mess OR we can look at the blessing that caused the mess.

Our choice.

I’m choosing to look at the blessing that caused the inconvenience or mess or extra work or busy-ness.  It’s amazing how my heart takes strength and God gives me just what I need to keep going.  Many people don’t have the blessings I do and would appreciate a little inconvenience.  I’m afraid the things I complain about, someone else may be praying for.  Reframe.

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We are going into the beautiful holiday season.  My very favorites of the year!  Many are clued into the “30 days of Thanksgiving”.  I’m all for it.  It’s important.  But, honestly, gratitude and joy are the gifts of reframing any time of the year.  God has these beautiful gifts waiting for us and we bypass them every time we choose the lifeless, flat perspective of not reframing.

I’ll repeat Dr. Husband, “You are going to have to reframe.”

Ugly shifts.  Hard softens.  And gratitude and joy slip in and sidle up next to you.

It really is all in the reframing.

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