On Cultivating Faithfulness

“If one more person says, ‘If anyone could do it, you can’, I’m going to scream.”

She was furiously scrubbing her laminate kitchen floor.

I stood in the doorway, silent.

“I know,” I finally said slowly, “Me too. I mean, I have never been through what you have been through, but even in the things I face in life, I get that all the time. “You’re so strong”, “You have what it takes”…it’s so frustrating.”

“Exxxaaaactly,” She leaned back on her knees and slowly stood. “It’s kind of another way of saying that we don’t need anyone or anything. It’s invalidating.”

It’s kind of like saying you don’t even need God.

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God knows what you can handle. God will only give you what you can handle.

We grow up hearing these things, until we wake up one morning and we are wrecked by life.

So we question –

because if we live from that theology, we are reduced to questioning even God Himself. 

If God will only give us what we can handle, is there even a God? {Because this is too much to handle.} 

My friend woke up one morning and her son died in his sleep.

How do you go on from that and live?

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In the aftermath of such heart-rending anguish, well-meaning people told her crazy things like, “God knew you could handle this if anyone could. You are strong.”

We have got to stop.

No one is strong enough to “handle” that.

No one.

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Years later, we said yes to the life of a newborn baby girl who had to fight through the drug addiction of her biological mama.

I held her every day that she stayed in the hospital NICU. I whispered “I love you” in her ears, I prayed that God would let me absorb all the pain that wracked her little five pound body, and I promised her that I would fight for her.

Our hearts were completely captivated with her wide eyes, round face and demanding personality. We loved her as our own. We sung her through hours of screaming and walked her through hours of tremoring. We got up with her at night. We welcomed her as our own.

Then we kissed her good-bye.

And I fell to the floor and screamed.

My heart bled for the pain.

None of our story made sense. I hurt because it was over and it had just begun. I hurt more because she wouldn’t “get it” and I knew that with every ounce of my being.

Babies are resilient, yes.

But babies are little humans with the capacity to feel every emotion that we are capable of feeling.

I couldn’t see through my tears and my fists pounded the kitchen counter and all I said was “no”.

My husband pulled me close and told me we would make it.

And I groaned. And I cried, “But will she? Will she?” And I remember looking at him, wildly swiping at my tears, and saying this – “I know that she will feel abandoned. I know that. It kills me.”

He half-carried me to bed, where I stayed for four days. There were moments I felt like I couldn’t breathe and moments I sat hunched over the toilet, gagging.

I threw up nothing but my one aching heart.

Everything hurt.

And I shrunk into a shell of grief.

img_6423Some people will tell you that God won’t give you too much to bear and they will try to be nice and encourage you by telling you untruths like – “you are strong enough”.

But you can hurt so deep that you wish you could close your eyes and never wake up, because you are truthfully not strong enough.

Don’t believe the lies.

You are not strong enough.

Good enough.

Smart enough.

Talented enough.

You are not enough.

And believing you are…and telling yourself that you are…is prison disguised as release.

Jesus came to set the captive free.

You. Me. All of us.

He came to save us – not just from sin and brokenness – but also from ourselves.

What would happen, I wonder, if we stopped struggling with our self-imposed expectations of “being enough” and instead – instead

cultivated faithfulness?IMG_5716 I wish I could tell you that I “handled” my grief well. I wish I could tell you that I was “strong enough”.

I can’t.

I didn’t.

I wasn’t.

But I hung on desperately.

And maybe that’s what faithfulness looks like sometimes. Resiliently hanging on, even when your whole life feels like it’s falling apart.

MtKatahdin1The spring before our son Leo was born, my faith in God’s goodness to me was tested in a way that shaped my view of God for me.

We had started the process of connecting with his birth mom and begun preparing for this little nameless baby boy – to be born in just a few short months. An August baby. It had happened so fast and so unexpectedly and I remember feeling so alive inside my heart, like I was living in a dreamy haze.

I was going to be a mom.

On my way, flying across the country, to visit my best friend and serve in another friend’s wedding, I wrote in my journal about a fear that shadowed my heart.

I was afraid that something was going to happen.

I felt this certainty that something would come up.

But I wrote this – “God, you wouldn’t let that happen though. Right?”

IMG_1861A few days later, thousands of miles away from my husband, I received the phone call that circumstances had changed.

We would not be placed with that baby boy.

Hope tells you to believe in spite of the risks, and when the risks became your reality, hope can feel foolish and unwise, like a waste.

And I wrestled. I dug in my heels and I grabbed hold and I said, “Show me.” 

Show me, God. What is it that you want from me, in this place?

Dashed hopes can make you feel an awful lot like you’re living in a wasteland.

And it’s there, in one of those fifteen scrawled-in books I’ve written the raw of my one heart and stored in my hope chest.

“You say you are good. But you don’t feel good to me.”

Honestly, it’s like if one kid offered a lollipop to another kid, waving the prospect in his face and then ripped off the wrapper and ate it himself. We would say that was mean, right?

But isn’t that just what happened? Didn’t God just wave this prospect in my face and then rip it away again?

I did not get an answer for why it happened, but it was impressed very deeply on my heart that I needed to just believe that God is who He says that He is.

It was like He was saying to me – “Renee? Believe who I say that I am. I am a good God and my plan for you is good.”

It was like He was saying to me – “Cultivate faithfulness.”

Hold on to what you know to be true.

And what we know to be true, is that Jesus, the Son of God, laid down his life for us and took the complete brokenness of all mankind on HimselfBecause He is good, for our good.

Two weeks later I received a phone call. Did we still want to be placed with this baby?

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Two-and-a-half years later, this happened –

lawyer dayMaybe knowing why doesn’t matter, you know?

Life doesn’t and won’t often make sense.

You aren’t enough for that and you don’t have to be.

Because God is.

He is enough for your one shattered heart –

your messed-up predicament –

your broken dreams –

your busy life –

your deepest grief –

your imperfect family –

your darkest night –

and every hopeless thought you have ever had.

He is enough and He came so that you didn’t have to try to be anymore.

And this is why you can lean in and be fearless –

not because there isn’t brokenness,

but because there is faithfulness.

Psalm 37:3-5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and [a]cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

 

Trust. Do Good. Dwell.

and cultivate faithfulness. 

We overcome because we cultivate faithfulness to God and His word, regardless of our life circumstances.

And when the storms of life come, we might be shaken –

But we will not be moved.

Why You Should GO FIRST

September 1st and the sun shone bright and warm when I walked through those clear glass doors with my three-year-old son in tow.

What am I doing? My heart thrummed in my chest. This is stupid. I don’t need a “mom group”. 

Mom group. Insert <gag>.

Her hair was cut in a cute brown bob that framed her face and she was wearing yellow shorts. Her face was bright and her eyes were warm. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said, as I fumbled my way into the church, “I’m Dez. Let me tell you about MOPS.”

Stacy walked me to the classroom for Leo’s age group and Kristin reassured me when I left my kid with people I didn’t know – for the first time ever. “They’re so great back here,” She said. “They will call you if he needs you. He’s going to have fun and make friends! I know it’s hard. Do you want to sit with me?”

What am I doing here

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I poured myself coffee and I sat down with a table of women I didn’t know. The morning flew by, I got Leo from his classroom and I went home, feeling more hope in my heart than I had in a long time. I wrote,

“Today there was MOPS and new friends, meeting up with 35 strangers and being met by 35 kind and genuine smiles and being encouraged by a whole lot of authenticity and talk of this one, next year, being a year to LOOK UP and SEE.”

 The six months leading up to that sunny September 1st, I had been begging God to open my eyes wide to see.

And when the woman with shoulder-length brown hair and quiet eyes got up and talked about seeing, I had my answer.

I knew it down deep why I was there.

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There was a man in the Bible who was born blind so that the power of God could be seen. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said, and he spit on the ground and made mud to cover the man’s eyes.  “Go wash it off,” he said, and the man came back seeing.

Jesus restored the blind man’s sight by smearing mud over his eyes.

Sometimes God uses the unexpected to work redemption in our lives. 

When I walked into that mom group, I needed to see again. There were things in my heart crying out for redemption.

There were forsaken places in my journey and spaces in my heart.

And the journey through the wilderness that landed me at a moms group full of strangers, has only made me more convinced that Satan wants us to feel abandoned. Forsaken. Alone.

“Be watchful,” 1 Peter 5:8 says, “…the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, and Peter continues, “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”

Knowing.

Knowing what?

That you are not alone.

CBS News reported that 72% of Americans experience loneliness and 33% say they feel lonely once a week.

floweratpophamIt’s late. The house is quiet, minus the soft, persistent tick of the bedroom clock. The smoke alarm in the basement beeps and I remember that we need to buy new batteries for it.

Be watchful.

Keep your eyes wide open.

The Enemy of your soul wants nothing more than to destroy you.

Be watchful and stand firm.

Stand firm in the knowledge that you are not alone.

And you resist. 

These words are profound to me.

Everywhere I go, I hear it, I see it, I feel it – this deep yearning for authenticity, transparency and connection.

Because at the root of every jealous thought or misunderstanding, argument or rejection –

is really just a yearning to be loved.

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And this is why you should go first and say hello.

“Hi, I’m Renee, and…”

And your transparency might just be the key –

the key that lets another caged heart find freedom.

That says, “me too”“you’re not alone”. 

And together –

we resist the wily snares of the devil and step deeper into the water of His love.

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When I walked into Meadville MOPS on a sunny, September Thursday, expecting to never want to go back – I left with a glimmer of hope that I never expected.

Together.

Together is why you you should go first.

Because underneath all the layers of politeness and pleasantries and behind every mask?

There’s really just a yearning to be loved and to belong.

Find your tribe and love them well, for better or for worse, and you will stand firm and resist.

And you will see.

Make-Over Monday: Three Tips to Save You Time {cooking, cleaning & laundry}

Hello, Monday.

{We are so ready for you and this new week!}

Busy has become the new brag and there are some fascinating articles and statistics out there, talking about all the reasons why.

But regardless of where you fall in the spin of “busy, busy”, like me, you probably spend a lot of time doing a few  basic necessaries that can take up a lot of time – like laundry, cleaning & cooking food.

So here are my three tips guaranteed to save you time.

This is how I start every Monday and it sets my pace for every week.

  1. Do one load of laundry every day. I literally can’t believe I am saying that, because I used to turn my nose up at the very thought. I thought having one or two “laundry days” was the only way to do it. But seriously. Throwing a load of laundry into my washing machine – almost  e.v.er.y.   s.i.n.g.l.e. day – has saved me SO much time. No more days of being tied to my washer and dryer or being overwhelmed by baskets (or couches) overflowing with laundry.  Sometimes I do two loads (if I need to wash some bedding or towels, for example), but just doing one load a day – start to finish – has saved me time AND overwhelm. There is something incredibly EMPOWERING to consistently have empty or almost-empty laundry baskets. 

2.   Make a menu. Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me.  The last several months I have struggled with kitchen creativity and cooking frustration and it all started (again…because yes, I have been there many times before) when I started slacking off on meal-planning. {I also spend (and waste) more $$ on take-out and groceries when I don’t have a plan. Go figure, right?} Meal planning does not have to hem you in and keep you from being spontaneous, contrary to some popular opinions that I’ve heard. No menu ever needs to be “do or die”, unless you make it that way. But planning a menu – weekly, biweekly, monthly, or however else you decide to – will save you time. I’ve messed around with meal planning and not meal planning to know this, um, basically for a ??fact??.

In fifteen minutes or less, I literally mapped out meals and a grocery list for two weeks. Boom. I have the choice to deviate from my menu if I want too, BUT I know that for the next two weeks at least, I have all the food I need on-hand for specific, homemade meals that will nourish my family. Stress be-gone. Plus, I just earned myself some extra time messing around trying to decide what to make and wondering if I have the ingredients that I need.

3. Clean first. First – decide what you like to regularly be cleaned in your house. What is it that drives you crazy or distracts you until it’s done? Some people spazz-out over their floors needing regularly washed, while other people *need* a clean bathroom. I don’t know what your thing is, but whatever it is, clean first.

Seriously. Most people don’t like cleaning and the people I know that do – still prefer it crossed off their to-do list. I have found that I get so much MORE accomplished and have more time to spare – through my whole week –  when I clean first.

Cleaning first, maintaining laundrymeal-planning  eliminates potential stress and frames my week for greater productivity and more time freedom – to work from home, serve in ministry, make better memories with my people and do more of what I love.

Make over your Monday and you might just make over your life.

Happy Monday ~ Happy Week.

 

My Word for 2018

I used to make New Years resolutions ridiculously.

As if New Years resolutions could somehow make a life.

But life isn’t made from making resolutions, as much as it is by living with resolve.

And so, a few years back, I started by choosing just one word for my year. One word to encapsulate the kind of resolve – intention – that I wanted to live that year.

Yesterday, January 1, 2018 – I put on my running shoes and walked out onto my front porch, stretched and ran in the glow of morning light rising between the leafless, snow-covered tree limbs. runningshoesMy feet found their pace on snow-covered sidewalks, to the rhythm of these words –

God I give You what I can today
These scattered ashes that are hid away
I lay it all at Your feet…

O let this be where I die
My Lord with thee crucified
Be lifted high as my kingdoms fall
Once and for all, once and for all

This is the year of

fearless.

The year of no-turning-back.

More humility.

Letting love be the loudest voice.

Facing insecurities head-on.

Saying no to selfishness.

Loving others better.

Resisting shame.

Receiving correction.

Committing less, to be more committed.

Choosing repentance.

Because once and for all, Christ died –

and we have been set free from the bondage of sin, self and shame, called out of darkness and called into the Light.

Golden light spilling through the trees, washing my cold cheeks in warm sunshine as I ran –

fearless

into the New Year.

Fearless – because come what may, Christ died, once and for all, to set the captives free. 

“So if the Son has set you free, you shall be free indeed.” 

And these words playing, as my feet slowed to a walk, two-and-a-half miles into my first run of a new year.

“Let my eyes see Your kingdom shine all around
Let my heart overflow with passion for Your name
Let my life be a song, revealing who You are”

Happy New Year!

2018: The Year to Lean In

The voices in my head told me to walk away.

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Leave.

You’re just too much. 

And never enough.

Two years earlier that’s what I said in an essay I wrote for a class on Biblical womanhood. I don’t remember the question, but I can’t forget my answer.

“I’ve always felt like I’m too much and not enough – all at the same time.”

I will never forget this part of the teacher’s response – “What would life look like for you…if you lived as though you had nothing to prove?” 

I read it and cried.

How do you even live your life that way? 

What would it look like if we lived as though we had nothing to prove? 

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Nothing to prove.

Because Jesus doesn’t need – or want – our performance.

His sacrifice would be in utter vain, if Jesus needed us to prove something. He wants our hearts.

And the awesome and holy truth about what happens when God has our hearts? 

We live captivated to the beauty of our unique purpose.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Phil. 1:6

In another version, Phil 1:6 starts by saying “Being confident of this very thing…”

BE confident – that the redemptive work God is doing in your life was begun and will be finished by God.

You won’t get it right all the time. You will hurt others sometimes. You will forget things that you should have remembered. You will wonder why. Things will happen to you – or people that you love – that you will struggle to understand or accept. Life won’t always make sense. Things will happen that shouldn’t.

And you need to get this to live freely

you are confident in the redemption of Jesus Christ.

Your hope is not in answers to your questions, healing for your diseases, miracles for your impossibilities, or solutions for your problems.

Your hope is in Christ.

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A couple of verses after verse 6, Paul says:

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Have confidence in God and the redemptive work He is doing in your life, and you are freed from performance and comparison and proving yourself – to be filled with the fruits of righteousness that comes through belonging to Jesus Christ.

12 I want you to know, brothers,[e] that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.

The Gospel went forth through the life of Paul because of what happened to him. Paul wasn’t – and isn’t – the hero in the story. Paul was the vessel through which God shared a Greater Story.

So are you.

Yes, you too. 

2 Corinthians 4:5-6 says this.

Soak this in.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants[c] for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

We do not proclaim ourselves. We do not commend ourselves. Of ourselves, who are we?

But in Christbecause of Jesus, we are the treasured possession of the Most High God who has shown His marvelous light on our darkness.

That is our hope.

The hope that we share is that we have been rescued from sin, from darkness, AND – from ourselves.

You must tell your story.

Not because of who you are, but

because of what Christ has done for you.

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When Jesus sat with his disciples and walked upon the earth, He spoke in parables.

par·a·ble
ˈperəb(ə)l/
noun
plural noun: parables
  1. a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.
    synonyms: allegory, moral story/tale

 

Jesus spoke in story form.

And thousands of years later, His stories still speak and change lives for eternity.

You must tell your story.

Fresh out of high school, I took writing classes that instructed me from the standpoint of sharing your story. I am passionate about sharing my story and empowering others to share theirs. Words have the power to change people’s lives. Telling a story can make all the difference in the world.

But I never imagined how hard it would be.

I took some tough feedback from published authors when I took my writing course. We talked about “developing a thick skin”. There was frustration. A lot of erasing and re-do’s. There were tears.

But it was different than when you open up your heart and tell the story of your soul.

That’s a holy kind of hard.

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The snow is falling softly and lazily across a gray sky. It’s hard to tell where the snowflakes even fall, the way they tumble horizontal.

Sometimes its hard to know how your words fall. You speak and you wonder – will you be received?

You are seen, but will your heart be heard?

You are noticed, but will you be known?

Will your sharing be accepted as the invitation you intend it to be?

I first came out on a social media platform, back in XANGA days. I was the “icelebrate” girl and I talked about life and hope and disappointment and Jesus.

How Jesus makes everything better.

And how there’s nothing trite about that at all.

Those days ended and there was a time of silence, before I began again, two years later. I started this blog and I joined Facebook, and eventually Instagram.

It was first just a place for me to connect with people. I love people and connection and hearing their stories. And I don’t know if it was by default, because of who I am and how much I care about story, but secondly, it became a way to share the story of my heart and how Jesus was working there.

There are plenty of words left unspoken, because there’s a time and a place for everything and social media is not the time or the place for it all.

But for me – it has become a significant space for me to speak and share my journey.

Until I almost left, last January.

I turned it all off for a week and I wrestled hard.

I {mostly} quit blogging, for almost a year.

Because the paradox with words is that they’re heavy and cheap.

I was speaking a lot of words…words that I meant with all of my heart.

But you can mean words that you speak with all your heart and hide behind them.

Kind of like how you can believe in the Bible and hide behind it.

Know what I mean?

I wanted to leave – social media, relationships, writing and pretty much everything hard.

You’re too much and not enough. 

The only thing that made me stick around – and I mean, the only thing –

this guy I married. The one who knows me best. He said –

“Don’t stop something just because it gets complicated. Lean in.”

Lean in.

What does that mean? 

I asked him. “What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know what all that looks like…” He said slow, thinking, “but nothing ever comes out of quitting.”

landscape

I ran a lot of miles this year, but I didn’t come close to my year goal.

So I could quit running, or I could reevaluate my goals and start again.

I worked really hard in my home business and my business grew. I earned some great incentives and it has been such a blessing to have the opportunity to help others – but I didn’t succeed in all my ambitions.

So I could see success as the equivalent of a desired rank and throw in the towel because I didn’t get there, or I could see all the good that has grown out of what I have accomplished and continue with perseverance.

My intentions haven’t always been right and sometimes my intentions have been completely misinterpreted and I could allow this to silence me from sharing my life and telling my story, or I could dig deeper in my own heart and ask God for greater humility, and begin again.

Because nothing ever comes from quitting – 2018 is the year to lean in.

Because He who began a good work in you – will complete it.

Because like Paul, you are not the hero of your story – but you should still tell it – because God will tell a greater story through it.

Don’t walk away or leave.

You don’t have to be enough.

And you are never too much.

Redemption is coming, always.

So lean in.

———-> My word for 2018? Stay tuned for January 1.

See His Goodness in Today

I wrote this on June 7, 2016 and I left it in the drafts folder. 

I have left a lot of things in the drafts folder, the last two years of my life. 

I wrote because writing is like soul-breathing for me. I had to write. 

But I wrote afraid. Afraid of the vulnerability of sharing my soul. Afraid of the rejection that always comes from sharing raw. 

But I told you I was starting over. I told you I was facing my fears. 

So here it is…my words from June 7, 2016 – unedited. 

And I share them with a prayer – that you would see His goodness in your today, because friend – 

The truth of our Savior coming for us, this advent of Christ being born to save – this is not a truth contingent on your circumstances. The things that you face in your today are merely a conduit for His redemption in your life. 

Jesus has come and He is with us. Right in our today. 

I pray for eyes to see His goodness. 

——-June 7, 2016.

I stared out the car window, as we drove down the highway.

He withholds no good thing from us.

She was singing from the stereo, and I was staring out the window asking myself if I believed it to be true, that God would withhold no good thing from me.

I gave my daughter back one month ago. Thirty-one days ago, I stood in my living room holding her so tight, while tears ran unchecked down my face and I felt like my heart was being torn from my body.

He withholds no good thing from me?

At twenty-two years old, I found out accidentally that I could not have my own kids. A dream died. I miscarried our miracle baby less-than-a-year after our diagnosis. We moved to the city to be more present for a ministry we had to walk away from four years later. The family I thought, was not the family that is, and that story is still too painful to tell.

He withholds no good thing? 

 “I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain, that broken find healing in love, pain is no measure of His faithfulness, He withholds no good thing from us.”

 

The truth is? What I know to be true in the depths of my heart, doesn’t always align with what I feel, but that doesn’t make the truth any less real.

I look into the eyes of my son, the one God literally gave to us, and I see the goodness of God.

I remember her smile and the twinkle in the eyes of our foster daughter, the one who trembled through newborn drug withdrawal for forty days, and I see the goodness of God.

My husband makes me fluffy eggs for breakfast, pours me coffee and gives me a hug, and I see the goodness of God.

I call her up and say I’m sorry to my friend, who forgives me freely, and I see the goodness of God.

I look out my dining room window and see how the morning light shines through the trees, and I see the goodness of God.

I hear the skies open – the rain falling on the roof, and I see the goodness of God.

Shutting down is sometimes a very real temptation, and that would be the true death of me. So I pray that my heart would stay open to see His goodness and all the ways He writes His love all over me.

I don’t want to miss the beauty of today.

Starting Over

I’m here again.

Me, the one with the messy bun, obsessed with coffee and colors and

selfiecleaning my house. I’ve popped in a few times, but really it’s been a long absence and five unfinished posts in the drafts file, a lot of unsure feelings and a few headaches later –

I’m here again.

Because I keep feeling this deep inner compulsion to come back and try again. Because writing is like breathing for me and not writing makes me feel a little oxygen-deprived. I wasn’t even ten yet and my mother had bought me a composition book and told me I had to write. She literally said “you have to write once a day”because I had protested about writing in that pink composition book that looked too much like school.

My mama told me that I had a gift and she gave me the tools to use it, and that’s about the best thing a mama could ever do for her child – bless and empower them in their God-given gifting.

But I never thought then – or ever – that I would be afraid of it.

That I would break because of it.

And that I would desperately want to just quit it.

But writing is like breathing for my soul and God made it that way.

My soul has brought me here again and it has brought me here because of my fears, not in spite of them, and I’m just going to say it out loud, once and for all –

I’m afraid of what people think of me.

It’s true.

I have lived in the bondage of this my whole life and I’m not about to wax intellectual on all the possible reasons why, nor give you some overconfident soap box pep talk on self-worth and image. I’m just going to tell you a story – my story – and I’m going to do it as graciously brave as I can, and it might take time and I’m sorry but – it might not always make sense to you?

And really, I’m okay with that as long as my words will only somehow breathe life into your soul and champion you in your journey.

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I’ve felt threatened by whispers of criticism, but I’ve been ridiculed most by the war in my own head.

I’m starting over, because I’m breaking free.

Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive,” and  there is nothing less than His great glory that God’s archenemy covets and works tirelessly to dismantle, piece by piece.

The Apostle Paul started Romans 12, a chapter that speaks of the grace gifts given to us by God, by making an urgent appeal to the people of God. I won’t try to paraphrase his powerful petition:

“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

By the mercy of God, show up.

Show up and sacrifice yourself, your one whole self, and present yourself holy and acceptable to God. 

Your spiritual worship of God, is to present yourself to God.

Maybe the hardest part of this for some of us – for me – is that there is no presenting of yourself to people when all that you are and all that you have been given is for God.

The divine origin (logy, logia) of your glory and appearance (doxa) is God. You are from Him, and to Him and it is only in Him that we live and move and have our being. The glory of God is man fully alive and we are only ever fully alive when our identity is resting in Christ. You have been filled in Him. 

So show up and face whatever fear constricts your soul, and dare to live your one life now and do it boldly and fearlessly and gently and selflessly. Share you story, sing your song, and your very soul becomes a gift of His glory, a banner of hope and love and life for someone else.leafinwater

I have cared too much what others think, and lived too much for others approval, and I have only keenly learned the dismal truth that you will never be perfect enough for everyone and trying to please humanity will only bring you into a dungeon of unmet expectations.

Be strong enough, in Him, to serve not please, and you will become the you that you were meant to be.

I’m staring at this screen and I’m cringing right down to my toes.

It’s so easy to hide behind words on a screen.

I have done this – too much

And I am quite sure that is why I’m coming back afraid.

I only want to speak words that are honest to the liturgy of my life.

So I’m starting over.

I’m here again, hopeful.

Hopeful that my one small, ordinary life on  a quiet street in a small town in podunk northwestern Pennsylvania, will breathe hope and speak Jesus.

Hopeful that the stories I tell about my God and His amazing love for even me, will point someone else to a good Father who is mighty to save.

Hopeful that the things I tell you – about my life and my heart and my people – will only sing of the mercies of the Lord.

Because it is the mercy of God that we are not consumed, His compassion fails not and great is His faithfulness.

“Hope is the thing with wings that lands at the end of you and shows you how to open to possibilities so you never close again. – Emily Di

 

 

Saying Good-Bye

We all have ideas about how things in life should go.

We make plans, schedule appointments, we set goals, and every single person has expectations for others and life and how things should work, and nobody can really deny that if they’re honest.

And having an idea about how something should go is nice and all that, but you can have amazing ideas that collide with reality and fall flat or catapult into disaster.

It wasn’t my idea to have a family the way we have. When we got married that hot and sunny August Saturday, infertility and vials of blood work and health problems and miscarriage and unanswered questions and fostering the babies of women who had more than their fair share of hard knocks in life didn’t exist on our list of ideas about starting a family and what that would look like.

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I might have run the other direction if I would have known.

And I would have missed what it felt like to have my brown-eyed Cub smile and look up at me after a long day sick with a bad cold and say, “I love you, Mama.”

I would have missed losing all that sleep on those eternal nights when he was cutting multiple teeth and I would have missed how it felt to have his chubby little fist curl tight around my finger.

I would have missed the tears of toddler tantrums and the days that felt like failures I wanted blotted out, and I would have missed the joy of seeing his eyes sparkle and hearing the childish delight in his laughter.

I would have missed the fingerprints on the windowpanes of my front door and I would have missed the scribbles on the hallway wall and the poop smears in pants and

I would have missed the child wonder.

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And then, our journey took a turn we never imagined.

We said yes to a little girl that was coming.

A little girl with a drug addiction already raging in her unborn body.

That was never our idea.

I remember laying in bed one night, staring at the ceiling and wondering what she would be like and how it would feel to be a mama to a girl. I felt this heavy pause in my heart and I told my husband that I felt a little scared.

“I think this is going to be really hard.” I whispered into the dark.

He was silent, like he could feel it too. “Yes…maybe,” He said slowly, “But I think this what we are supposed to do.”

And I know that if we would have known, I would have run in the other direction.

And I would have missed the strength of a peace inside myself that didn’t come from within myself, when her body shaking all over would shudder with deep breaths and relax against me – me just rocking and singing and praying.

I would have missed the joy of of her first smile, at two weeks old, an image framed forever in my heart.

I would have missed the daily hours commuting and feeling starved for a real home-cooked meal and I would have missed how her eyes would follow me as I moved around her and how she would listen when I talked.

I would have missed her screams and cries and high demands and the exhaustion of it all, but I would have missed how she would stop crying and listen, every single time I sang to her about the angels watching over her. No other song could soothe her like that one, and I would have missed the comfort that washed over us both, singing it over and over again, for a whole hour.

I would have missed what felt like endless evenings of restless cries for hours straight, and I would have missed how the Cub got to lay on the floor next to her and tell her his stories. I would have missed the delight of watching them interact – her listening with big, admiring eyes, his wild gestures and childish stories holding her momentarily spellbound.

I would have missed the witness of her healing, how the tormented question in her eyes vanished into the sparkle of a shine that would have made any mama-heart indescribably glad. Nevaeh_snuggles

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I would have missed the anguish of saying good-bye to our life together, but I would have missed the gift of ever having a life together.

May 5 is the anniversary of our chapter closing, one year ago.

My heart is constantly pondering what we have missed and remembering all that we had, as the forget-me-nots bloom early and the late-spring breezes whisper warm.

And it’s been the hardest year of my heart, of my life.

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I hold her special blanket just a little bit longer and I let my heart feel and then I stand.

It’s time to say good-bye.

It was never my idea to let my child go so soon. It wasn’t my idea to say good-bye.

But if I stay here I know, I will miss life and joy and wonder and miracles.

So I whisper that final good-bye in my heart, to the sweetest pea that ever was in our pod, and I know I just let the most beautiful butterfly leave her cocoon –

to soar.

Carried by the wind, the very breath of God.

 

Let Your Scars Tell Their Story

Someone jostled the white pitcher of dried hydrangeas on the mantle.

Rustic-browned hydrangea leaves scattered on the floor.

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Sometimes I am as fragile as the rustic-browned dried hydrangea.

Sometimes the slightest touch can shatter. 

I always wanted to be stronger than that, even in my wildest grief. I wanted to have it all together.

Because who wants to fall all apart? Because who wants to be needy? Because who isn’t afraid of being labeled as “needy”? Because who hasn’t talked about someone and called them a “ministry”, like people are projects and we’re the so-not-needy heroines?

Sigh.

Stories of grief and heartache and ugly poured into my inbox this last year; stories unexpectedly weaving into mine.

Beautiful friendships can form in the worst storms.

And sometimes watching this, feeling this, seeing the unexpected form and unfold, and partaking of it, is your only tangible grasp on hope.

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Dandelion dust can scatter like rustic browned hydrangea leaves and tender hearts beating grief can shatter.

And not one living person doesn’t grieve something and –

 grief can paralyze or propel.

Grief can stop you from living and reduce you to surviving, and sometimes the strongest intentions to stare down hopelessness? They can falter and get lost in a whirl of torrid sorrow.

Sometimes you lose your way and forget your identity and the wounds you wear start wearing you.

This was me.

And then came the shame.

Shame that I lost myself in pain and let the grief swallow me. Shame because people who foster and love babies they didn’t give birth to are supposed to be stronger than that. Shame because I shared my grief too openly. Shame because I didn’t share enough. Shame because I didn’t have energy to pursue relationships. Shame because I saw the ugliness of my circumstances more than the goodness in my life. Shame because of the dark thoughts and depression that plagued me. Shame because I was needy and too much.

The day I shut our navy blue front door behind me on a humid May morning and crumpled into a ball of tears, became a threshold in my life. I can see it now, as the tiny blue flowers pop open on a warm spring morning in late April whispering “forget-me-not”. 

How the grief I broke under has made me more whole.

This is my story.

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“I didn’t know if you would ever come back,” my quiet man spoke into the dark, one night, where we lay talking.

And the truth of the matter, when your heart shatters under a wild grief? It’s a mercy you cannot go back and all grace that you can move forward.

And maybe the most important thing to get in it all?

That there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

Take a deep breath, friend.

You are redeemed and released from all shame, because Christ is ALIVE.

You can show your scars and let your scars tell their story, and this is not hopelessness but hope-FULL – ness.

Because if you have grieved in your lifetime, you know –

 that sometimes the slightest touch can shatter life, but the brave endeavor might share life. 

Sing your story and let your story be your song and some people will never understand and every person will think what they will and let none of it ever stop you from being true to the unfolding work of the resurrected Lamb – at work in you.

And this is how you will overcome – by the word of your testimony.

~

Five Tips for a Grieving Heart

  1. Give yourself space to be. Healing takes time. Deep grief demands extra rest. Allow yourself more time for sleep.  (Ideas: go to bed an hour earlier, set the alarm clock an hour later, take a mid-day nap)
  2. Find a healthy way to express yourself unfiltered. (Ideas: journaling, drawing/painting, etc.)
  3. Have at least one person, outside of your family/household, you can count on to walk with you. This should be someone you are comfortable with venting to and someone who will not feel the need to provide you with answers.
  4. Set some motivational goals. You choose what these should be, based on your lifestyle, life situation and life circumstances, but make sure they are goals that will motivate you to get out of bed in the morning and give you a sense of purpose.
  5. Set firm boundaries. Do NOT commit to many “extra” things outside of the goals you set. Say no to anything that will add anxiety or stress to your life, as much as possible.

~

Five Tips for the Friend of a Grieving Heart

  1. Listen more than you ever have before. Don’t be an instruction manual, be a co-laborer.
  2. Don’t ask, just do. Asking questions like “what can I do?” ends up just being awkward. Think of something to do and do it. (Ideas: bring a meal, have flowers delivered, use your Amazon account and have something delivered anonymously to their doorstep, etc.)
  3. There are no right words to speak in a time of grief, so don’t try. Saying that you are praying or that you care is enough.
  4. Don’t stop relating in normal ways. Exercise discernment, but you asking them for help or advice might be more therapeutic and healing than you might realize.
  5. Be available. Grieving is dark but grieving alone is darker.

The Gift in the Dark

I grabbed my purse and the black computer bag from our white Corolla  while the cold wind ripped my hair out of place, blowing strands into my eyes. Throwing the bags over my right shoulder, I leaned in to grab the Starbucks cup in the console. Grande flat white. Signature drink.

 

Snow blew up from the ground in swirls of air and I hunched my shoulders into my Columbia jacket, and walked quickly across the parking lot.

 

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Day 20? 21? I’d sort of lost track.

 

All I knew was that we were in deep with our girl. Like, in way over our heads deep.

 

I’d dreamed of five days in the hospital. That was the minimum for a baby withdrawing from drugs. The day she was admitted to neonatal intensive care? I thought maybe two weeks. Now we were somewhere, like, a week past that calendar date?

 

No end in sight.

 

I blew through the revolving door and the security guard smiled knowingly and let me through the locked doors.

The first set of locked doors, that is, to get into the elevators. There were two more sets to go through, once I got off for the NICU.

 

I sipped my flat white and smiled at the other people on the elevator as the doors shut.

 

“Which floor?” The older man asked. He seemed happy. His wife was holding a bouquet of flowers with a card stuck in the center that said, “It’s a Girl!”

 

New grandparents.  I thought this, while I said, “2nd.”

 

They talked excitedly while the elevator lurched upward. At Floor 2, the doors opened and I stepped off.

 

“Ohhh, the poor mother,” I heard the woman say, “the NICU.” The elevator shut and I walked around the corner to enter the Unit.

I was so excited to see my girl! Every moment that I wasn’t with her, I thought about her and worried about her and hoped she was doing okay. Using my special NICU pass, I breezed through the doors and headed back to Unit #21, our little corner on the big intensive care unit for babies.

 

I’m so tired of this. My little boy was at home and couldn’t figure out why I had to keep leaving, every single day. “Mama, you stay home today?” He would smile and look up at me with those chocolate-brown eyes and I never knew till then, how torn a mother could feel between her babies.

 

Wasn’t he more mine? Didn’t he deserve more of me? But be it one day or ten years, is one child ever more than another to a mother whose heart receives their life? 

 

Everyday I worried that I was doing NICU life wrong.

I was more scared and more vulnerable on those blustery winter days than I had ever before been in my life. I didn’t know how to fight for Nevaeh and how to nurture my Cub and how to love Ryan all at the same time. So, I just kept waking up, doing the next thing and praying that God would supernaturally intervene if He needed too.

Okay, so really? I just prayed please, God and thought everything else in my heart.

 

I had no mental capacity to pray beyond a simple cry for Jesus. I had no physical ability to do anything but drive my car 90 miles a day and hold my babies – at home and in the hospital. I had no emotional capacity to be challenged in my thought processes – as warped as some of those processes might have been.

 

I had a friend email me sometime after our NICU ordeal and she said that ten years later she thinks she still deals with some PTSD from her child being in the NICU.

 

Post-traumatic-stress-disorder.

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I’m the organized one, the collected one, the brave one. I’m the one who is supposed to just –  So not really, but that’s what they say. 

 

Post-traumatic-stress-disorder? 

This is the part of my story that gets really vulnerable for me.

I don’t do brokenness well. (I struggle with too much pride.)

I’m a perfectionist. A little obsessive compulsive.

And I was raised to be strong.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is, “a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.”

 

Last year was my year of breaking wide open and essentially falling apart inside. Shutting down. Coming apart at the seams.

 

I have never loved so hard and lost so much and felt so alone.

 

And I never imagined that I would be one to take my husband aside and say, “We need to talk. I’m really depressed,” followed by a waterfall of tears in which I choked out the words, “I’m scared of myself. I’m thinking about medicine?”

 

A year ago today, there was so much anticipation in my heart. I knew the risks of our YES.

There were days of struggle, knowing the losses we might face with this unfolding story – but we also knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had sanctioned our yes to her life.

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What do you do then,? You know, when your YES upends your life and wrecks your heart?
I broke.
And I felt so much shame for breaking.

Because all my life, I’ve been the one to be strong, to hold it together, to keep moving, be fearless. I’ve lived a whole lot of, “I’ve got this”, you know?

 

Up until my world imploded with grief I hadn’t the faintest idea of processing.

 

And now I’m telling you this, why?

 

The gift in the dark. 

 

The dark I still feel some days.

 

The LIGHT.

 

Yes, I know how elementary it sounds.

 

I know how profound this is.

Because when you truly experience the dark – inside your head or your heart or your life – you know the powerful hope of just one flicker of candlelight.

 

In three weeks, she turns one.

My lips smile and my heart hurts.

 

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Another year has come to us. The unfolding of a new chapter and the journey continues and we’re moving forward, but we’ll never be the same.

 

And I pray that this year, we will

BE LIGHT

 

for someone’s darkness.

 

And you too?

 

Because the truth is –

you don’t have to know their darkness, to BE their LIGHT.

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I don’t usually cry over texts, but I had a friend text me this week and tell me that I had been Matthew 5:16 to her this year.

 

A light for her, when I felt so much darkness myself?

 

Sometimes it hurts to share so publicly, and then I get texts that make me cry, and I ask God to make me braver – even in my dark.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

#whatif2017