Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Playing Church

I am sitting here on my couch staring at a blank screen wrestling with the words I know need to be written. Sometimes I sit down to write and stop myself from continuing because I am fearful I don't have the time to fully explore where my heart wants to take me.

Tonight feels like one of those nights.

How do you write about the single most spiritually powerful weekend of your family's life? Where do I start? How do I explain? What do I reveal and where do I protect other's feelings? Where does the story bleed between theirs and mine?

When I was a little girl, all I ever wanted to do was teach and play church. If I wasn't playing teacher, I was playing preacher. I mean I was church planting in the living room of our farm house before church planting was a "thing" as I did the preaching, teaching, song leading, prayers, communion, etc. for a room full of my stuffed animals and dolls. My mother provided me with crackers and grape juice for communion. At the time, there were always a variety of hymnals laying around, and I loved to sing. One of my favorite memories from that time is the story I have heard so many times I wonder if it is a tall tale, but supposedly I cut my own hair (bangs) as a sacrifice somehow confusing the Bible stories of Samson and Abraham (hair and sacrifice). I have been told that my parents were not amused. Can you imagine?

In 2012 if you had been close to me and asked, I would have told you that I was finally ready to walk away from corporate life and go back to school to complete a Ph.D. so that I could finally study and teach. I felt like it was where I was supposed to be and that I was finally going to "get it right" and follow my heart...and that it was what God wanted me to do. I had been given a "vision" in church one Sunday morning, and I felt it was the next step. Scary as hell, but somehow it felt right.

The thing is that I was on my knees at the time....so there were no next steps....anywhere. I spent the rest of 2012 honoring the commitments that I had made two years earlier. If I had been smarter or healthier or just a little bit selfish, I would have washed my hands of it all. No one would have blamed me...if for even a half a second I had shared the personal and professional hell I was enduring to stay. I didn't share though, and to this day I have kept the bulk of the nightmare that was those two years to myself.

I don't know what I have learned or suffered more from...the original circumstances or making the choice to suffer in silence...then and now. Too close to call at this point.

This past weekend I found out that my niece had been suffering in silence...probably for close to 10 months...certainly for approximately six weeks, and we landed somewhere in the latest/thick of it last weekend. The circumstances of her story are hers to share...and hers alone. What I will say is that when you see the circumstances of your past playing out in real time in the face of your own niece, something happens...or it did for me. The bulk of what I remember from Sunday afternoon is leaning forward in my seat and stating emphatically that the legacy of "this" in our family was going to stop then and there...right before I proceeded to share parts of my story that my niece had never heard (by my choice). That is the problem...somewhere in my ill-founded wisdom, I thought not sharing my own shame protected my family, but it didn't...and doesn't...because some of the demons I struggle with are built into my DNA. They are battles that are passed down through our family and hidden like a vampire from the sun. No. More. We ripped open the shades and shined the bright light of truth and God all over the messes of our pasts. We invited God into the middle of it and prayed over the messes and each other and literally fought the enemy to get our girl back. It cost us too. Time. Energy. Sleep. Old wounds. Shame. Buried stories. Guilt. It was worth every last bit of it. It took us the better part of two days nearly continuous before we literally saw her spirit transform before us. I have heard talk of a spirit of oppression being over someone before, but I have never witnessed one being there, being removed, and then gone. I can't even describe it other than to say it was miraculous. It was God. God defeated the enemy for her heart and won.

I want to teach and I want to preach and I want to do church All. The. Time.

I have been bemoaning Lent and this season that I willing stepped into. I have felt numb and lost and unsure and tired and ill-equipped...and did I say lost? Part of it has been the weight of this family issue that we have been so deeply entrenched in intense prayer over for the past month, but even more it has been my own faith in God waning as I wondered what he might have for me in this season of Lent. I felt a little like a small boat in the big ocean. Did he still see me? Why didn't I feel him? The tears fall writing this today as it seems so silly, but yet so real because I spent the first half of Lent peppering God with questions and wrestling with him. Then this past weekend he just guided us through this battle in hell for our girl, and he never left us. We were drowning in what to do...what to say...how to pray...how to help...and he just kept showing up for us guiding our thoughts, words, actions, prayers, and he helped us walk her through this nightmare. We were walking her, but he was walking us. I shake my head even as I type because I wish I were the kind of writer who could explain and express those days in a way that was worthy of what God did for her...for us.

I think I have been playing church my whole life.

I don't think I want to play it anymore. I think it is time to live it. This weekend I saw a glimpse of what truly living church could look like, feel like...and I want more. I want to help these kids...heck, these adults...who simply need someone to help them walk it out, unpack the situation(s), and find their way back to God. I never had that. Never. That is a wound that I had buried so deep that it took my flailing niece to force me to unpack it. I am not the only one either. There are a lot of us who simply didn't have a parent or an aunt or anyone who would fight for them....go to battle with the enemy for their heart or soul. Every child needs that...every adult needs that. Spiritual warfare is REAL. On some level I have known it since I was 18, but never like this...

I don't know what all of this means for my day-to-day life other than I know that a switch has been flipped that I cannot undo....and I don't want to either...what happened in our family this past weekend was precious and beautiful and healing.


Our stories matter. The enemy lurks in the shadows that shame casts over our lives. He wants us to be silent and alone. We have to fight for each other...in those dark, messy, uncomfortable places. God is in the messy. Fighting for us. Fighting with us. The battle is not ours to win, but ours to give him to win on behalf of us. Ours to give to him to win on behalf of others.

As I woke at dawn the day after, I leaned into kiss my niece's forehead as she slept, and with both hands laid on her, I prayed,
"By the cross of Jesus Christ I now sever all soul ties with {her name} in the Name of Jesus Christ. I am crucified to her, and she is crucified to me. I bring the cross of Christ between us, and I bring the love of Christ between us. I send {her name}'s spirit back to her body, and I forbid her warfare to transfer to me or to my domain. I command my spirit back into the Spirit of Jesus Christ in my body. I release {her name} to you, Jesus. I entrust her to you. Bless her, God! In Jesus's Name. Amen."

...which is the Breaking Soul Ties Prayer from Stasi Eldredge's fantastic book "Becoming Myself" which I recommend to EVERYONE and have gifted to a lot of the young women I mentor. {Click on link to go right to her site to purchase.} This prayer has changed my life as I tend to worry wart over everyone and everything...owning everyone's battles...#martyr  *Ugh*

I prayed this prayer after days of intense prayer and spiritual work with her and our family because I knew enough to know that I needed to not take all that we had unearthed back home with me....I knew that even as I also knew that I was headed home to find a counselor/therapist to help me unpack the wounds that God had shown me in the thick of her battle.

Photo Credit: stonegableblog

I also have been led to Psalm 51 as I work to reconcile the past few days...and I am reminded that
"...Against you, you only have I sinned...Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place...Create in me a pure heart...Renew a steadfast spirit within me...Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me..."


Wisdom.
Pure Heart.
Joy.
Willing Spirit.

God gave me this Psalm in January during #restorationJanuary and I have had those four words/phrases on my bathroom mirror ever since. Then tonight he took me again to read those words.

This is what I asked for in January...here is where he has taken me in March.

Whoa.

I feel like God is cleansing me from the inside out...I wish it were easier. I wish it didn't have to be so painful. I wish the seasons were simple and brief OR long and lovely. I have been wishing away the hard these many weeks, but he knew he what he was doing. He was teaching me wisdom. Chiseling away to find the purest part of my heart. Restoring my joy. Testing to find my willing spirit.

...and he is not done.

Not by a long shot.

"...The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart..." {vs. 17} as I learn to look to him when troubles crush me and plead for mercy for the wounds and strongholds of sin that shackle me, my heart, and my life.
....and he will use whatever it takes.

He did.

I sit here tonight and try to remember the little girl, 4 years old, head full of soft brown curls, a couple of dimples....I try to remember what thoughts were in her heart as she set up that church in the living room of her family's farm house. What joy and dreams were floating around in her heart. What was Jesus whispering into her then? Oh Jesus, what are you whispering to me now?

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin."


I am resting tonight in God's unfailing love...not just for me, but for every single one of us. There is something more available to each of us. Something more even then those of us who have been a part of a church our whole lives have known. There is love anew, fresh grace, new mercies, deeper healing, and more restoration.

I can play church OR I can live church.

Call me crazy, but I want more of the latter.

#Lent2015

Bethel | {Beautifully} In Over My Head | Video http://youtu.be/KkoCaZrvAQk

Sunshine Dreams to You ~ Today and Every Day! :)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Seas of Crimson Across An IF:Table

I should have known that God was about to move...His signal to me is always the gift of a song...right before.....Wham!

This song jumped out today, and I am attaching a LINK here to the You Tube video, but I am also listing the lyrics below...

Seas Of Crimson
 
For every curse, you’re the cure
For every sickness, you’re the healer
For every storm, you’re the calm
For all that’s lost, oh, what a savior
On that cross of Calvary
Every burden has been defeated
Every wretched heart redeemed
You drown our sins in seas of crimson

Hallelujah death is beaten
Christ has risen from the grave
Hallelujah it is finished
All to you the highest praise
Hallelujah death is beaten
Christ has risen from the grave
Hallelujah now and forever
All to you the highest praise

On that day of utmost glory
All of darkness cannot carry
Every shackle will come undone
My solid rock thine is the kingdom
Where there was sin your love rushed in
Where sin runs deep your grace runs deeper
For all enslaved the ransom paid
Light of the world, yours is the power

Where there was sin your love rushed in
Where sin runs deep your grace runs deeper
For all enslaved the ransom paid
Light of the world, yours is the power
 
For every curse, you're the cure.

I should have known then...right off the first line.

A few minutes after that I was on the phone with my Sis and then pulling up to our monthly IF:Table.


I could not have imagined...

What IF God is real? What IF everything in the Bible is real? What IF Jesus really did pay the ultimate price for us? What IF Jesus' commands to us to love, walk, talk, act, and live like His example was real? What IF???

Well....then out of the mouth of one of two college-aged girls who joined our IF:Table tonight...EVERYTHING changes. Everything.
 
Allow me a digression...

I was SO excited when two of my girls asked to come to my IF:Tribe's IF:Table tonight...Of course! I had extended an invitation in a private Facebook group I have with them, but didn't know if any of them would accept...what college kid wants to hang out over a meal with 20, 30 and 40 year old women and talk about Jesus? Well, tonight, at least two. ;) :)

Note...these college girls are part of a small group (around a dozen) that I mentor/minister to via our group (and met through a camp here in Arkansas I have counseled at the past three summers. They are 13-22 years old and deeply searching for more of Jesus. In their words, they are not getting spiritually fed...so I am trying in some small way to help fill that gap.

So...for them to come to our IF:Table was a first...and I hope not a last....because the children shall lead us. Oh my! The wisdom that came out of their mouths...and they are so hungry for God...

The IF:Table questions tonight....


Loneliness...Connection...Relationships....
 
Kill. Me. Now.
 
Sorry...that was what I was thinking...as I slid down in my seat...
 
God?! What are you trying to do to me? Have I not been whining and moaning and groaning and generally making a complete JERK of myself about how HARD Lent is? Didn't I stop short of ripping my clothes and rolling in the ashes the other night as I wailed (I am ashamed to say that is NOT an exaggeration) and shook my fist at you (Again...wish I could deny the literalness of this)? Don't you remember??
 
"Yes."..I heard him whisper and then..."I remember you whining about lack of relationships and needing more deep connection and being lonely."
 
Damn.
 
He didn't stop.
 
"I also sent you a couple of angels (two of my college girls) because you may hide from the others, but I know you can't hide from two of the ones I sent you to help."
 
Double Damn.
 
"Sit up."
 
"Dig in. Do the work. Trust me. Trust them. Just a little tonight...then a little more...and then it will get easier and easier."
 
*Pause*
 
"I have got you."
 
*Deep Breath*
 
I remember only snippets of a snippet of my story I shared, but it was enough for a point to be made in my heart....It. Is. Okay.
 
So much to unpack...So much to see through the lens of grace instead of my broken, battered, and worn lenses. I am physically ill tonight realizing what lies ahead of me, but I am going to be okay.
 
It is okay.
 
Tonight I also realized that my uncomfortableness with Lent is partially because it is taking me back to three years ago when I started this latest spiritual odyssey with God. It feels like I am going backwards somehow, but my tribe beautifully spoke a different truth into me tonight...as Heather S. said, "I think this is a sign that you are about to birth new growth as you did back then." New growth. My first genuine smile in days.
 
I am on #Day20 of #Lent2015 (and yes I am "owning" the hashtags), and I am relieved to be at the halfway mark. Tonight was the spiritual shot in the arm I needed to encourage me to keep going...dig in....do the work...learn the lessons...let God in deeper...
 
I was reminded tonight as I looked around that table at my tribe that Jesus suffered and endured through 40 days alone. ALONE. I have the gift of tribe. What was Jesus thinking at #Day20? *Tears Falling* I long to hear his story of those 40 days; I can just see me sitting with him hanging on every word. The funny thing is that right now. Today. Sitting here on my couch in the middle of this messy life in the middle of this broken world...I am hanging on His every word. Begging him to come for my heart in a new and deeper way. Begging him to reveal himself to me afresh. Begging him to answer some of those old prayers and a bunch of new ones. Begging him to tell me again why I need to do this. Begging him to heal me. Begging him to give me better words...better prayers....better gifts...more compassion...more wisdom. Teach me. Tell me. Show me.
 
Pause.
 
Love me.
 
That is what happens...
 
We get so busy begging and whining and striving...even in and with Jesus...that we forget to simply stop. Stop. and let him LOVE us.
 
On that cross of Calvary
Where every burden has been defeated
And every wretched heart redeemed
You drown our sins in seas of crimson

In this second half of #Lent2015 let me lay down my measuring stick (thank you Ann Voskamp) to where I should be, how I should be, what I am not....and simply and gently lean back and rest in the arms of Jesus. There in the nook of his neck, where his chest and shoulder meet, is a place for me to lay my weary head and breathe.
 
Amen.

"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 {Emphasis Added by HRN}
How is your Lent journey going?

Sunshine Dreams to You ~ Today and Every Day! :)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why Water?

Photo Credit: www.freewaters.com
As I wrote about in January, I started this year taking a weekly "spa" bath, and just like other rituals of restoration I worked to make habits of in January...this one has taken on a life of its own. What I mean by that is that I need, I MUST take the time for one every week...It has become an uninterrupted time of conversation with God...It soothes me mind, body, and soul.

This morning before church, I was laying in the tub having a VERY intense conversation with God about all the things I don't understand about my life...why I am in this season here and now...why it feels so hard...why I can't control my emotions, questions, yearnings for answers...why at times I have felt so very dry spiritually in the midst of Lent no less...why I can't stop myself from allowing the world to make me numb from time-to-time...why I just can't hang onto the JOY that I know is mine in him..Oh the questions...the water grew lukewarm.

As I sat up to run more hot water, I suddenly started thinking about Jesus' own baptism. Why water? Why did God have us baptized in water?

I started thinking of a mother's womb, how a child grows for nine months, all that fluid, the immersion of life in this cocoon, the water breaking, and the bringing forth of life into the world fresh and new...

Is baptism the closest we can experience to a physical re-birth?

I was reading a post this morning by writer Seth Haines entitled "Take. Eat. Remember" and it moved me so much I shared it on my own writing page (I heard about Seth via mutual friends, so I guess I am now a stalker...That said, check out his work; very good.). I guess I was still marinating on his words because I am suddenly struck by how beautifully God intertwines the body, the spirit, the earth, and our minds. He takes such a holistic approach with us, marrying these things so beautifully...it really is like poetry.

I think I needed the reminder by God (and Seth) of the beauty of the processes...the water, the wine, the bread, the LIFE.

It is so easy for me to get numb in the searching and the studying of God's words and in my walk through it. I truly loathe that about myself, but didn't God know that I/we would be that way? Didn't he provide for us the rituals to remind us of the meaning? Didn't he know we would grow weary and numb? Didn't he know that after years and years of watching his people ebb and flow out of following him with great fervor only to deny him in the next breath? Didn't he send Jesus, his own son, to make it so intimately personal that even our jaded human hearts could recognize the sacrifice? Doesn't he crave our sacrifice and our pursuing of him because he knows that where our treasure is, there also is our heart?

Doesn't he simply..Know. Us.?

During this season of Lent, I am learning the very HARD about having a daily walk with Christ. The intimacy of it feels like any other relationship...overflowing, dry, weary, joyful, nourishing...it is a RELATIONSHIP. I am not necessarily the very best at those. I am not necessarily the very best at one with God. I think Lent has been a reminder of what I am not good at, but the water is a reminder of how much God loves that I continue to go to the well. I continue to seek him...to seek the relationship....to dig into the healing I need...the healing that is mine...God sees my pursuit of him even at the cost of my own comfort....emotionally, physically, and relationally.

The thing is that even when I was not pursuing him, he was always there...waiting. Patiently. I think of the years I spent trying to go it alone with little more than a half-ass relationship with him, and it is hard to bear. Even now. Especially now. Lent reminds you of that. Ugh.

Yesterday I was reminded in one of my tribes how we are all at different places in our walk...and I was also reminded that many of us have guilt and shame associated with the feeling that we are not as far along in it as we should be. I was reminded too that I bear that shame and sometimes, unfortunately, I act from it. There is no set timeline on when you should get saved, be here or here spiritually, hear from God, know all the rules...I mean, for the love of all that is good and holy....shouldn't we the church be the one place where there is no ladder, no tick marks of who is where, no competition? I think so.

I have had to lay a lot of shame down at the altar. I have had to lay a lot of my "competition" read that as competitive heart down at the altar. Know the most Bible verses...win the Bible for saying the books of the Bible...read the Bible all the way through...how many books have you read...how many Bible studies have you done....and that competition wasn't always external, in fact rarely so...it is inside. The enemy knows I like to win...to be the best.

...and then here Jesus comes with the water.

Be made clean. All who are weary, find rest. Give up the idols. Follow me.

So simple.

My worldly heart that resides in my worldly body is at war with my good good heart.

My God is fighting for me...Every. Single. Step. Of. The. Way.

He is fighting...and cheering...and loving...Me. All the while, I resist that love.

It is the irony of ironies that what we crave most in this life...Love...is what he is offering...and what we fight against.

I am never going to be the same post-Lent. (BIG ugly crying now)

Thank you God.

Sunshine Dreams to You ~ Today and Every Day! :) 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

43 Year Old Wisdom For My 18 Year Old Self

So I am scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning and come across this article entitled 11 Things People Over 50 Wish They'd Done Differently At 25 and the title in itself is A. Lot.
 
Yet....as someone always interested in self-evaluation, I click and read....and think, not a bad list, but there is something missing...I think of my own niece in the throws of college and choices, my nephews in the middle of high school with all of its challenges...and I think what would I want them to read on a list like this?
 
....for all of us who don't like the feeling of shoulda, coulda, woulda...
 
So...I am writing my own which includes some of the ones in the article above (slightly tweaked) and my own additions. ;)
 
  1. Speak up more. In. Love. One of the biggest lies I learned as a child was that I needed to speak louder or more to be heard. It is a natural offshoot of growing up in a large family and then having a lot of dysfunction occur in your family. It took nearly as long to unwind those bad traits as it took to learn them (that is approximately 20 years if you are curious about the math). I also learned that I needed to be right. To be wrong in our family was bad...very BAD. Today I know that it is better to speak your truth,  share your story, own what you believe....but most importantly be kind and speak in love. You do get more with honey than vinegar. Trust me.
  2. Know when to walk away. Oh and actually walk away. If I had a nickel for every time I said, "This is it." and then caved, I could retire...Today. Games do not work. In school. In friendships. In romantic relationships. In life. As the verse goes, let your yes be yes and your no be no. People deserve and should know where you stand. Know your nonnegotiables (in love, work, relationships, etc.) and then stick to them.
  3. Save more money....and protect your credit score. There are two numbers that can haunt you all your days if unprotected, your social security number and your credit score. Learn early. Be smart. These two matter. Protect them. Also, save. Save. Every little bit counts. I was and have been a pretty good saver, but I wish I had been even better. I made some big financial mistakes that cost me dearly. It is never too soon to develop a financial plan. Find someone you trust that doesn't take half of what you are saving to help you protect it and grow it. Some day you might want to start your own business and believe me, you will need the money to do it. (Slight digression there.)
  4. Re-think a college major. This is a big one for me because I really did not major in what I loved, I majored in what I thought would give me "security" in life. That was a mistake. Now God can make good out of anything, and I am very grateful for my business degrees. My education and work experience have opened a lot of doors for me in my life...BUT, yes there is a but. I wish I had followed the passion in my heart...heck, I wish I had sat still long enough to really know myself and know what my true passion(s) were at 18, 19, 20... I was in too big of a hurry. Too terrified that I couldn't make the next month's rent. I just lived in a lot of fear at that age. Don't let fear rule your choices...especially not in a college major that is going to dictate how you spend four years of your life...and possibly beyond.
  5. Travel more and read. Phew. This one stings because if there is anything I find myself telling high school and college students when I go back to mentor, speak, etc., it is travel...A. Lot. Take every mission trip you can while you are in high school. Read all of the books you can even the ones you don't like; expand your mind. I have traveled considerably as an adult, but I didn't really start doing that until my mid-30s. I spent my 20s with my head down in books and then my head down working. I regret that, and I am someone that hates regret. I recommend that you take a year off between high school and college to travel the world, join the Peace Corps, work in the mission field, do an internship....LIVE. These days you can defer scholarships and acceptance letters, but you cannot defer life. Grab yours and live it. Experience the world around you. Learn more about yourself and others. Take the time to really learn yourself without the safety net of family and school.
  6. Incur less debt. You are probably thinking how do I travel and not incur debt? Well, there are lots of ways...work, fundraise...to name two. Spend your money on travel and not things. Travel light in your 20s, and I mean that literally and figuratively. I remember the futon I spent a precious couple of paychecks for in college that I was SURE I would have forever. #forthelove  Let me assure you I. Did. Not. My entire first apartment was furnished out of my parents' garage and Salvation Army. Today I look at those photos, and it is still one of my favorite spots I ever lived. Trust me, Wal-Mart and Target are too good for your 20s. You need to spend your money on travel...and good food (whether out or cooking via Farmers Markets in your apartment)...and giving back. Learn to cook in your 20s and save the eating out for great food in great restaurants. Attend events that are free. Use a library card instead of Barnes and Noble (there will be plenty of time to build your library). Remember travel light so you can travel. ;)
  7. Wear more sunscreen. Oh how I wish I had never seen a tanning bed. Just say no. Who cares if you are as white as that sheet of notebook paper. Make it work for you. Now in my 40s I get to see a dermatologist every six months, stripped naked while they examine me for odd-shaped moles. Oh and if they see one even slightly suspicious, I get a painful shot and they Cut. It. Off. Are you still with me here??? Just say no. Sunshine is to enjoy in the shade of 50SPF. You will thank me later.
  8. Think carefully before marriage. Now this one is tricky for me. I was engaged in my 20s (somehow my niece didn't know that until a few weeks ago), but he and I while best friends in college figured out midway through our first pre-marriage counseling session that we didn't have a clue. At. All. As we walked to the car that night, we both looked at each other with big doe eyes and then broke out laughing. It was relief and sadness and joy wrapped up in one. We weren't ready and we knew it. Thank God for pre-marriage counseling. He is now very happily married and the father of four. I have not been as blessed, but I had bigger issues that I only started facing head on with God a few years ago. I have hope that God has a man out there...though it will be later in life for me than the average woman....but that is okay. This is my story, and I am owning it. The point is that even at my saddest about being single, I have NEVER EVER been so sad that I would have rather been married to someone that wasn't the one. That is a critical point. Most of the people I knew in my teens and 20s are on second marriages (some more) while others are VERY happily married. I don't think it is the age you marry that matters as much as it is the state of mind you marry in. You both have to really want it...for the long haul....thick and thin, sickness and in health, death do you part...Oh and you have to really love each other....the good and the bad (yup all of those nasty habits), but mostly you have to both love God at the same velocity. If you aren't on the same page about Jesus and where he ranks in your life, you will both be miserable. Imagine my shock when I am dating a Christian and crisis hits and our approaches are so polar opposite this is no recovering for us. Painful. Make sure where you place God is the same place they place God...if not, I am sorry to tell you this, but you are going to be unequally yoked and that is miserable for both of you, and your families, and your children. Remember you date the fantasy, but you marry the reality.
  9. Slow down. I didn't. I regret it. I could write a book on this. I have been too driven since childhood. I wish I had stopped and smelled the roses more. It is not a race to the finish. It took me half my life to realize that.
  10. Get a better education. I love school. I am grateful to have both of my degrees. I dream of another, but God and life keep throwing me curve balls. No one can ever take your education away from you. Study. Learn. And not just the traditional senses. I love vocational and technical schools, art classes, community colleges, photography classes. I have dabbed in it all, and I highly recommend you do too. There are a lot of free or very inexpensive classes all around you. A few clicks in Google will reveal them all to you. Check them out.
  11. Consider health issues. Let me tell you some truths. Your metabolism will slow down. Yikes! Your skin will wrinkle. You will get saggy in places you NEVER worried about. Hair does start to grow in places it SHOULD NOT (it isn't just a man thing). Getting out of bed in the morning does sound a lot like a Rice Krispies commercial all Snap! Crackle! and Pop! Your hair does thin even those of us blessed with a lot of it. It does turn gray and not all fast and beautiful like Emmylou Harris' lovely locks (oh I wish and CANNOT wait), but sporadic and odd to where even those who said they would never cover their gray, do. {My trick is to make it fun...which is one reason I love ombre}. Doctors will tell you that you can no longer eat that, drink that, do that, and you will argue and rebel...and then you will pay dearly. So you will slowly listen. There will also be medical situations that Change. Your. Life., but you will persevere. The point is to enjoy and consider your health when you are young. It does change.
  12. Pray/Meditate/Read Your Bible. Oh how I wish someone had gotten me in my teens and taught me this. It is a game changer and makes all of the items above easier. Your choices are to live your life on your own terms and by your own volition, OR on God's terms and by his will. I wish I had spent all of my days doing the latter. I. Did. Not. Tithe your time to the one that gives you the time.
  13. Find your tribe. I have not always been a good friend. That is hard for me to say. I am not sure I am a good friend now on most days. What I do know is that I am getting better at it. If you choose to live your life on a treadmill by your own volition, you have no time for others. That is a mistake. Life is hard. God did not mean for us to go it alone. Solo was not the point. There was a reason God made Eve. The world was incomplete without her. God knew we needed tribe. Jesus knew it too. He grabbed up the disciples (merry band of misfits that they were) because he needed tribe and so did they. The point is...so do we. My life is so much more richer now that I have a tribe to live it with...to do life with. I wish I had understood tribe in my teens. It takes work, but it is worth it. Cultivate it in your life.
  14. Spend time alone. I once called it "taking a swim in lake you" and lately it has become "spa day" BUT whatever it is...do it. Take a day a month to just BE you. To take care of yourself...mind, body, and spirit. My day (at 43) looks like coffee in bed, reading, a deep tissue massage, a facial, a manicure, a pedicure, a nice dinner, a glass of wine (though not during Lent. Yikes!), and early to bed curled up with another book. It is a day of bliss. Whatever it is for you...do that. Spend time each month restoring yourself. You cannot take care of others if you do not take care of yourself.
  15. Give back. Make sure you are donating/tithing/giving of yourself, your time, your money, your best efforts to others. Sure it looks good on your college applications, your resumes, etc., but what really matters is that it feels really good in your soul. The old adage that it is better to give than receive is true, and there is something about time (and age) that helps you understand that more and more. Make sure that your days are filled with small and large ways of giving back (from buying someone a cup of coffee to volunteering at the homeless shelter).
The funny thing is I think there is more, but I need to get to church and brunch. The truth is that every day is a gift and a lesson that each of us has to unwrap for ourselves. I have no BIG regrets per se, but I do wish I had listened to wiser counsel when I was younger. I wish that God and I had been in sync then as we are today. I have lots of lost wishes. The point is to learn. I am still learning. It is never too late to learn OR share your hard-fought knowledge with others.
 
Happy Sunday!

"Anyone among the living has hope..." ~ Ecclesiastes 9:4

Sunshine Dreams to You ~ Today and Every Day! :) 

Where Did You Go February?

 
....and then it was March.

That is how I feel sitting here on March Eve. Where did you go February? I feel like I hardly knew you...or however that song goes. ;)

February has been HUGE. It started off with a slight panic-pause by me as I ended the most restorative month...Of. My. Life. I didn't have time to worry long as I jumped on a plane to Austin for four days...two days of IF:Gathering...and the rest experiencing Austin with friends. Wow! Austin, as simply as I know how, I love you. That is all. I begrudgingly came home and real life smacked me...Hard. I finished an acquisition at work right as I was closing out January and headed to Austin...plus interviews and interviews and new hires and did I mention interviews...at one point, I lost my religion and had a meltdown over the back-to-back interviewing. I love people, but the choices. Choosing people who will love your little dream as much as you love it is...well, Hard. The next weekend I headed home for the first time since Christmas to celebrate birthdays and love and it was fun and relaxing and perfect. The next week brought my first Ash Wednesday Service experience came mid-week along with a dive into Lent. The next weekend I was in Fayetteville for three days for scholarship review combined with time with friends - old and new. It was perfect. So perfect. The past two weeks have been brutal at work due to sketchy Arkansas winter weather. Somehow we were still able to launch a new website and a new partnership, but there might have been a meltdown (or two) in the midst of it....there was amazing grace in it though, and my business partner and I crossed out of the wilderness and into the Jordan (all of my IF:Gathering readers will get the reference), and I knew it by the confirmation God provided me in full body chills and teary eyes (both of us) as it was happening...and we prayed thanks to God for the giant step...and the many to come. Then this weekend....finally...rest. Me (solo) time. Sleeping in, coffee in bed, and a spa day. Mmmmm....Perfection. It doesn't seem like a month's worth, but on the other hand, I know why I am so tired.:)

I just sat here and re-read that entire last paragraph and said a prayer of thanks to God. That is a lot to shove into 28 days especially when that is the cliff notes version (and incomplete at that).

One of the things that is missing in the above is those things that I carried into February from January #restorationJanuary ;)  I carried in my 90 minutes per day of prayer/mediation/Bible reading. It is still precious time. It is still hard on some days. It is still beautiful and adding tremendous value to my life. Some days I get upset when the alarm goes off signaling time is up...that makes me smile. :) I do have to say that as much as this has added value to my life, it has not come without pain. There are people in my life who have/are finding it challenging to deal with a calmer me. I find it funny the people in my life who enjoy "doing battle" and want me "in it" with them. My new response...Ummmm....No. I have spent a chunk of February renegotiating some relationships. It hasn't been easy, but it has been time well spent. There are five alarm fires and there are one alarm fires...and after 43 years, it is high time I learn the difference. Join me in the land of "not everything is a big deal" because it is glorious here. Nearly spa-like. I joke, but I feel like I am more present for the important people in my life. I know I am laughing more. The main thing is that I no longer worry I am going to fall dead of a heart attack before I turn 50. There. Is. Another. Way.

The main thing I have learned in these past two months of 2015 is that I can't simply say I need to take care of myself....I actually have to Take. Care. Of. Myself.  Like...for real. :) I block out time on my calendars. I no longer sleep with my phone and get anxious with I don't return messages or calls same day (now don't joke, I didn't always return them same day, BUT I did always stress over it. :)), and I am sleeping. Sleep has become a priority, but it is one I have to work at. I have to shut the lights down at bedtime and shut everything off. I guess I am trying to learn to cultivate better habits.

The MOST important thing out of all of this though....Jesus. I am not sure I am ever going to be able to thank my friend Heather for listening to the urge about tithing time, and for also being brave enough to share it with our IF:Tribe that meets weekly at my house. It was exactly what I needed to hear and do, and spending this 90 minutes a day with God has been a game changer for me and my life. By making him my number one priority, all the other craziness seems to fall into place more easily. Sure I am saying no a lot more....not double or triple-booking myself...but besides all of that....I REALLY know who is in control, and it isn't me. As someone who believes they have had a relationship with God their whole life and been saved since they were 13....it is humbling to admit that it is only as an adult these past few years that God and I have truly had a relationship...one that goes both ways with give and take...and this past couple of months feels like we just took our relationship to the next level...and we both seem giddy about the relationship status change. If only they had a button for that on Facebook. *Deep Sigh*

I know this all might seem crazy, but to me this is the best time...the most peaceful, sanest, fulfilling time of my life. There are things I want. Things that make me sad. Things that break my heart, make me angry, etc. I still have dreams and plans. It is just that all of those things don't consume my thoughts All. The. Time. and Every. Day. I have peace that tomorrow will be tomorrow, but today is today. I used to hug...everybody. There was a time in my life that I noticed I stopped doing that. This week I bet I have hugged more people friends and strangers alike than I did during that entire previous hug-drought. It feel SO SO good. I am learning to fall in love with people again. To see their good hearts. To love them without fear or pretense.

So maybe February was and is truly the month of love. I fell deeper in love with my life, and the people in it, this past month. I fell more in love with the God that is restoring me...from the inside out. I found joy in the hard stuff.


Proverbs 4:23 (Photo via Pinterest)
 
The above is not only one of my favorite verses (and one that has come to me again and again this past month), but this is also a tattoo consideration for my own wrist (nobody freak...just thinking about it). What I was reminded this month by God is that sometimes the best way to guard your heart, is to give it completely to him.

What big a-ha moments have you had in February? Was it all you wanted? More? Less? What are you dreaming about for March?

Sunshine Dreams to You ~ Today and Every Day! :) 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

True Love Is Convicting

Whew. Lent. Who knew?
 
So...Lent is messing me up. Mind. Body. Spirit. Heart.
 
First, I gave up fried foods and alcohol. Now let me be clear I eat a lot of fried foods (fried chicken nearly once a week) and I drink a little alcohol (and not just for medicinal purposes, but for that too...I have had a couple of health things previously written on). I also added two additional Lent-specific Bible studies.
 
Kill. Me. Now.
 
I had LITTLE idea what crutches I had in my favorite comfort foods and a glass of wine. Lent is occurring in the midst of some bad weather which causes considerable professional stress as our firm sends crews across the state of Arkansas and Mississippi daily (M-F). Lent is also occurring as my little family struggles through some changes. Lent is also occurring as my business partner and I wrestle through another expansion of our firm. Lent is also occurring in the middle of LIFE.
 
I am not missing the fried foods or the alcohol; I am missing the comfort.
 
At night, if I don't have plans, I head home and throw on my pjs, climb under my favorite quilt, and I read...the Bible, books...and I journal...and I pray...and I question...God. A. Lot.
 
I am frustrated.
 
I have lots of BIG feelings right now that center around just being FRUSTRATED over I know not what. So I keep asking God, "What is THIS?!?!" Why am I so uncomfortable???
 
"Growth," He whispers.
 
*Ugh*
 
*Deep Sigh*
 
 
Last night I curled up in bed and pouted, and I am ashamed to admit it here...but I did. A full on pout-fest. I looked through old photos of Haiti, my tribe, travel, family, friends...and I pouted. Without a piece of fried chicken in sight and no wine to sip, I was forced to suffer through ALL of the emotions. It felt like torture.
 
True love is convicting.
 
Let that sink in.
 
So here is the confession. When I jotted that phrase down in my journal this weekend, I was thinking of a post-IF blog post on how Jesus convicts sinners with his love not his condemnation. I still think that is true, but the funny (and not ha ha) thing is that God has not given me the time to write until now...and between the time I jotted that and now, God has taken it upon himself to "ed-ucate" me on the concepts of "love" and "condemnation" and how they relate to how I treat myself and how I treat others.
 
Grace.
 
I just love people who argue over grace vs. works. Have they ever done either? Let me tell you, grace IS work. Living like Jesus IS work. Loving like Jesus IS work.
 
Whew...diving in here...
 
I read somewhere once that LIFE is in the messy and the awkward and the uncomfortable.
 
It is.
 
In my uncomfortableness in this beautiful, messy, and awkward season of Lent...God is teaching me about some places in me that truly ache. Places I need healing. Places I need to spend time. Places I need to share with others. {As an aside, I am literally wiggling in my seat as I type this...just the subject matter makes me uncomfortable.}
 
Yesterday I learned that I miss Haiti because I miss the lessons in how to be joyful no matter what the circumstances, and I learned that there are some very real people in my everyday life right here in Little Rock, Arkansas, that can teach me about how to be truly joyful. Case in point the waitress at the restaurant I went to yesterday for lunch (ran away to) and made friends with learning all about something called the Daniel Fast that they did at their church in January. I also learned they work two jobs and in-between handle childcare for two grandchildren; one full-time while their sole parent is stationed overseas. She was COMPLETELY joyful. I was jealous as hell of her.
 
Today my business partner and I snuck away to a hidden dive for lunch. We did it so we could apologize to each other for words spoken in stress late last week. God gave us the space at that little table to teach us some new lessons on grace. In moments of stress, we are now going to always take one step back into a pool of grace (I wish you could see my hands as I try and show this to you) and operate and speak from there. It is another step of growth for two very human leaders who have a company, a team, and a dream that is outstripping every bit of air cover we grasp at...it is humbling and scary and it means we have to be vulnerable with each other...Every. Day. We are stepping into the uncomfortable Every. Day.
 
This morning I texted a member of my tribe and said I need to do life with you...more...deeper. I love my tribe. I love doing life with my tribe. I simply need more. Two years ago what I have now would have felt constrictive/oppressive/suffocating, and today I want...if not...NEED more. Wow. God can work miracles. This alone is proof.
 
I want more time to write/teach/study Jesus. Some days I feel like my professional life is interfering with my prayer/meditation time. Someone check on me. I don't know the girl typing this. I don't know what to do with all of those feelings and dreams. What is this??
 
...and that is just the aching places that have surfaced in the past few days. Lent is 40 days (46 if you include Sundays).
 
40 Days!!!
 
True love IS convicting.
 
I am coveting my comforts (i.e., crutches) to God and tithing additional time to God...and in my coveting and tithing he is revealing the deep aches I hide even from myself and he is beautifully and tenderly meeting me there. It is equal parts messy and beautiful. I am a daughter looking to my good good Father for wisdom and healing and grace. He is giving it to me in heaping spoonfuls. One right after another.
 
#Lent2015
 
*I am a first timer to Lent so I have zero idea if this type of heavy introspection is normal or just another Heatherism. I would love to hear your own #LentStories as we all walk through this Lent season together.

Sunshine Dreams to You ~ Today and Every Day! :) 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent ~ 40 Days in the Wilderness

You know what I love MOST about having a tribe???
 
When you share that you are trying something new, they are the first to jump up and shout their support. I mean WOW to the best tribe ever over my decision to go to an Ash Wednesday Service and participate in Lent....both for the first time.
 
I have been inundated with information, reading suggestions, blog posts, books, text messages, prayers, and I am overwhelmed..in the best of ways. THANK YOU!
 
 
One of the pieces of information I received called the observance of Lent "40 Days in the Wilderness" to which I laughed because I understand that COMPLETELY. I have come to appreciate in the past few years the study of the Israelites time in the wilderness and relating that to periods of my own spiritual walk. So to now experience Lent and look at the wilderness concept through the eyes of Jesus' temptation for 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism...well, I am SO up for that.
 
I am also possibly a little scared....;)

For those of you who are also experiencing Lent for the first time, I hope you enjoy these posts and find them informational...but also funny. It is important for me to maintain my sense of humor as God takes me deeper and deeper into my walk with him. HE clearly has a sense of humor. So...please do not take my lightheartedness at any time as disrespectful. I take all of this VERY serious, but I am also trying to present my experience in the most transparent light. Growth is hard. Growth is sticky and icky. Growth can be funny. Mostly though...growth is REAL. I think it is time to take the blinders off (or rose-colored glasses as I often refer to them) and share the truth of the day-to-day of our walks (as broken people) with God (who is sovereign) in this very broken world.
 
I digress...

Tonight I thought I might share some of what I am reading which was recommended since these scriptures deal with Jesus' temptation in the wilderness and it was as the 40 day temptation of Jesus that is the basis of the observances of Lent:  Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; Hebrews 2:18, and Hebrews 4:15.
 
Also, I have decided to give up a couple of things and also take something up. The take something up concept is something I learned from a couple of different friends that some do to aid in their spiritual growth; one today also gave me a list I could choose from. #bless
 
The main thing is that I am consciously observing this 40 (plus 6 when you include Sundays) days leading up to Easter. As someone who has NEVER done this and already in love with the whole thing, I am fighting the urge to regret years lost not experiencing it all. That is pointless though...the good news is that now I know. *Deep Sigh*
 
Isn't it funny how once you notice something new you see it everywhere?!?! It feels suddenly like the whole world is doing Lent.
 
Maybe that is just me...
 
Oh...so here is the funny for the day...my business partner walked in my office this morning and was talking before he hit the door and as I looked up, he stopped mid-sentence and said, "It looks like you didn't get it off (pointing at the remnants of the ash cross placed on my forehead last night)." I said, "Well funny story, I saw this graphic today of the different ways these are placed and there is one really bold, dark one that is called "Father's Revenge" guess which one I got??" Obnoxious laughter. So...the story is I scrubbed my face, as I always do, and when I looked in the mirror as I dried my face off, I noticed it was still there. I use high power scrubber, I think we are all clear about what this means.
 
LOL :)))
 
I am so grateful for the experience of Ash Wednesday and Lent. I am grateful for new experiences. An amazing tribe of people encouraging me as I do something new. Mostly I am grateful for a God full of bountiful grace who is most certainly quite amused as I walk through this...I have a Good Good Father.
 
Are you observing Lent? Any tips for me? I would love to hear your experiences (past or present). I am loving learning about all of this...please share.
 
Sunshine Dreams to You ~ Today and Every Day! :)