Pain, Purpose, and Compassion

 

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Today I have struggled. Struggled with my own insecurities.  Struggled with mean, insensitive remarks from a stranger. Struggled with missing my best friend because we are always busy. Struggled with watching my friends deal with deep pain and hurts. Struggled with a friend who lost her dad. Struggled with feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. So what did I do? Cry all afternoon. Cried by myself and cried with four different people.  I was only awake for 14 hours. How so much pain and suffering?

Why tears?

I am one of those people who often cries at the sight of someone else’s tears. I guess it does not do wonders to make the person feel better when they have to offer ME a tissue. Now keep in mind I live in the land of boys and men….who don’t cry often. We do have the occasional moments of emotion but not like my estrogen infested self.

One of my sons literally walked in my room today while I was curled up in the fetal position boohooing, carried on an entire conversation with me about where one of the cats was, and walked out. REALLY?? No clue.  The others just look at me with a glazed over, what-do-I-do-now expression of helplessness. As baffled as they are about me, I am not sure what to do with dry ice exploding, lizard torturing, snake handling slobs so I guess we are even. Somehow in the crazy world, we make it work. I decided that when they are being crazy I can hide in the bathroom and pretend I know nothing and they can eat a cheeseburger when I am crying at a commercial and we can carry on. Disclaimer: I have very sensitive boys when I let them in on something  sad and tragic and they are very compassionate…but when it is a case of I-am-crying-because-of-the-state-of-the-world they really don’t have a category and I would rather cry into my blanket than explain what I don’t even understand for myself.

So as I try to make some kind of sense about my highly emotional self,  I seek Scripture.

“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.”

Romans 12:15-16

First God says to embrace our friends’ happiness. That is the easy part. We all want to be around the people whose lives are going well. But what about the friends struggling, wandering, falling, and grieving? The friends who needs love from us when we don’t know if we have it to give? God says, “Share tears when they’re down.” Sometimes we have to engage in a cry fest together and we can’t even determine what are tears for us and what are for the other person.  That is the heart of God-sharing our burdens one to another and to Him.

The next part of that verse that tells us to get along with each other and “don’t be stuck-up.” What is worse than sharing your burdens with someone who acts as if she has it all together? It is horrible! And if I make the mistake of doing it once I certainly don’t do it twice. If we are not in tune with our own brokenness people avoid us and are fake around us. And a lot of people are good with that. Let’s face it- most people don’t want to hear other people’s problems because it might actually remind them that they have problems too. So relationships are then shallow and superficial so that emotions are not felt and both people lose out in that “friendship.”

“Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” That sounds like my new tattoo. But seriously. It is such good, rich words! I am not a theologian and I don’t know any of the Bible in Greek (except the Greek alphabet from being in a sorority) but I do know this:

Make friends with nobodies. Don’t be the great somebody.

Now that I can do. Don’t need a concordance or a theology class to go love somebody who is broken and hurting. I know how to do that because I am broken and hurting.  A lot. If I don’t know my own pain how can I know someone else’s? And the part about not being the great somebody….I think that means we need to stop thinking that we are the answer to people’s problems.  Jesus is. As we lead people to the cross, we lead them to healing. Divine healing.

So this week I may be a slobbering, hot mess and if you are too….call me. We can be real and honest together. If you want a put together friend with all the answers….don’t call me. You will just be disappointed. When we all realize we are broken and learn to love because of it, NOT in spite of it…we will share kindness like we are made of it. I think I stole that from Bob Goff but it’s ok because LOVE DOES.

Pain into purpose and then always comes compassion.

 

The Process of Stripping

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In the past five years,  everything about me has changed (most significantly in the past two). Some have called it “mid life crisis” but since it is not a crisis, it was “transition.”  I have been called a hoarder, crazy cat lady, insane, and often given no words because people are speechless. I really don’t seek out these descriptions or even like them; however, they are all true.

It has really been a process of stripping. Stripping me of insecurities, Feelings of inferiority. Fear of being a nobody. Enslaved to other people’s standards.

My whole life I wanted to fit in, but my whole life I didn’t want to fit in. I wasn’t “in” and I wasn’t “out.” I knew that I did not fit. I was not categorizable. In high school I tried everything on for size and it was either too baggy or too snug. I struggled with who I was. I went to college unprepared for the other students with sorority pedigrees, limitless credit cards paid by daddy, and extravagant semester long debutante engagements in their hometowns. I knew that did not fit. My senior year I became a Christian and was semi-invited into that crowd but I was too late to the game for those who had been friends all four years of college. I knew that did not fit. I returned home from college and worked as a nanny to a little boy I adored while all my Vanderbilt classmates were either getting master’s degrees or corporate positions. I avoided the calls from the alumni association asking me for my updated career information for their records.

I knew I did not fit.

Then I got married to Kenny who was like no one I had ever dated. We really did not experience anything similar growing up but I was intrigued by how genuine he was. I had decided I needed to find out who I was and whether he fit into my not-yet-determined persona. That was a daunting task!  So I had one major test that I felt determined if he was the one…..Kenny drove a beat up car with issues. MAJOR issues. I loved it. The ceiling hung down so it was pinned up with push pins and every time he went in reverse and switched to drive it let out a horrible sound. Like “EEEEEKKKKKKK!!!!!!” There was no pretending it did not happen-you just had to wait for it and laugh. I thought it was hilarious but Kenny did not find it all funny. So the test was to see if he would drive it down to the Yacht Club when we went to play tennis. If he was too ashamed to drive it there, I was out. If he was confident enough to own the sounds, the exhaust and the overall ghettoness of it, then I was in. I guess you know he passed that test.

When we got married we lived in a one bedroom duplex for $300 a month and even that rent was stretching us. He was a middle school youth pastor and I was a preschool teacher. We barely made rent every month but I was the most content I had been in years…..but still had no clue who I was. Still searching. Living in a very poor neighborhood with regular robberies and gun shots going off and also joining the Junior League and serving hors d’ouevres at the elite museum gatherings when I could barely buy groceries for myself- trying them both on for size. Again neither one fit…..but Kenny was with me through all of it and I learned to draw strength through his confidence because I did not own it for myself.

As a mom at 28, 30, and 34 and then adopting at 38, I suddenly had a house full of boys….and I loved them, cherished them, and adored them but NEWS FLASH….I was not one of them. I did not like mud fights or wrestling or know the rules of baseball. I did not fit. That does not mean I did not enjoy motherhood or find purpose in being their mom but it was one more reminder that I was not like them in a lot of ways. Sometimes I felt like an outsider to the world of boys. I prayed so hard for a girl to come into our lives and even our first dog and cat were boys. Seriously??

I always wanted to be just enough- not too much or not too little. Not too loud or too quiet. Not too thin or too heavy. Not too overbearing or too laid back. I wanted to be JUST RIGHT. And I never was….so I kept trying.

Kenny has been in ministry since we started dating- so that is the 23 years we have been together. Youth pastor, church planter, seminary student, associate pastor…..and I have been his wife. For those who did not know me then, I was a great follower. NO LIE. When he took a new job in a church, I trusted him wholeheartedly that it was what was best for our family and I went. And I loved it. I still had no idea who I was. Did I want to be in the big, beautiful church or the small community of believers where we barely got paid? I had no idea and I did not want to figure it out so I went where Kenny was called and I made myself at home wherever we were. Those were amazing years for us but I still was so confused as to who I was created to be.

In all the years I have been on my own, my house has been predictable. I would buy a beautiful new picture from Kirkland’s to hang in my living room only to find out four of my friends had the same picture. I wanted everything clean, undamaged, and picture perfect. My kids, my house, and my life needed to fit in a pretty box with a big bow because that is where I felt safe. When things were not in order, I fell apart. Even when we moved into a 50 year old home, I wanted to tear out anything that looked old and make it new. I had no appreciation for anything that did not come out of a box from Lowe’s.

I always envied the hippy girls in college who pulled it off beautifully. I wanted to be the girl who went out without makeup. I admired the moms who felt that they could be a mess. I longed to be someone who had confidence and did not take everything personally. But it just did not come. I waited for something magical….I waited a long time.

My forties hit me and I started to feel free. I realized that time was short and I needed to figure myself out. Kenny graduated from seminary and I had been telling him that was going to be my chance to figure out ME. I had no idea where to start but eventually I realized I loved to write, take pictures, talk to people and walk with them through hard times, and I wanted to be a voice for those who have been forced into silence.  But what does that all mean? I was NOT a writer. I was NOT a photographer. I was NOT a mentor. I was just ME. But suddenly being me started to feel a little bit like it fit. And as I sought God and His path of healing for wounds I had carried my whole life, the burden became a little lighter. My identity began to form around who God had created me to be…..not who I had been told I was my whole life. I began to feel free. Alive. Whole. But God still had some stripping to do….

As a little girl, I distinctly remember telling people I wanted to be a garbage picker when I grew up. WHO says THAT? Apparently I did…..but it never fit into my life plan so I never thought anything of it. I learned when I was no longer that little girl that other people’s garbage by the side of the road is gross and dirty so why would anyone pick it??

Over the past five years, I have started to slow down and admire other people’s junk on the side of the road. I have plopped my kids in a chair down the street to save it until I could come back with the truck. I have stopped right outside Lakeland High School to get a table and been yelled at by my high schooler to PLEASE leave the junk just this once (and that one time I did). I started to think other people’s throw aways were pretty cool. I wasn’t always sure what to do with what I found because I was still stuck in the shiny, new stuff but I was intrigued. I wanted to put an old chair in the middle of my floor but…..no. Too risky. I wanted to hang my own photography in my house but I settled for professional prints because they were safe. I wanted to write my own story but other people’s words were much easier to hide behind.

Then a few years ago I wrote my story (still being written and I will one day write a book). Then I started a nonprofit with a close friend of mine that means I speak at women’s encounters about my own faith journey and my own brokenness. Then I quit my job to work full time for CPI Haiti and not have an hourly salary to depend on.  I began to see myself emerging and it did open my eyes to who I was becoming but there were still gaping holes of insecurity in the fiber of who I was.

Then I decided that I wanted to pierce my nose and get a tattoo. Who does that in their forties? Apparently I do. I began to feel free. No longer confined to what I thought others would think was acceptable for me. I decided I could do something even if I was the only one who liked it. . Of course this has little to do with actual ink and piercings and everything to do with who I was becoming.

I suddenly became obsessed with yard sales. Getting other people’s castaways. I started shopping on half price Wednesdays at Salvation Army for all of our clothes. I no longer needed new with tags and nice, neat aisles to walk down. I found great pleasure in trying on other people’s donated clothing and walking out without spending more than $10. Saturdays I got up at 6 AM while everyone was sleeping and hit as many yard sales as I could- looking for anything to take to Haiti or to give away. I still had to tell people I was obviously not shopping for myself when I went to their nice homes and they gave me funny looks that I was one of “those people.” Still could not own my personal love for yard sales- it was just what a good nonprofit person does for needy children.

Then this year I had a breakthrough of sorts. I hung the photography I had taken in Haiti in Mitchell’s (after periodic breakdowns that my work would be seen and judged by others for a whole month) and survived. Survival was not a given at that point. Then Alison and Amber asked me to do the artwork for an event called Red Tent. Also terrifying. My hidden insecurities started oozing out everywhere and I felt exposed. I was in this event with a bunch of hipster, cool artsy people and the ink of my tattoo was still fresh and I was still figuring it all out.  I wanted to own ME but ME was still morphing. So I just started to take portraits for the artwork of the event. And I felt alive. I needed to make frames and I stressed about it for over a month. I could not afford anything fancy and for the Mitchell’s pictures I did them all brown because that was safe. This time they wanted COLOR- fun colors. NOOOOOOO……I don’t know how to paint, do fun, make it work. And then I met one of the most spectacular people EVER….Kimberly. She agreed to help me paint fun, colorful frames. I was so nervous that day. I showed up with no confidence that I could do it. And she showed me that holding a can of hot pink spray paint could be life changing. Why? Because you can make something that looks amazing- even if it is only amazing to you. And if you make a mistake? You paint over it. Nothing is final and everything is a work in progress.

I went to Ace Hardware that night and bought cans and cans of paint…..I also got glaze, sandpaper, brushes, etc. and I went back the next day to learn more. And the next day. Before I knew it my entire back porch was covered in tarps, paint supplies and old, thrown away frames. I had fallen in love with creating something beautiful out of something not worth looking at. I felt free. Free to create. I came home and made a sign that has a quote by Henri Matisse that says, “Creativity takes courage.” And that day I gained courage.

And then I discovered my love for anything old and started going to yard sales because I am ok being one of those crazies who fights traffic and talks you down from $2 to $1 for something I think is a treasure. I get the eye rolls from the family for the “junk” I bring home but I see the potential that will come with some polish and some love. It took a lot of polish and love for me to emerge and I guess I see that same potential in old silver and splintered wood.

One yard sale day I bought a beat up old patio table that was not selling so they practically gave it to me. As we left I told Cooper that it was my favorite piece of furniture I had ever bought. He said, “Mom, you like old stuff, don’t you? I think it is because it tells a story.” YES! I had never realized it until my 12 year old figured it out for me. I love old because it tells a story. I see the jar and I wonder who used it to can peaches and where they were living and how it got to me.  So much more interesting than a new jar from Target that was made 3 weeks ago.

Mid life is INCREDIBLE. A time of discovery. Freedom. And most of all acceptance for who God knew I was going to be when He put it in my heart to be a “garbage picker.” It does not get better than that.

 

 

 

Weary from the Battle

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Writing has been too difficult lately. How much do I tell? I am a transparent person but lately I have wanted to hide….hide from myself, hard truths, life, and everyone else. Why? Disappointment, shame, depression, fear. Some days the weight has felt unbearable like shackles around my ankles and others it has lifted like the early morning fog. Some days I have gone between the two extremes all day long depending on the circumstances. To say that it has been confusing and exhausting would not begin to define this state of struggle. Even as I write this, I want to quit. Walk away from the computer and yell, “F*** you!” But I need to push through for me and for you. For me to work on healing and for you to know you are not alone.

We have raised our children the best we know how. Mistakes along the way. Never believing that a formula would produce godly children- I think we have been pretty realistic and held our children loosely knowing God’s plan is ultimate…..but deep down we thought our children would be leaders in their faith and stand for righteousness no matter the cost. It has not happened.  Nothing prepared us for the struggles of watching our teenagers waver and fall. Curfews, apps to know where they are, becoming semi-professional investigators, and regular confrontations has left me tired. Tired from the worry. The unknown. And tired from the self-condemnation that I don’t trust God enough to know that each of my children must walk out this journey and find his own faith.

I am a self-blamer every time. Did we make a mistake with their schooling? Their friend choices? Were we too sheltering? Not enough? Did we bombard them with faith so now they resent it? As my mind reels from this self-talk insanity, I just want to go to sleep. And when I put my head on the pillow sleep hardly ever comes. I toss and turn, get up, lay down….the ritual of my nights. And when I sleep I often have those anxiety dreams where I am watching someone’s child and go out to lunch forgetting that he is asleep in the crib. I wake up believing the voice in my head that says I am not a good enough mom to be trusted with someone’s child. Not the brightest way to start the day, I guess,  but it happens.

Every day I get the privilege to take medication to my friend who is dying. She was an addict for 35 years and cannot keep the morphine or anxiety medications in her house so I take them every day to her. Because of her lifestyle, she did not raise any of her children. Living on the streets, doing drugs and prostituting did not make her a suitable mom. Oh- except the one that she had after her father impregnated her when she was 12 years old who was automatically adopted by a relative.  She has never even seen that child. She was sold  for sex to support her parents’  drug habit starting at five years old while they gave her cocaine and heroin to numb her pain. When her parents were having sex with her, she developed multiple personality disorder because the emotional trauma was so intense she had to leave her own body. Today she told me she is just too tired to keep fighting and she knows death is imminent. We cried together and then I went home to unload my groceries. Somehow the sadness does not leave me when I walk out the door. I grieve what was stolen from her by selfish, sick people but I know she has faith in Christ and she knows that she will see Jesus face to face soon. I do take rest in knowing this but I also cry heavy tears for the life she did not have.

Relationships. They are so hard. Family ones, friend ones, ministry ones….none are easy……and not because I am perfect and no one else is. Because I am imperfect and struggle with being a good friend. Lately I have not had much to invest. My hollowness has given me the sense that I don’t have much to give away. Everywhere I look I see parents who are not struggling like I am…people not burdened by the depravity of the world and carrying that weight…..peers who seem to be able to maintain friendships for decades…women who have the best dads while I have none…..and I wonder what is wrong with me. Why is life so hard for me? Am I jealous? No, just confused. Trying to figure out why I can’t turn off my emotions and my heart ache for the world’s suffering. Sometimes I just want to be able to go to the gym for a few hours with my personal trainer, eat at Crispers, go shopping, get a weekly pedicure while someone else cleans my house and picks up my kids…..because it seems to be working for A LOT of people. I wish that shoe fit me.

Churches and nonprofits are full of imperfect people and some of them are desperately broken. I don’t know why this catches me off guard sometimes because I know it is true….but it creeps up on me and it feels like a punch right to the face. Pastors (not mine) who are not fully disclosing of the truth and sit in their private quarters untouched by human brokenness…..ministry leaders who fall, remain unrepentant and take others down with them. Meanwhile, others are left to clean up the big, sloppy mess. Blows my mind.

Loving addicts and strippers is always life changing because I learn so much about myself from people who have overcome so much. But it can also be disappointing, lonely, and heartbreaking.  Having an 18 year old come into our home, we adopt her like a daughter, and months later she returns to the drugs, stripping and abusive relationships that she was escaping when she came to us in the first place.  Other women who have worked so hard to get sober find themselves relapsing and losing their children to the child welfare system forever. The addiction is greater than any other love and I have to see it, accept it, and continue to pray for a breakthrough that can only come from a life of surrender.

Somehow in this huge, sticky, messy life there is hope. Why? Because God is still good and I am still loved by Him. Even when I am untrusting, arrogant, self-dependent, and live like He never existed at all.  Some days there is only a speck of hope in me because I cannot look past my failures, disappointments and the hard road in front of me. In those moments I am trying to turn to prayer and devotion to my Creator instead of giving into the voices in my head screaming, “You are not enough.” I don’t do that most of the time but I have hope that I will get better and that I will once again find that peace that passes understanding that I once knew.

I am praying that Light will break through my hurting heart and my grieving spirit. I know the beauty of God’s light and I talk about it all the time. It just seems lately that the world is darker and my light is dimmer. I am praying for a breakthrough.

Beauty in the Brokenness

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I have learned more in the past month than I have my whole life. I thought I understood and embodied words like “overcomer,” “brave,” “courageous,” and “survivor.” I am pretty sure I had no idea what they meant until I sat across from women who told me their stories. Stories of unimaginable abuse, rejection, abandonment and being taken extreme advantage of when they were little girls.  Finally tonight I let the tears flow that have been accumulating for weeks.

I worked for DCF in foster care/adoptions for 4 years, worked as a Guardian Ad Litem for years, and adopted a child who lived 9 years in foster care. As a result of these experiences, I had very little compassion for birth mothers and the pain they brought on their children. I have always been very indignant, angry, and relentless in my resentment toward the damage that parents can inflict on helpless children.

As I sat today and listened to stories of moms struggling to get sober and learning to live clean, I have seen the bravest of women. For most of them it is all they know. All they have ever seen in life. Given drugs by their own moms, their bodies sold to support their mothers’ addictions, and raising themselves and their siblings while mom is passed out on the couch. I understand drugs are a choice. I don’t think anyone struggles to believe that…..but before today I never really heard about how many of them got there and when I did it was overwhelming.

I am not sure what to do with that. Right now, I just sit, completely broken. I am sad, feeling guilty that I never felt compassion before today, and asking myself how the church is reaching these women. Where have we been? Most of us have probably been just like me- arrogant, self-righteous, and unwilling to look them in the eye. Why? Because we might actually feel compassion if we actually SEE them. And then we might have to do something. And most of us don’t want to do anything. Let’s be honest…..entering into someone else’s struggle is exhausting and inconvenient. So we don’t SEE them. We just judge them. It is easier.

I bought the new Natalie Grant album that came out yesterday, knowing nothing about it. When I sat down to write I started listening to it and the first song is “Be One.” Here are the lyrics:

We don’t feel ready, we don’t feel steady
Question what we really have to give

Stay where it’s safer, claim faith but waiver
Is this how we’re really meant to live

We pray but never move
We say but never do

Chorus
It’s time to get our hands dirty
oh oh, oh oh
Be love – there’s a whole lot of hurting
oh oh, oh oh
Calling all hearts, Calling all hands
Calling all feet to take a stand
Why sit around and wait for a miracle to come
When we can be one, When we can be one , When we can be one

A little somethin’ might feel like nothin’
But in His hands it’s all we’ll ever need

To speak life to the broken
Watch the blind eyes open
It’s who He’s calling you and me to be

We can be the change – be the hope
We can be the arms that don’t let go
We can be a light in the dark
We are we are where it starts

Chorus

We can be the light in the dark
We can be the arms that don’t let go

WOW. I have to ask the question…..do we “speak life to the broken?” Are we the change and the hope that God has called us to be? Are we light in this dark world? Or do we just use our light as a flashlight to illuminate our own path and let the rest of the world figure it out for themselves?

We are a very self-consumed country. It is time to rise up and enter the hurt and the pain with people. This is not my idea- God came up with it. But most of us want to be comfortable, safe, and “happy.” Meanwhile, women are all around us, desperate for truth, love, and just someone to listen.

We feel often like we have nothing to offer. I get that. I was talking to my friend Carol not long ago. I told her I felt like I had nothing to offer because I have lived differently…..no drugs, abuse, etc. And she told me, “God will use you because you are willing to learn.” Isn’t that all it takes? A willingness? Saying YES to God?

Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

Is this us? I pray it will be, church.

 

Morning thoughts about purpose…..

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The house is a WRECK- I have not unpacked from the weekend, the litter box is toxic, and my office is even a nightmare to a hoarder, but I had to sit and write.

 

 

When God is prompting I have learned to listen because the filth and clutter can wait and it will be back tomorrow anyway.

Thursday night was the Zoe’s Journey fundraiser banquet, Saturday was our second Light Breaks Through Women’s Encounter in Madison, FL and in a week I leave for Haiti. Am I exhausted? Absolutely. Is my to-do list long? Yep. Am I right where God wants me to be? Without a doubt.

How did I end up helping facilitate two non profits and beginning to volunteer at another? People ask me constantly, “How do you have time?” My answer- how do I NOT have time? To serve women who need to hear grace, mercy and that they are worthy and to serve hundreds of children in Haiti who would not have a school if we were not there……how do I not respond to that call on my life?

“But you have a family! Your husband is a pastor! You need to take time for yourself. You need balance in your life. You can’t do it all.” This is usually how the conversation goes. All of those are completely accurate and I would not disagree. But there is one argument I would make…..

I just decided that when God calls me to hard places I will say YES. I am actually very, very particular in how I use my time. I don’t do big non profits with huge budgets and a lot of wasted money,  bogged down by an endless amount of committees and boards- too much work for me. I don’t get on board with flashy, here-today-gone-tomorrow justice fads or dramatic, religious, overnight poster children for Jesus. That is not me. But I do get behind a vision. A dream. Someone’s pain turned purpose. And for this reason I go to the trenches with people like me, who are not too good to stack chairs, dig a ditch, or pray with the kitchen staff at an event.

In the past week, God has reminded me that He has gifted me with quirky, messy, oddballs like me who want to say yes……Shelly, Carol, Jerriann. And this weekend he added a few more. I am not alone.

There is kingdom work to be done and in my crazy brain, here is the motivation: life is very, very short, our time is valuable, God will make me enough, and sleep is overrated. Period. I get up everyday and these are the four ideas that immediately come to me.

It is ok to be different. It is ok to be a little (or a lot) manic about what you are passionate about. And it is ok to be exhausted and realize you can get up tomorrow and do it all over again. That is what LOVE DOES.

This is not a plea or call for anyone else’s life. I promise- not a guilt trip, conviction notice, or a statement of “rise up and conquer, people!” I just woke up this morning and needed to share my heart. I am sure my motives are not completely pure because when are they ever? But I am at the point in my life where I want to be known- even the parts of me that seem socially unacceptable and not-so-much-like-Jesus…..because I struggle too. I struggle A LOT with pride, insecurity, and masks of perfection. And I pray that the rest of my life I will commit to sharing my story and encouraging others to do the same so that we can get real with each other and dig that trench together…right where God called us to be.

Self-constructed walls and lives that scream “STOP!”

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As as I sit at Disney World (because that is what I do here while my husband naps and my kids entertain themselves on rides and check back for food and drink), I am reading an intriguing book. My favorite quote so far is: “I often think that the effort we put into trying to pretend something  about us is true-that we are less than we are  or more than we are or that one aspect of ourselves is the whole story-is based in a fear of being really known, of being truly seen, as we actually are.” Nadia Bolz-Weber

A few minutes ago, I got up from my reading and was taking pictures of fountains and flowers and encountered these walls…..

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They are covering up construction sites that are meant to stay out of sight. That is, unless you are me and climb up to see what is really behind them.

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But my intrigue had little to do with Disney’s next project and everything to do with our hearts. What is the condition of our hearts most of the time? Guarded. Barricaded by walls. Tucked behind thick fences of protection.  We are terrified to let people see our flaws, vulnerable places of weakness, and desperately don’t want anyone to think we are…..NEEDY.  When we even say that word, we use a tone of disgust because it is the last word any of us wants to be used to describe us. We can’t fathom others seeing the construction being done in our lives, our hearts, our raw places. So like Disney, we erect the facade, all clean and neat.

The inevitable result of the self-constructed walls is shallow, superficial relationships where we are never known. We either become whoever other people want us to be or we shut down and stop trying…..and we stop truly living and just start to survive.

True community begins with being vulnerable, raw, honest, and REAL. I have come to the place in life where fake and  superficial is exhausting. I pray God takes me to the depths with people- even those I just meet because that is where life happens. Real life. Not the fake reality of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Those are not real, people. And if we believe the lie that other people’s lives look that good all the time we will continue to hide our “junk” and fall deeper and deeper into the well of self-condemnation and insecurity.

I have lived with insecurity all my life. As I sit here today at 45 years old,  I still struggle….but the healing for me has happened when I decided to be honest with  God, my friends, and myself. When I began to realize that being a mess is ok and is actually comforting to other people who are bombarded with images of others “having it all together.” When I stopped playing the game of life and started living it, I was set amazingly free. Free to be me. Free to make mistakes and free to not have all the answers. Now that is to truly live.

I wonder who else is ready to stop playing church, stop with the never-ending images of perfection, and be with other people who want to be seen and known.  I have found that community with a group of women who make me brave everyday. Women who are going to get up this Saturday at a women’s event and hold up a poster board with words that describe their stories and their past that are not pretty and can’t be put in a pretty little box with a bow, all safe and secure. Words like “drug addict, ” “rape,” “multiple divorces,” and “sex at the age of 13.”

I know we all have wounds that grow deep from betrayal, abandonment, and shame. I get that. But it is time that we stop letting those hurts define us and keep us from finding people who want to do life together and be the body of Christ for each other.  It is not pretty or perfect- it is ugly and messy sometimes…..but that is where God wants us. He calls us to the the trenches,  sharing each other’s burdens and loving the unlovely parts of each other.

That, my friends, is REAL LIFE. A life of abundance and a life of freedom.

What I learned from a pair of socks….

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His third day of middle school and he wore these socks. An older lady gave each of the pastors several pairs (I have no idea why) and Kenny took one look at them and said he would never wear them and Cooper snatched them up. Last year in elementary school, he was known by his socks- long, glow in the dark fluorescent green ones, fuzzy ones with Christmas ornaments on them in the middle of May, and ones that have caused grown adults to advise him he looked like a girl and never wear them again. I figured that fashion statement had died in elementary school…..until today.

While I have been worried for the past three days about how he will adjust to middle school, how he would “fit in”, whether or not he had the right binder and knew the combination to his lock, he was fine. And I was not.  By day three he was comfortable being himself, socks and all. It never occurred to him that middle school would be anything other than amazing. I had thought of all the things that could go wrong and how I would talk him out of feelings of unworthiness when he got home. I never needed those parenting strategies. On his first day, he said he walked up the wrong set of stairs and everyone was going down and he was the only one going up. I panicked for him. I was wondering if he was made fun of or if he felt insecure, etc. He just laughed it off and said, “Next time I knew which stairs to take!” No big deal. For me, that would have been a defining moment. One more way that everyone else knew what to do and I didn’t. I learned in that conversation what it meant to be brave at 11 and decided I wanted what he had.

My whole life I have struggled with insecurity, not ever feeling like I measured up, and wishing I fit in like other people. As early as I can remember, I have not wanted to be different than everyone else. I went to great lengths NOT to be noticed as outside what I thought was the “norm.” After years of counseling, prayer, and good friends speaking truth to me, I still have not overcome the fears I have battled my whole life. That I was not acceptable. That I was on the outside and somehow everyone else was on the inside. That everyone else knew how to do this “life” thing and I was in the dark. That I would get it together one day like everyone else and here I am. Somehow I still don’t have it together.

As I have raised my children, I have feared them failing. Not because it would make me look bad or because I needed them to succeed, but because I was operating with the mindset that I had growing up- failure is crushing because I am defined by my successes.  If I never try, I cannot fail.  So as they have wanted to try new things, I have been very reluctant. I have not told them so but I have deep rooted fear that they will only get hurt if they put themselves out there.

My seventeen year old decided six months ago he wanted to be a runner. Simple- he started to run. He did not weigh out how he would accomplish the entire sport of racing. He just put on his shoes and ran the lake. Now as a senior he has joined the cross country team. I would have not done that if my life depended on it in high school. But he never thought twice about it. He trains every day, takes his wins and losses, and tries to improve all the time.

I have done some running in my life and at one point I was running 5K races regularly.  Then I had some injuries and had given up the sport I never even really liked. On Monday after the kids returned to school and I finally had a day not already planned for me, I put on my running shoes and made it all of two miles before I fell onto my couch, exhausted. I already wanted to give up. The self-talk in my head was saying, “You can’t do this. You are never going to be good at running. You are too old. You are too fat.” After one day I wanted to give up! But as I ran today, I thought of how brave my son was. Joining a cross country team the last year of high school and never doubting he could do it. In that moment when I was sure I was never going to succeed, I kept running  because I knew if my 17 year old could be brave so could I.

Last year, my fifteen year old son decided two weeks before guitar auditions for Harrison that  he wanted to learn classical guitar and try out. Mind you, he did not even know how to hold a classical guitar at that point. His instructor told him he needed a year to prepare for the audition. I don’t think my son even heard those words because after 3 lessons he went into a room with his guitar and the teacher and played. I sat outside the room, overcome with panic and fear. I tried to listen through the thick door and when it came to sight-reading not a note was being played. I was texting my husband the whole time with “THIS WAS A VERY BAD IDEA.” I did not want him to feel the pain of rejection because from what I was NOT hearing coming out of that room it was not going well. He was not only accepted into the program but a year later was accepted into the most elite guitar group at Harrison. As I have watched him practice hours everyday, it never occurred to him not to try because he might fail. That was not an option in his mind. It certainly was in mine!

My oldest son joined the Army last year. With so many unknowns and a lot of questions we were unable to answer, he got on a bus and went to boot camp. With total strangers. And knowing he had some emotional wars to fight in the process. I could not believe that after all he had been through that he had the strength but he did. Seeing him graduate from basic training was one of the proudest moments of my life. He did it and he continues to do it as he works for our country.

My husband is also a very confident person and I keep thinking my kids must have gotten it from him. So I am the only female in our family and the only one who struggles with insecurity. What do I do now? I learn from them. I allow myself to dream the impossible and go do it.  Instead of quitting something because I think I will fail, I stay with it. Even when I realize I won’t be the best, the fastest, the skinniest, or the most graceful, I run. And I believe I can do it. WOW. Those are hard words to even write.

I wonder how many other people are held back by self-doubt and insecurity. What could we do if we just tried? Risked? I don’t know what this chapter holds for me but for one thing I am sure- the boys and men in my life have a lot to teach me and I am blessed to be spectators in their lives. They make me brave.

 

 

 

 

Abortion and extravagant grace

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A profound quote from Ann Voskamp’s blog about the loud, bold posts on social media about abortion.  Humble outreach. Exactly.  It was the first words I heard about the reaction of many  toward  Planned Parenthood that really resonated with me.  Indignation, graphic videos, and the careless ways people approach the subject…..I don’t believe those change the hearts of women who are considering abortion. I think it further silences them about their unplanned pregnancies, keeps them quiet about their consideration of abortion because clearly the  mention of it sends people into a complete meltdown, and certainly shames  the women who are struggling with their past decision to have an abortion.

The anger is aimed at Planned Parenthood but the message is actually predominantly reaching the women who have had or will have abortions. They are the ones reading the posts and the blogs and the ones hiding further in their self-condemnation.  If we handle women’s hearts with gentleness and compassion and they see us as approachable , we can share LIFE with them and maybe one day Planned Parenthood has no abortion clients and there is no more discussion. Period.  The love that is shared with the Gospel will be louder than the abortion clinics’ message if we stop shaming and start loving.

Does the woman walking into an abortion clinic even know one Christian she could call and seek advice from who might be able to tell her of the options available to her, like adoption? Probably not because all she has seen is anger, disgust, and hatred. So she tells no one and goes through with it alone.

Does the 35 year old woman  with a child and one on the way dare tell her Bible study that she wonders if her child will be born with defects  because surely she will be punished for having an abortion? I doubt it.

Everyone has a story and every story matters. What if we stopped talking so loudly and started listening? Sitting with women and hearing their hearts cry out and allowing God to move in the midst…..that is where the movement begins and ends.

I spent a few years volunteering at a pregnancy help center and learned so much about mercy and grace from the staff there. I saw compassion and empowering women to choose life……not the approach I see most Christians using recently.  Every time we speak in generalizations and harshness, we sound unapproachable and arrogant and we set ourselves apart as someone who would never associate with someone who might be struggling with this decision.  So we stand as the SUPERIOR CHRISTIANS and all the while women around us are getting abortions and we will never know. Or women are hiding in our churches, isolated and hurting, and they will never heal because they have to keep it a secret from the SUPERIOR CHRISTIANS. And if you don’t think they are in your pews. check the statistics. And if they aren’t in your pews you probably scared them away before they even made it to the parking lot.

What if we loved more and judged less? Stopped screaming and started listening? Stopped posting and started praying?

Women need each other and when one thinks her sin is the one inexcusable sin she runs from the Jesus we want her to know.  She needs to have a safe place to fall and the world will give her that. Will we do the same, as women who were changed by grace? It never means we must agree with the decision but it does mean that women could come to us, as believers, and we will do life with them no matter what. Let’s show the world that we are saved by a merciful God and because of the extravagant grace shown to us, we have plenty of it to share with others. And let’s be honest about our own brokenness and our own failures. Maybe then we will see women overwhelmed with the love of Christ.