It’s ok not to be ok…

“It’s ok not to be ok…”

In theory this a great sentiment. It gives us something to say when we see hurting people around us and don’t really know what else to say. It rolls easily off our tongues when the “not ok” person is not inconveniencing us with their “not okness.” But what happens when you are the one who is NOT ok…is it still ok? Or do you find yourself hiding behind the façade of “fine” because admitting you’re “not ok” really equates to some sort of failure, deficiency, or weakness to most people? You see, we like cute little catch phrases like “it’s ok not to be ok.” But do we truly live like we believe it?

Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.

Brene Brown

I thought 2020 was a year…until 2021 arrived.

As a pastor I will be the first one to tell you that our God never changes, our circumstances do. God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love are always readily available to us, no matter where we might find ourselves on this journey called life. This is a truth I stand by and the very truth I live by. I have known difficulty. I have known pain. I have known struggle. I have known soul crushing heartache. And through it all, God has never changed. He has never proven to be less than what He promised to be; He is my strength, my refuge, He upholds me with His righteous right hand, and His peace which surpasses all understanding is mine.

However, what happens when I awaken to the harsh truth that it is, in fact, me who is not ok?

Well…I can tell you what I did. I pushed it away and pretended like everything was “fine.” Because it is often so much easier to simply claim “fine” then to unload all the reasons you’re not ok to people who really only want the version of you that they want. The version of you that makes them feel the best…the version of you that most benefits them…the version of you they expect you to be. If we are truthful, many of us, myself included, ask people how they are in passing, but we really don’t want the real answer, the raw answer, the hard answer. All we are looking for is the “fine” that can keep us moving in the direction we want to go.

But what happens when we get stopped in our tracks?

One year ago my family had just gotten over our battle with Covid. My boys and I had pretty mild cases considering the realm of what we have seen over the last 20 months. And while my husband had a much worse case, we all faired pretty well. But did we really?!?! While my case of Covid was mild it produced in me other symptoms that many people now talk about as “long Covid” or “long haulers Covid.” In the month of having Covid and the four months following Covid I was at the ER 5 times with cardiac symptoms. I have had echocardiograms, more EKG’s and heart blood work than I can count, and a stress test. Thankfully, all is fine. The cardiologist simply ruled that my heart “likes to have a party every once in awhile.” His words, not mine. I have seen an orthopedic specialist and a neurologist. I have had 3 MRI’s. All to try to explain why it feels like I have Icy Hot running under my skin. Or why the day after I put up my Christmas decorations I felt like a 95 year old who just went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. You know I’m old when he’s the most current boxer I know. Simply put, my case of Covid wasn’t bad at all; it was all the extra little treats the virus left me with that had doctors scratching their heads and me coming to terms with the fact that I would forever live wanting to jump out of my own skin. Even as I write this I see so clearly why “I am fine” was way easier to say.

As 2020 came to end I would lose my father to dementia after the Covid lockdowns made our visits with him sporadic at best during the last months of his life. I had so much hope for 2021. It would be better…it had to be better. However, before the ground could thaw in the spring after a long winter, Covid would hit so much harder than the burning coursing through my body…it would take my beloved uncle from us. We were just licking our wounds from my dad’s death when it greeted us again. Blindsiding us; taking our breath away. In the midst of this heartache our oldest son was navigating his first year away at college while we had to advocate for our younger son with autism who was not receiving a proper education due to Covid restrictions in the schools. At this time we were also petitioning the courts for guardianship as his 18th birthday loomed on the horizon. Our plates were overflowing, and not in a good way. My husband and I have been operating in what seemed like a vortex all while maintaining a demanding travel schedule for him and ministry work for me. I was barely hanging on. Then just four weeks ago it came again. Death was on our doorstep once more but this time it literally knocked the wind out of my sails. A message carrying the news that our beloved friend of over 35 years passed away. I just couldn’t fake it anymore…I was no longer “fine” and truth be told, I hadn’t been for a long time.

The hardest year of my life was the year after my daughter Francesca passed away. This past year has been the second. It has exhausted me in every way possible, with the exception of one. Physically, emotionally, and mentally I was on the brink of total burnout. However, spiritually I was in tact. Oh I needed time, a space for God to heal the gapping wounds in many areas but my faith was never shaken. I never doubted God’s goodness nor His faithfulness. But with my head barely above water, I was no longer leaning into Him either. I think in many ways I was like the disciples on the boat when the storm kicked up. I was trying to navigate the storm wreaking havoc with my life knowing full well Jesus was in my boat. I was silently screaming “will you please make this storm end!” All while pretending I had control over a sinking ship. You see, sometimes we become so good at pretending we are “fine” that we actually start believing the lie ourselves.

But here is the point of this blog. I promise its not so I could from 0 to 60 on the vulnerability scale in a hot second. It’s to point out that all around us there are people struggling. People who look fine, but are not fine. People who need to know that it truly is ok to not be ok. Taking time to catch your breath is actually not a sign of weakness but one of great wisdom. We live in a time and a society were FOMO rules our lives and we are only as good as our latest “like” or “share” count. What good are we if we are not producing, not influencing, not being who everyone expects us to be? No wonder so many are silently wounded…time bombs waiting to go off. Our value and worth is no longer linked to the light that shines within us but rather the light that is upon us. Self care falls to the waste side because we are too busy trying to be who others want us to be rather than who God created us to be. Soul care falls to the waste side because we are far more concerned with the external implications of our need to take a break or being honest and vulnerable about where we are at, rather than the internal ones.

We are a society on the verge of burnout. What makes me think that? Violent crimes are on the rise, suicide is on the rise, drug addiction is on the rise, and the list goes on and on. Because when we pretend “fine” for too long, the truth always comes out one way or another…often, in unhealthy ways.

Thankfully, I knew I wasn’t fine and the people around me knew it too. Over the last few weeks I have had time to rest and simply be in the moment. Few obligations and not much vying for my time, other than those who need me most, my husband and my children. A time to simply be. To take deep breaths and regain my footing. For so long God has spoken to me. He has so clearly told me, “you will find Me in the silence.” And here’s the thing, God’s presence has always been with me but the noise of my life was drowning Him out. I needed to go back to the place of silence to wholly see Him again.

The Lord is my strength and shield.

    I trust him with all my heart.

He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.

    I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

Psalm 28:7

Was I weak to admit I was no longer ok, I don’t think so. Did my admission cause me to not live up to some people’s expectations of me, quite possibly. Does sharing this make some uncomfortable, I guess it could. But here is what I have learned. Actually, I already knew this I just needed the silence to remind me of it.

First, in my own strength, I am weak. I am only strong by the One who strengthens me…Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. If my life is so busy and burdened that I can no longer hear Him…I will end up on the verge of burnout once again. Second, I was reminded of this simple, powerful, yet freeing truth…there is only ONE who’s expectations I must meet. Only One whose desires I should fulfill. Only One whose approval I seek. God and God alone. If my life is not a pleasing offering to Him, then I will get it wrong in every other area of my life. Finally, if being vulnerable enough to share this helps just one other person to know they are not alone…then I don’t really care if it makes anyone uncomfortable. God placed it in front of the one it was written for. To remind them of the truth that I know so well…He sees you…He loves you…and a breakthrough IS coming. That was a promise God made me a year ago and He has been faithful to that promise. While my heart still aches from devastating losses, my body has been healed of most of the post Covid symptoms I have had. It took time in the silence to find the joy of every single one of the blessings I have I received in the midst of the heartache. My circumstances changed…my God NEVER did!!!

So my dear friends. It really is ok not to be ok. However, it is not ok to stay there. Maybe you just needed to hear someone say that a season of rest is what you need. Self care is what you need. Soul care is what you need. God didn’t just create you to survive. He created you to thrive; to live in the fullness of His image in which you were created. Oh sweet soul reading this, put down the façade of “fine” and own where you are at so that Creator of the world and the lover of your soul can heal you from the inside out. You are worth it to Him. He loved you first and He loves you most. Find Him in the silence…He is always there.

Questions

Yes, I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Last week the thought caught my attention that I have not written a blog since December. Honestly, I haven’t felt the need to. This is probably why I am bad at blogging. I am not someone who can write on demand. Writing is not my profession nor is it my craft. I wouldn’t necessarily call it my hobby either. It goes so much deeper than all of the above. My writing comes from deep within my connection with God. The sacred place were abiding occurs. It’s not that my connection is lesser with God in seasons where my writing is less; it’s simply that the Holy Spirit has not stirred up the words inside of me. Last week when my blog crossed my mind it was the middle of the afternoon, the perfect time to write. Yet, I felt nothing. Not a single word popped into my head and no writing occurred. Now I sit here franticly typing; the words overflowing out of me. It’s 2:30 in the morning and this will most certainly hurt when the alarm goes off in 3 hours to get my youngest son ready for school. Who knows…maybe I’ll still be awake, my finger hovering over the word “publish.” Because there are two things that are certain when I blog; 1) the Holy Spirit alone prompts me to write and 2) I am never certain that I will publish it until I actually hit publish.

Writing for me is so much more more than putting words to the page. It’s about giving glimpses of my soul; sharing the thoughts and experiences, the triumphs and struggles on this journey. How do I know which pieces I will share? I never do. Only when the Spirit stirs and prompts do the words flow. It’s almost as if to remind me that apart from Him I can do nothing and only when it will point back to Him should I write something. Because, lets be honest, without the power of the Holy Spirit compelling it and the truth of Jesus woven within it…I am simply another amateur writer littering an already overcrowded blogging field with my thoughts. Instead, I write with the one in mind. The one the Holy Spirit thought of when He ignited the blogging fire within me. The one whom these words are meant for. The one who needs to be reminded that God sees you…He sees all of you…even the parts you don’t want Him to see…and He still loves you. Who is the one? I’m never really sure. Maybe it’s someone I love or a complete stranger, there have been times when it has proven to be me, or perhaps the one is you. Ultimately, it matters not. The need is never for me to know who I am writing for. It is simply an act of obedience; trusting that the One who prompted me to write is the same One who will be faithful to ensure that the right eyes see the words and the right heart is soothed, encouraged, or convicted by them.

Who are You God? Because You are turning out to be so much different than I imagined.

Steven Curtis Chapman

After my daughter passed away music became an agent of healing. Within the melodies and lyrics it was as if I could still tangibly connect to the beauty of God in the midst of the suffocating pain of grief. The album I would listen to over and over again was Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman; a collection of songs he wrote and recorded after his daughter went home to be with Jesus, just 4 months after my sweet Francesca. There was something in the shared experience that made the words he sang pour over me like healing balm. A hurting father to a hurting mother, a son of God to a daughter of God, a singer/songwriter to the one on their mind as the Holy Spirit prompted and compelled a piece of art that would prove to be so much more…to so many more than just the one. Within the artistry came a glimpse into his soul and through the vulnerability of his pain came the still soft voice that would often rise above the lyrics to say “I see you. You are not alone.”

And where are You God? Cuz I am finding life to be so much harder than I had planned.

Steven Curtis Chapman

I often find people’s 5 and 10 year plans ironic. I mean the likelihood of your life plan playing out the way you actually planned is less predictable than a meteorologist’s 14 day weather forecast. Life very rarely goes according to our preplanned agenda’s, yet so many of us still get caught up in laying out the blueprint of our lives. The more detailed the blueprint the harder the wrecking ball of the unexpected hits. It’s in these moments that our faith is often tested the most and the questions swirl. “Why?” becomes the cry of our heart. “If only” becomes the anthem of the dreams that haunt us. One of the hardest lessons some of us have to learn is that we are, in fact, not the author of our own story. Contrary to the lies of this age, we do not “create our own destiny.” Long before the world began, before a single day of our lives came to pass, we were on the heart and in the mind of the true author of our story. Created for a plan and purpose far greater than anything we could ever conjure up. Created for such a time as this, to be part of a much greater story than our own. Yet, it’s often the death grip on which we hold onto our own blueprint that makes us question our Creator when the plan doesn’t go according to our specifications.

Even in the sacred space of abiding questions still come, heartache is still real and devastation still occurs. However, it is in the abiding that a branch can weather even the fiercest storm if the vine it is connected to is strong. In the ache of my broken heart nothing in this world made sense. The blueprint I had for my life was shredded and placed in the cold earth of a cemetery. The only thing I had to cling to was Jesus and who I trusted Him to be. I had to believe that He would bind my wounds and heal my broken heart. Even in grief…especially in grief…I learned that apart from Him I can truly do nothing. God turned out to be so much different than I expected. When life got harder than I planned, that is when I learned that God isn’t my fairy godfather, floating around in the distance, waiting to give me a “happily ever after.” He is a very real and personal Father who meets us in the mess and the pain and the heartache of this life…if we will open ourselves up to Him.

How could You God? How could You be so good and strong and make a world that can be so painful?

Steven Curtis Chapman

In our humanness so many of us make God’s goodness dependent upon our circumstances or the circumstances of the world. The brokenness of sin is what makes the world painful, not God. That is an overly simplistic statement to explain a topic that men have theologized and philosophized for centuries but, it’s simply the truth. The even greater truth is that God has already given us the remedy for sin and therefore He is more than capable to be the remedy for the pain caused by the brokenness of sin. And someone needs to hear this…the brokenness of sin is not just about people behaving badly; it is disease and poverty and natural disasters etc. Sin didn’t just fracture humanity, it distorted all of creation. But God so loved the world that He made a way where there was no way…His name is Jesus. Jesus makes all things new. Jesus turns the ashes of this life into beautiful things.

In so many ways life turned out to be so much harder than I expected. Devastation came…more than once. Yet in it, through the abiding, God turned out to be so much more than I expected, not less. He came alive to me in greater ways, not lesser. Was the road easy, no. But did it show me that God is greater, ABSOLUTELY. My heart aches for the many who will believe that because they didn’t get the ending they wanted that at the minimum God isn’t good and the max, He isn’t even real. Both could not be further from the truth.

Who am I God? That you would raise me from the dust to breathe Your life and Your love me.

Steven Curtis Chapman

It is now almost 5 am, in just 30 minutes the alarm will signal me to awaken from a slumber that never occurred. A slumber that alluded me because God knew someone needed to be reminded that He never sleeps or slumbers. His eyes never stray or wander. He is faithful to watch over His children. He leaves the flock to rescue the one and He waits with open arms for the prodigal to return to home. Who is the one I write for? I don’t know and quite honestly, I don’t need to know. What I do know is that over the years the Holy Spirit has awaken many prayer warriors to pray on my behalf. Tonight, or this morning I should say, I have paid that blessing forward. Someone needs to be reminded that Almighty God has breathed life into you…He gave His Son’s life because He found you worthy of His love. Life may not be going the way your thought it should or wanted it to; that doesn’t mean that God is no longer good or that you are no longer His beloved. Abide in Him and He will abide in you. It is the abiding that you will find your strength and your comfort. In the abiding all the questions may not be answered but the ashes will become beautiful as you experience God in greater ways than you could ever imagine.

Questions

Who are You God
For You are turning out to be
So much different than I imagined

And where are you God
Cause I am finding life to be
So much harder than I had planned

Know that I am afraid
To ask these questions
But You know they are there

And if you know my heart
The way that I believe you do
You know that I believe in You
Still I have these questions

Like How could you God
How could You be so good and strong
And make a world that can be so painful

And where were you God
I know you had to be right there
I know you never turn your head

You know that I’m confused
By all this mystery
You know I get afraid
But if you know my heart
As completely as I trust you do
Oh you know that I trust in you

Is it true
That fore every tear I cry
You cry a thousand more
Cause you weep for those that weep

And are you, just holding yourself back
From crushing all the pain and evil in this world
For reasons we just cant understand for now
But isn’t there a day of redemption coming
Oh Redemption is coming

Quickly Lord, come quickly
Lord, come quickly

So who am I God
That you would raise me from the dust
To breathe your life and your love in me
You know that I believe

Steven Curtis Chapman

Confessions from a season of madness…

When the heart is burdened sleep often eludes the restless soul.

This is me this morning.

Sitting in my backyard as the dawn meets the day. The sound of crickets and the haunting melody of “Ave Maria” serving as my soundtrack. While no longer Catholic, there is something about this particular song that can still bring me to tears. Or maybe it’s the sheer physical and emotional exhaustion finally overwhelming me. Seeking a release or threatening to consume me.

So here I sit, in quiet desperation…crying out to God. Fixing my gaze on the only One who makes sense in a season of utter madness.

The prophet Isaiah asks is anyone is thirsty? My heart cries, yes!! The journey through this dry and dusty land has left me parched. Disillusioned and bewildered by what is unfolding before my very eyes. When did we become a people of such extremes? When did we become a people of such hatred? When did we become so consumed with fear? The moment we shifted our gaze off of God and onto the world, that’s when. For confusion, chaos, fear, and hatred are all attributes of our enemy, who is the prince of this world.

“Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised David.” ~ Isaiah 55:3

There is only one source of life and love; God alone. Isaiah boldly proclaims that if we seek the Lord we will find Him. So this morning I cry out to Him. For the burdened and heavy hearted, He is the only source of comfort and solace. He is the only source of truth and hope. He is the only source of peace in the chaos. For only He as the power to turn the torment of the heart into the joy that can be found in every new day.

“The theif’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” ~ John 10:10

The intention of this blog was always to be real, raw, and vulnerable about where I am on this journey called life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m not interested in adding to the ever growing “highlight reel” that has us all believing in a false sense of reality, that in all actuality is the greatest lie ever told. Facades are as false as the unrealistic expectations they place on our lives. That is something I will never prescribe to, nor perpetuate.

However, in the spirit of transparency, I will admit that since having the title “pastor” affixed to my name I have been less than forthcoming in my blogs. There is a responsibility that comes with that title and truth be told, it’s suffocating at times. Ironically, its not the expectations of God that are so overwhelming, but rather those of people. Everything said and done is analyzed as if under a microscope. Did I meet your expectations of me? Did I give you what you needed from me? Did I say what you wanted me to say, when you wanted me to say it, how you wanted me to say it? Do you even realize I am still a human being with a heart and feelings and a family of my own?

One week ago today in a staff meeting we did a prayer exercise through Proverbs 3 and this is what God spoke to me out verses 11&12…

The enemy plays on your insecurity. Be secure in who I have created you to be. I am never pleased with an imitation or a false version of you. You are beautifully and wonderfully made…exactly how I made you.

You see, the enemy would like nothing more than to allow insecurity to move me to silence. How easy it would be for him to wreak havoc in my mind as I unrealistically try to please everyone.

Recently…

I have been accused of pushing a far right political agenda. Ironically, I have also been accused of pushing a far left one as well. Not sure how I have managed to accomplish that unbelievable fete, but I have.

I have silently struggled as my son with autism has been so detrimentally affected by school closures. Putting on a brave face that screams “everything is fine.” While silently devastated and weary by how this season has manifested in his behaviors.

I have greater insight into how the lepers of Jesus day must have felt as my family endures Covid19. Because publicly confirming you have this illness is the modern day equivalent to placing a damning scarlet letter on your chest.

Isn’t it amazing to discover what is really lurking behind a smiling face.

“The goal of our life is not people. It is God. Only in Him shall we find the rest we seek.” ~ Henri Nouwen

As I sit here this morning, in the still presence of God, He does what only He can do. He breathes new life into me. He reminds me that the only affirmation I ever need is His. While the world conditions us to please people, the Spirit moves us to please God. As our gaze shifts firmly on Jesus, He reveals that the greatest deception the enemy has ever unleashed upon us is “people pleasing.” Our value, our worth, and our calling is never determined by popular opinion, it rests in Jesus Christ alone.

I have learned in this season, probably more than any other, that I simply want to represent Jesus well. As my Savior never fit into the neat little boxes culture has created, neither do I. In fact, He defied them in every way. He loved limitlessly but His holy nature also demanded justice. He gave freely but He had an expectation that we, as His disciples, would honor Him well by living out His commission and commands. He showed compassion and grace but also experienced the very real human emotions of anger, grief, anguish, and despair.

So here I am…real, raw and honest.

Am I mad that my son cannot go back to school this fall? Yes, I am absolutely furious. Most people will never understand the toll this will take on all of our children, in particular the special needs population.

Do I believe we need to protect our democracy? Absolutely!! I see anarchy on the rise in this country. I see socialism on the brink. And I can’t help but wonder if the greatest fatality of Covid19 will be the United States of America itself.

Do I believe that law enforcement has been demonized as a whole by a few horrible police officers? Without a doubt. I am so thankful that I am not judged by every false teacher and bad pastor that has ever stood at a pulpit. We must never forget these were the men and women that ran into the Twin Towers on 9/11. They are the ones who place themselves in harms way daily for our protection. They are the ones who worked so diligently to bring our daughter Francesca back the day she died, the ones who wept with my husband and I, the ones who came back to check in on us a few years later.

Do I believe that there are hurting and marginalized people in our country? Emphatically, YES!!. People whose voices need to be heard, even if their dialogue makes me uncomfortable, even if I fundamentally disagree with the political agendas that are hidden behind the movement. YES!! Because after all, how does healing and reconciliation ever happen if we are never willing to step out of own experiences to hear the experiences and pain of others.

Have I watched fear grip our nation as our leaders and media have used tactics to insight such feelings? I actually believe I have. It has both paralyzed and polarized us as a nation. We can no longer respectfully agree to disagree. We have lost the ability to honor everybody’s comfort level. We have made public health and safety political propaganda. Drawing the lines between Red and Blue, much like the lines drawn 160 years ago between North and South.

And in the midst of all this chaos and confusion, the prayer of Jesus echoes in my head. As He prayed for His followers this is what He said…

“Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.  They do not belong to this world any more than I do.  Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.  Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.  And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. ~ John 17:13-21

Jesus was leaving this earth and in doing so He was anointing His followers to continue living out His ministry and mission. His prayer was not that we would become political activists or that we would fit into the cookie cutter boxes that culture has created. His prayer wasn’t that we would make everyone happy. He didn’t pray that we wouldn’t suffer persecution, He didn’t pray away hardships, He didn’t even ask that everything would go our way. He prayed that His Father would make us into a holy people, set apart by His truth. A people in this world, but no longer of this world. Citizens of heaven here on earth. A people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. A meek and humble people who are unoffendable. Who can admit the realness of how they are feeling but then submit those feelings to God rather than acting upon them. A people that understand that even in the chaos, and the confusion, and the uncertainty God is still in control. He sees what we do not see and therefore He does what we would not do. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s thoughts are nothing like ours and His ways are far beyond what we could ever imagine. Therefore, we must trust that God is moving in ways beyond what our eyes can see…at least for right now. One day, it will all be revealed. Of that I am certain.

So this morning I am thirsty. The dust and dryness of this land has left me parched. The power of admitting that truth, is that the enemy has no hold over my mind. He cannot create a false narrative about the things I have kept hidden. Instead, the living water of Jesus Christ alone replenishes my soul. He gives the me hope and the courage to persevere even when things are not seemingly going the way I wish they would.

For the heart that awoke this morning feeling heavy and burdened, this blog is for you. I hope you, like me, will take comfort in the words of James,

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” ~ James 1:3-4

With our gaze firmly focused on Jesus we will persevere through this season and be better for it. Of that I have no doubt.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus…look full in His wonderful face…and the things of this world will grow strangely dim…in the light of His glory and grace.

This morning, as the emotions threatened to overwhelm me, God reminded me to let the world grow dim. As His truth settled into my heart, His peace enveloped me. I pray that peace rests upon you as well today and in the days to come. Even this will be worked out for God’s glory if we simply trust in Him.

Love Changes Everything

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1

Words…

So easy to flow from our lips,yet, so much harder to put into action.

Love…

So easy to claim,yet, so much harder to execute.

When words flow without love they wound, they inflict pain, they damage. When words flow without love they fall on deaf ears. When words flow without love their is no evidence of Jesus in them.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:2

Knowledge…

Without love, it doesn’t produce lasting change.

Faith…

Without love, it is shallow and limits our ability to shine the light of Christ

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:3

Generosity…

Fulfills a need in the moment but without love, the moment passes quickly.

Sacrifice…

If not rooted in love, is self-serving.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Over the last several days I have prayed. I have lamented. I have sought the face of God and tonight He brought me here…to love.

The dichotomy of our times is the deep chasm between love and hate. We love what we believe to be right and true and we hate anything that varies. When did that happen? When did we become a people who can no longer respectfully agree to disagree? When did we become a people so fixated on one way that we can no longer open our hearts and our minds to seeing things from another perspective? When did we become a people that in order to support one group of people, you must hate another? Maybe we’ve always been this way and God has finally awaken me to this sad reality.

Where did love go? Did we ever really have it?

In our overly charged political climate, some will immediately say, “It’s Trump’s fault!” Others will immediately say, “It’s Obama’s fault!” Yet, it all reminds me of the Garden of Eden. Everything beautiful and wonderful abounded; there for God’s glory and Adam and Eve’s enjoyment. Yet, God had given them one rule, just one…don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent slithers his way in and…well you know how the story ends. Sin enters the world and the fingers start pointing…”The woman made me eat it!” “The serpent deceived me!” We’ve been playing the blame game since the very beginning.

The reality is this…

In the garden, in the history of humanity, and today a lack of love is always rooted in the brokenness of sin. Where sin abounds, hurt and heartbreak abounds more. Our current issues are not a political battle, they are spiritual one. We have an enemy and he hates us; he longs to steal, kill and destroy. His goal and his tactics have not changed. The enemy wants to steal our ability to love others in spite of our differences. The enemy wants to kill any chance of compassionate discourse that might bring understanding and change. But more than anything, the enemy yearns to destroy unity. Because a unified people, although they might not agree 100%, have the capacity to love one another beyond the differences and truly change the world.

Patient and kind love has a heart to understand.

Love that is not proud, boastful, or rude has the humility to put others first and listen, really listen, before speaking.

Love that is not irritable and keeps no records of wrongs offers forgiveness.

Love that does not rejoice in injustice but rejoices in the truth must be moved and motivated, not by ones own feelings, but rather by the very heart of God.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:7

What if love motivated us to never give up? Never give up seeking after God’s face and God’s heart in every situation? Never give up seeing people through God’s eyes?

What if we never lose faith in God’s ability to take even the hardest seasons and turn them it something extraordinary?

On social media yesterday I sensed a narrative that I have been struggling with. That narrative seemed to state that in order to stand in the gap to end injustice then you must not support law enforcement. This sentiment breaks my heart.

 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13

While I cannot speak for everyone, I can speak for myself. My participation in yesterday’s Black Out movement was not a condoning of riots. The destruction of property, violence, chaos and mayhem will not bring lasting change. It is criminal and only causes more division. My participation in the Black Out movement was also not an anti-law enforcement statement. We have incredible men and women who serve and protect the citizens of this country. They have an incredibly difficult job and in this season its harder than ever. I don’t ever take what they do for granted. In fact, I am very grateful for them. However, none of this negates the issue at hand, racial injustice is real.

Yesterday was simply an opportunity to say to those who are peacefully protesting, “I see you…I hear you…I seek to understand better.” It was a step in obedience to the promptings God has laid upon my heart to be a part of the solution. It was a recognition that this battle does have a hidden agenda…not ensued by the Democrats or the Republicans…but rather by the enemy who wants to destroy us all.

I cannot change you. But I can choose to ask God to help change me.

I have faith…faith that believes that this could be the greatest hour for the Church as God uses us to bring healing and reconciliation.

I have hope…hope that believes that out of these ashes God will bring beautiful things.

And I have love. Love is our greatest weapon in this battle. It is the very weapon God Himself used when Jesus Christ conquered sin and death. This is not a mere human love, but a supernatural love. Birthed by the Holy Spirit who dwells inside of me. A love that chased me down when I was broken and hurting. A love that made me whole. A love that compels me to listen, to seek to understand, and to be the light of my Savior, Jesus Christ, in a world that so desperately needs Him. Only He can bind our wounds and heal our land. That is what I pray for, would you join me in praying the same?

Lord, Jesus come. Intercede on our behalf. We have come to the end of human wisdom. True change and true healing can only come through You. We humbly ask you to come…we need your peace, your comfort, your wisdom.

In Jesus Name.

Amen!

 

Joy Comes In The Morning

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What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us. ~ Helen Keller

It has been said that a cardinal is a representative of those we love that have passed away. When the bird appears, it means your loved one has come to see you…often when you need them or miss them the most. I must admit, I am not one to believe in such things. However, I do find it interesting that for the second year in a row, right before the anniversary of my daughter’s death, a cardinal made an appearance at my house.

This morning I awoke in a NyQuil haze, stumbling into the kitchen for my morning coffee…welcome to winter in the Midwest. As the aroma of freshly brewed java tickled my nose I began to perk up. At that moment a glance out my door wall stopped me dead in my tracks. Out of the corner of my eye the flicker of vibrant red caught my attention…then I saw it. The contrast of the bird’s beautiful feathers on the cold gray brick pavers stood out like the North Star in the black night sky. I must admit, in that brief moment, I thought, “just when I needed you most sweet girl.”

Tomorrow will be 12 years since my beautiful Francesca Isabella went home to be with Jesus. I can honestly say that 12 years later, the new year never gets easier. The loss looms at the dawn of every year as a beacon to remind me of how quickly life can change and how silly those 5 year and 10 year plans really are. Nothing is guaranteed and in an instant it can all change. You can plan til your hearts content but rarely does life play out like the fantastical narrative we create in our minds.

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. ~ James 4:14

January 7, 2008 was an ordinary day in a new year. The day dawned with so much hope, so much possibility. As I wrote in my journal that morning I did so with so much confidence. Reflecting on a sermon I had heard the day before, I wanted nothing more than to glorify the God who had set me free and changed my life. I had no idea that the minutes passing by were racing me toward a moment when time would stand still.

January 8, 2008, what a difference a day can make. The day before, which started with so much hope, ended with soul crushing heartache. On this day my journal simply started with…

“I am numb!!! You have taken Francesca Isabella home to you!”

These are the words of a mother who has had the most sacred thing torn out of her life, her own child. There are not enough words to articulate the kind of pain one feels in this moment, and I pray none of you ever have to feel it. All the plans I had for that year, for Francesca’s life, for my own life shattered into a million pieces on a January afternoon. Life was just a vapor and I was learning that lesson the hard way.

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads my beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. Your prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessing. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. ~ Psalm 23

When King David penned these words it was a reflection upon his life. An honest account of how God had sustained him throughout his life. What I think I love most about this Psalm is that it doesn’t paint the picture of a perfect or an easy life. Quite to the contrary, it talks about walking through dark valleys and facing enemies that would have delighted in his demise. Yet, through it all David knew protection, comfort, blessing, goodness, love, and he had victory. Not because he was a particularly strong person but because God was a good, good Father. God was David’s shepherd. His was the voice David sought, His were the arms that brought comfort in the midst of soul crushing heartache, He was the shield that protected David from the schemes of the enemy even when everything was stacked against him, it was His goodness and loved that saturated David’s life. David was living evidence that God’s promises were true, regardless of the circumstances of his life.

I feel such a kinship to King David. I, too, feel like I am living evidence that God’s promises are true. As I read the 23rd Psalm David actually disappears from my mind and my own life plays out through the familiar words on the page.   Yes, every new year begins with the reminder of the darkest valley I have walked through. And yes, every new year begins with the reminder that all of my heart no longer dwells with me here on this earth, a piece of it now awaits me in heaven. However, I cannot linger in the heaviness of that reality, the grief of my journey does not overwhelm or consume me. Because it was through that grief that I have experienced the fullness of God’s comfort and His protection. His goodness and His love did pursue me. When the enemy tried to destroy my family it was God who stepped in, not so that we might merely survive through the pain but that we might thrive because of the beauty that was revealed through the ashes of it. I am living proof that on the other side of the shadow of death your cup can overflow with blessing.

Weeping might last through the night but joy comes with the morning. ~          Psalm 30:5

Several months ago a preacher that has a fire for Jesus, an extraordinary anointing of the Holy Spirit, and my utmost respect pulled me aside and gave me a prophetic word. He said, “You will be a spiritual mother to many.” It was so simple, yet so profound.

Last night his words echoed in my mind as I had the privilege to speak into a handful of young adult women. I poured out how God’s story intersected my story and radically changed and transformed my life. The journey wasn’t easy or pretty…it was raw and it was hard, but it was real. And as I spoke there she was…my sweet girl, Francesca Isabella, God’s precious daughter, the one I had the privilege of calling my own for the briefest of days on this earth. She is woven throughout God’s story and my own. Her presence may no longer be in this world but she is everywhere I am, because she is in me. She lives on, actively and vibrantly in my heart. And though I will never have the opportunity to mother her in this lifetime, because of her God has placed me in a position to be a mother to others.

It might be silly or whimsical but a part of me wants so desperately to believe that beautifully vibrant cardinal outside my window this morning was a little piece of heaven cheering me on. Reminding me and maybe some of you, that while a new year might start with a flavor of sadness, and weeping may last for the night…joy truly does come with the morning. It might not look the way you thought it would or wanted it to, but if you trust God, I promise He will turn the ashes of this life into beautiful things…I am living proof of it.

Cardinal2020

(my morning visitor)

You Are Not Hidden

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You are not hidden… There’s never been a moment you were forgotten… ~ Lauren Daigle

Tonight I sat in a room full of people yet I was all alone…

As a parent of autism this is a place that is very familiar to me.

Finding yourself in situations where the circumstances of your journey…all the things that make your family “different” or not “normal” glare at you like a spotlight.

Tonight I sat in a darkened corner. In all fairness, the whole room was dark but when you’re in a corner it feels a little darker. I was in a room full of activity, full of people, yet I felt completely alone. The call for people to come forward, to find freedom in the moment actually didn’t apply to me. As I sat next to my sweet boy, lost in the world of whatever movie he was watching, I was more concerned that in this reverent moment he wouldn’t squeal or scream at the characters on the screen. In fact, as I tried to get into the atmosphere of prayer what I really silently prayed was that my son wouldn’t be a distraction.

All around me prayer and worship occurred yet I was not a part of it…at all. In my darkened corner I simply sat. Alone with my own thoughts, my own prayers, and an occasional kiss from my handsome companion, who was blissfully unaware of what was really happening around him. The spotlight glared and I was once again reminded that autism can often leave you feeling alone in crowd.

As I began to frantically journal my own prayers…I too became oblivious to the events of the room I was in. My focus rested solely on God.

I hear you whisper underneath your breath…I hear your SOS, your SOS ~ Lauren Daigle

As I prayed God reminded me that I am not the only who is living in the struggle. All around me are people fighting a battle…living every day feeling all alone in a sea of people. People who feel the tension of never being able to find freedom because of whatever struggle or burden is hanging around their neck like a noose…attempting to suck the life right out of them at any given moment.

Turning to God’s Word, as I often do when my heart is troubled, I began to read the words of Psalm 138. The words of the Psalmist poured into my heart and enveloped me like the God hug that they were…

As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength…

The Lord will work out his plans for my life – for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.

I will send out an army to find you. In the middle of the darkest night. It’s true, I will recuse you. I will never stop marching to reach you. In the middle of the hardest fight. It’s true, I will rescue you. ~ Lauren Daigle

In the darkened corner…

Where no one else sees or understands the full extent of the pain or the struggle…God sees us.

We are not hidden, forgotten, or forsaken. Our God sees us and He meets us in that place of loneliness and isolation…if we would only allow Him in.

He is the God who sees us. The God who can carry us above our circumstances and take us to a place of peace that transcends all understanding.

Tonight in a room full of people it was just me and God. He met me in the struggle and reminded me that I am never alone, He is always near. And while very few people I know understand the complexities and ache of being a parent of autism…God understands. It was Him in that moment reminding me that He is my strength.

The musings of this blog are to tell you that God sees you too. Somebody who will read these words needs to hear that truth right now. You are the reason I wrote this blog. God told me you needed to be reminded that you are not hidden…you have not been forgotten or forsaken. God sees you. He is your strength and your protection. Trust Him! He has not abandoned you…

In the darkest night and in the middle of the toughest fight…He WILL rescue you!!! Let go and trust Him.

 

 

 

In and Out of Time

The sun has come.
The mist has gone.
We see in the distance…
our long way home.
I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.

We have loved each other in and out of time.

When the first stone looked up at the blazing sun
and the first tree struggled up from the forest floor
I had always loved you more.
You freed your braids…
gave your hair to the breeze.
It hummed like a hive of honey bees.
I reached in the mass for the sweet honey comb there….
Mmmm…God how I love your hair.

You saw me bludgeoned by circumstance.
Lost, injured, hurt by chance.
I screamed to the heavens….loudly screamed….
Trying to change our nightmares into dreams…

The sun has come.
The mist has gone.
We see in the distance our long way home.
I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.
We have loved each other in and out
in and out
in and out
of time.

Maya Angelou

Love. So simple, so pure, yet so complex and complicated. Four little letters strung together. They have the ability to hold all the treasures of the universe. Yet, they hold the power to destroy the human heart. That is the great paradox of love. While it is a many splendor thing, it does indeed hurt.

When you love so deeply you run the greatest risk for heartache. Which puts us all face to face with a very important question. Would you trade away the chance to love to protect your heart from ever experiencing pain?

The beauty of writing is the art of editing. You can change what you don’t like. The word “delete” has the ability to erase the pain of any given character with a single click. If only life where that easy.

To love gives you no option for delete. You cannot erase the ties of the heart and soul. So when love leaves you, the heart aches in unfathomable ways.

I loved you in and out of time.

Can we ever know what it truly means to love in time and out of time? I am not sure I could have answered that question 12 years ago. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have pondered that question 12 years ago. But then something happens…a moment…the universe flips and everything you know to be true and right and good comes crashing in around you. The moment that death steals the beauty of love right from your grasp.

11 years ago today…how quickly time escapes us. 11 years have gone by since I have held my sweet, precious Francesca. Her baby coos and baby smell where the very essence of love wrapped in a head of brown hair, big grey eyes, and the completeness of our joy. I loved her in time.

But on an eerily warm January day 11 years ago love was snatched out of my hands. As the mourning and weeping began I had no idea I had just been placed on a journey that would teach me the beauty of loving in AND out of time.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. ~ Psalm 139:13-16

I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.

We have loved each other in and out of time.

Oh, how we so desperately want to ascribe every feeling those eloquent words evoke to love in the human realm. And quite honestly, that may have very well been Maya Angelou’s intent when she placed those words on a page for the very first time. But this morning as I stumbled across this poem, one that I had read years ago and forgotten about, I was reminded of the beauty of the relationship all of creation has the privilege to have with Almighty God.

God is the author of love…He is love. It is in His very character, His very nature, in every nuance of His very presence that a human soul discovers the fullness of loving in and out of time.

I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.

Ahhhh…do you see it. From the moment God began to knit us together in our mother’s wombs, we were His to have. And from that very moment He was always ours.

With our first cries on this earth we begin our journey home to the One who loved us in and out of time. To the One who created everything we see with us in mind. To the One who knows our name and knows every hair on our head. To the One who would sacrifice Himself…the One who would suffer the greatest loss…the One who knows that greatest amount of agony brought by the hands of love…because He loved us in and out time.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. ~ 1 Corinthians 13: 7

This morning when I woke up thinking about my sweet baby girl Francesca, I felt a blog stirring in me. However, the words that you are reading are nothing like the thoughts I was pondering. I guess that will be a different blog for a different time. This afternoon what God has pressed upon me is that life is a gift, no matter how short. Our 78 days with Francesca are days I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Which means that love is always worth the risk of agony we may endure to experience it.

How is it possible to come to terms with such soul crushing grief? How is it possible to thrive after the storm has beaten you up, the valley has left  you wounded, and the wilderness has you panting with thirst as you wander? I almost cringe being so simplistic…but the answer really is this simple…JESUS!!!

Nobody has ever risked more to love you than Jesus. Nobody has ever sacrificed more for you to know love than Jesus. And NO ONE and NOTHING will ever carry you through the heartache of lost love like Jesus, because He understands it better than anyone ever has. He has loved you in and out of time. You were always His and He is always yours…if you want Him. But even if you don’t want Him…He never gives up pursuing you. You were on His mind at the beginning of time as we know it and He has never lost sight of you…not even for a second.

To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory. ~ Isaiah 61:3

11 years after her physical presence left this earth I still feel Francesca’s presence in my life…every day. She is in the very fabric of our family. She is the thread that God has used to create this beautiful tapestry that is our life.

The road is often difficult…

You saw me bludgeoned by circumstance.
Lost, injured, hurt by chance.
I screamed to the heavens….loudly screamed….
Trying to change our nightmares into dreams…

However, as heartbreaking as the nightmare can be, it often dissipates into a new beginning. A new beginning that would have never been realized without the ashes of the pain. When we allow God to meet us in the heartache…He changes our nightmares to dreams as He so carefully, so gently, and so lovingly binds up our wounds and heals our broken hearts.

Though this journey is one I would have never chosen for myself, today I see so clearly how it has shown me the glory of my God. Glory that I would have remained blinded to on a different road. Through the heartache and the pain God gave me exponentially more of Himself. And the greatest of all His gifts is that He taught me how to love…in and out of time.

Dedicated to my precious Francesca Isabella. Mommy loves you forever beautiful girl xoxo

October 23, 2007 ~ January 7, 2008

Echoes From The Heart

There is a price you will have to pay to activate your calling. ~ Levi Lusko

The price was high because the love was so deep…

The depth of a mother’s heart cannot be explained by mere words. A bond that begins in the secret place as the Father knits life together.

Before a breath is drawn love abounds. The quiet intimacy of life growing is one that only a mother knows. The sacred time when the beauty of heaven kisses earth to spring forth so much promise…so much potential.

The first cries enter the air erasing the pain of the journey that brought them here. Love explodes as the heart is awakened by the sight of tiny fingers and toes.

The price was high because the love was so deep…

The heart that blossomed and bloomed shatters in a million pieces broken by the ache of what has been lost.

The piece of heaven the graced the world has slipped back from where she came. The earth no longer spins and the universe tips out of order as what should be slips into the land of dying dreams.

Arms envelope the broken mother…only the Father can comfort the heart that longs so desperately for what has been lost.

As grief and sorrow threaten to consume the Father stoops low and wipes the tears that never seem to end.

Then she hears it, like a whisper on the wind…

” She was mine long before she was ever yours. While you long for her in this life, she is with Me preparing for your homecoming. So while we wait for you to finish your race we will cheer you on from home. Knowing you will do all that I created you to do because she was the gift that awakened you to your calling…”

The price was high because the love was so deep…

In the whisper on the wind the mother’s eyes were opened for the first time to the depth of the Father’s love. For He too had paid the highest of prices for a love that ran so deep.

Tonight I finished reading Levi Lusko’s Through the Eyes of a Lion. As I finished, tears coursed down my cheeks as his words echoed in my heart…“There is a price you will have to pay to activate your calling.” Those words inspired my writing above…the simple yet complex sentiments of a heart that surrendered completely to God and walked out of the depths of despair and into a calling.

Levi Lusko wrote a beautiful book about how the death of his precious daughter radically changed his life. For the first time I felt like so much of my heart was revealed…by a complete stranger. He stepped into his calling for ministry long before his precious Lenya went home to be with Jesus but make no mistake God has used his sweet girl to take him places he could have never imagined going. The beauty of his legacy will forever be entwined with how sweet Lenya opened him up to God in ways that he never would have been had the story ended differently. In so many ways his story mirrors my own with my precious baby girl, Francesca.

In the end the lesson learned is that in this life we will all walk through painful valleys but if we would choose to trust God, He will turn ashes into beauty. In the words of Lusko himself “As we wait on the Lord, our hearts are strengthened, and we see things that are invisible and can do things that are impossible… Suffering isn’t an obstacle to be used by God. It is an opportunity to be used like never before…”

For now I choose to see a place where Lenya and Francesca play among tulips, squealing with laughter in the presence of Jesus. And until I join them in that beautiful paradise I will continue to praise His name and tell of the hope that is found in Him alone 💖💖

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.