The Unreal Feeling

It’s interesting to me how when you a get a little distance from a past experience it almost seems unreal.  I’ve noticed that with both the bad things in my life and also the good things.

I was recently reminded of this when my son went on Google maps and started looking at places we visited on our trip to Europe earlier this month. He was using the “Street View.” The fact that we can sit in our home and do this still fascinates me. My son chose to look at the street view of Venice, Italy. At one point he says, “Mom I found the exact bench we were sitting on!”  I looked at the screen and the memory of that moment filled my brain.

My family and I sat by that water.  Seems so unreal.  

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The same thing happened a little later in the day when I was scrolling through Facebook and Solid Rock International (the organization my former church in North Carolina would partner with to make trips to the Dominican Republic) had posted a picture of children lined up against their school wall. Immediately, the memory of my first mission trip swept over me.

I painted that wall.  Again, almost unreal. 

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Yesterday, I had a meeting with a local organization called Second Life Chattanooga, a group that helps to inform and educate the community on human trafficking. It’s been on my heart for a while now to take a step in this direction, to find ways I might be able to help. I’ve asked the Lord several times…why this direction? I don’t have any experience (thank God) with sex slavery. The only thing I know are the stories and statistics I’ve read about. For me, it’s one of those things that once you become informed…you can’t stand back and do nothing.

As I drove to the meeting yesterday, memories of years ago came to mind. It’s still amazing to me how completely different my life looks today compared to 15 years ago. When I think back on the darkest times of my past, it seems unreal. The bad times evoked the same “did that really happen?” question inside me as the good times I shared with you above. But, obviously, not in a joyful way. (grateful I’m no longer trapped there, yes) Yet, when I think of the incredibly bad times in my life, it almost feels like I was living some other person’s life.

Let me assure you, I’m not even attempting to compare my bad to the horrifyingly bad that occurs to someone imprisoned in sex slavery. My bad doesn’t even come close to that bad. Not even close. 

Yet, as I told the lady I met with yesterday, I am passionate about seeing people live free.

I am passionate about never giving up hope that there is a way out of even the worst of circumstances. That’s the message I’m called to spread. Hope and freedom. I want everyone to arrive at that point in their own story where they are able to look back, shackles gone!

I want others to experience what it feels like to be on the other side of the wall. And, ultimately, I want others to be able to drive down the road one day and have that feeling that they are NOW so far removed from the hell they once lived… that it almost seems unreal.

Creating Joy…Imperfectly

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My son has fallen in love with designing and building houses in Minecraft. He’s been wanting to set up a Youtube channel for a while now to share his builds with others. This past weekend, my husband helped him to do this. Now, as he builds a house, my son is able to show his new creations to other Minecraft enthusiasts. He records his builds and verbally guides listeners through the process.

It was a joy to watch him work. After he finished his first video, I could feel his happiness…it oozed from him. He had done it. He had accomplished what he had set out to do. He had acted on a passion stirring in his heart. As he attempted to put into words the joy he received from sharing his creations with the world, he said this to me.  “You can talk to them and entertain them AND show them your work of art.”

The excitement he was feeling reminded me of when I made the decision to start writing again. It was August 2009 when I began this journey of blogging and sharing the things on my mind and heart with the rest of the world.  After my son’s comment, I thought about those first few months of writing. I thought about the joy and satisfaction that came with the process. Here are some words I shared on my blog five years ago next month:

“Recently, I started writing again. It’s something I hadn’t really done on a regular basis since college. I was telling my husband the other day just how wonderful it felt to create something. What an amazingly good feeling! I know this will sound really cliché, but it makes me feel alive. The satisfaction I feel after putting one sentence after another together. Creating something that has never existed before.” (Creating Joy, 8-8-09)

I love that my son has gotten a taste of this process, this process of creating art and contributing it so others might enjoy it too. At one point during his video tutorial, my son shares how this is his first video and tells his listeners he might “struggle with stuff, make mistakes, and get nervous.” Secretly, this was my favorite part of his whole tutorial. I hope this is just the beginning. I hope this is how he will choose to live his life. I hope he continues to try new things, to struggle, to make mistakes, and to get nervous.

“My writing is not perfect. Sometimes I use the wrong word. Sometimes my sentences are awkward. But, it is in the midst of the flawed and awkward sentences where I have done the most growing and found the most satisfaction over these past few months. Every time I write something, I take the risk of looking and sounding stupid. But, I’m finally learning to be okay with that. I guess I have finally discovered that there are even sadder consequences should I choose not to try at all.” (Creating Joy, 8-8-09)

 The joy is found in the journey.

Take Her to Sunshine

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It’s the 24th day of the month, which means, more often than not, I find myself reading through the 24th Psalm again.  And, I know how the 24th Psalm ends. I’ve read it so many times.  I’ve listened to those same words sing Truth over me during one of the most challenging seasons of my life.  “Who is this King of glory? The Lord Almighty- he is the King of glory.”

I heard those words again this morning and, like always, gratitude for everything He has done and everything He is capable of doing swept over my heart.

Third Day songs

I remember listening to this band and their songs all the time while on one of the biggest journeys in my life. Because of this, it’s hard for me to even think of this band without it triggering the gratitude switch in my heart.  It’s like the Pavlov dog experiment. Hear Third Day song…become thankful for that journey again.

It was the journey where God took my hand and reassured me that no matter how hard or how scary the road was, He would be there with me every step of the way. It was the journey that changed everything. Everything. It was the journey that led from bondage to freedom…from shackles to sunshine.

Last night, I met a stranger. The only thing I know about her is that she very well might be at the beginning of that kind journey. I only spent a brief few minutes with this stranger, but my heart went out to her. Oh, how I want sunshine for her!  

I want this be an end and a beginning for her. I want her to come face to face with a God so big that she will desire nothing else but to cling to His hand and walk with Him further up freedom’s path. I want her to have moments today that, years from now, she can look back on in awe and wonder. I want her to have words in Scripture that will leap off the page at her and start singing over her. Loving her. Embracing her.

“Who is this King of glory? The Lord Almighty- he is the King of glory.”

Why I’m Stubborn…

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Why I’m stubborn

…because people could offer me a thousand different reasons why faith in an unseen God makes no sense at all and I would probably nod my head in agreement with many of the arguments.  You are right, that doesn’t make sense to me either.  Yep, that seems crazy!  

Still not changing my mind!

My stubbornness stems from the fact that all I have to do is think back on the moment when Jesus sealed the deal in my heart and the many things about my faith that I still don’t understand and I still can’t explain go from the “I need to know why” pile in my heart over to the “I know You’ve go this, God”  pile in my heart.

I once had a friend ask me an interesting question about my faith in Christ. The question basically had to do with being predisposed to a certain religion and then choosing that one. Do you think that adhering to a single doctrine short changes your quest?

I’ve thought about that question quite a bit over the years. You could say that I was predisposed to Christianity. When I was a little girl, I was taught that Jesus was my Savior. I easily and quickly agreed.  Yet, as I look back on this faith, I know it was (in many ways) fed to me.  It wasn’t really me doing the seeking and trusting and believing. I’ve always said that, for years, I kind of rode along on the coattails of my mom’s faith.  And, I didn’t realize how little faith and trust I had in God until my mom was gone.  When the “rock” in my life was gone…my so-called faith crumbled.

Do you think that adhering to a single doctrine short changes your quest?

Here are two thoughts I have to the question. I look at my relationship with Jesus similar to the commitment a husband and wife have to one another. The Bible even attempts to explain it to us in this manner too.

When we find the person we want to spend the rest of our life with then wouldn’t we think it weird to still have a desire to keep dating other people?  This is a good indication that we either haven’t found the person we should spend our life with OR we have commitment issues that need to be addressed.

When we find the “ONE” we stop looking.  Our heart is full.  Our heart is content.  We have found the love of our life.

Now, that’s not to say we should stop working on the relationship. That mistake happens a lot in marriages too. We find the one we desire to spend our life with but then we run into problems because we stop seeking to make the relationship better. We stop trying to get to know our partner better.  We stop communicating with one another. I think this is often the same mistake we make with Jesus.

We have found the PERFECT MAN (figuratively and literally) but when situations or circumstances arise that rock our relationship do we run closer to Him or do we pull away? A good marriage union knows that, during rough time, you must take a step closer to one another…not a step back.  A healthy couple knows they must walk through the dark together in order to survive.

Do you think that adhering to a single doctrine short changes your quest?

One more thought on this question. I hate the word doctrine. If I was exclusively adhering to doctrine this faith walk would be absolute agony.  But, instead, this faith walk is exciting and full of new and interesting paths every single day!  I don’t get it right every step of the way. In fact, I’ve made lots of mistakes.  But, thank the Lord, each I time I do, I don’t run back to the everlasting arms of doctrine.  No, I run back to Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.

Thoughts About Dream Chasing

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Finding your calling, chasing your dreams and following your passions.

I woke up thinking about these topics this morning. It’s interesting to me that the dreams that swirl around my brain and heart have absolutely nothing to do with monetary success or career advancement. Absolutely nothing. I thought about the phrase “chasing the American Dream” and realized all the things in life that light a fire in my heart have nothing to do with me climbing the so-called corporate ladder. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with ladder climbing goals…I’ve just never been wired that way.

Instead, chasing dreams and following passions has always come back to figuring out why God created me and then running in that direction.

What specific/unique experiences am I supposed to embrace while living on this earth?

Sometimes, I wish it could be as easy as finding that one thing, that one calling. But, that hasn’t been my experience. My calling isn’t just one thing…it’s a whole spectrum of things and there are countless ways to go about living that “calling” out.

Jeff Goins, a writer and motivational speaker, whose words and perspectives have inspired me for several years now, tweeted this question the other day:

What’s one question/struggle you have with finding your calling?

I responded with this:

It’s not so much finding it that I struggle with…it’s “channeling” it. If that makes sense.

You see, I know what I’m called to do.

I’m called to be an encourager. I’m called to point to the light when all we see is the dark. I’m called to remind people there is always Hope. I’m called to stand by those and fight for those who find themselves shackled in chains. I’m called to help others discover the pathway to freedom…by my words and my actions.

Again, sometimes I wish it could be as easy as waking up every morning and doing one specific thing. But it’s not…not for me. Over the years I have discovered there is only one key ingredient that must be present when I open my eyes each morning:  a willingness to go where He desires to lead me.

That’s it.

Some days, I resist. Some days, I have more “important or pressing”  things I think I need to be doing. Some days, I get trapped in that negative (always unhealthy, always toxic) place of comparing my calling to your calling. Some days, the fear creeps in and I retreat back to safety.

But when I get this right, when I remember that following my calling is about listening and responding to His lead..then wow.

He’s taken me on some pretty amazing journeys.

When a Seed Travels Home

Five Minute Friday

Word Prompt:  Bloom

Edelweiss  Edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Edelweiss,Edelweiss
Bless my homeland forever.

It’s been awhile since I’ve participated in Lisa-Jo’s Five Minute Friday but after seeing the word prompt this week, the words to Edelweiss started playing in my heart.  I went to YouTube and came across this rendition.

I listened to the beauty and I cried. It was one of those “I’m crying for no reason and every reason ” cries.  The best kind of cries, I think.

My family and I had the incredible opportunity to visit Austria (as well as Germany and Italy) just two weeks ago.  The beauty of it all is still so fresh.  When I was a little girl, my mom and I would cuddle up on the couch and watch the Sound of Music. It’s one of the dearest memories of me and my mom together.  Edelweiss was one of my mom’s favorite songs from the film…mine too. Year after year we watched this movie and an affection for grassy Austrian mountaintops took root.  A seed was planted in my heart. I’ve carried it with me all my life.

Two weeks ago, I stood on green hills like this.
I watched as puffy clouds rolled over mighty peaks.
I listened in wonder and delight to the constant cowbells ringing in the distance.

The slowly blooming seed inside was home.

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The Stranger at Walmart Who Taught Me a Lesson

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I’m not sure why this is but, over the years, I’ve had some of the best reminders of how I want to live life while standing in Walmart.  And, the reminders go beyond the obvious ones you might be thinking of like “Thou Shalt Not Kill” or “Love your neighbor”…although those are much needed reminders too sometimes.  :)

My local store has this beautiful thing you might have discovered too, it’s called self check out. I love self check out. There are usually no lines and no delays. I can get in and out of the store faster when I opt to use this check out method.  Yesterday, as I finished up swiping the items in my cart, I noticed an elderly man using the machine next to me.  He had just alerted the attendant that he needed help.  I glanced at the few items he had remaining in his cart to ring up and realized it was exclusively fruits and vegetables. This made me smile. As I started to ask the man if I could help, the attendant showed up and guided the man through the procedure.

“Lord, I said to myself, I think there are two ways to grow older. May I choose to grow older this way.”

This moment reminded me of the first time I made the decision to go through the self check out with fruits and vegetables.  It was shortly after moving to this area last year.  For a few weeks, I deliberately avoided using the machines if I had any fruits or vegetables in my cart. I knew having to learn what I needed to do differently would slow the check out process. (There might be produce codes I needed to punch into the computer). I also knew I might need to ask someone for help. So, on these produce buying shopping trips, I opted to go through the normal registers and allow the cashier to ring me out.

Then one day, I was ready to learn.

Turns out, Walmart couldn’t have made it any easier.  You just set your broccoli on the scale, push “look up item”, find your item that’s on the page, and push the button. And, to make it completely idiot proof, they even have pictures of each item.

The older man I saw yesterday brought to mind my grandmother who passed away a couple of years ago at the age 92.  She spent the majority of her life terrified of trying new things. She never (I repeat never) would have ventured into the self-check out line at Walmart.

We all have a choice in this life as to what we allow fear to keep us from doing. I hope in 30 years, when I am faced with the unknown, I choose to be like the man I saw in the self-check out line yesterday.  I don’t want to retreat to the comfortable, to the safe, to the familiar.

It dawned up me again yesterday that in order be like the older man I saw yesterday, I have to live like that today.  My grandma didn’t just suddenly wake up one day afraid to step out her front door.  It took years and years of making choices that kept her on that path. It became a habit.  And, in many ways, it became her prison.

“Lord, help me to live like the old man I saw yesterday, making the choice to learn something new. Not in 30 years…but today…right now.

Have you ever shied away from learning something and then discovered it to be easy?

What “new” are you afraid of trying today?

 

When Aches Meet the Light

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“‘That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”- John Green

My mom passed away 23 years ago today. I honestly didn’t think I was going to blog today, at least not about the loss.  Over the years, I’ve written many words of rememberance on this particular date in history.  I wonder,sometimes, if there is anything new I can say. It occurred to me again this morning that there doesn’t  have to be something new in order for it to be worth saying or remembering.

There are some things in life we never get tired of hearing, like the words “I love you.”  We can say those words over and over and the recipient will still long to hear those words one more time, one more day.  New is never a good measuring stick for gauging value and worth. There are some things in life we never want to forget.  Beautiful memories are etched on our hearts for a reason. There is no way for us to go back in time and be there again.  The only thing we can do is revisit the gift, feel it again, and thank the One the who put it there.

I miss my mom.  This day really isn’t any more special or significant than any of the other 364 days of any of the last 23 years.

I miss my mom. A day does not go by where there is not a subtle ache. I’m thankful that life goes on and joy comes back. I am thankful that (after a small detour) I’ve learned to LIVE FULLY despite this ache. I am thankful that I have learned that aches don’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) hidden away in the dark. I am thankful that, if this journey has taught me nothing else it has taught me this: aches deserve a voice.  I am thankful that I now know that putting words to life’s aches is the path that continues to take me by the hand and lead me further down this beautiful road called LIFE…this beautiful road mixed with pain and joy…healing and freedom.  I embrace it all.

Magical Tokens and Other Things I Learned in Europe

“You’re not from around here.”  I thought about this statement earlier this morning and smiled. My husband’s niece, Rachael, said this to me the first time I came down to Georgia to meet the Knowles family about 12 years ago.  I think it was my serious lack of Southern accent that gave me away.

While on our recent two-week vacation in Europe, I felt as if many folks were saying the exact same thing to us without even opening their mouths. I’m not certain how they knew this. It might have been the clueless look that was permanently affixed on our faces that gave us away.  It was like a bright neon sign that was constantly flashing, “CLUELESS TOURIST.”

Overall, people showed us a tremendous amount of grace.  I learned pretty quickly Europeans, by and large, have not been inflicted with the same bug folks in Georgia are born with…the “see a stranger you automatically smile or wave” bug.  I know this to be true because I tried it a few times and my flashing neon signed blinked even brighter.  But, I did learn that once you engage Europeans they are kind and helpful…no need to smile and wave beforehand. ;)

Today, I thought I would share a few other random differences I learned along our journey. If you’ve never been to Europe, but dream of going one day, these little bits of knowledge might help to minimize the incessant blinking on the neon sign you will most likely be wearing around your neck too.

The Little Bucket:  When you visit Europe and you go out for breakfast and order the traditional meats, cheeses and breads your nice server might also bring a little white bucket to your table prior to bringing out anything else. You might be perplexed. Why do you need a little white bucket?  After you begin eating and opening up little packages of honey and butter it will begin to dawn on you that it is most likely for trash.  But, you might be afraid to assume this.  What if it’s not for trash and you insult the server by putting trash in it?  Silly American, putting trash in her little white bucket instead of what it’s really for!  But, on the other hand, what if it is for trash and you opt to leave the trash strewn all over the table? Lazy American she doesn’t even have the decency to put her trash in the little white bucket? It is quite the dilemma and you will do the only thing you know to do, ask for clarification…

Yay!  It is for trash!

The Grocery Store: When you visit a grocery store don’t just assume that grocery shopping will be an easy experience because you’ve done it a thousand times before. You know, how hard can it be?  First, you might try to get a shopping cart and realize they are all locked together.  You might stand in front of the carts for several moments trying to figure out how to go about getting one of these fine metal machines. As you stand there, completely baffled, a friendly local man might come along and take pity on you.  He will hand you a magical orange token like this one.

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Once he does, you will fill your cart with groceries and think you are in the clueless clear. That is, until it’s time to journey to the check-out line to pay. After the cashier swipes them all and you pay for them, you and the cashier will have a staring contest. You wonder why nothing else is happening.  Why are the all your groceries just sitting there? Does he need your magical orange token? Then you lose the staring contest as you glance at the line of people behind you waiting to pay for their groceries too. You look around for bags and see that there aren’t any bags so you begin piling groceries in your token cart (figuring it must work like Costco) while your husband goes outside to pull the car around.

The Parking Garage: Pulling into a parking garage works pretty much like parking garages in America. You punch a button and take a ticket. It’s the getting out part that will leave you thinking you have entered Hotel California.  “You can check out in anytime you like but you can never leave.” Don’t even THINK about climbing back in your car and driving up to the exit when you are wanting to leave. There will be no person/machine waiting up there to take your money. Instead, you will want to begin by searching around the parking garage for a place to pay.  Hint: Look for either an automated box or a person in a booth who looks like they are there to accept money. THEN, get in your car, drive to the exit, and insert your ticket into the exit machine.  Viola! You are now free to leave.

I hope you enjoyed these tips.  My family and I learned these and many other lessons the harder way.  And, if you ever have the pleasure of traveling to Europe…may you make mistakes too…just not these mistakes.  :)  Happy Clueless Traveling!

 

How To Tell A Sad Story

A movie was recently released called The Fault in our Stars.  I haven’t seen it yet but I hope to soon.  I started hearing several good things about the film and decided I would read the book before I actually went to see the movie.  I ordered the book before our trip to Europe and finished the story on our 10 hour flight back to the U.S. earlier this week.

I loved it.

For those of you who have not yet read the book or seen the film, I won’t go into too much detail here. The story focuses on the journey of two teenagers who meet in a cancer support group. I’m sure that description might prompt a few people to shy away from the story but let me assure you it is more than that. It is pain, it is beauty, it is love, it is sadness, it is comical, it is joy, it is disappointment…it is life.

There are a couple of sentences toward the end of the book that made me pause.  The main characters, Hazel and Augustus, are retelling a sad and disappointing experience they had and here is the explanation the reader is given for why Hazel shares the memory in the way she shares it: “We made the story funny. You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.”

I love this.  It’s a great lesson for how to live our life.  We have this incredible gift as to how we choose to remember the disappointing times.  Making the choice to find the good in the midst of the bad is a beautiful way to redeem something.  And, I don’t mean we do this in a way where we become delusional about the reality but we simply choose to see pain and disappointment with eyes of optimism instead.

Redemption can be found in any journey but sometimes we have to seek hard for it. Yet once we find it…what a gift!

I took this picture last week while walking down by the waterfront in Venice, Italy. I like this picture. It symbolizes how I hope I will choose to face everyday along the path. Sometimes there’s an over abundance of trash and we become tempted to fixate on that. Yet, even in the midst of the not so beautiful, we can still choose to seek the beautiful.
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