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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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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What Now?

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“Smart people know how to hold their tongue; their grandeur is to forgive and forget.”

OR

“People with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense.”        

  Proverbs 19:11

 

I am amazed!  Maybe that’s not the best word for it.  I am troubled.  I think that is more appropriate.

The offense of this week is the red cups of Starbucks.

I’ve noticed something.  Christians are too good at being offended.  Trust me.  I know.  We are all subjected to it.  I’ve lived it personally.  Up close and in living color.

I wonder.

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I wonder what it must say to the world.  We are having high-speed come-aparts over a red cup.   A secular company.  Their great commission is not concerned with reaching people with the gospel.  Their commission is serving great coffee and creating a comfortable place for folks to gather.  Which they are fulfilling.  God is not depending on Howard Schultz to spread the real reason for the season through Starbucks.

Unfortunately, I think Christians are living out their reputation of being angry, spiteful and opposed to everything.  We are experts at being offended and being angry.  This isn’t what is going to invite in the hurting.  And, why would it?  Why would they want to subject themselves, their mistakes and regrets to the scrutiny of Christians?  I’m sure a root canal without anesthesia holds more attraction.

It doesn’t have to be a red cup.

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Just pick a topic.  Ahhh, and just think about all the wasted time boycotting.  For the most part, we would not have any place to eat, shop, or entertain ourselves.  Maybe we should boycott movies and theaters—maybe television.  Let’s not go to movie theaters or subscribe to Netlix, Direct TV,  Amazon or Barnes n Noble (shouldn’t support the book publishing industry).  For goodness sake, we probably should all become self-sustaining and walk everywhere.  That way we do not support or even concern ourselves with anything that could possibly be of the world.  We won’t sully our hands this way.

How about this one?

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We are really good at bashing our own.  Take your pick of national ministers.  They offend someone theologically or maybe it’s just the size of their home, and God bless them.  I wouldn’t want to be them.  And, don’t forget, it always has to be a public scathing on social media.  Who are we to feel so superior to judge so harshly and diminish a person’s ministry over differing viewpoints?  It does more damage than good.  (I won’t even get into the hurt it must cause their families.)

“People with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense.”

Christ followers should be the most joyful, grateful, grace and hope-filled people around.  But, it sure seems like sometimes we only know how to be offended.  I’m not talking just about on a national scale.  But how about our average every day, in and out?  It’s living in our local churches and communities.  It’s no wonder discouragement is the number one hazard of ministry.  Those who are involved in ministry often feel they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  It’s often never good enough.

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I think my biggest concern is that we are often times too easily and too quickly offended.  We are too quick to call each other out.  What has happened to just overlooking an offense?  What has happened to civility?  Why can’t we realize people make mistakes or are just different than we are?  Where is grace?

Graciousness is an art form that is all too easily neglected.

Let me be very clear.  I am not talking about ignoring and condoning sin.  I am not talking about being lazy or lassez-faire in guarding our own.  But, first, the right to speak into someone’s life must be earned.  That is only done through relationship and commitment.  Gossip or slandering on social media, or just among ourselves, is not the responsible way to handle issues.  I’m going to use a southern term—it’s ugly.  Why do we want to be ugly?  It doesn’t compel anyone.

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I can be too easily offended.  I am constantly working on giving the benefit of the doubt.  I know life is more peaceful and joyful when I am not allowing myself to give in to offense.  Offended people are not happy people.  It only leads to bitterness.

The greatest fight we can engage in spiritually is to refuse to be offendable.

Let’s live out of a life-giving mind and heart.  Not everything must be confronted or called out.  Not every offense even needs to be acknowledged.  Sometimes, we just need to shake it off and give it no other thought.  That takes discipline and strength.  But we are all better for it.  Not only between each other, but in the eyes of those who watch from a distance.  And, quite frankly, we all won’t look so ridiculous!

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Yes!  Keep up the good fight.

But let it be done from love—not offense.

Fight against injustice.

Fight against a culture of death.

Fight against poverty.

War against evil and it’s ravaging.

But, do it from an un-offendable heart.  

Fight for justice and life.

And through this, we will be known by our love.

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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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Check Out The View From Here!

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I’m a crazy walker.  When I go out for a walk, or even when I add in a run, I always look down.  What am I looking at?  I don’t get it.  Am I afraid if I don’t look at my feet they won’t move right?  Or is the sidewalk just so beautiful I need to keep my eye on it?

It’s weird.

I tell myself, “Pick your head up! You look goofy.  Look up and see the beauty around you.  You’re missing out!”  Yeah.  I will pick my head up…my thoughts center on the beauty in the sky and trees.  I get lost in thought—maybe even whisper a little prayer.  And, then, “Look at those feet walking.  Look at that sidewalk.  Yep, they’re still there.”

For goodness sake!  I just don’t get it.  This is a problem, I do believe.  I’m missing out.  Even when I have a walking buddy I do it.  Before I know it, I’m focusing on the road right in front of me, instead of seeing all that is around me.  They have been kind enough to just ignore it!

This has gotten me to thinking.

In life, what am I focusing on?

10168201_10205519276527835_6867101749092095366_nAm I focusing on the challenges and tough-going I have experienced?  Am I looking at the past and wishing circumstances had been different or I had been dealt a better hand?

Where is my focus?

Perhaps I am focusing on how I wish I was different.  Different gifting, different temperment, different anything.

Maybe I look at the ways I could have made different choices and would then be on a different and seemingly better path.

Focus. 

What is my focus?

Too much introspection can lead to too much self-focusing.  Sometimes I just have to get out of my head.  It’s good to remember our past and what we have come through.  It’s important to remember what we have learned.  Gratitude is born out of remembering with grace our journey.

But, we can’t afford to get stuck.  

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 A couple years ago I realized all my conversations were about all the negative things going on in my world.   It was my habit.  I was good at rehashing the injustices and idiocy I was enduring.  My friends were so gracious.  They commiserated with me.  Even though it had to be like nails on a chalkboard, they loved on me and listened—and endured it!

  I finally got tired of hearing myself talk about it.  It was getting old.  And, I knew it was a problem when I couldn’t think of other things to talk about.  It kind of felt like a loser sort of life!

It’s amazing when God starts nudging you in a new direction. 

1473920_10202797628648339_2105884648_nI’m guessing He was tired of hearing all about it too—over and over and over and over—if you get my drift.

I was missing out on all the goodness He was giving.  I was missing out on all the beauty and grace He so lavishly supplied.  He was fully aware of all the injustice and rejection and hurt.  He got it.  He saw it and knew how it hurt.  The Beautiful One was trying to give me beauty for my ashes.  But, it wasn’t going to happen if all I kept focusing on was the pitiful parts.  I was going to miss it all.  What a tragedy—and He knew it.

I had to quit wallowing around in the ashes!

He spoke to my heart.  He opened my eyes to the reality of what I was becoming.  It wasn’t the image I wanted.  I purposed in my heart I was done reliving it all and talking about it.  I was done dwelling on the negative and the pain.

Oh, I remember.  I have the scars to show for it.  But, I was done allowing it to become my focus and driving force.  I was done talking about and rehashing every gory detail of every injustice.  I determined that chapter was done.  I was moving forward.

You know, it made all the difference in the world in my heart and life. 

It wasn’t easy.  I had to think of new topics of conversation.  I had to live purposefully in the here and now.  Yes, I remember.  And, at times there is still pain in those scars.  But, it doesn’t drive me any longer.  I no longer look down and behind but look up and ahead.  This new way of thinking and being set me on a new trajectory.  It is so much more beautiful here!

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Psalm 103 is really great right about now. 

It’s too long to post here, but I encourage you to take a couple minutes to read it.  It helps in the refocusing.

What do I choose to focus on?  Where am I looking? 

Am I remembering all of His blessings? 

Do I remember that He has healed my family and me and has raised us from our ashes? 

Do I recall that He has redeemed me—that He has wrapped me in goodness? 

That He makes everything come out right and puts victims back on their feet? 

Do I focus on His grace and mercy and keep in mind He doesn’t give us what we deserve, but gives us what we don’t deserve? 

Do I relish in His fierce love and His total awareness of me? 

How about remembering His love is eternal–forever and always?

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It brings into proper perspective the flaws of this world.  No scheme of man will ever take me from His hand.  I am His.  Why so downcast oh, dear soul?  Look up to the hills from which comes your help!

Change your focus!  It’s beautiful up here!

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Turning 40 Something

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My goodness.  Well, here it is again.  I have revolved around once again and I’m just a couple days away from the 23rd.  That’s my big day.  Thanks, Mom, for having me!

Life has a way of rolling by.

I can’t wait for the beauty and adventure of this new year in my life to unfold.

But, first, I have a few thoughts about this past year.  Here they are.

I am grateful for my family.  We have faced some challenges head on.  Things unforeseen and scary.  Things exciting, new and stretching.  Challenges—some good, some tough.  Mountains you weren’t sure how to climb. They haven’t stopped us and we just keep moving forward.  We stay together and love each other.  My children have grown and discovered new things about life and God.  He loves them, even more than we do.  God is there and walking with us every day.

I have taken on new adventures.  During our crisis and its aftermath, I really had to unload my plate.  My family and my emotional and spiritual well being were far more important than a loaded plate.  God drew especially near and taught me wonderful truths.  We are at the four year anniversary of learning of our child’s abuse.  I have been in a healing cocoon since that time.  But, this past year has been one of opening up and breaking out of my cocoon.  It was necessary to step aside for a while, but now I’m ready to fly.  God never leaves you—especially when we are hidden away with Him.

I have opened my heart to some wonderful people.  I’ve expanded my circle and it has been worth it.  Sometimes, after pain, it’s easier to shield your heart.  It can be so hard to trust.  But, a vulnerable heart grows more beautiful.   You can learn so much from others when you just open up, look around and see.  God brings special people into your life—you just have to look for them.

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I have some friends who are my ride or die.   They are deep water travelers.  They don’t scare easily.  They have lived my messiness and encouraged me to dream again.  It’s a blessing if you have these sorts in your life.

I often felt lost, but my friends knew I really wasn’t .  They knew I just needed a little push and I could soar.  I’m not sure I believed in myself as much as they believed in me.  I know I didn’t.  It’s crazy how that is.  But, I sure am grateful for their friendly shoves, reminders and words of encouragement which held me to the ledge!

They’ve made me laugh until I cry!  They loved the confidence right back into my heart.  God knows we need cheerleaders.  He gives us just the right ones for our journey.

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I have stepped WAY out of my comfort zone many times this year.  Soaring requires a “look, ma! no hands!” lifestyle.  I’ve tried my hand at several new things.   I’ve done them scared.  Sometimes, really scared.  Most of the time, I wasn’t even sure what I was doing.  But, I have enjoyed them all.  God knows what we need, when we need it.  We just have to cooperate with Him.  It’s been the best adventure!

I am thankful for the growth and stretching I have done this past year.  It hasn’t always looked pretty or perfect.  Sometimes I felt like I was coming undone!  But, God is faithful to complete the work He starts in our lives.

Life is a journey.  Joy is an attainable goal.  Healing is a choice and peace can come.  There will always be questions without answers.  But, even if there were answers for some things, they probably wouldn’t be good enough anyway.  God is my leader.  I just want to follow as close to His side as I can.  Everything else will fall into place, just as He intends.

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Two Random Thoughts

 

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Whew!  Life has picked up its speed! My feet are tired and so is my brain.

I have a couple thoughts rolling around…unrelated really, but stirring around nonetheless.  Here it goes.

This morning my alarm went off and I rolled over to snatch up my phone. 

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As has become my habit, I opened Facebook to see what had transpired while I was asleep.  (Because we all know it was probably very important.)   The professionals say you are addicted to your phone if the first thing you do in the morning is look at it.  This  could be me.

 I realized too late this was not going to be a good idea.

It has become a really bad idea.

I didn’t have to work hard or go searching very far without stumbling across the most horrendous stories anyone could read, much less at 7:15 in the morning.  On a silver platter, I had the vilest news imaginable hand delivered right to my mind and heart.

The world is making me tired.

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All the news of horror and evil has just become too much.  Between news outlets, social media and online reporting agencies, it’s just overload.  This all-consuming, 24 hour news cycle, has worn me down.  There is some beauty and bliss in a little less information.  Maybe not ignorance, but a smaller helping would certainly do me some good.

So, after putting my phone down and regrouping, I deleted my Facebook app off of my phone.  “Hi, I’m Amberly and I was addicted to Facebook.”   I know, I could be a little late to the deleting game.  Some folks have already removed it from their lives and swear by it!

This is not some huge, earth shattering action in the whole scheme of things.  It certainly isn’t going to set Facebook world on tilt.  But, I think it’s going to improve the quality of MY life.  Who knows the wonderful things I can experience in real life instead of stuffing my still moments with the constant chatter and noise on social media?  I might even read all those books beside my bed.  Anyway, I have set boundaries for my heart and mind.  Thirteen hours and counting.  So far so good.

My second thought comes from Ephesians 3:20 in the Message version.  

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!  He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

I’m focusing on the second half of the Scripture.

“He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”  I think this is pretty awesome.   I have never read this verse in the Message version.  How could I have missed it all this time?

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This is a beautiful passage to me.  I have lived this.  God has walked with me and dealt gently and deeply with me.  He works in me.  During times of deep hurt and grief, He didn’t crush me with harsh demands and cold reprimands.  He sat with me and spoke to my pain.  He breathed life and peace into my brokenness.

This gentleness drew me close and healed me.  He knew I could not stay in my pain, brokenness and ashes.  He knew there was life and there were dreams on the other side of my pain.  And, He knew I wasn’t going to make it on my own.  He was going to carry me to the other side.

I marvel at this verse.

I know it to be true. 

As I dream now and am on the other side of my pain,  I know these words up close and real.  He is giving me His dreams for my life.  He is teaching me to journey close to His side.  I must rest in His rhythms of grace.  Not in my own impatient ways.  And, He will bring the very best to pass.

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There have been so many times when Christ could have beat me up side the head or yelled to me to “GET IT TOGETHER, GIRLFRIEND!!” Yet, He knows the deeper way—the more compelling way.  And, He draws me to Himself.

It’s cool the thoughts God drops in our hearts and the work He does even in our busiest moments.

You know how life gets.

Busy helping the kids, the husband, the church, the dog, and all the other people in our lives.  Sometimes, it’s hard to find time to slow it down.  But, even in all those moments, we have to listen to what He is speaking.

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He knows what’s best.  He is jealous for us—jealous for our well-being.  He knows all the noise and life-pollution is not what is good for us.  He has the very best there is to offer.  He knows our deepest places nobody else may know.

I don’t know about you, but this season of my life is picking up the pace.  This is a good thing.  But, I’m going to be mindful to keep my ear tuned to what He has to say.  I don’t want to miss anything!

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It’s Fall Y’all!

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What a fabulous summer!  Summer rolled in like the tide.  Its ebbs and flows played a beautiful rhythm.  In fact, this summer led us to places, in ways, we didn’t plan or predict.

I enjoy summer.  It gives me a much needed mental break from the everyday, nonstop hustle of the school year.  Being a homeschool mom certainly has its own challenges as well as joys.  I enjoy the relaxed, easy going, lazier days of summertime.  I’m just always happy to see summer rolling up!

Now, we are sitting at the door of a new school year.  New books, new folders, pens and paper.  A refreshed and renewed attitude.  Students are actually ready to take on the adventure of the new school year.  We attend a homeschool co-op, so everyone is excited to see old friends and make new ones.  It promises to be a great school year.

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As fall is right here at our front door, I can’t help but think of new beginnings.  Where summer chills me out and rigid schedules and patterns relax, the onset of fall calls for renewed energy and the starting of new disciplines.

One of the disciplines that took a hit was my regular time of personal devotion and spiritual reflection.  It was too easy to wake up, roll over and check out social media or the morning news.  What I began to notice was the negativity that awaits you each morning!  Not the shot of grace and hope you actually need to help you start the day effectively.  Whew!  Habits can be hard to break!

I have the dearest of friends who has impacted me.  I have great respect and admiration for her for so many reasons.   One reason being, she has taken an indefinite break from Facebook because she saw the negative impact it had on her parenting and her relating to her kids. Her life had become an interruption to the steady stream of Facebook.  She did what she knew she needed to do.  She is a good and wise momma.

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I find myself longing for a mind break.  I realize the constant stream of social media is exhausting me.  I end up being unable to even slow down mentally.  Any free moment is spent scrolling and perusing and comparing and tuning out the world around me.  The constant onslaught of information makes it really difficult to adequately and appropriately process the world.

Anyway, I see moments of these distractions becoming far too central to my time.

I’m not ready to shut it all off completely.  However, I do need to bring it back to its proper place.  So, the fall is a great time to adjust course.  I have a few apps I will be using to aid me in my spiritual devotion. I highly recommend them for your own daily encouragement.

The first one is “She Reads Truth”.   Besides being inspirational, this app is beautiful!  Here is the link for you to check it out.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/she-reads-truth-bible-+-devotional/id892128363?mt=8

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The second one is “First 5” by Proverbs 31 Ministries.  This program has additional resources you can purchase to go along with the study on the app.  This one is pretty cool!  You can use this app as an alarm; it will wake you with the new devotional for the day.  Here is the link:

http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo/make-your-first-5-count/

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The third one I use occasionally is “Jesus Calling.”  I have used this in book form, but use the app more frequently as of late.  Here is the link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/jesus-calling/id607521654?mt=11

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A fourth resource I am going to use for devotional time with the kids is  https://instagram.com/100dayswithjesus/.  This is a study focusing on the 100 names of God.  It isn’t geared just to children, but they do have a portion that can help relate it to children.  I am excited for this!

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It seems to help me to have these devotionals to turn to each day.  I am all for whatever can challenge and meet me where I am.  Different seasons call for different resources.  During this renewed season, I am also purposing to pray for my kids more.  This is not a safe world; what greater thing can a mother do than pray for her children?   At this moment I am praying for wisdom, protection and favor with God and man.

I am excited for this fresh fall season.  It’s time to reign in my crew and provide more structure and order to our days.  The lazy days of summer are much needed, but now it’s time for the focus that fall brings.

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What are you looking forward to about this new season?  What resources do you utilize to guide your meditation and reflection?  I would love to hear what inspires you and draws your closer to God.  I think it is exciting to see the way different personalities connect with God.  We don’t all do it the same way.  And isn’t that great?   What disciplines work well for you?  I want to hear about it!

I would love to have you join me on this journey of hope and grace!  Sign up with your email address to receive a weekly blog post delivered straight to your inbox.  Here’s to grace and hope and future days!