Friday, May 11, 2018

Perfect Peace on the Other Side

Someone asked me recently…”How did we get to this place?”

I thought to myself, do you want the long version, or a simple, rehearsed answer? The road that led to “this place” began more than fifty years ago. And isn’t that the way it is with all of us? We are who we are at this very moment because of the accumulation of life experiences.

Writing about the hard places is hard work, and also scary. While I want to help people overcome their own fears and insecurities, I find it difficult to expose mine. Writing teachers stress you shouldn’t write about something for public reading until you’ve worked through it, and come out the other side. I think I’ve finally gotten there, to the other side.

I don’t want to miss an opportunity though, to reflect on how far I’ve come.

I know there are people suffering in silence with grief and sorrow, guilt and shame. There is a way out of the pit these emotions throw us in. I’ve been there and can tell you it’s possible to overcome.

Several years ago I was weighed down with burdens too old to name. It felt like I was walking through life with a chain wrapped around my leg. Every time I tried to move forward in joy, the chain pulled tight to remind me I was different. I was bound together with links of several broken chains, each representing a different hurt or grief.

But there was One who loved me enough to break the chains and strongholds of my life. He protected me, walked with me, and gave me strength when I thought I had none. He heard every cry of my heart, saw every tear, and every broken place in my soul where the enemy had sown lies and mistrust. He confronted me with the hate I’d harbored for those who hurt me, and replaced it with forgiveness. 

God placed two, amazing, gifted, Christian counselors in my life who walked me through the painful steps of healing and recovery. He surrounded me with godly friends who never gave up on me. He gave me a husband who endured the worst of my brokenness, and loved me anyway. He gave me a son who checked on me every day to make sure I was ok.

Bonnie Gray says in her book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace,“Perfect peace from God isn’t found by forgetting. Peace is ours if we dare to remember our pain and our sorrow, and experience our fears fully with Jesus.” 

This is my testimony in a nutshell. There are many good resources for healing in our communities, but I’m convinced that healing of the soul can only come through the One who created me, and died for me. Anything else will never be enough, though may grant temporary relief.

No matter what you’re going through, God is enough. If you truly seek Him, He is able to completely resurrect your life and give you a firm foundation to rebuild. Your pain does not need to define you any longer. It need not demand anymore of your life, the only life you’ll have on this earth.

On this Mother’s Day, I celebrate the peace I’ve found. My parents would’ve been so disappointed if I’d let my childhood destroy my future. My mom was the strongest woman I know. I learned how to die, but I also learned how to live because of her influence. Her favorite Bible verse was Philippians 4:13: I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. He gave her strength to fulfill His purpose for her. My goal is to do the same, whatever that may be. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who have poured love and kindness into my life. I am blessed beyond measure to have so many that have been Jesus to me. You are loved.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Art of Saying No

Many years ago when my children were in Christian school, I did all the things. My hand went up for every field trip, every homeroom party, for both children, every avenue available to volunteer.

What was I thinking?

I wanted to be present for my precious children, yes, but there was pride involved too. That ugly five letter word. That word has tripped me up most of my life. I wanted to be THAT mom, the one with the title of Homeroom Mother, and I was for many of their growing up years.

Not only did I have my hands in the classroom, but I served on the school board, the PTA, the sports programs, and anything else coming down the pike.

During this same era, at this same school, I was asked to lead the Prayer Ministry. I was honored and the pride monster kicked me around for a few days as I tried to figure a way to add this to my growing resume.

Can we say burnout?

Something happened that got my attention. I knew I wasn't supposed to lead the Prayer Ministry, but my pride hovered in the gray areas of my thinking. Finally, I turned it down, and relief flooded my soul. While I am a praying woman, this wasn't the time for me and my relief was evidence I made the right decision. And wouldn't you know, the perfect person stepped up and volunteered. She was amazing and the ministry flourished.

That simple no taught me a valuable lesson, one I've had to repeat many times over the years. While it was a good and excellent thing, God didn't call me to the task. Just because it was a good thing didn't necessarily mean it was for me.

Getting at the heart of my busyness, I discovered a need to feel good enough. I was hiding behind the veil of works in an attempt to measure up to some Wonder Woman identity. In life, as in animation, that woman is fake. She is not so much dedicated to a greater cause, but her own. Ouch! That's not who I want to be. I wasn't created to be larger than life. John the Baptist said in John 3:30: "He (speaking of Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease." Good words to live by.

I've spent years reading and studying about my personality, my spiritual gifts, and all the ways God created me to use all for His glory and my good. There have been seasons of ministry and activities. I've also learned that saying "yes" to something is not a forever "yes."

As I've grown older, God has led me in new directions, new ministries, new activities. Saying no is difficult at times. I still have that pride thing following me around, reminding me of the rewards of being noticed for my busyness.

Because I'm a people pleaser, I think long and hard before saying yes. I would rather say no than to disappoint someone by doing a poor job, or taking on the responsibility and then quitting because it's too much. Also, I've held onto activities because I didn't want anyone upset with me. That has no benefit for anyone, because ultimately, resentment sets in, followed by bitterness.

So there's an art in setting boundaries, in allowing yourself to be choosy in how you structure your life. This kind of simplicity encourages me to seek the heart of God for everything presented to me. The one thing I can count on is He will lead me down the best path of living, one that joins my gifts and His plan for my life. And that is simplicity with a bow tied around it.

I'd love to hear what you think of simple living. Share in the comments if this is something you struggle with, or let us know how you've learned to say no.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Plan for a Simple Life

Simplicity is my goal for this year. The glaring question that begs to be answered is how do I get there? I can get caught up in the idea of a goal without actually making any progress toward it.

As I was walking recently, my mind was sorting all the ways of a simple life. The first thing, for me personally, is being aware of how I spend my time. We all have the same amount of minutes/hours in our day. How am I managing these precious ticks on the clock?

When I cram too many things in my day my soul feels a sense of hurry. Moving from one chore or appointment to the next puts my brain on overload. And when I'm on overload mode, I become edgy, impatient, and a not so nice person to be around. I need white space in my day to be present in all I'm doing. I struggle with finding balance. You too? I thought so.

Because I live in the country, 20-30 minutes from town, I try to combine errands into one day so I don't have to make numerous trips. Planning is required, and lists are never too far from sight. Checking things off my "to do" list is fulfilling. However, if something doesn't get accomplished, it goes on a list for another day.

My desire is to allow plenty of time for cooking at home, rest, and boredom. Yes, I want to be bored. A podcast I listened to recently said our brain is most creative when allowed the freedom to wander when we're bored. Working and writing from home allow flexibility to create the kind of day to stare out the window. Stories come alive while watching birds or fluttering leaves on the trees outside the window. Walking past cows along a country road is peaceful in a way that calms anxiety and infuses joy.

In Matthew 6:26-34, Jesus said, "Look at the birds of the field..." He also said to "Consider the lilies of the field." He was one of the busiest men on the planet, yet He implored his followers to slow down and grasp the wisdom found in simple things. He taught us how to live a stress free life if only we'd listen and apply His words. As a living example He made time to slip away to a quiet place to pray to His Father. How much more should we do the same?

Eliminating hurry reminds me to be present for the unexpected visit from a neighbor, a phone call from someone in need, or an impromptu coffee date.

As much as I love being available to those I love, I must also protect my working time. There are many things I enjoy, but work is important, and something I'm responsible for.

A simple life doesn't just happen. Every decision must be filtered through the lens of keeping it simple, because if I've learned anything at all about myself, it's that a complicated life steals my joy. I don't want to wake up one day with a heavy heart because of a lifetime of regrets.

So I plan and dream, stare out the window, take long walks, and my soul is refreshed to do the most important things in life. It helps me love simply, live simply, and serve simply, even on the busiest of days.

More to come on living simply...

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2018...A Search for Simplicity

Can it be a new year already? Seems like we just celebrated the Fourth of July holiday, then put up the Christmas tree the next day. Maybe I fell into an autumn coma from too much pumpkin spice. However it happened, 2018 is here.

The last couple of years I've been focusing on improving daily living. 2017's theme of Rest, Renewal, and Repurposing kept me aware of how I was living in the day to day, picture window of life. At any given moment of the year those three words reminded me to prioritize the disciplines that keep me healthy in mind, body, and spirit. Glancing back over 2017, there were more successes than failures.

I love the turn of the calendar from one year to the next. Being a recovering perfectionist, this gives me an opportunity for do-overs. Maybe you can relate.

These days life is lived at warp speed and my DNA doesn't register speed, except when I'm behind the wheel of my car. My brain is designed to think, ponder, then think some more. Our culture has adapted to insta everything, a struggle for me.

There have been years where I questioned my purpose after the nest emptied. I thought life was hollow without children in and out on a daily basis. God has shown me, in His time, how wrong I was and how He'd like my days spent.

My pattern for most of my adult life was to immerse myself in activities and ministries because there was a need. Before I could even think the words, "what have I done?" life was out of control.

Our life is frittered away by detail...Simplify, simplify." 
Henry David Thoreau

I'm worn from the speed and intensity of our present culture. As this new year begins to take shape, the word simplicity keeps landing in a place of importance. What does this mean for me and my family?

The root of the word simplicity is simple. Meriam-Webster gave several definitions, but the one I connected with says: The state of being simple, uncomplicated, or uncompounded.

These quotes, found in The New American Roget's College Thesauarus, capture the essence of simplicity.

"Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity." 

How much simpler our lives would be if our choices for living were based on beauty of style, harmony, grace, and good rhythm. The flow of the words alone cause my heart to slow, my brain to relax, and the anxious thoughts in my mind to come up for air. 

My soul craves time for simple, uncomplicated connection with God and those around me. I long for days of boredom. The best me I can give in service is the me who comes from a simple, uncomplicated life. I'm all about purpose and achievement, but not at the expense of my soul. At the end of the day, if I've poured out my life in pursuit of the standard of the world, my soul will be empty. A simple life allows me time to soak in the beauty, harmony and grace of the One who made me. Without the rhythm of life he designed me to flourish in, life is complicated and full of uncertainty.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." 
                                                                    Albert Einstein

2018, I look forward to finding simplicity in the unexpected moments, the stolen blocks of time, and the joy of living out His purpose for me.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Before You Judge...

I'm going out on a limb today with my thoughts. Normally, this space is filled with stories from my life or bookish things. My goal is to inspire and encourage you to have the best life possible. I found it in a personal relationship with Christ and believe He is the answer to every problem, as well as the source of every joy.

Most of my life has been lived in the shadow of grief and trauma. Writing has helped me process many things. However, I haven't had clarity on some things enough to write about them. Getting to the other side has allowed room for reflection.

I grew up in a home where there was little to no comparison with other people. I rarely ever heard my parents say a negative word about people in our small world. I saw everyone as good, until they hurt me.

Our culture today is very different. Facebook, Twitter, and Snap-Chat are witness bearers of all manner of good and bad. For an introvert like me, it's intimidating to peep into the lives of people without intimate knowledge of who they really are. I'll admit, Ive made judgments about people that may, or may not, be accurate.

Now to my point. I've shared some of my life in this little corner of the internet. But I don't tell you all of the ugliness. I've alluded to childhood issues, but aside from the book I'm writing, the words have remained unwritten in this space.

We live in a fallen world, do we not? It's normal to judge what we see and hear to discern truth. The problem I have with it is we don't know what the neighbor next door, the man in the grocery store, or the prostitute on the corner has suffered in the course of a lifetime. People are labeled then cast aside, ignored, and forgotten.

You wouldn't know by looking at me that between the ages of 15-17 I experienced the death of my mother, sexual abuse, rape, abandonment, rejection, and severe loneliness. My smile covered the deepest wounds as my character and self worth were still being formed. I believed I could stuff everything in a memory trash can and move on in life. I married a wonderful man, with a solid family, at the age of 18 and walked away from my former life.

Unfortunately, you can't walk away from yourself. I learned coping skills, but the wounds were still buried deep inside me. And like most wounds that don't heal properly, I became infected. The last few years have been difficult, filled with pain and hopelessness.

Most people did not know the root of my pain. I'm generally a private person, even with a blog where I write about life and family.

This is the nugget I want you to understand today...You don't know what someone has been through until they own their truth. You only see a glimpse into the real life of people you meet in public. How do you react to the woman showing too much skin? How do you treat the least of these, the ones who don't look like you? How do you treat the couple having marital problems, or the girl who had an abortion?

Before you judge, simply consider what life may have dealt.

If my home hadn't been torn apart by death, I might have a different story to tell. But God allowed me to endure all those things for a purpose.

He saved me, literally and figuratively. He remained faithful to me even when I was not faithful to Him. He protected me under the shelter of His wing until I could get the help I needed. He loved me unconditionally and put people in my life who nursed me back to health. He showered me with people who loved me and did not judge me as unworthy.

Before you judge, love first. The person you condemn has already walked a thousand miles in condemnation of herself. She needs to know hope is waiting on the other side of brokenness. Be the one to offer encouragement and a willingness to listen.

Agape love, the purest form of love, is the path to a life of recovery. God Himself heals the broken and binds up their wounds. He did it for me, he'll do it for you.

Look beyond the smile, and the tattoos and piercings you may not agree with. Love the person, the real flesh and blood one, made in the image of the living God. You might just find a gem hiding behind the pain.