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.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Come In and Stay Awhile

At the beginning of 2017, I wrote about Rest, Renewal, and Repurposing. In a recent post I shared books that have given insight into these goals.

While on vacation recently, I had the opportunity to reflect on the last several months. Am I following through with the desires of my heart for the new year?

The first morning I woke to the sound of the sea I read this in God Calling: "Yes, come for rest. But stay for rest too. Stop all feverish haste and be calm and untroubled..."

Untroubled...Hmmmmm. I had to ponder that word.

His Presence offers us the invitation to leave our troubles at the door. Come in and stay while, but come with empty hands and heart. He offers to mend our bodies with rest that's good for the soul.

"Come for rest. But stay for rest..." Don't just drop in for a quick chat and then grab your troubles as you make a hasty departure.

Have you had an impromptu visit by a friend that brought a smile to your face when you opened the door? After normal pleasantries are exchanged she tells you she has only a few minutes, and then explains the reason for coming. Disappointment crosses your heart, but you understand.

And then there's the friend who comes with no agenda, except her desire for your company. Delicious food and drink may be involved as you settle into cozy chairs. Time is all you have and the soul leaps for joy as you dive deep into conversation. Hearts and minds are unburdened of life's sorrows, blessings are remembered and friendship is deepened. One hour turns into four and you are indeed refreshed. One of you may say, "Why don't we do this more often?" Love multiplied by love equals joy and peace.

This has been my experience many times through the years. I have meaningful relationships with my closest girlfriends, but the key is spending time together to reap the benefits.

The same is true of our relationship with Christ. We must spend uninterrupted time with Him. He longs for us to sit in His Presence and listen to words of love and affirmation. He beckons us to share our deepest sorrows and greatest joys. And the coolest thing is He is always willing to visit as long as I need or want. His knock at my door is an open invitation to "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28 NIV

Most of my adult life has been spent in the pursuit of peace, only to find Peace in the form of my Savior. What a relief to accept His offer of hope in a battered and bruised world.

I think I can say I'm making progress. Many changes have occurred this year, most of them life giving. I've learned rest doesn't just happen, you must pursue it. True rest comes when I allow God to fill every hole of emptiness with the truth of His word. As my mind is renewed, the body rewards my efforts.

I'm so thankful for those who have walked along with me to shoulder my burdens. Ultimately though, Jesus is the only one who offers true, lasting rest.

Make time to visit and leave your worries as you enter His presence. After a long conversation you may even forget the baggage you left at the door.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Summer Book and Podcast Reviews

It's time for book reviews. This has been a good year for books. But, is there ever a bad year? I think not.

My reading life has taken me from the depths of sorrow to the heights of joy, with everything else tucked in between these two extremes. I've ventured out of my favorite genre this year, that being memoir, and found novels that have been a delight.

My favorite book of fiction this year is The Guernsey Potato Peel and Literary Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I listened in audio form as I traveled to West Virginia in January. Not only did the trip seem short, but there were times I stayed in my car and continued to listen after I arrived at my destination. The story is set in the Guernsey Islands, located between France and England, during World War II. The voice of the British narrator captured my attention as she described the small island and its importance during this unforgettable time in our history. Written in letters to and from the main characters may not be to everyone's liking, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story woven through correspondence. I give this book 5/5 stars without blinking.

If you're interested in the spiritual discipline of resting on the Sabbath, I recommend Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller, and Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. Each of these books dive into the Fourth Commandment of God: Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy. A commandment rather than a suggestion, the Christian Church is the worst offender. Every meeting and practice known to man is scheduled on this holy day. I include myself in the offense. These books give practical and spiritual ways to reorganize your life to allow the time needed to develop an intimate relationship with Almighty God. He designed and created us for rest. Again, I give 5/5 stars to each of these books.

I'm an unashamed book nerd who reads for pleasure, knowledge, and inspiration. Another book I've grown from spiritually is Hearing God by Dallas Willard. This is one of the best books I've ever read on developing an inner life with Christ. I intentionally read this book slowly so I didn't miss a thing. He explained every way possible to hear the voice of God, through scripture, the Holy Spirit, personal relationships, sermons, books, and life experiences. I learned the meditating practice of "lecto devino" in reading scripture.

A second book in the same vein is Prayer by Timothy Keller. It was the perfect sequel to Hearing God. I think I can safely say most Christians profess a desire for a fulfilling prayer life, yet many fail to make it a spiritual discipline. This book taught me how to pray according to scripture. I'm careful to recommend books to my readers, so again, these last two books earn 5/5 stars.

Before I close this post I wanted to share a new podcast on the inter web. The Next Right Thing, hosted by Emily P. Freeman, is one you need to check out. The description says: "For the second-guessers, the chronically hesitant, or anyone who suffers from decision fatigue." It is so much more than her description. She offers listeners spiritual and practical insight to the everyday issues we all face; how to face the day by including the Presence of Christ in the simple as well as complicated moments of life.

Let me know if you pick up any of these books. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

I'd love to encourage you to visit your local library. There's a world of free information at your fingertips. A library card allows you to browse any topic you're interested in, place holds on books for quick pick-up, access to various classes, movies, audio books, guest speakers, free wi-fi, and a quiet environment to work. My rule of thumb for books is I normally buy anything I may want to highlight or bookmark, and most fiction I read comes from my local library. It's saved me mega bucks, and just visiting my library makes me feel smarter.

Also, if you like podcasts, What Should I Read Next, and From the Front Porch are great resources for finding a book that's right for you.

Happy reading, friends!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

When Peace Came in the Form of Change

I've been quiet in this space the last few months. Transition and I have been in a wrestling match. I think I can say I finally won.

Our home sold at the end of March. My address changed after more than nineteen years. I've been adjusting to a new environment, one completely different from the previous. Working on my book has also kept me occupied.

From this...
I wrote a post a couple of years ago about the dilemma of selling my house. It didn't seem possible at the time that this would become my reality, but it has.

After shedding buckets of tears, I can say it's a good thing. Life in a sub-division was exchanged for life in the country. I asked for quiet, and I got Q U I E T. Have mercy, it's heavenly. We're renting a house next door to property we own with the intention of building a much smaller house.

There is something exciting about starting over at this age. All the Pinterest saves will finally be more than just a dream. One of the best things about arriving at this stage of life is knowing myself, my decorating vision, and personal needs. Maybe you're in this stage too. I thought we'd live in my former house forever, my children would bring their children home for Sunday dinner and holidays, and life would end with me sitting on the porch with all that love wrapped around me like a warm blanket.

To this...
One of the speakers at a writing conference a few months ago shared a story about letting go of one thing for something better. She had no idea she was speaking to my heart. Since I was a young bride I held onto the dream of a forever house. I wanted to give my children the very thing that alluded me as an adult. Giving up that dream was difficult, but the right decision. Holding onto that material possession would've prevented me from the joy I've experienced.

Each morning I wake to the sound of cows in the neighboring pasture. Because we are on the lake, geese and various other birds are regular sights. Deer, bunnies, raccoons, and even armadillos are a familiar presence. A stray cat stands at the back door each morning waiting on me to feed her. The quiet sounds of nature sing over me as I sip tea from the front porch while the sun peaks over the horizon. Evenings are filled with sounds of owls hooting and doves cooing. In the distance a stray cow bellows as it finds its way back through the hole in the fence.

And this...
I would've missed the peace and simplicity of country living if I'd held onto a home that served us well, but was now a house too large for our present needs.

I'm thankful for the years we spent nurturing a family, hosting parties, sporting events, Bible studies, ladies groups, family celebrations, holiday events, and quiet nights on the back porch. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said it well in Ecclesiastes,
"There is a season for everything under the sun..."

He was right. There is a time for beginnings, and endings. We ended well. The next season is full of hope, a time for beginning again.

Whatever age or stage of life you may be in, change is to be expected. Solomon understood the rhythms of life and gave us permission to embrace every season under the sun. I don't want to hold onto something past its usefulness and miss the very best God has for me. Transition was gut wrenching at times, but worth every tear, every memory, every dream surrendered.

New dreams are on the horizon. And hopefully, my forever house will be as loved and used as its predecessor. It has a lot to live up to, but with time, family, and friends to share with, there's hope.

How do you process transition? Do you hesitate for fear of the unknown? I'd love to hear how you managed the waters of change. Leave a comment and share how you survived and lived to tell about a new beginning or a difficult ending. Your words of wisdom may help someone you've never met, or it may remind you to celebrate your success and blessings.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

When the Shepherd Teaches Through Sheep

When I married at the age of eighteen, my family increased with not only a husband, but his parents, and a younger sister and brother. My new in-laws loved me as a daughter. I snuggled into the warmth of their family like a baby in a blanket. My father-in-law and I had an unspoken bond of love. At our wedding, he told my new husband, his son, he'd better take good care of me.

Bronson, my father-in-law
The first time we met was in a diner in Montgomery, West Virginia while we were still in college. He was working close by and met us for supper. The stories I'd heard of how he was a rough and tumble man who worked hard, said few words, but carried a great presence, were right on target. I was terrified of him from the first handshake. The description in my mind increased after our first introduction.

As time went along and I got to know him, a different man appeared. His tender side emerged every spring, along with his green thumb. There was nothing that man couldn't do with a pile of dirt, some seeds, and a little water. He also loved his family. His generosity and kind heart showered his girls with the largest box of chocolate to be found on Valentine's Day.

Lucy, fresh from the farm
This man I was so afraid of in the beginning of my relationship with his son did something that has taught me many life lessons. He went turkey hunting in the mountains of West Virginia every spring where they had a small camp. One of the neighbors was a local farmer. Bronson, my father-in-law always stopped to visit before he left. One of his sheep had died, leaving a set of twins the farmer was feeding with a bottle. For whatever reason, my father-in-law thought of me. I got the surprise of my life when he pulled in my driveway and got out of the truck carrying two of the sweetest creatures God ever made, with the biggest grin plastered across his face. I was never afraid of him again.

My life as a shepherdess was born that day.

This spring, my Friday morning Bible study group studied the book, Finding I Am by Lysa TerKeurst. One of the chapters was titled, I Am the Good Shepherd. It was my favorite because of my season of shepherding. It was easy for me to picture the references and apply them to myself.

The words of Psalm 95:6 jumped off the page:

"Come let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our maker;
for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture,
the flock under His care."

A sheep has to fold its front legs to lay down. It looks as if the sheep is kneeling. It's knees are rough and calloused where the wool has been rubbed off from kneeling.

Lucy, with two lambs of her own
Scripture says, "we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care." We are to kneel in worship.

As I read the words on the page, I pictured my own knees. Are they rough and calloused from kneeling in worship? Do I submit myself to His care or do I try to meet my own needs? Do I recognize Him as my God? I must submit myself in humility before true worship can take place. I must understand that everything comes directly from His hand. He is my provider, my protector, and without Him I am nothing. I am exposed to danger, to unseen elements that only He can protect me from. Do I truly understand what it means to be under His care?

Another thing I learned is that He loves me and you tenderly and lovingly as a shepherd loves his sheep. Just as I discovered I had no reason to be afraid of my father-in-law, I need not fear God and His plan for my life. My awe of Him, my worship of Him, yes, but not the kind of human fear that causes distrust.

My prayer is that I have knees that tell the story of how much I love Him. I am so thankful for gifts of love from unexpected places from people He placed in my life, even hard-headed sheep to teach lessons that last a lifetime.

What are the unexpected gifts you've been given that have taught you a life lesson? Nothing of value is wasted. Everything we go through, good or bad, can be used to strengthen us and then we can pass it on to another.