Awakenings

Each year I choose a word. It’s usually partly prophetic and partly hopeful – sort of like a mission statement to shape my path and direct my steps.

Like an actual mission statement, every decision and action, or lack of action, should point back to that word. It helps to ensure forward motion, even in years when the word is difficult to grasp or manage.

Last year my word was “sacrifice” and 2016 was a year of very little forward motion. Or so it seemed. We rarely see the reward of the sacrifice while it is hanging defeated on the cross.

The resurrection, and the realization, usually comes much later.

For me, sacrifice wasn’t about giving something to get something. It was about letting go and laying all of my ambitions and preconceived notions at the cross. I was asked to release everything I’ve been clinging to: successes and failures, hope, dreams, my pain, and my past.

All of the things that had laid roots in my soul, defining my fruit the way depleted soil and pesticides might add an off flavor to an orange or an apple. The fruit still blooms, and it still looks good on the tree, but if you get close enough to really look and really taste, you realize it’s all just ornamental.

This left me without a word for 2017. I was left with nothing. I had laid it all at the cross, and then I lifted my gaze to the new year empty, my hands turned up and open.

I had no idea what to expect for the new year.

On Sunday, January 1 I attended church with my husband and two daughters. It was raining and a full double rainbow – the brightest I had ever seen! – arched across the sky on the drive there.

It was a new church, only our second time attending, and somehow that seemed perfect. The rainbow felt like a confirmation of new beginnings and promises of rebirth after death, of resurrection after the sacrifice.

The first song we sang in worship that day was “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord),” one of my favorites. But as many times as I’ve listened to and sung that song, the words never hit me as powerfully as they did that morning. Particularly this part:

The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again

It was like a hug from God, my loving heavenly father wrapping His arms around me to assure me that it was a new day, and a new year.

But I didn’t received my word. “Abundance” echoed, and I knew that everything I went through over the previous year would result in the abundant life we are promised in John 10:10. Three months into the new year, I am definitely seeing evidence of an abundance that has nothing to do with wealth or success.

Abundance after sacrifice is like planting in a field after a time of fallow. There’s a gentler appreciation, a sweet reminiscence and joy that can come only after you know what it is to let go.

The simple things seem brighter, and the air a little fresher as I press in to the Holy Spirit and keep my eyes on the One who led me through the storms. It is an abundance of God in my life, like a beautiful fragrance carrying me through.

But “abundance” is not my word – it’s more of a promise.

Then this morning it hit me. I awoke after a rough night, but found comfort as I slipped into my new routine of getting the kids off to school and the hubby off to work, then taking time for yoga and prayer, and finally settling at my computer with a healthy breakfast to begin the day’s work from my home office.

The windows  were open, the birds chirping. My body still hummed from my workout and the nutritious food was a treat to my tummy and to my soul.

The stressful job I quit a week and half ago has started its journey to becoming a memory. I haven’t eaten badly in more than a week and I’ve worked out daily.

And I’ve come to this new awareness where I find peace and ease. As I devote myself to self-care, not secluding myself from this busy, crazy world, but learning to approach it in a new way, I find that my senses are awakening.

I’m more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice, to my children, my husband, and to my own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

It is like a dawning, as the sun reaches over the mountain and its light kisses the blooming flowers.

I’ve been in a dark place for so long, particularly over the last year.

Today I am awakening to the light that stretches toward me, that encourages me to sing even when circumstances aren’t ideal and uncertainties toss darts at this fragile sense of awareness.

That anxious part of me threatens to take over once more, to reclaim its place in my spirit. The whispers of the enemy tell me its all useless, that it’ll just come crashing down again. I feel exposed and vulnerable in this light, like a movie scene when the heroine is happy and you just know the bad guy is lurking around the next corner.

I think this is was it means to awaken – to see all the ugly stuff and find a way to let go of my control over it. To refuse to allow the worries of tomorrow to steal the joy of today.

It means taking each day as it comes, for all of its pleasures and pressures, it’s heartache and jubilee, and seeing it as a collection of moments. And every moment is equally beautiful, from the peace of a spring morning to the shadows that come to block out the light from time to time, and every second in between.

AwakenI don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of it. I’m always afraid of tomorrow, especially when there are so many uncertainties for today.

But today, just for today, there is a new day dawning.

Today I am aware of the beauty, and of this awakening in my spirit and soul. And as I face the tomorrows of 2017, my word will be “Awaken.” My mission will be to make decisions, take action, and take times of rest in order to light within me this awakening sense. To awaken to what God has for me, and to the needs of my family, my friends, and myself.

And eventually, God willing, to reawaken to the ministry opportunities that have not yet been revealed, as well as a resurrection of those that have.

Have a beautiful, blessed day, my friends!

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Strength from odd places

So often I am convinced my anxiety and social awkwardness will keep me from fulfilling my ministry calling. But last night God reminded me that I was created by Him on purpose, for a purpose…and my anxiety is somehow a part of that plan.

Then this morning I read this article and I’m beginning to see that my anxiety is not an anomaly to be ashamed of.

It makes me face my fears on a daily basis, and sometimes a minute-by-minute basis.

It makes me strong and it gives me compassion for those who face the same challenges.

It keeps me from sitting at the cool kids table, but maybe that too is a disguised blessing…because maybe, just maybe, I’m not meant to blend into the crowd.

What would happen if we all just stopped berating ourselves for our shortcomings? What if women especially stopped going through their days with a mental checklist of every area they fall short?

We need to start embracing what the rest of society calls faults and learn to see ourselves through God’s eyes. You were created ON PURPOSE! When God was forming you in the womb, He didn’t grab that vile of anxiety by accident and then go “oops, oh well.” He meant it to be part of the plan He has for your life. Let’s embrace what the world calls a shortcoming and use it show the world who our God is!!

 

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Hole-y Yoga Pants

pexels-photo-24746“Your butt looks really great in those pants.”

These words were spoken to me by my then-boyfriend in January, 2006. I remember them clearly because back then my worth was still tied up in such things.

The yoga pants were new. They fit me just right, sitting at the hip with a cute fold of pink fabric, the black cotton and lycra legs falling just past my heel. I felt good wearing them and it felt good to be noticed in them.

Seven months earlier my marriage had ended. I’d had enough of the emotional and mental abuse, the alcoholism and lies. When I left that past June I hadn’t had the strength to shop for paper towels. My husband had controlled every aspect of my life, so on my first shopping trip alone I broke down in the paper towel aisle at Walmart. I had to learn how to be independent after years of being under such stringent control. And so, buying those pants was one of many empowering moments in those early days of discovering who I was and who God was.

I often got the two confused, and I placed myself in a greater place of hierarchy.

The fact that I was pleased that my boyfriend liked my butt and that I found such validation in the comment was really an indication of how far I had to go in my faith walk.

As long as he like my butt, life was good.

That, of course, didn’t last. Soon after that day he went chasing after some other girl’s butt, leaving me devastated and emotionally crippled for years. And that is NOT an exaggeration.

That’s what happens when we put our faith in people and things. When they let us down – and they will! – the devastation chips away at the core of who we are. My identity was defined by whether or not my boyfriend loved me. God was courting me at that same time, offering me identity in Him, but I chose instead to put God in the friendzone and I pursued worldly pleasures that offered instant gratification.

I know it’s a bit strange to be thinking of yoga pants that I bought 11 years ago, but a funny thing happened this morning… I woke up, and as I do most mornings, I opened my dresser drawer to pull out some clothes to do yoga in. My hand landed on the soft, worn fabric of those same pants.

Usually I pass them by with no more than a thought that I really need to get rid of old clothes. But this morning I put them on. They fit a bit differently. I sighed a little as I reminisced on the body I had at 28. No one would be complimenting my butt now.

As I started my yoga practice, I noticed the fabric was wispy thin, worn out from countless trips through the washing machine. Various holes peppered the material and the hems were frayed. But there was a sort of comfort in them because of these imperfections, and although I looked differently than I did all those years ago, I still felt good in them.

But for very different reasons.

I couldn’t help but think of how apt a metaphor these pants are for the last 11 years of my life and my walk with God.

There is comfort in our brokenness, in the holes that wear through us, and in the stretching we endure as we are “washed” through our trials.

And as I look at my life now, I see the ways God has brought me comfort that could only be possible because of the brokenness I endured. I’m now married to an amazing, godly man, I have a call for ministry on my life, and I’m pursuing dreams that once seemed out of reach. This comfort doesn’t mean my life is easy – far from it! But my my life is anchored in faith, which gives me the peace and security I spent my entire life yearning for.

Eleven years ago I would have given everything for an easy life. I was desperate for my then-boyfriend to marry me and take care of me because I was scared to be alone. Instead, God led me through ten years of singleness, so that I would learn to rely on Him for my needs. Once I finally let go and let God court me, seeking to learn from the pain instead of run from it, I eventually found the true sense of independence, security, and comfort.

There was a lot of resistance, struggle and heartache along the way, and today I am grateful for those trials. When Chris broke up with me, I thought I would die, but now I’m grateful for the “holes” that tore through my false perceptions of “the good life.” These holes led me to greater holiness in my character and a more secure identity in Christ.

I’m still a work in progress, smack dab in the middle of a difficult life transition and trying desperately to cling to hope as I set out to see my long-standing dreams come to life. I have two records playing in my head constantly. The first says, “Why should your dreams come true now? You’re a failure. You wrote two books that failed, have been at this for 20 years with no success. Now you’re getting older and probably won’t even be around much longer, anyway. You should never have quit your job. Why are you making your family suffer for your silly pipe dreams? What were you thinking?”

But then the second record plays: “You are my beloved, my treasured princess. I set in you a purpose so great you wouldn’t believe me if I told you the whole of it. I am for you, and I have an amazing plan for your life. Your obedience to me has honored me, and I will honor my promises to you. Just trust in me and watch what I will do in you and through you.”

And so, I needed this reminder today. It serves as a lesson that we needn’t fear the “holes” along the journey. What is meant to wear out will wear out, but in the process, what is meant to endure will endure if we will allow the pain to shape us.

Getting found

get-foundMy favorite line from one of my favorite songs is: “How can I be lost when You have called me found?” – Fierce, Jesus Culture

It is a powerful concept, but even as a dedicated Christian with a healthy prayer life, I have often felt lost. Even in the midst of the Lord’s presence, I have had my moments of feeling as though I don’t measure up. In these moments I am convinced that I have disappointed God, even as I preach to others that the very idea of such a thing is impossible with God. And then I feel like a fraud and tell myself I have no business preaching His Word when I can’t even believe it for myself.

Ugh.

I operated like this, while doing ministry, for about a year. Is it any wonder I got burnt out and started questioning God’s goodness and, at times, His very existence?

Which brings me to here…

I am now in a season of life where God is teaching me that it’s okay to not be perfect. Last  year was my year of sacrifice, a year of letting go. It took me until December 30th to really get it, to realize that through all the sacrifices I had to make in 2016, it all led to that moment when I had to let go of the one thing I was holding onto with the greatest fervor: my ambition.

That’s a scary thing for someone with a Type A personality who also happens to be a notorious people pleaser with a calling for full-time ministry. But I finally reached the point where I realized that this had created a perfect storm that could only end in defeat.

I was like Peter when he stepped out of the boat – I took my eyes of Jesus, who was the very reason I stepped out of the boat in the first place, and I started to sink.

The truly disparaging part of it all is that while I was chasing ambition on this path leading to defeat, I was moving further and further from my foundation in Christ and building my house on shifting sand.

When your house is built on such shaky ground, the walls crumble, and it took a tragedy to make me see it.

A little more than a month ago my children lost their biological father to cirrhosis. Seeing their pain opened my eyes to more than I ever could have imagined, including everything I’ve done, or failed to do for my family while chasing my ambitions.

I also realized that in chasing ministry I was also neglecting my other baby: writing. God never called me to be busy. He never said “Thou shalt volunteer for every single opportunity that presents itself.” I suppose, in some ways, I was pulling a Sarah and Abraham by not trusting that God’s promises always come true and that it has to happen in His way and on His timing.

I was trying to make ministry happen through the strength of my own abilities and by trusting in other people, and in doing so I wasn’t writing the book He wanted me to write and I wasn’t building the ministry he wanted me to build. And the most important ministry I have been called to – my family – was not in its intended place of hierarchy.

All of this has led to a decision that in some ways has been the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make, but at the same time the easiest…My last day of work was 2 days ago, as Mike and I have decided that my number one priority is being a mom. But because I’m me (haha) and I can’t not work, I’m also doing freelance work: graphic design, web design, copywriting, ghost writing, editing, book design. I have one client, and I’m putting my marketing experience to work to get more.

But through it all I’m being reminded to keep it all in balance. I also have a book to write, 40 lbs to lose, and I remain open to whatever ministry opportunities God wants to throw my way. I am not seeking opportunities as I did before; I’m simply waiting for God to show me. That’s really hard for me, but it’s also easy and brings much-needed peace to my tired soul.

The pressure is off. In so many ways.

My husband and I have also been attending a different church where we are able to simply show up on Sunday and get fed as we focus on our first ministry: family! It’s been difficult to step back, and we miss seeing our friends every Sunday, but we are being obedient to God by getting our house in order.

Yesterday I started the first day of the rest of my (renewed) life with an hour-long walk in the beautiful Arizona weather as I chatted with God and He assured me that my time of striving is over, and if I trust in Him, the pieces will all come together.

I am still terrified. It’s scary to give up a steady paycheck, and even scarier to go out on my own when I can’t see the path in front of me. But I suppose that’s the whole point – it isn’t trust if it doesn’t require steps of faith. Besides, being “found” means we are never alone.

And last night at dinner I received undeniable confirmation that I was on the right track and in God’s will: When my 12-year-old told us the high and low of her day (a dinner time tradition) her answer was this:

“My high was seeing Mom when I came home from school, and then going to work out together, and then cooking dinner together. That was it. I didn’t even have a low today.”

Nothing more needed to be said. I think that statement right there will make all the nights we’ll have to eat rice and beans more than worth it.

In the shadows

I am a baby when it comes to change. You’d think it would get better as I get older and go through more and more changes.

Nope.

It’s like someone snatched my blanky away and when they give it back it has been washed. Still the same blanky, but definitely NOT the same.

Over the last year and a half I switched gears on my writing career, got laid off, and got a job that I thought was my dream job, only to be depressingly disappointed. Isn’t it so much harder when you come soooo close to the dream but still get denied? I find myself standing outside the window. Everything I see is part of the dream that God has placed in my heart, but the window is locked and I am not allowed to be part of it. I skirt the fringe, and occasionally I get to come inside for a visit, but the visits are short and I’m always sent back out into the cold.

The experience has been painfully humbling. Which may have been the whole point.

Because my “dream” job required that I take a 60% pay cut, my then-boyfriend and I rushed the time table on our engagement and wedding. The door was open to full-time ministry; certainly it was worth the sacrifice of a beautiful wedding with a pretty, fluffy dress. Except, the open door didn’t lead to where I thought it would lead and even if it did, I should have trusted God to provide for me, not a man.

But I was in love and I didn’t realize how difficult new marriages are. Especially when you didn’t take the proper time for courtship. We were together 10 months and we knew we were going to marry each other at first sight. I thought that would cover us. Wrong. So so wrong.

Now after thirteen months of marriage we seem to be getting the hang of it, but I’ll be honest when I say that it has been hard. HARD! My living in the destruction of my shattered dreams hasn’t helped. Neither did the surprise pregnancy and devastating miscarriage we experienced just 4 and 7 months, respectively, into our marriage.

When summer rolled around we made the crucial decision to focus on us and step away from all of our volunteer ministry. I had just begun teaching and preaching a year earlier, and although I wasn’t getting paid to do it, it was the one aspect of my life where I was sort of living the dream.

I loved doing it, but I love my husband more.

So we both hung up our robes (so to speak. We don’t really wear robes when we teach/preach), and we started pouring life into our marriage.

Almost immediately we started the process of moving. Our lease was up and we decided we wanted to move someplace that belonged to both of us, at least in spirit. We weren’t ready to buy a house yet, so we got rid of most of our stuff and crammed what was left into a temporary two bedroom apartment.

More changes. Great.

I lived in the same house for four years, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere continuously. I like our apartment. It’s newer and in better shape than our house and has the same upgrades I’d get if I owned a house. The apartment amenities are fantastic, it is relatively quiet, and the living room floods with natural light every morning.

But it isn’t home. Sometimes I close my eyes and pretend I’m still in my old bedroom, only to open them and find myself feeling as though the walls are closing in.

In the midst of all of this, I’m working on making another major life change, trying to get my kids situated and back to school, and I’ve been writing a 40-day devotional for my day job with only two weeks between being given the assignment and my deadline. That alone has painted a target on my back for spiritual warfare.

And through it all my husband has been there. We still have our issues, but I see him trying. He loves me even when he doesn’t want to. It’s been like walking on egg shells, trying to be everything I’m supposed to be and still somehow always managing to say something that makes it all come crashing down again. I’ll admit, I’m exhausted.

My response has been to retreat. I get quiet in the chaos, desperate for a recharge. I don’t have the energy to reach out to family or friends, yet I am so grateful when they reach out to me. Even so, I know that when I come out of this I will have lost several friends.

I’ve already lost relationship with some of my sisters. To an extent. They keep up appearances, but I know there’s grumbling. I’ve become the enemy for taking this time that I desperately needed. It still hurts that they treat my miscarriage like something that never happened. It makes them uncomfortable.

So that’s my life lately.

I still have a dream in my heart. I still think God can make amazing things happen just as the story seems to be ending. There’s a non-fiction book idea that has been marinating in my brain this entire time. I haven’t let go of it, but I haven’t had the energy to take it on. But I will. I made that promise to myself.

This morning before my husband left for work he told me “I love you because you are relentless.” I had been up since 4 am working. I wanted to cry and tell him that I’d rather be resilient, but I chose to not fall apart. I kissed him, pulled away with a smile and told him that I love him because he understands me.

I guess, when all is said and done, that is all we can ask for – we all need someone in our lives who understand us. Most of the people in mine don’t. But Mike does. Whatever else happens, at least we have that. And perhaps that is the true definition of “living the dream.”

Ferris Wheel

FerrisWheelLately life has felt like the ferris wheel I went on when I was a kid. Although I was terrified of heights, I still got on the ride. I didn’t want to miss out on the adventure, and I assumed if I got too scared all I had to do was yell “Let me off!” and they’d stop the ride.
That didn’t happen.
The operator laughed at my 9-year-old screams. I was forced to endure the terror, going ’round and ’round on that rickety thing, my eyes squeezed shut as I waited for the ordeal to end.
As an adult, my “ferris wheel” is fear of the unknown, overwhelming doubt about God’s calling on my life, insecurities about who I am and whose I am, and crippling anxieties about my health and the health of my family. The “operator” of this ride smirks as I fly backwards, his hand on the controls with no intention of letting up.
I don’t want to live my life that way. The troubles of this world might have their hands on the controls for a time, but in the midst of the struggle God’s glory is revealed. I wonder what I might see, if only I had the courage to open my eyes and take in the view.

Locked Doors

Locked Door

I’m reminded today that God’s calling on our lives must be separated from personal ambition. They both might be taking you in the same direction, but that doesn’t always mean they align. Sometimes it becomes necessary to stop moving, sit down, and ask God to get your heart prepared for the doors HE will open. I’ve been spending too much time sifting through weeds and banging on locked doors that were never meant for me.

God has a plan for each of us and it must sadden Him to see us spend so much time fighting for a morsel when He wants to bless us with the whole bushel. Our culture values ambition. And while it’s true that God calls us to take steps toward the destiny He has laid out for us, we’ll never know what those steps are if we are too busy getting things done the way that we think things should get done. Our God is a creative God. Stop striving and let him do a new thing in your life.