My Golden

“Let yourself be seen. Love with your whole heart. Practice gratitude. Lean into joy. Believe you are enough.” ~ Brene Brown

It is the eve of my 4oth birthday and I find myself in a reflective mood. Over the last several days precious sisters in Christ have been showering me with love and thoughtful gifts that represent me and this milestone birthday. It has been a humbling and overwhelming experience that today left me in tears. Tears of feeling so undeserving and tears of gratitude that I get to call some of the most amazing ladies on the planet my friends. Tonight I sit back in awe as I reflect on just the last decade…not a single one of these ladies who have showered me with so much love have known me longer than 10 years. Yet, in the time since we have met these ladies have journeyed alongside me through my son’s autism, the death of my precious daughter, confessing my biggest fears and the road to conquering them, going back to school, and walking in the calling God has placed on my life. They have seen me on the mountain top and they have laid in bed beside me as I have wept. They have celebrated my victories and they held me up when the heartbreak brought me to my knees…sometimes all they could do is simply kneel beside me with a prayer on their lips and a soft soothing touch that remained until the wave of grief passed. They have championed me, encouraged me, challenged me to be stretched beyond my comfort zone, and they believed in me before I ever believed in myself. Some friendships have been years while others are newer but they are all precious in their own right. Over and over again each of these ladies have been the visible proof of my invisible God. They remind me that He is here…cheering me on…taking me places I never thought I could go. They say it takes a village to raise a child…well I say it takes a tribe to bring out the very best in us. The sisterhood in Christ is a strong and powerful force and I have been blessed with the most amazing sisters.

“The bread is so that you may never know hunger. The salt is so that your marriage will always have flavor. The wine is so you will always have something to celebrate.” ~ An Old Italian Wedding Blessing

This past weekend we celebrated my younger cousins marriage. I have to be honest, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is not fiction. Omit Greek, insert Italian and it’s a documentary of my family. Sure we live up to the stereotypes: we talk too loud and with our hands, we have a flair for the dramatic, we have hot tempers, and yes we really do believe that Italians do everything better. But take away the comedic value and the over-the-top stereotypes and what remains is a beautiful truth…growing up in an Italian family has always given me a sense of belonging to something special. We are a tribe that stretches far and wide.  I have cousins who aren’t my cousins at all and most of my nieces and nephews are actually my cousins kids. Many people don’t even have a relationship with their first cousins while I know and have relationships with my third and fourth cousins. My aunts and uncles have been just as influential in my life as my own parents and my grandparents were always the center of our family. The greatest part of being Italian is that you always have a ready made cheering section. Rooted in love we always have each others back. As a child you always fall naturally into the patterns you have always known and rarely question it. As you grow into adulthood you begin to realize that not every family is like yours. Many family’s don’t kiss hello and goodbye, most people don’t eat seafood only on Christmas eve, prosciutto and salami are not staples in every house, and most people don’t eat Sunday dinner at 1:00. All these things make us unique…we hang onto the traditions that followed my grandparents to the new world as they left their home country behind because it keeps their story alive. The legacy of the immigrant experience for Italians is a strong sense of loyalty and family and I was reminded once again this weekend how blessed I am that their story is a part of my story.

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”

As I turn the page to begin a new chapter of my life I can’t help but feeling like the best is yet to come.  God is stripping away all the things that have held me back from walking in the fullness of the life promised through His Son. I finally realize that I am a beautiful blend of my earthly family and my family in Christ. The two are meant to compliment each other. Like a symphony, they work together in perfect harmony so that I can become all that God has created me to be. Over the last several days I have been reminded that we are not meant to journey this road alone…that was never God’s design. He has strategically placed people in our lives to share our lives with. An earthly family bound together in love through a shared experience, history, and traditions and a family in Christ where we can celebrate all that makes us unique while knowing that we are bound together by the deepest love we will ever know, the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Months ago I started reading the book Brazen by Leeana Tankersley. The premise of the book is to find the you hidden deep inside your soul.I found myself identifying so much with the author. Maybe it was because as she wrote and I as I read we both found ourselves at the doorstep of 40…a turning point…or as Lenny Kravitz sings “old enough to see behind me but young enough to feel my soul.” Or maybe it was simply that my soul was just longing for me to slow down long enough to pay attention to its hidden desires.

It was one night as I was having what the author calls “Soul Time” that I discovered one chapter was ending and another was about to begin. The words flowed out of me and I closed my journal ready to embrace the new. Over the last several months I have thought about my late night “Soul Time” revelation but I never went back to read the words…until tonight.

Soul Time entry April 1, 2016

I sit at the dawn of a new era in my life. An era marked by the battle wounds and scars from times that have passed.

Sweet memories come with me and heartaches etched deep in the fabric of who I am becoming.

All things old have value in creating what will be…the new birth…the new life.

The old is woven with the new and the tapestry dances with the vibrancy of all the colors.

The contrast of the dark with the beauty of the light.

It all comes alive as God begins a new work in me.

The season of my golden begins…

Silence Isn’t Always Golden

When darkness comes

And pain is all around  

Like a bridge over troubled water

 I will lay me down  ~ Simon and Garfunkel

Sometimes there are no words to say. No thoughts to convey. No amount of polish or eloquence to make the reality of a situation less brutal than what it is.

Orlando, FL June 2016. Who will ever forget hearing the headline “Mass Casualty Situation?” Then to discover that 50 people had lost their lives…

I started this blog weeks ago but never got past those first few lines. My mind struggled to comprehend a kind of hatred that leaves a heart stone cold. The words just wouldn’t come so I remained silent.

Last night my husband and I sat watching Fox News. People in Dallas,TX peacefully protesting when all hell broke loose. People scattering, screaming, shots fired! In the first few moments, before the full realization of what was occurring hit, Fox showed the images of officers down on the ground. I couldn’t believe what  I was seeing. Matt and I looked at each other and we knew something was terribly wrong…those officers were not hunkered down, there were gravely hurt. There we sat glued to our TV in utter disbelief. How devastating it was to finally go off to bed knowing that 5 families were being contacted to let them know their loved would not be coming home.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This morning I sit here. In the silence I try to put words to emotions but it all falls short. Nothing can fully encapsulate how I am feeling because honestly, I am at loss. So much pain, so much hurt, so much hate…when does it end? How do we make it stop? We are spinning out of control. A country in chaos…so divided, so much tension…on so many levels. I would love to tell you have a 5 step plan to make it all better, but I don’t. What I do have is a voice…a voice that can speak compassion…a voice that can speak love…a voice that can no longer stay silent. A voice that is compelled to say “I am sorry…” I am sorry for not getting past myself and my own circumstances to gain a better understanding. I am sorry for the generalizations and stereotypes I have carried in my own mind that have hesitated or perpetuated my thoughts and actions. I am sorry for being a voice that speaks “be the change you want to see in the world” yet in the tough stuff I often go silent.

God is love…and as we live in God, our love grows more perfect…such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. We love each other because he first loved us. ~ 1 John 4: 16,17,18

Just like Orlando, this week’s events have me once again focused on the people. The ripple effect of the actions of a few will have life long implications for many.  Lives lost or forever altered because of fear. Is fear not what most prejudice and hatred is rooted in? Fear of what is different, fear of what might be contrary to your own ways or beliefs. What we fear we often dislike and our dislike often leads to disdain which gone unchecked leads to hatred. We sit back our with our preconceived notions or the ideas that we have been predisposed to, whether by environment or upbringing, and we allow that to become the catalyst of the narrative in our minds.

I cannot change the whole world but I can use my one voice to speak a different narrative. You see, I strongly believe the change we all long to see begins with the people of God. Why? Because we have been called and commanded to love and love will conquer hate. What makes our love unique, what gives our love power is that it is rooted in God’s love. It is not an emotional response it is a choice. A choice rooted in the understanding of what God has done for us. Every Christ follower must process this idea, that while we were still sinners God sent His Son to redeem us, to forgive us…why? Because of His unfailing love for us. When we begin to recognize that the very love and grace that God extends to us has been extended to all…there is no one unworthy of the gift of Jesus Christ, no one outside the realm of God’s forgiveness, and no one that God does not love and long for. Then we, as His children, will be the first to extend love, grace, compassion, and forgiveness because we should have the greatest understanding of what it means to receive all of those things. The problem we tend to see in the world is that love is given based on conditions where as the love of God is unconditional. That very love should flow from His people. You don’t need to be more like me, you don’t need to vote like me, you don’t need to think like me for me to love you…I love you because I have been first loved by God through Jesus Christ and that love compels me to love others.

It is this very love that has brought my voice to life. I can no longer sit by on the sidelines a spectator to hurt, pain, injustice, hatred and say nothing. It is impossible to have a love for God and not be devastated and heartbroken over that things in our world that cause Him anguish. And if God is the author of the narrative of my life then I must speak life into this world and this is my starting point.

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

What I have come to appreciate and respect most about Martin Luther King, Jr. was his ability to motivate people to fight for something bigger and greater than themselves.  I believe he was so effective because he didn’t fuel a fire of hatred to achieve his goal but rather he preached a message of mutual love, respect, dignity, and equality. He understood you don’t end violence or hatred by perpetuating it. The end will only come when we stand together as ONE race, the human race…remembering we have ALL been created in the image of God…each one of our lives precious and valuable.

I do not have all the answers to the problems we face, in fact I can offer few tangible solutions. However, I can begin a conversation. A conversation that recognizes there is a problem and we all play a role in its solution.

 

 

In Between the Dark and the Light

I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight, with a million stars all around. ~ Peaceful Easy Feeling by the Eagles

 The hour is early and the world around me slumbers. Well some of it does…as I look below I see a city that never sleeps, dimmed but never completely shut off. The black begins to fade into a beautiful shade of bluish gray as the rising sun ends the night with splashes of red, orange and yellow off in the east. The setting…the desert. The sun begins to greet the new day behind a set of mountains and it takes my breath away. The beauty of God’s majesty leaves me in awe and wonder. As the spectrum of colors increase across the sky I am reminded that our God is a Creator and the evidence of His creativity is all around us. DaVinci, Michelangelo, Monet…where does artistic ability like that come from? It comes from being created in the image of our Creator God, who is Himself the ultimate artist. Take a moment to watch the sun kiss the sky at dawn and I think you would agree with me.

I’m really not a desert person, too brown. I am palm tree and water kinda girl. But as I hiked the Red Rock Canyon yesterday I felt something deep within me stir. I have always thought the ocean is the greatest representation of the vastness of God, an earthly illustration of His power and majesty. I seek the shoreline for the peace and serenity of God…I always feel closest to Him there. However, yesterday the grandeur of the rock formations…the hues of red and yellow, mixed with brown and green left me in awe of God’s creative hand. I breathed in the air of an untamed corner of the desert that allows us in for a mere glimpse of God’s handiwork. A chance to walk within the masterpiece He has created. I’d love to tell you that I had some deep spiritual thought in that moment, but I didn’t. As I soaked it all in the soundtrack of the Eagles greatest hits played in my head and in that moment I felt connected to the songwriter because I truly understood what a peaceful, easy feeling was.

Life springs eternal on a gaudy, neon street… ~ Leaving Las Vegas by Sheryl Crow

 
Las Vegas is such a dichotomy…utter darkness in the midst of the brightest light, and I am not talking about casino lights. The sun shines brighter here and the sky actually seems bluer. A blue so vibrant it makes you feel like you just entered paradise while all around you are overwhelmed by the sin city welcome caravan that meets you at every turn. It’s hard to believe that the beautiful canyon I hiked is in the same place. 

As I walked the strip last night I began to soak it all in. The lady with her Louis Vuitton bag strutting by the homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk. The young girl screaming for attention through the outfit she has chosen to wear to the club. The beautiful bride and groom stopping for pictures in front of dancing fountains. The mom and dad with the baby in the stroller and the toddler holding their hand as if they had stumbled upon Disneyland. The man shouting to my husband and I to go to a strip club together because “couples who play together stay together” …who knew?!?! The levitating man that left me chilled to my very soul. The men holding signs screaming at people that the end is near, hell is real, and Jesus saves. All night long I saw the pendulum swing…the opulence and the poverty, the innocent and the jaded, the dark and the light. 

Desperado why don’t you come to your senses? ~ Desperado by the Eagles

The haunting piano begins to play and the first words are sung…you hear a plea, a cry of desperation. Desperado why don’t you come to your senses? Why such angst? Because prison is truly walking through this world all alone.

As a sat here this morning sorting and processing the heavy heart that went to bed with last night, wondering what on earth I was doing here, God gave me fresh perspective. He reminded me of two things.

1) Even His children have a tendency to walk through this world as desperado’s. When we chose our will and our agenda before His. When we make the plan and hope that God is on board. When we take up idols, holding tightly to the things that consume our thoughts and lives more than He does. Knowing the fullness of truth yet the distractions, the busyness, and the lure of self still pulls us into back into the prison of shutting God out. All the while He cries “why don’t you come to your senses?”
2) Every person I encountered last night is an image bearer of God…they are hurting, they are broken, they are searching for love and meaning. God highlighted that if His own children have a tendency to revert back to being desperados yet He still showers us with love and grace…then how much love and grace should I have for the nameless faces I encountered yesterday. The very people that God’s heart aches for because they too are His beloved creation but walking through this world all alone.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. ~ John 1:5

How easy it would be for me to say as a child of God I do not belong in a place like Las Vegas. But how wrong I would be. The reality is that every city is sin city. The only difference is that Las Vegas showcases what we ignore or turn blind eye to in our own communities. What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas…it happens all around us. Sure it doesn’t have the bright lights and showgirls to amp it up but don’t ever be deceived into thinking it’s not happening.

God reminded me this morning that I have two options. I can be a Pharisee and sit in judgment of everyone and everything around me. Closing myself off to be with people who are only like me and obey God in the way I believe they should. Or, I can be like Jesus, my Savior. God here on earth befriending the prostitutes and thieves alike. The very people that the Pharisees would have never bothered with Jesus sought out. The very people who were alone and empty…Jesus showed them compassion and kindness, love and grace.

The world is dirty and messy; I didn’t need to come to Las Vegas to know that. But what Las Vegas has taught me is that blatant brokenness hurts my heart. But God reminded me this morning that the hidden brokenness should break my heart too…the brokenness that is not so obvious, the behind closed doors kind. Las Vegas has rekindled in me a passion for the lost…for those who wander through this world all alone, disconnected from the love of God because those people are everywhere.

In the dichotomy of Las Vegas, I was reminded of the importance of light amidst the darkness. If you light a lamp in a well-lit room all you have done is made a bright room even brighter. But if you step out of your comfort zone and light a lamp in a room that is completely dark then you give those in the room the gift of sight. As a Christ follower I have the privilege and the awesome responsibility to be agent of light. Las Vegas has reminded me to never squander that gift.

 
 
 
 
 

  The Silver Lining.

“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.” ~ James Earl Jones

My name is Nikki Cat and I miss my blog. Writing has become my outlet and by neglecting my blog I have become like a sculptor with no clay or a musician with no instrument. Part of me is missing. The part of me that brings harmony to the discord and chaos. The part of me that finds humor in laughing at my self or finds joy in the movement of beauty around me. There is no outlet so it all stays bundled inside…with no place to go. Thoughts swim in my head…constantly in motion but going nowhere. The writer puts the words to a page so infrequently that slowly a dream begins to die.

Over the last several days I have been reminded that dreams are goals just waiting to be achieved. A person who doesn’t dream and doesn’t set goals is someone sitting on the sideline of life. They are merely are going through the motions as they pass through this life into the next. Today I decided I wanted my dream back. I set the goal…I will carve out time in my schedule to blog. I even got myself an accountability partner. One who is so serious about her role that she texted my husband and said “Sorry buddy, no Parenthood  on Netflix tonight my girl needs to write.” Well that is a loose paraphrase but that’s what she meant. Good girlfriends are the BEST!!!

As I pondered what I what would write I started with a title “The Silver Lining” How surprised I was when I open WordPress to discover I had started a blog with the exact same title nine months ago but did nothing with it. I had a title, a picture, and a quote but absolutely nothing written. Now I am not a coincidence girl…I am believer in timing…it is everything. So today I will complete what my heart longed to say nine months ago but didn’t quite have the words.

“The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depth it has its pearls too.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

The new year creeps in the way it does every year. Sometimes in a flurry of activity, sometimes in the calm stillness of a quiet evening, for some it will even pass by without a second thought as sleep consumes what is too painful to face. Yes…for some the new year brings to mind what has been lost, what has been fractured, what has been broken and the heart aches for what will never be again.

10 years ago this month our son was diagnosed with autism…

8 years ago this week our precious baby girl went home to Jesus…

Do you hear it?!?! The sound of shattered dreams. The shards of glass that encompass the dream of a well lived life splinter everywhere. When your dreams explode like that how do you ever dare to dream again?

“Dance on broken glass, build castles with shattered dreams and wear your tears like precious pearls. Proud. Strong. Unshakeable.”      ~ Anita Krizzan

The light at the end of the tunnel…the silver lining…anyone who has walked a painful road has struggled to see it. Some don’t even long to see it because the pain and the darkness keeps you connected to all that has been lost. But what if there is more? What if there is salve so powerful that it will take away the sting of facing a new year? What if your shattered dream actually becomes the catalyst to your greatest dreams?

This week I have been reminded that dreams are a gift, a gift from God. Life is hard and it can flat-out suck at times, how’s that for brutal honesty? But shattered dreams are not a confirmation that God doesn’t exist or that He abandons us. Rather, shattered dreams are the evidence of how broken our world actually is. They remind us that pain and suffering do not discriminate in a dying world.

But there IS a silver lining…

Will you open your eyes long enough to catch a glimpse of it?

When we walk in the valley of shattered dreams we can choose to curse God and abandon any hope of ever dreaming again or we can embrace Him and dare to do the unthinkable and dream bigger than we ever thought possible. I think we must first understand that the dreams for our lives are not are own. The dream for our lives was actually originated as God created us with His own hand, breathing His life into us, and in His very own image. He had a purpose for us. But the brokenness of sin entering this world fractured that dream. However, God was not content to let it end there. Instead He would suffer the greatest shattered dream ever known as His Son hung on a cross  so that we, the broken, battered, and disconnected, could once again be reunited with the One who loves us. The silver lining in the midst of the pain was the beauty of the reconciliation and restoration that would come. The dream that was shattered by the death of God’s Son , Jesus Christ, was the catalyst for His greatest dream…Jesus conquering the grave so His beloved children,all of us, could be redeemed. Out of much pain came much joy. He took what was meant to destroy and He turned into the greatest victory dance ever known. And God has that same desire for His children. As our hearts break so does His. He wants to take the pain  that was meant to destroy us and turn into the very source of all that we can become as He heals us. But you have to open your eyes and see Him, our silver lining. You have to look for the hand print of God and open your heart to His healing touch.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… I took the one less traveled and that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost.

Dreaming anew is a choice…

The new year is the greatest opportunity to ignite the flame of old dreams whose light has died or discover new dreams lurking deep within our hearts. We all have dreams, some of us have just done a really good job of burying them under the rubble of crumbled expectations and shattered dreams.

When our dreams are shattered the easiest way to protect ourselves is to never dream again. If I had chosen this option my heart would have been hardened by the bitterness of disappointment and loss. My eyes would have been blinded to the love and grace all around me. I would have been content sitting on the sideline of life. However, I took the road less traveled and it has made all the difference.I decided to trust God. Even when I didn’t understand and even when I hated the process…I believed He could see more than I ever could.

Does the pain of the crumbled expectations and shattered dreams still exist for me…I wouldn’t be human if I said “no.” But the ultimate silver lining is that this isn’t the end. The ultimate dream has yet to come true…the day I walk in the heavenly realm where autism no longer exists and reunions are sweeter than I can ever imagine. Until that day I choose to trust the God who shattered His own dream for the greater dream of loving me. I choose to dream BIG and make a difference in the name of my Savior who carried me when the weight of the shattered dream brought me to my knees and healed my broken heart.

The silver lining is that with the new year comes a new opportunity to reignite the dreams that God ignited in me when I was too scared to dream again. The melancholy of the writer with no words is diminished in the presence of the One who gives meaning to everything worth writing about.

The silver lining is that every day of every year I get the privilege to serve the One who loved me first and loved me most.

“No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.” ~ Cinderella

 

Be Kind

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” ~ H.D. Thoreau

When you are a communicator whether by the written word or oration you want to grab people’s attention. You look for that catchy phrase, the story that can weave the web that will draw your audience in. However, sometimes simplicity says far more than grand tales or sticky statements. While culture tells us to bling it out or enhance its appearance with flashy baubles and accessories, simplicity strips it all away and shows us beauty in the rawest form. Simplicity reminds us that in its purest form God’s creation has a natural beauty that we often miss in the rush of insignificant details.

“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after an experience with you becomes your trademark.” ~ Jay Danzie

Today was a day like any other day, I had a schedule and I needed to stick to it. It’s the first of the month, which for me means a trip to our local county office for the department of community mental health. I had to turn in paperwork for the aides who work with my son. This is always a quick trip…in the door, paperwork dropped off, and out the door. The whole process usually takes about 5 minutes at most. However, today was different…today I met Ken.

As I entered the office I encountered a severely disabled man and his care giver. I soon discovered that the reason they had come to the office was a situation that this particular office could not help him with. What struck me instantly was neither the care giver nor the receptionist had a smile on their face. In fact both ladies looked somewhat annoyed with the man. As he continued to ask questions the receptionist seemed increasingly agitated. Now, I’m not going to lie, normally I would have been slightly put out because my 5 minute experience was already sitting at about 10 and I had yet to drop off my paperwork. However, I was calm, not irritated at all. Finally, the man said to the receptionist “I remember you. You were my first case worker. It is nice to see you again.” and with no smile and no warmth the women replied “nice to see you too.” Her attitude was so cold she could have solved the global warming issue in an instant.

In the moments that followed, the man exited my day as quickly as he entered it…or so I thought. With my paperwork dropped off I was on my way. But as I left the man and his care giver hadn’t gotten far in their own quest to leave. Not wanting to be rude, but needing to be on my way, I carefully maneuvered around the man’s wheelchair to make my departure. That’s when the course of my day totally changed. As I passed by I heard the voice, that I now recognized, say “are you a caregiver?” I turned with a smile “No, I have a son with autism and I had to drop off paperwork for his caregivers.” He smiled back, “My name is Ken” I couldn’t walk away now, “Hi Ken. I’m Nikki, it’s so nice to meet you.” He told me was 40 years old, just a year older than me, and he had been on his own with caregivers since he was 18. I tried to wrap my mind around his circumstances but I just couldn’t. Then his face changed a bit, he was pondering what he would say next. “Can I ask you a question?” Of course he could.  “Is it hard to have a child with special needs?” From that point Ken and I carried on a wonderful conversation. I admitted the challenges I face as I watch my son struggle but I also shared the joys of celebrating every little accomplishment like it was reaching the top of Everest. In turn Ken shared how humbling it is to need help with everything, from putting on his shoes to going to the bathroom. I soon realized Ken just wanted someone to talk to. Someone who was actually interested in what he had to say…he longed to be known. He also longs for a girlfriend, he told me she hasn’t come along…yet!

“I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! ~ Psalm 116: 1-2

I felt it…I knew it was coming as the Spirit began to stir in me.  I knew this was a God ordained moment so I let all my inhibitions melt away and the words tumbled from my mouth, “Ken, can I pray with you?” Without hesitation Ken grabbed hold of my hand. I praised my God for the gift of Ken, for blessing my day with his presence, and prayed that he would remind Ken, often, that he was wonderfully made for a plan and a purpose. With tears in his eyes, still holding my hand, Ken reminded me that God would never give me more than I could handle and I needed to stand firm on God’s promises because He is faithful. To which I reminded Ken that he could do all things through the One that gives him strength.

After a few more words exchanged my new friend drifted out of life. I wonder if Ken will ever know how profoundly he impacted my day and my life for that matter? It would have been so easy in my busyness to pretend like I ever never heard Ken call out to me. I could have justified the brush off all day long in my head. But as I stood in that office with the unsmiling caregiver and receptionist I couldn’t help but think of my own son. What happens when I am not here? Will people treat him with the same cold disdain? I had no idea in just a few moments God would test my ability to choose what matters most, to say a best yes and truly experience intentional investment.

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change. Kindness that catches us by surprise brings out the best in our natures.” ~ Bob Kerrey

All day I have reflected on my encounter Ken. The single thought that has been etched in my mind is how he grabbed my hand and held it as we prayed. I wonder how long it has been since anyone has held Ken’s hand simply as a gesture of kindness, friendship, or love? When was the last time he felt a tender touch that told him that he had value and worth?

As I ponder I hear the echo of my Savior words “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Second to loving Him, God wants us to love one another. But in order to love one another we actually need to slow down long enough to notice people. We have to strip away all the baubles and the bling and to find the raw, natural beauty found at the heart of the simplest of concepts…kindness.

“In the end, only kindness matters.” ~ Jewel from the song Hands

Had it been left up to me I would have walked right past Ken today. Busy in my own thoughts, my own life, my own world. I would have missed a tremendous blessing. I cannot help but wonder how many blessings we walk right past every day? Little ways that God shows us He is always with us we miss because we are too distracted by the details to notice the important. How many opportunities to be the light and love of Christ do we squander because the noise of our chatterboxes has tuned out the still, soft voice of the Spirit prompting us to move?

Tonight as I write I am reminded that my Savior was never too distracted to invest in people. I see Jesus with the woman at the well, calling Zaccheaus down from the tree, eating at the table of Matthew the tax collector, healing the woman who was bleeding, and the list goes on. Kindness, born out of love, flowed out of Jesus and into those who encountered Him. The very people who society showed a cold disdain for, Jesus showed the tender touch of compassion and love. Today I was blessed with a Jesus moment…his name was Ken, the humble man who chose to intentionally invest in me. He illuminated the light of our Savior as he showed me kindness and reminded me of the beauty that can be found when we simply follow Jesus’ commands to love others as we desire to be loved. What a special gift I received. I will treasure it by following Ken’s example and investing in others, even for the briefest of moments.

 

 

Comfortable In Your Own Skin

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Be yourself. Sounds easy enough, yet at some level it is the very thing that many of us struggle with the most. Why? Probably because we have parked ourselves on the corner of  Comparison Dr. and Not Good Enough Ln. which often leads us to one of two places… down the Insecurity Highway or along the Discontented Freeway. I mean let’s be honest, all one needs to do is enter the vortex known as Facebook to see how AWESOME life is for everyone else. The ultimate highlight reel to show you just how imperfect your life really is.

It’s funny, I actually wrote the above paragraph twelve days ago. My heart had been aching to write for quite some time so I set out to find my sweet spot once again. I got as far as that paragraph and then abruptly I stopped. What does a writer do when they have no words…I mean, literally the words would not come and they are somewhat essential to a blog post. So I walked away.

This morning I sat in staff prayer in tears. I was so defeated and I found myself confessing to God that just yesterday I longed to be anybody but me. I was beaten up…defeated and deflated. And even this morning in a room full of people I felt all alone. I was once again transported back to the place of isolation where nobody around me really understood my struggle. Part of me longs to keep it that way…because if I can convince them the struggle is minimal then maybe I can believe it too.

When you are a mother of autism you long for the day when you won’t see your child struggle at every turn. You cherish every little victory and rejoice when every hurdle is jumped. However, the unfortunate reality of autism is that just because a hurdle has been conquered doesn’t mean it will not reappear… 10 feet taller than it was the first time around. This is where I am living right now. Hurdles my son overcame years ago, I mean like 8 years ago, have resurfaced. We are back to melting down multiple times a day, obsessive compulsive behaviors off the charts. What is happening? I feel like I have climbed half way up Mt. Everest just to have someone kick me back down to the bottom. I gave everything I had to make the first climb and now part of me just wants to lay at the foot of the mountain and cry. It’s too big…I can’t make it move or wish it away, and I’m not sure I have the strength to climb again. So for the briefest moment I lay there wondering what it would be like to be someone else.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” ~ Frederick Douglass

The beauty of who we are is not actually us at all, but rather it is whose image we were created in. That truth pierces my heart. My desire to escape, to be somebody else shouts “God you messed up!”  I am so consumed with the struggle that I lose sight of who I am. In the moment, however brief it is, I have forgotten whom dwells within me and the power He gives me.  I am so willing to concede defeat to autism when I have yet to fall on my face in prayer to the One who can actually remedy the situation. My spirit cries out “NO” while my flesh wants to crumble. As I cry it all out to Jesus…clarity settles in and I am reminded that His power is made perfect in my weakness. While the struggle is real and it is hard, it does not have the power to defeat that which belongs to God. We all have these moments, as hard as it is to admit…where the truth of our faith meets the reality of our circumstances. The world tells us to wallow, and believe me you can have a moment…but you cannot stay there. Because it’s in the midst of the struggle that God does His greatest work. It’s in the struggle that the power of the Holy Spirit comes alive within us. But…yes, there is always a but…will you let Him? the choice is always yours.

All around me I see it…the struggle. People looking into other people’s lives through the highlight reel longing to be someone else. When in reality, we all have struggles. We all have mountains before us at some point in our lives. Face to face with the mountain we all have a choice to make…we can lay at the bottom crying about how it’s too big and impossible to climb or we can trust that the One who dwells within us will give us provision for the journey. He promises that he will not fail or forsake us…but will we be audacious enough to pray without boundaries and bring every need before Him as if we TRULY trust He can and will meet our needs?

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” ~ Psalm 139:14

Tonight I sit here and these words, like soothing balm, wash over my beaten up spirit. I am reminded that autism doesn’t change this fact for my son…he is beautifully and wonderfully made. His identity is not defined by autism. His identity is wrapped up in one single truth…he is an image bearer of God. Uniquely created to serve a plan and a purpose far beyond what this worried mama could ever imagine. Because the one who created him loves him more than I ever could. Ahhhh…but here is the kicker… if I am going to embrace this truth for my son, then I must embrace it for myself as well. I too am fearfully and wonderfully made, uniquely equipped serve a plan and a purpose far more important than my own agenda and my own desire for a seemingly “normal” life.

Here I stand at the foot of the mountain again, I am weary and worn out. Climbing the mountain is hard…getting kicked back down is brutal. But as the dust settles from the haze of defeat I am reminded that I never made the first climb in my own strength and I will not climb again alone. I go with the full armor of God to protect me and the power of the Holy Spirit within me.

When I started this blog twelve days ago I would have never guessed this was the route it would go. That it would be a place where I would put the rawness of my own struggle out on display…to stretch out of my comfort zone to find comfort in who I am.

I guess to be comfortable in our own skin is being able to say “here I am” flawed and imperfect, worn out and weary, yet fearfully and wonderfully made. To be comfortable in our own skin is to recognize that what makes us beautiful and whole is not a physical attribute, or a picture perfect life. It comes when you know who you are and I know that regardless of my circumstances, I am a chosen daughter of God, created in His image to do His work, He will not forsake me or fail me…this I know full well.

 

A Mother’s Heart

“How many kids do you have?” Such a simple and straight forward question, yet it is the most difficult question for me to answer. When I first meet people and small talk ensues that question lingers on the horizon. My heart races and my palms sweat. I paste a smile on my face and politely the word “two” passes my lips all while my brain is screaming THREE!!!!! I remember years ago as I would give my standard “two boys”, I had a few people who  excitedly said, “are you going to try for a girl?” The bile would rise and I would choke out “no, I think we are done.” Through it all, the smile on my face never reaches my eyes. In the moment the lie of omission is easier than the truth. Inevitably after the “how many kids do you have?” question is answered the follow-up question is always “how old are they?”  I have never felt comfortable saying “my oldest son is 13, my youngest son is 11, and my daughter is deceased.” Seven and half years later just typing the word deceased brings tears to my eyes. Why in the world would I ever want to share such a deep corner of my heart as I am first making someones acquaintance? I guess deep down I have come to a place where I am protective of my daughter’s memory…I love to talk to about her and I treasure moments when others talk about her. But to me, her memory is too precious to merely share as I engage in blase social niceties. So I politely answer “two”…it escapes my mouth as easily as “fine” rolls off the tongue of the deeply broken person answering the question “how are you?”

“Her absence is the like the sky, spread over everything.” ~ C.S. Lewis

When a heart grieves it has to jump over the hurdles of all the firsts. The firsts are the worst…for each first brings a fresh wave of the pain and loss you foolishly thought was easing. When the firsts conclude days begin to flow into weeks, weeks into months and before you know it the months have flowed into years. Yet no matter how many years pass by there is one day of the year I struggle with more than any other day. It is not my daughter’s birthday and it’s not the anniversary of her death. No, on those days I often find myself celebrating the precious life that God blessed us with for just the briefest of moments…on those days my heart has opened to the beauty of how God used her short life to make an incredible impact for His kingdom…on those days I sit back in awe of God and I truly celebrate the author and the giver of life. However, with this blog I have always promised full transparency and the reality is…I struggle with Mother’s Day. It is the single hardest day of the year for me. For me, motherhood has brought me the greatest joy I have ever known and the most intense heartbreak. In the paradox of joy and heartache I struggle to celebrate. I often smile at whatever gift my precious boys bestow upon me when all the while my heart aches for the one gift I can never have…all my children with me on Mother’s Day.

“On a day when I should be rejoicing for all the blessings motherhood has brought me, and I have been blessed abundantly through motherhood. But I find myself reflecting on the thought that while motherhood has brought me overwhelming joy it also brought overwhelming heartbreak. I never imagined how many ways a heart can be broken until I stepped into the role of motherhood. Not that I would trade a single one of those moments. It just gets to be too much @ times. How to explain the indescribable void you feel on mother’s day when all your children are no longer with you. When you long to hold them all close to you and you cannot because one of them is gone…”

Journal entry Mother’s Day 2010

I remember it vividly…Mother’s Day 2011. I started the day with the same pit in my stomach that had been there the three previous Mother’s Days since losing my daughter. As I sat in church, the feeling came…it felt like the walls were starting to cave in around me. Although my breathing was normal, I felt like I was gasping for air…panting like someone who was a breath away from running out of air. Then it happened…the need to run. I bolted out of the sanctuary and into the bathroom. A meltdown ensued. In that moment I wanted to be anywhere but there. I didn’t want to see anyone and I was trying to figure out how I was going to get my husband out of service so we could just go home. The door crept open and as I hid in the back I prayed that whoever had entered wouldn’t even realize I was there. But God knew exactly what I needed. Through the door came a precious friend who proceeded to hold me as I sobbed uncontrollably. On that day I collected myself and I made this declaration…”I just need to accept that for the rest of my life I will be brokenhearted.” The words flowed out of me like bricks that would build a fortress around my broken heart. As if by simply recognizing my ailment I would no longer suffer from public meltdowns because I had safely locked it away behind the wall of “I’m fine!” As I exited the bathroom that day I honestly never thought my friend and I would ever revisit the moment. However, a week later she came to me…hesitant but determined. God had spoken to her about me in her prayer time and she obediently delivered this message. “I don’t think you are meant to be brokenhearted forever. God did not give you Francesca to break your heart” I was stunned…by the courage it took her to speak those words to me and by the power of what she had said. Can you even comprehend the freedom that was wrapped up in those words? I didn’t have to live a facade…pretending to not be hurting all while carefully guarding heart that I thought was irreparable. In her words came the power of healing. They didn’t erase the struggle but they did remind me of something I had forgotten…God truly does heal the brokenhearted…in the beauty of His presence and grace He binds up our wounds. But like any wound the scars of a broken heart still remain, always there to remind me of the journey, the hand print of a life that deeply and radically changed the course of my own. On some days the scar gets irritated, its presence is more pronounced…for me that day is Mother’s Day. It’s the day when the joy found in my boys meets the ache I still have for my daughter.

“A sensitive soul sees the world through the lens of love” ~ Anonymous

Mother’s Day truly is a great day. Motherhood is a precious blessing that should be celebrated. It’s a very hard and often, a thankless job. Honestly it’s the single hardest, yet, the single most rewarding accomplishment of my life. So I am all for taking a day to celebrate all the ladies who are mom’s…biologically and of the heart. However, this is a day when many mothers and children come face to face with a pain or a hurt they tucked away. In my own loss God has made me acutely aware that while this is a day of celebration, there are many who suffer heartache on this day. The woman who so desperately wants a child yet motherhood has alluded her wrestles with her emotions, the orphan who has never known their mother feels more alone, the child who suffers from the loss of their mother longs for just one more touch, children and mother’s feel the wounds of fractured relationships, a mother sits and cries for the prodigal in her life, and there is the mother who will ache to hold the child that is no longer present in this world. The list of the hearts that will ache this Sunday are many. A tender touch, a simple hug, a word of encouragement…these could be the very things, while subtle, that take away some of the sting that Mother’s Day brings. I’ll never forget the day my sweet friend came to remind me of who my God is. The sensitivity of her soul made her available to help soothe the ache of my heart. Her kindness and love were one of many ways that God began to bind my wounds and heal my broken heart. My prayer is that this Sunday we would all be sensitive to the hearts that ache around us. To recognize that as we celebrate we may know someone who is silently weeping. Be sensitive…God might just call you to be the blessing that a hurting heart so desperately needs.

 

 

 

Simply Grace

“Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet…”

Human nature…it gets me every time. I read it in the headlines, see it on the television, and who am I kidding…I struggle with it. This idea of grace, it is so foreign to us. It doesn’t come naturally. We are conditioned to think and feel a certain way about people based upon a whole lot of things that matter not. We allow appearance, status, accomplishment, or lack of all the above to formulate what we think or how we feel about one another. Even if there is depth to a person character, passion within their heart, grace flowing from their soul we sometimes miss it because we struggle so deeply with our own inability to understand the full selflessness of grace.

So many of us are so desperate to be heard that often times words flow from our mouths before the full weight of our words can be considered. I cringe as I type…how often have I said an insensitive word, vented my anger before thinking a situation fully through, been rash to judge based on the superficial? How different the world would be if we were truly the change we wished to see, if we offered the same of kind of love that was lavished on us when we were so undeserving of it. What is so radical about Jesus Christ is this small, unassuming five letter word…G R A C E. Who knew five letters could carry so much weight…could be the catalyst to change the world. Yet so many of us who claim to love Jesus struggle with showing the very thing He lavished so freely upon us. Grace often alludes us even as we desire to grow closer to the Savior who is the very embodiment of it.

“Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped…”

As turn I on the evening news I cannot help but be discouraged. In fact I often find myself avoiding the television rather than engaging in the current events of the world. It is difficult to keep your head above the all consuming cultural wave that claims we have the right to demand things our way. Race riots rage, crime flourishes, relationships fracture…as the human condition slips further away from what we were created for…to be worshipers of God. We have been caught up in the vortex of self and if you do not serve me or my desires you are disposable…not worth my time. The image of God has become so distorted that for many it’s hard to remember that this whole thing called life is not about us at all but all about Him. Even in the realm of knowing Him we still stomp our feet when things don’t go our way…we debate to prove we are right…we shout truth only to find that where there is no grace there will be no one listening.

“Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us…”

When will forgive each other of the unpardonable sin of being different? Now that is not fuzzy theology…it’s actually not theology at all. You see, we humans struggle with our differences all the while God shakes His head in disbelief. Our differences are all the beautiful elements that make up His collective masterpiece and yet we miss it over and over again. Instead of picking one another up we delight in each others shortcomings or weaknesses…it makes us feel better about ourselves. Or even worse we exploit the least of these instead of taking care of them. We harbor bitterness and anger…refusing to offer forgiveness. Why oh why do we hold ourselves in the bondage that Christ died to set us free from? Why oh why do we not emulate our Savior? As His blood heals the wounds of our sin why do we struggle to extend the grace He so richly showed us?

“Charity is expecting the best of each other.” ~ Elder Marvin J. Ashton

I write this blog not to condemn others for I am also guilty of not extending grace. For letting my wants, desires, opinions, and preconceived notions override and cloud my vision. No, I write this blog to remind us all that we were meant for so much more…God desires so much for us and from us.

I have a friend that I often tease, I tell her that she needs to teach a grace class and I can be her first student. She exemplifies the simple, beautiful grace that our Savior Jesus Christ demonstrated. It’s in the softness of a gentle touch, the encouragement of a kind word, a new perspective offered when disappointments and anger arise, it’s the sweet symphony of acknowledging a wound or a hurt yet understanding that with every set back and trial comes a great opportunity for growth. It is in the knowing that life is messy and hard for everybody and sometimes we need to step aside of ourselves to recognize the season of life someone else is in. Grace is understanding that it’s not all about me, it looks at the big picture. Grace is what will resonate with someone long after a moment is over.

“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” ~ 1 Samuel 16:7

What is so radical about grace is that it is so counter-cultural. It defies everything we have been taught to be true. That life operates on some sort of merit scale, the more you do the more you earn. The beauty of grace is God exclaiming His love for His people regardless of their brokeness, regardless of what they can or cannot do, regardless of their social status, wealth, or accomplishments, regardless if the world finds them appealing or not. God’s grace is demonstrated so powerfully in that he loved us enough to save us, through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, from the sin that separates us from Him. God loves us all and He has uniquely created us for a purpose in His kingdom…His desire is to transform lives. Those who live in the dark do not even realize this and those living in the light often allow their focus to become blurred from what matters most to God. Be the change we wish to see in the world…if Christ followers lived a life of radical grace, grace like Jesus demonstrated, how the world might change, how they might stop to pay attention. Grace is indescribable until you receive it…then it doesn’t need to be described at all. It was never meant to be an essay or a short-story…it was always meant to be a lifestyle.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” ~ Romans 12:2

Tonight I had a gut check. I desired grace to be demonstrated in others when I struggled to extend it myself. As I sat down to type I recognized that grace is something many of us struggle with. I was prompted by a holy discontent burning within me…a discontent with myself. Grace and love have been lavished on me through my Savior, Jesus Christ how can I not in turn pour that very grace out unto others? He is the hope of the world and He chooses to use me and every other Christ follower to be His light…to illuminate a darkened world. What an honor and privilege that is. There is NOTHING greater that I can do in this life than be the light of Jesus Christ. How can I do that? I will be the change I wish to see in the world by living a life of radical grace. I will show kindness and consideration. I will give the benefit of the doubt and not rush to judgment. I will show compassion and understanding. I will remember what matters most to God should matter most to me and that is the heart of a person. I will recognize that God does not make mistakes. He creates us all uniquely to bring something fresh and vibrant to the tapestry of life. We all matter, we are all important, and Christ died so that we all may live. That my friends is what grace is all about.

 

Undone

“And they lived happily ever after…”

I don’t know anyone who wishes for a life of difficulty or uncertainty.  In fact, I can confidently say that most of us sign up for the fairy tale at a very young age.  You know…knights in shining armor rescuing damsels in distress and they live happily ever after in a 2 story Cape Cod with a white picket fence in a Mayberry like town. Sounds about right doesn’t it?  It’s interesting because there are two very distinct definitions for fairy tale and it is very obvious which one we all prefer…

fairy tale (noun) 1)  story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending 2) a made-up story usually designed to mislead.

I have to be honest, that second definition never even crossed my mind, yet as I read it I realized that this truly is the correct definition.  Do fairy tales not mislead us?  Do they not make us believe that the lowly servant girl can marry a prince, that true loves kiss will erase all difficulties and when the dragon is slain all will live happily ever after.

“Authenticity ministers far more than put-togetherness.  And vulnerability builds a far stronger bond than perfection.” ~ Michele Cushatt

An unexpected life…who cannot relate to that…are we all not living one?  If we all think back to our childhood aspirations, I bet few of our lives actually turned out they way we dreamed they would.  Well maybe I shouldn’t speak for you, but last time I checked I didn’t end up with a law degree from Georgetown, I never entered the Washington political scene, and I am not running for president in 2016…LOL…nope my fairy tale did not come true…not even close.  In fact, when I think about the dreams of my youth I wonder if God would have been able to speak into my life louder than my own ambitions.  Thankfully, I’ll never have to know.  At 18 the reality of an unexpected life put me on a very different road…one that lead me directly into God’s plan.  Of course, I took the scenic route and I was derailed a time or two but God used this time of unexpectedness to speak His truth into me.  I would love to say that as I gave my life to Christ my “happily ever after” came to be, but the reality is that the most difficult parts of my life came after I became a Christ follower.  A child diagnosed with autism and losing a child to SIDS is where the reality of my life shattered any childhood fairy tales that lingered in my dreams.  It was in these valleys that I had to make peace with an unexpected life.  My words fail me as I try to articulate the ferocity in which the pendulum of emotion swings when you walk the darkest roads of life.  I have often wondered if there would ever be a way that I could fully communicate what it feels like to be empty, when nothing makes sense and you cling to God with what little strength you have left.  You wrestle with fear and doubt…you cannot help your mind from wandering to all the things that should have been…the very things that would have made your life normal and good, the fairy tale the child in you dreamed it would be.  In the end, I think the one thing we all long for more than anything is the simple knowledge that we are not alone.  That in a world that loves to put on the facade of perfection, there are people who struggle…just like we do.

“Character is not born of stillness.  It requires the hammer blows of affliction” ~ Charles R. Swindoll

Have you ever met someone and instantly felt comfortable in their presence?  The kind of person that exudes a certain special something and you want to soak it all in.  This past July I walked up to a  hotel suite door like a nervous girl on her first day of high school.  I was at the She Speaks Conference and I was about to enter into my speaking peer critique group.  Would the other ladies like me…would my speaking coach like me?  Uggghhhh…what if she hated my speaking and told me I misunderstood God’s calling on my life?!?!  Yes, these truly are the doubts that fill your head when you attend a conference with 600 other ladies who are gifted and called by God to a ministry of writing and speaking.  My stomach was nauseous as I wondered what in the world I was doing there.  Then it happened…I opened the door and on the other side was a group of some of the sweetest and most talented ladies I have ever met.  In just a few short minutes that hotel room became a safe zone…it was a place where 12 strangers were bonded for life by the God who brought us together.  An environment of encouragement and grace enveloped our group as those qualities exuded from our speaking coach, Michele Cushatt.  From the moment she began to speak to us she soothed our nerves with her honesty and transparency.  She reminded us that nothing we did or did not do in our group negated God’s call on our life…He had called us, of that she was certain.  As her confidence poured into all of us our nerves began to melt away.  In those moments God brought a mentor into my life…a mentor whose beautiful spirit and grace reminded me that one of the  greatest blessings God gives us is this family we all belong to, the Body of Christ.

“Peace isn’t a byproduct of control, the payout of a happy conclusion.  Peace is the infiltrating, life-giving presence of a very real God.” ~ Michele Cushatt

In real life very few people get to ride off into the sunset and bask in the glow of their happy ending.  In real life things get messy and hard…real hard.  However, it is how we navigate…or better yet, how we allow God to navigate us through the tough stuff that matters most.  You see Scripture tells us in Philippians 4: 6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  But what happens in the rawness of your world crashing in around you?  What happens when the devastating twists and turns of life try to rob you of the presence and the peace of the God who loves you?  How do you make peace with an unexpected life?

You might not have realized this but this blog post is all about my beloved mentor, Michele Cushatt’s new book, Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life. I have honestly never written a book critique and I am not really sure I know how.  But when I was given the opportunity to be on the launch team for Michele’s book I jumped on it.  Besides being a mentor, Michele is up there with some of the best communicators I have ever witnessed, there is a reason why she is on the Women of Faith tour, just sayin’.  With such ease and grace I witnessed her weave stories around the beautiful truths she desired to convey. I knew that anyone who had been so gifted with words would write a fabulous book and I was not disappointed.  You will find no spoilers in my brief summary of Undone for I do not want to rob you of unwrapping this book like the gift that it is.  This blog is merely a tease…it is the build up to the real gift, Undone.  I chose to write this blog as I did because I wanted you all to know who Michele is to me, I’ve never had the honor of personally knowing an author before.  I wanted to give you just enough so that you would know what an amazing gift God has for you on the pages of this exquisite memoir written by a precious sister in Christ who has made a tremendous impact on my life.

I had the opportunity to write a little blurb on the Undone website and that is what I will share with you…

“The unexpected life is something we all have in common, however it is how we choose to walk the journey that makes the story uniquely our own.  Michele Cushatt’s “Undone” is a refreshingly transparent memoir that tackles some of the biggest obstacles that one can encounter on life’s path; pain, heartbreak, divorce, blended families, betrayal, forgiveness, and cancer.  A master story-teller, Michelle easily draws her readers in with her honesty and sense of humor.  But it is the vulnerability in which she shares her deepest struggles and the grace that flows through her words that reminds us we never struggle alone.  It is in the raw truth that we truly see how God’s story intersects with our own story, if we would just open our scared, bewildered, and broken hearts to Him.  One cannot read this book and not walk away blessed by the beautiful soul that is Michele Cushatt.  Her hand print highlights to us that God is good…all the time He is good!”

Undone will be released this coming Tuesday, March 10th and I HIGHLY recommend it.  It give it two thumbs WAY up…honestly I wish I had more thumbs cause two doesn’t seem like enough.  Head over to Amazon to pre-order your copy today…buy one for a friend while you’re at it, it’s that good.  What is most captivating about Michele’s story is that we can find ourselves in it.  Even if the circumstances of our struggles are different the reality is that we are all trying to make peace with an unexpected life on some level.  And peace is something that God desires for us, in abundance.  Whether you are walking through a valley or not, the wisdom and transparency of Michele’s story will touch your soul in a very special way and you do not want to miss it!

For more info go to http://undonebook.com/

 

 

Hopeful Expectation

catharsis, noun:  the act or process of releasing a strong emotion especially by expressing it in an art form.” ~ Merriam Webster Dictionary

What does a writer do when they have not been prompted to write?  The desire to do that which one loves is overwhelming yet the muse they rely on for their words has not spoken.  I never really considered myself a writer.  I am not trained at all in the written word, at least not in a formal way.  But over the last few years I have developed such a passion for it.  When I sit at my computer I get lost in the beauty of the experience.  It is both cathartic and creative.  There is a secret place in me that has always wished I was more creative.  I have such an appreciation for the arts yet I have always felt as if I was on the outside looking in.  Not really talented in any medium of art…and that is not being modest, it’s brutal honesty…I have often felt like my appreciation of the arts has been a longing to be a part of something creative.  When God birthed in me this desire to write I was both elated and terrified.  I am not a writer.  A communicator, yes.  A writer, no.  But He was giving me this opportunity to dabble in something creative and that excited me.  When I began my blog in July I never could have imagined how much joy, how much release, and how much intimacy with God writing this blog would give me.  As a one who has written in prayer journals for years, you would think this revelation would not be a shocker but of course, it was.  I often think God must sit back in the throne room of heaven and get a great chuckle out of me.  I tend to be slow at catching on sometimes.  I imagine Him giving a dramatic, “DUH!” with a shake of the head…cause in my mind God is Italian so His gestures must be off the charts.  He probably talks with His hands too.

What makes my writing so unique is that I never just write to write.  In fact, I can’t.  Don’t believe me?  Well I tried it tonight.  I sat at my computer with the full intention of writing about a Group I am currently teaching on Wilfredo De Jesus’ book In The Gap.  I got through the first paragraph and I paused.  What I had written felt empty.  I had the best of intentions but as I reread my words I knew God had stopped me.  Why?  Because He never prompted me to write on this topic.  In that moment He reminded me that my writing has always been about what He lays on my heart.  To share snapshots of my life and my journey, through the events and episodes that He uses to shape me.  The circumstances and struggles of life that He desires for me to share.  Whether funny or serious, my writing at its very core is never about me but always about God.  He is the One who gives me the passion to write and therefore when I try to step ahead or around Him to write…it simply does not work, the words do not come.

Tonight I had such an overwhelming desire to write.  Since going back to work a month ago I have had little time to think about my writing.  The adjustment of schedules and the transition into a new role took precedent over pretty much everything.  Yesterday, I was sitting in my office and I was gripped by fear.  Not an “I’m afraid” fear but rather it was a dread fear.  In a moment this horrific thought crossed my mind…”What if I never write again?”  It was a fleeting thought at a random moment, and it left my mind as fast as it entered it. But my heart sunk at the very suggestion that I may never write again.  Truth be told, tonight I sat at my computer so that I could prove to myself that my fear was unwarranted…I would indeed write again.  Yet, as I sat here, completely unprompted by God, my words were flat.  They didn’t flow forth the way they usually do.  They lacked everything that made them even worth sharing…they lacked God.  Hitting delete never felt so good!!!  Don’t we all feel that way sometimes?  We have all made decisions that we know full well we never consulted God on.  We impose our will on Him and then expect Him to bless it as if it was all His idea in the first place.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we were just a delete button away from a “do over”  when we put our desires before God’s will.  Alas, we do not have that luxury.  However, we do have the beautiful gift of knowing that our God goes before us.  He has prepared in advance all that He has for us.  Where we are going…He’s already there.  Instead of trying to beat God to the destination maybe we should just treasure the gift of knowing He is paving the way.  When we are on the road paved by God delete buttons are not necessary.  When we trust God, He even uses our mess ups for His purpose and His glory…this blog post is proof of that.

This morning during our staff prayer time God laid two words on my heart…”hopeful expectation”  I didn’t know what they meant and I honestly did not have the time to ponder it either.  Those two words, jotted down in my prayer journal, were followed by the line “I have hopeful expectation.  Father, I don’t just hope you will move…I know you will!”  It’s amazing how something you write down at 9:30 in the morning comes back to speak to you at 10:30 at night.  Hopeful expectation..I am full of hope because of who God proves Himself to be over and over gain in my life and in the lives of those around me.  His hand print is everywhere.  Sometimes my vision gets a little blurry and I need to get refocused, but that’s my issue.  God never changes and my hope is firmly rooted in my Creator, Almighty God, the One who reigns over heaven and earth, He who is the same today as He was yesterday as He will be tomorrow.  My hope rests securely in all that God is and one thing I know for sure…God is a mover.  He never slumbers and He never sleeps.  His watchful eye is always upon us…His presence is always among us…His Spirit is longing to ignite a bold movement, a movement of His children; bringing the truth and the grace and the love of Jesus Christ to those who so desperately need His touch and His redemption.  I bask in hopeful expectation not so that I can write again, no this hopeful expectation is my “I’m ready” stance.  Ready for a great movement of God. Ready to be used when God calls upon me.  Hopeful expectation…the anticipation stirs in my heart as I am engulfed with the excitement of being in the middle of something so much bigger than I can even imagine.  Is there any greater place to be than in the center of God’s plan…in the middle of His movement?  I can tell you this, there is no place I would rather be.

As I get ready to hit publish I recognize that this may be one of those blog posts that is simply my journal entry in an open forum.  If the lesson is only for me, I am okay with that.  Sometimes this is exactly what I need for God to walk me through certain thoughts, emotions, or attitudes.  There is so much freedom when we take off all the baggage and just walk in honesty with our Savior.