Autumn Takes the Stage

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15666363Dreamstime

“I fell in the love the way you fall asleep; slowly, and then all at once.”  John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

This quote came to mind yesterday as I looked at the leaves changing color in my neighborhood. The transition seems to have happened differently this year than it did last year. Like the quote above, it’s been slow and then all at once. I’ve been waiting and watching for autumn to arrive in North Georgia.  I might be wrong, but compared to last year, everything seems to be running one or two weeks behind schedule.  I’m guessing it’s right on time…I’ve just been overly eager for it to fully arrive.

Yesterday, as I drove down the road toward the elementary school to pick up my son, I thought to myself as I looked around, “It’s here!”  The trees I had been waiting on to take their place on the stage of life had finally arrived. Like an impatient audience member waiting for the Broadway show to begin, the curtain had finally gone up!

Waiting for the leaves to transform fills me with hope and anticipation. While I know this season means winter is right around the corner, there is something sacred and special about this time. The breathtaking beauty is almost like our Creator saying…winter is coming…but remember this.

I read Psalm 84 this morning.  Here’s a portion of it:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs,
the autumn rains also cover it with pools,
They go from strength to strength,
til each appear before God in Zion.

One thing I love about autumn and the changing leaves is that it’s such a good reminder for our hearts that we can draw on the beauty of who He is even in the darkest seasons of our lives. He is our pool of unending hope and strength. Winter is coming…but remember.

Last weekend, I went to see Rend Collective in concert. The lyrics in this song remind me of this ever-present strength and hope we have in Him. No matter how cold or how dark the winter is, this Truth remains:  “We’ll cast our crowns before Him like the rusting leaves of autumn now every chain lies broken…”

Rock Paper Scissors

Rock, paper and scissors valentineDepositphotos

“But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.” (Romans 5:20 MSG)

Blame it on the fact it was early, but the first thing that came to mind when I read this verse this morning was the rock and the scissors in the well-known Rock Paper Scissors game.

Rock always crushes scissors.  Christ and His grace always wins in a fight against sin.  Always.

Scissors cuts paper.  Sin’s goal is to destroy us, to break us a part and without the Rock there is no hope for us.

Paper “covers” Rock. Okay this last comparison might be a stretch, but let’s go with it, shall we?  Maybe the paper really isn’t covering  the rock. Maybe that’s just what us humans like to tell ourselves sometimes. But, what if we change our perspectives?  What if we took time to really look at what is going on? Perhaps we would be surprised to discover that paper isn’t covering the Rock at all…the Rock is holding the paper up. We are victorious because of the Rock on which we stand.  He holds us up and on that foundation we are called to rest.

“They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer” Psalm 78:35 NIV

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Ephesians 2: 7-10 Message

 

 

How Will Your Story Play Out Today?

story and storytelling word cloudsDepositphotos

I have a confession to make. Yesterday I kind of told a lie on Facebook and it was fun.  Okay, so maybe I didn’t lie.  Maybe I just altered the details slightly in order to tell a different story… ? ;)

Let me back up.

Yesterday morning, I was less than three miles into a ten-mile run and had already caught a glimpse of seven deer. As I ran along I created a Facebook status, one that I wanted to share after I was done.

Math word problem: If you run 10 miles and pass 7 deer who are also out on their morning run then how many deer stayed home in their jammies drinking coffee?

Turns out, when my run was all said in done, I had passed a total of 12 deer. But that’s not the story I wanted to tell. I had my heart set on sharing a different story. So, I “lied” to all my Facebook friends, not to mention adding a few details like coffee drinking deer who like wearing pajamas.

As I ran along yesterday, I thought more about this ability storytellers have to change things up. I love the fact that if our purpose is to exclusively entertain then 100% truth isn’t necessary, a shade of truth is sufficient.  Ideas will often spring from reality but then veer off into fiction.  Other than silly Facebook statuses, I’ve only written a handful of fiction pieces in my life. My math word problem reminded of how much fun it is to tell whatever story you want to tell. It’s very freeing.

Sometimes, I wish real life could be more like that, don’t you?  If we had a horrible, no good terrible day we could just go back and edit that part out. We could rewrite those parts to only include sunshine, flowers, giant pools of coffee, and waterfalls made out of chocolate.

Yet even though we can’t undo how our lives have played out, we do still have complete freedom as to how we choose to present those stories to other people. Words have the power to build up, encourage and inspire, or words have the power to tear down, discourage and deflate. They are given this power all by how we choose to use and organize them. One of my favorite parts about storytelling is that even the saddest stories can be retold in such a way that they contribute something beautiful back to the world.

I believe each of us can strive to be good storytellers even if we don’t happen to be writers. As storytellers, we can take the hard and extract the hope. Bad stories, stories we would prefer not to tell can be redeemed simply by the way we decide to share them.  I love that.

I also love the reminder yesterday that, every step of the way, before the words are written down, we have a say in how each chapter will unfold.  We have a say by the choices we make or the reactions we have.  All of those details are up to us.

What kind of stories are we going to tell today, this week, this month or this year?  I know that in reality the true story I tell today (most likely) won’t include deer drinking coffee and wearing jammies but it can still be pretty awesome!

 

I Want to Get This Correct

dreamstime_xs_17598493Dreamstime

Lately, I’ve been looking back on this faith journey.  I tend to do that a lot.  But, today, I want to talk about the shift and the changes I’ve seen in my own walk. My faith and my perception has done quite a bit of changing and growing in the last 13 years. I’ve seen a shift in my heart where I don’t fixate so much on having all the answers. I don’t have to have all the “T”s crossed or “i”s dotted to move further up faith boulevard.

Now I believe this: forward movement and progress up the road only requires that I answer these two questions on a daily basis:

Am I committed to loving God with all my heart?
Am I embracing others with that same love?

That’s it. It’s that simple. And, sometimes, it’s that hard.

For too many years I had it wrong. I thought way too much about how to be a Christian, “correctly.” Today, I don’t t think about that because, ultimately, it’s the wrong path to walk down.  It distracts me from the one thing followers of Jesus are called to do: LOVE

Too often, we make the mistake of equating acceptance and love to condoning. We like to pair them together like they are partners. We sometimes have this skewed belief that you can’t have one without the other. This is so not true. We CAN fully love and fully accept others without agreeing with every path others to choose to walk down. Sometimes, we withhold love from others because we don’t agree with their choices. We may not say we are doing that…but our actions (or lack of actions) speak louder than our words.  When we do this, we become guilty of silently pointing fingers of condemnation. When we do this, we are guilty of ignoring the log in our own eyes and fixating on the sawdust in some one else’s eye. (Matthew 7:3) Folks, this is one mistake I don’t want to make in my life. On this faith journey, this is one thing I want to get “correct.”

All we have to do is look at our own children to see that it is possible to love others fully without agreeing with every decision they make. We might believe (in our hearts) that our children have taken not-so smart paths but that doesn’t make us love and accept them any less…or at least it shouldn’t.  Jesus was continually showing us how possible this kind of love is.  Look at the lady at the well, look at the prostitute who washed his feet with her tears, look at the prodigal son story where the Father stood waiting with open arms, a celebration banner hanging on the wall.

And, personally, I’ve seen Jesus love and accept me the same way.  I don’t always get this journey right. There’s been times when it’s been my tears hitting His feet.

Today, this is my goal.  If I’m called to do anything “correctly” on this journey then it is simply this: to love and accept everyone with open arms.

Remembering the Tunnel, the Sunlight, and Everything In-Between

Depositphotos_36135561_sDeposit Photo

“When someone dies you don’t get over your grief by forgetting, you get through your grief by remembering.” – Author Unknown

A friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook the other day.  It’s an accurate statement of the grief journey.

The quote reminded me of how remembering my grief was the path that opened my heart back up to a love I had for writing, a love that had been buried away for years under the rubble of life.

It all started one afternoon when I looked back and remembered the first anniversary of my mom’s death.  When I did, I decided to share my thoughts in a note on Facebook. Here is the beginning of that note, written about five years ago.

July 4, 1992. I remember this date well. It was 10 days prior to the 1 year anniversary of my mom’s death on July 14, 1991. I was on my way to a 4th of July celebration and suddenly broke down in tears. One thought came to mind that completely terrified me… What if someday I forget her?” It really upset me. So much so, that I turned the car around and drove back home. Fortunately, my oldest brother and sister-in-law were in town that week visiting. I got home and she was there. Marianne understood. Her mom had passed away when she was 15. I told her why I was upset and she wrapped her arms around me and reassured me…You will never forget.

When I originally had this terrifying thought, the wound of losing my mom was still so fresh. I was nearing that point in the grief journey when you desperately want to hold on… but at the same time the holding on still hurts like hell.  It’s a hard spot to be in: wanting to remember but not wanting to hurt.

I started my first blog shortly after sharing those words above.

A blog.

At the time, I really didn’t even know what one was. I remember saying to my husband, “Maybe I should start a blog…I’m not sure if I have anything to say, but maybe I’ll try to start one.”  5 years and about 1500 posts later, I think I found stuff to talk about. :)

I know that many of my blog entries are moments of remembering, not just the grief but the beauty too. There’s no way to compartmentalize life. I will remember all of it.

As much as I like that grief quote above, I’ve lived long enough post-loss to know another truth about grieving that I find myself sharing over and over on this blog. There’s a part of you that never actually gets through grieving.  I don’t say that to discourage but to let people know that it’s okay to cry 23 years later.  It’s okay.

A quote from Corrie Ten Boom came to mind as I was writing this:

“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

And, eventually, the train does come out of the tunnel. The sunlight hits your face as you sit there on that train car and a smile breaks free. But, the journey must go on. There are still miles of track to cover. There are still hard days. There are wedding days, giving birth days, miscarriage days, and days you would pay anything to pick up the phone just to hear their voice again on the other end.

So why am I sharing this?  Because, even after saying all of that…the remembering does get easier.

It does.

The remembering does become a gift, it eventually gives more than it takes.

It does.

I have not forgotten.  I will remember the dark tunnel.  I will remember the sunlight too. And, most of all, I remember how, time after time, my Redeemer has lived up to His Name.

Conversations That Guide Your Heart Home

Hiker standing by the sea on a stormy dayDeposit Photos

Don’t you love the gift tucked away in a simple conversation?

I’ve been feeling off all week.  I know it has a lot to do with the weather. I’ve woken up to clouds or rain for the past five mornings.  You can take the girl out of sunny Arizona but after a few days of limited sun she will feel like whining.  I think that’s how the saying goes. ;)

This morning, I knew my heart was pretty distracted because I had to reread the following devotional sentence multiple times before I could even retain a single word of it:  “Look to me continually for help, comfort, and companionship. Because I am always by your side, the briefest glance can connect you with Me.”

Unfortunately, like I said, it took multiple read throughs before I was even able to achieve the “brief glance.”  I always find it slightly ironic when I read reminders to focus and be still and yet my mind and heart are a million miles away.  You think that’s a coincidence?  No, me neither.

As we drove to school this morning my son and I talked.

“Mom, do you know what my favorite subject is in school right now?

“What?”

“Writer’s Workshop”  (yeah, he just scored some mega brownie points with that answer.)

“Cool”  I responded.

“We are currently working on a Halloween type story.  The best stories are going to be read to the first graders.  So you have to make sure what you write is appropriate for them.”

“So, what’s yours about?”

“Well, I just started, but mine’s about a skeleton named Nick. Nick is sitting at his kitchen table reading the newspaper and he says to himself…’I gotta find a job.’

“So, what job does he find?” I ask.

“He’s going to try a bunch of different jobs.  He’s going to try to work in a restaurant but it’s not gonna work out.  I have an idea what job he will end up doing.”

“Oh, yeah,” I ask.  “What is it?”

“I don’t want to tell you yet.  You’ll have to wait and see.” He answered.

“What?! Come on, I want to know!”

“Nope” he answered, shaking his head.  “You’ll just have to wait.”

I smiled and we continued journeying along the road and out of our neighborhood.

“Sean,” I said, “I’m so tired of the cloudy weather.”

“Yeah, it’s cloudy. But, you know, the sky is still so pretty.” He answered.

As he commented, I realized that Busted Heart was playing on radio.

“Hold on to me (Hold on to me)
Hold on to me
Don’t let me lose my way (Don’t let me lose my way)
Hold on to me.

Broke your heart a thousand times
But you’ve never left my side
You have always been here
For me”

I looked out at the horizon and couldn’t help but agree with him.

One Way to Make Pottery

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image11984884Dreamstime

Write your way into a better story.

The first thing that came to mind when I started writing this post, other than that statement above, was the image of a pair of hands shaping and molding a clump of gooey pottery clay. I know nothing about pottery or clay. Yet, I could clearly see those hands going to work, turning a clump of goo into something beautiful and usable.

This is what it feels like before words begin to take shape on a blank page. I have no clue what the finished product will end up looking like. I only know one thing: I have to start molding them together in hopes of creating something of beauty…something of worth.

Writing helps me to process my life and the life taking place around me.

I spent many years believing I wasn’t creative or artistic. I couldn’t draw or paint well. As a child I remember how I would attempt (over and over again) to draw a dog. It would always turn out looking like a pig with a long tail.  :)  For the longest time, this was my only definition of a creative/artistic person. I failed to see writing as a form of art.

But I see it now.

In fact, now I believe that every person on earth is creative whether they realize it yet or not.

Sometimes the words I have to share really don’t seem to have much significance… clumps of words and thoughts scattered around the table in my heart.  Where do they go?  How will they all fit together on the page?

The journey is never clear when I begin. Writing opens my eyes. It’s the doorway I must walk through, the hall I must walk down. The light only begins to illuminate the path ahead when I choose to pick up a word and place it on the page.

Writing reminds me that every part of a story (yours and mine) contains beauty. No part is too small. Each piece has a purpose…and the purpose waits patiently to be discovered.

The process of writing opens my eyes to the better.

To the better which I would have missed had I not chosen to open my laptop and write.

To the better I can only experience if I choose to get my hands dirty, to pick up the words and begin shaping and molding them together.

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” Galatians 6: 4-5 (Message)

 

The Missing Piece

Nature concept - 3d puzzles

Deposit Photos

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
    “I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
    if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
    I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
    give you a long drink of salvation! (Psalm 91:14-16)

I read Psalm 91 this morning, the NIV translation and also the Message translation above. I love these verses but I couldn’t help but think about the times in life when it doesn’t seem like God is rescuing us or getting us out of trouble.  What then?

Sometimes people still get the terminal diagnosis from the doctor.

Sometimes people still lose their job or their house.

Loved ones still die.

Horrible and evil things still take place in this world.

I’ve come to understand that the only way any of those things make sense and the only way a person can be walking through a seemingly endless valley of pain and still say…”Yet, I will praise Him!” is because that person has done what the Psalmist suggests here:  Gotten to know God.

And, it’s not simply head knowledge, it’s a heart knowledge.  When we get to know God there’s a confidence and an assurance that goes beyond the here and now.  It’s infinitely bigger than our circumstances.

I think about the Apostle Paul and the encouraging words he would write to other believers while sitting in a jail cell.  Paul was filled with hope and it was that hope that gave him the strength and the perspective to write messages such as this one over and over again.

“But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ  and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.  My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” Philippians 3: 7-11 (bold mine)

My goal is to know him...

Sometimes, life feels like a huge jigsaw puzzle and if this one important piece is missing, then the picture in front of us will fail to make sense.  Paul?  He had all the pieces he needed to keep moving forward in his faith.  The picture was clear.

A Trip Down Powerless Lane

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image1544832Dreamstime

This morning I was thinking about my dad.  He suffered his stroke almost 2 1/2 years ago.  His life was forever changed on that day.  I’ve blogged about this on many different occasions but the journey our family has had to take watching a loved one adjust to a radically different way of living has been an eye opening experience.  If I had to pick two important lessons that have been solidified in my heart because of this journey, it would be this:

1. Sometimes we are powerless to change a situation and the best thing we can do is acknowledge it.
2. Mobility is a gift and I never ever want to take if for granted again.

Today, I want to focus on that first lesson.

As I look back on other seasons in my life when I was powerless to do anything about a situation, the first thing that comes to mind is my mom’s illness. I remember the day she sat me down in our living room and told me she had breast cancer. I was 13 years old. I remember how my young mind took the news extremely well.  I simply told myself that she would have surgery and be fine again.

Of course that’s how it would play out.

Other families experience the unhappy ending…not my family.  This plan worked for a couple of years before it started to unravel. Even though I thought I was fine, today I know that deep down I was anything but fine. I was terrified and I was unable to process, in a healthy way, just  how powerless I really was to do anything to change the situation.

Today, I believe this is one of the reasons I struggled with an eating disorder all through high school. Food and exercise were two things I could control in my young life. I fixated on eating just enough food to survive and then exercising obsessively. I went from a healthy 126 lbs to (at my lowest) 88 lbs.

My parents were concerned about me the entire time. My mom took the gentle, loving approach. My dad took the forceful, yelling approach. They would ask me how much I weighed and I would lie and tell them 100.

I hit  my first “bottom” the day I stepped on the scale and, even though  I had hardly eaten anything the day before, I had gained a pound.  I tried to stick my finger down my throat, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I finally told my mom I needed help. She took me to a nutritionist. (Umm, what I really needed was a shrink!)  The good news? I did stop starving myself but I never learned a healthy way to deal with situations where I was completely powerless to change the outcome.  In college, and after my mom’s death, I turned to alcohol instead of food. I used it as an escape.  I numbed my way through life and managed to avoid the tough or hard decisions for years and years before hitting my second “bottom.”  But, in my attempt to run away from life, all I did was dig a bigger hole.

So let’s go back to my original statement:   Sometimes we are powerless to change a situation and the best thing we can do is acknowledge it.

I’ve had to learn this many times in my life.  The biggest takeaway from the journey I’ve taken is this: The worst mistake we can make is to run away and hide from the truth.  Running and hiding only prolongs the pain and delays the healing.  Instead, we must look our fear in the face and acknowledge it.

Believe it or not…acknowledging our powerlessness gives us power.  And, it’s the only way out. It’s the only path that leads to freedom.

Question:  When it comes to tough situations, do you tend to run, hide, or confront? 

Cartwheels and Kangaroos

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image25177472Dreamstime

I couldn’t decide this morning whether to write about the flame flickering in my fireplace, baby kangaroos, or this verse:  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” (Psalm 118:17)

So, lucky you, I will write about all of the above. ;)

My son plopped down in the car yesterday and asked me if I wanted the good news first or the bad news.  I chose the good news.  Because, well, I do prefer good news.  He proceeded to tell me how he got his picture taken with a kangaroo.  He told me how the hair/fur?  was softer than dog’s fur.  He told me how the baby was kept in a pillow case because it reminded him of the safety and comfort of his first home, his mother’s pouch.  He told me his name was Max.

I asked for the bad news next.  One of his good friends (who he just met this school year) has moved and must transfer to a new school.  Sean will no longer get to see him everyday.  I could tell my son was disappointed.  Bad news is hard. Change is hard.  Goodbyes are hard.

My son turns 11 years old next week.  11 years old. He has not fit on my lap (or in my pouch) for quite some time now.  But, there are days, I wish I had a pillow case. I want to keep him comfortable. I want to protect him from the bad news. But, I also know something else, sometimes bad precedes the good.  Sometimes we travel through dark before we get to the light. I’ve seen it happen over and over.

I turned the fire on in our fireplace again this morning.  After 15 months of living here, this is one my favorite parts of our house….instant fire.  I realized this morning that turning the fireplace knob on a cool Autumn morning brings me almost as much joy as turning on the Christmas tree lights in December.  There’s something so peaceful and inviting about the light.

Last Sunday evening, I had the chance to share a portion of my journey again with a couple of ladies.  I got to hear their stories too.  We shared the good and the bad.  We shared the dark and light.  I think I’ve mentioned this before but verses like the one above, about God’s ability to save us and how it’s hard to keep quiet about it, are some of my favorite moments in scripture.

These are verses that prompt my heart to do cartwheels.

I think about how the Light left his home (the pouch) and came to be the light for us.  He came so that we might live. He entered a bad situation to make it good.  Today, I know this to be true.  I also know that, in this life, I will hear and live the bad and the good.  There will be days with some painful goodbyes and there will be days with soft kangaroo hair. But no matter what, there will be joy available in the midst of it all.  Because {insert cartwheel}  He has done it!