Four Lessons I Needed to Learn

photo-1452696231812-cab5d362ed14

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. 

photo-1448632055520-5180f82474e2

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–

photo-1467043153537-a4fba2cd39ef

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.

photo-1466298356323-f84bed7b3475

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.

photo-1467510396478-c4680a636614

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. 

photo-1467164616789-ce7ae65ab4c9

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!

13559132_10210366717950841_3922217094856848370_o

Enough

photo-1453668069544-b8dbea7a0477

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.

photo-1443996264301-c81a3053d00a

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

photo-1428947667392-649218f955eb-1

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.  

wVlfnlTbRtK8eGvbnBZI_VolkanOlmez_005

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.

13055781_10209840768642437_803927134573403925_o

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!

photo-1460687521562-9eead9abe9e8-1

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.

photo-1460469235493-43425878ad2d

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.

photo-1459631836437-1c2824882e3f

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.

photo-1461173987039-e3abb8addb9b

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.

9XkFhM8tRiuHXZRCKSdm_ny-2

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.

photo-1444011283387-7b0f76371f12

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.    

photo-1460499593944-39e14f96a8c6

 

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

Life is Beautiful!

her-tears-grey-puddle

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!

1914882_1242133580007_8284500_n

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!

IMG_6731

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.

reframe

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.

DSC_0130

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.

hand-in-hand

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.

12841233_10209278222659139_7217791777974904942_o

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.

12716211_10209143679655648_1404086195426651687_o

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.

12828337_10209278255819968_3883062417299335608_o

 

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

Christmastime–Oh Holiest Night

12345402_10208670824554566_2736591417583191709_n

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.

12342803_10208670828394662_3354971018220670543_n

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.

12373291_10208670848755171_183292326692845445_n

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.

12345402_10208670824554566_2736591417583191709_n

What Did You Say?

12006188_10208120037865243_1019996952083077666_n

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.

cropped-img_774511.jpg

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.

10168201_10205519276527835_6867101749092095366_n

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.

images-3

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.

look-colors-abstract-art-color-painting

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.

presence-of-god_thumb

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.

love_wallpaper1

Disappointment

11900019_10207964691661685_8374470678997526573_n

Disappointment.

Who isn’t familiar with it?  It’s a part of life.

Walking through disappointment with kids will wrench your gut and wring you out.  As a mom, I know life happens.  There is no way to protect them from disappointment and do them justice.  In those hard moments, there is so much wisdom to be poured into these sensitive hearts.

I really love those moments of teaching our young ones to process pain and disappointment in a healthy way.  I certainly don’t love the circumstances that bring the pain, though.  But, what shallow and weak human beings they will be if I don’t shepherd them through their difficulties.

Hope

Today was such a day.  Another disappointing report crushed a young heart.  I could see it–a beautiful face fighting hard to hold back the tears.  A heart full of dreams and faith.  Lots of believing and praying childlike prayers.  It was in that moment I had to close my mouth and say a prayer.  I prayed for the right words to ignite a fire of faith.  My first thought was, “Lord, what do I say to another disappointing report?  What are you going to do about this?”

I know all too well these times come.  We don’t hear the answer we want to hear, we are passed by for what we deserve, people don’t live up to our expectations and wound us, or there is another delay in our answer.  And, we ask, “What am I supposed to do about this?  Where are you, God?”

Here are 3 thoughts to help us through these moments:

  • God sees and knows.
  • He never leaves us or forsakes us.
  • God works all things out for our good.

I absolutely believe God sees and knows all that is going on in our lives.  I know He never leaves us or forsakes us.  I know for a fact He works all things out for our good.  I know these three things to be true in my life.

1914882_1242133580007_8284500_n

We have walked through some incredibly severe and trying situations as a family and I remember sensing God speak to me that He had seen it all and knows it all.  What a comfort that was to me!  Just hearing that affirmation of love still brings hope to my heart.  You know what that means?  He had never left me and He truly understands my pain like no other.  He would vindicate and heal the wounds in His good time.

11947605_10208016280711379_5278790613076934361_n

I told my disappointed one yesterday that God does not always answer in the fashion in which we envision in our minds.  Our small box of plans can’t even begin to hold the answer He has for our situations.  And further, if our disappointment and need hasn’t been answered just yet and we’re still breathing, then the answer is still on the way!

Big lessons for a young one.  Better to learn and solidify your faith at a young age and know for yourself this great big God of the universe than have to wait until your older and have no clue who He is!  Yes, I would love for this life to be smoother sailing, with more positive reports, but, I know He is with us even in those moments.

He is walking through it all with us.

11949464_10208016339112839_6410654275708581477_n

By the way, lots of love and hugs help, too!  God isn’t shocked or offended by our pain and questions.  Take some time to grieve and process the loss or disappointment.  Talk it out and then move forward.  By the end, a little ice cream hit the spot!  There are no callous “stop crying and suck it up” talks in this house.  But, we are learning to not wallow in our pain.  Eventually, we were able to laugh a little and hug it out!

So, what disappointment have you swallowed lately?  It is sure to come.  But, you can stand strong when you remember this:  He sees and knows; He certainly hasn’t left me;  And, I know good is on the way—it may not look exactly how I planned, but His perfect plan is at work in my life.

Hey….maybe you should even have a little mint chocolate chip ice cream to top it off!

images

Would you like to read more about this wonderful journey through this one beautiful life?  Sign up to receive a post delivered straight to your inbox each week.  I would love to have you join me on this journey of hope!  Here’s to a great week!

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!

What Are You Looking At?

1-1234699141PRLFI’ve been thinking about today’s blog.

I wasn’t sure the direction I wanted to go…until now.  I don’t know, call it writer’s block.  I never really want to write a post without some kind of inspired direction.  I had several seemingly disjointed thoughts rolling through my mind and couldn’t bring them into any cohesive thought, until now.

I’ll let you in on my analytical brain’s journey.

My first thought from the week:

My personality doesn’t do well with conflict.  For the most part, I think most people do not do well with conflict.  However, I do know there are some who seem to enjoy it…get a kick out of it.   But, that’s not me.  It causes me a level of anxiety that sits in the pit of my stomach.  Generally, I deal with conflict by avoiding the person with whom I am having conflict.  Not the best tactic, I know, but that is my default mode.  As I am growing, I am learning not all conflict resolution has to be traumatic and disastrous.  I am making baby steps toward handling conflict that results in positive and life-giving ends.

My second thought from the week: 

I don’t like to complain about being in ministry.  There are many great rewards, opportunities and joy.  However, it’s not easy at times.  In fact, there are unique challenges, disappointments and pain other professionals don’t experience, much less their spouses and families.

I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum.  Christians don’t always act like Christians.  And, honestly, that can be a disappointment.  But, on the flip side, Christians have been living, breathing fleshed-out hands of God in my life.  In some congregations, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  In fact, keeping in mind I don’t do well with conflict, there was a time during a very difficult season, attending church was too painful and I would have to leave the worship service because of severe anxiety.  Sadly, for a while, it didn’t feel like a safe place for me.

I wasn’t even the “personal” target for attacks.  My husband, mainly, and occasionally one of my children were the focus of the attacks.  It seems people forget their responsibility as Christians in a body of believers.  When someone decides to “take on” an issue in the church, they often forget the collateral damage that is done.  When issues are addressed in a toxic way, many hearts lie wounded in their wake.  It’s not just the leader affected, but his wife and children as well.  God reminded me “He sees it all and knows it all.”   He will make right the wrongs.

My third thought from the week: 

This is the greatest of all from the week!!  As I was walking the circle in my neighborhood, I took notice of the beautiful spring blooming around me.  It was such a beautiful day! As I was trying to reign in all my thoughts and see what kind of coherent message I could bring from it all, it hit me straight on.  I realized my rambling thoughts were coming together!

  Nature yells out the very existence and hope of God.  It was screaming out to me a message I needed to be reminded of!   The joy and hope I sensed in that moment caught my attention.  As I was looking at the yellow-flowered weeds in the field near my house, I got it!  I remembered a verse I had come across the day before reading through some journaling I had done last year.  Psalm 27:13, 14.   Yes! It was all clear now.  The seemingly random thoughts were coming together to form one powerful thought!

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Life is messy.  Stuff happens.  People disappoint….some over and over again.  People don’t act as they should and many times we are hurt by others’ selfishness.  But, life is also very beautiful.  Or at least it can be.  It depends, though.  And frankly, it depends on you and me.  I’ve experienced enough toxicity to last me my lifetime.   Life can require responses or decisions from me I feel are unfair at times.

I just choose over and over not to focus my attention on that.

Maybe, right now you see harshness or injustice.  Perhaps you are experiencing a motherload of inconvenience and disappointment.

But, if you quit in this one snapshot of a moment, you will never see the finished portrait.

old-camera-1352392502n6P

If you quit now, you won’t see the would-be, finished, beautiful product. 

Our hope and joy lie in God and our trust in Him.  Such beauty and grace resides in Him.  He promises to show us His goodness in this lifetime.  So, focus your attention on what you WANT to see.  Stop focusing on the unfinished business; focus on the promised beauty.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”