Joy Comes In The Morning

tulips2020

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)

Becoming…

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decided to be ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

A new year has dawned and with it comes all of our goals and best intentions to make this year better than the last. It’s funny, a few months back a CD, as in compact disc, surfaced at work. The artist is one that many of you don’t know, but he is a good friend of mine, in fact he’s the worship pastor at the church where I am on staff. This CD had the 1990’s written all over it. I mean down to the Structure suit Jon wore in the cover shot. For those of you not alive in the 90’s, Structure was a popular men’s store back in the day. The title of the CD was Becoming and for weeks after discovering it we teased him. Had he become?  Was he still becoming? That’s what happens when you work with people you truly love…you tease each other like you would a sibling…without mercy.

However, as silly and trivial as that all seemed at the time, the word “becoming” is one that I haven’t quite shaken. Maybe it’s because at 42 I feel like I finally understand that life is one long journey of becoming. Becoming who you are…becoming who you were meant to be…becoming the totality of every experience you have this side of heaven. Perfectly and wonderfully created for this moment right now. The past is the stepping-stones and the lessons learned to uniquely equip you for the challenges and triumphs of the day. The future is what you are currently being prepared to walk into. With that truth I realize that there will never be a point where we will actually become. Never will we reach the pinnacle of what we are meant to be. As long as we draw breath, we are still becoming. We are like clay in the Potter’s hands. Which means that in every season of life He molds and shapes us. In every season we continue to become what we were meant to be…right here…right now.

There is only one thing God wants of us, and that is our unconditional surrender ~ Oswald Chambers

The older I get the harder New Year’s has become. When I was a little girl my mom always cried as one year slipped into the next. In my childish mind I couldn’t understand why. As an adult, I see things more clearly. There is a certain ache for the things that have gone, the pains endured, the good byes that were said, and the joys that have become memories. It is in the closing of a year that one must assess the dreams that slipped away while leaving room for new dreams to come alive. Sometimes that is easier said than done. Truth be told… sometimes… I find myself wanting to hunker down in my bed, depression creeping in, as I wallow in what is gone and what will never be again.

Indeed, for a few days I did allow myself to wallow…

Then I did the only thing that made sense in that moment…I prayed!!!

In my prayers I reflected on my word for 2018, “choice”

Did I make good choices? Did the year play out the way I expected or wanted it to? Does it ever, really? What choices mattered most? Which ones would I like a do over on?”

These are the ramblings of my own mind as my thoughts hit the pages of my journal…

“In the end “choice” is a funny word. What have I learned? Choice is a word that suggests control. And while it is a choice to practice self-control…at the end of the day 2018 taught me…yet, again…that there is very little I actually control and the only choice that really matters is the one to honor God…to walk in step with Jesus…to be fully surrendered in all that I do. Once that choice is made…everything else falls into place…regardless of how the year actually turns out.”

And out of those reflections birthed my word for 2019…SURRENDER.

Every goal, every dream, every hope for this coming year rests in my yearning to become more surrendered to God in every area of my life; mind, body, and soul

Everyone on earth is carrying an unseen history, and that alone deserves tolerance ~ Michelle Obama

I could give you a whole list of my goals for 2019 but why bore you and why put myself out there for public accountability. Let’s keep it real people, you know I’m going to let at least one of these goals fall to the wasteside. There I said it…now in next year’s blog I can own it.

But here is one I will share with you. I have set a goal to read at least one biography a month. Odd goal? To some, probably. However, as I spent time with God dreaming about 2019 the one thing He clearly laid upon my heart was people. To be more intentional, but not just with people I know or people who are like me…but to open my eyes to the world of people all around me. To open my heart and my mind to see people as God sees them. To hear people’s stories for a greater understanding of why they think the way they do or live as they have chosen to live. God has reminded me over and over again that I cannot speak into the lives of people who I have never even bothered to hear or tried to understand. He has reminded me that in the differences of humanity come the beautiful tapestry of all whom God loves…all whom Jesus died for. How can I ever declare that truth, if I never stop to listen to the story of the human experience beyond the comfort of what I have always known.

So I find myself sitting here. Next to me is a book that just a few months ago I would have never considered reading. Becoming, by our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, is my first book of 2019. For those who know me…pick your jaws up off the ground…I promise the shock will wear off. For beyond what you know or what you think you know there is always a back story, a greater understanding of why. What I have discovered in the first six chapters is that there is a compelling story behind every person, ones we admire and those we don’t. I was never a huge fan of President Obama. Politically, he doesn’t align with my beliefs on most topics and quite honestly, neither does his wife. Yet, I read this book not to dispute political ideology but to understand the humanity behind the position held. To learn about the experiences that molded and shaped our former First Lady into the woman she is becoming. I am sure as I read there will be things said that I will cringe at and vehemently disagree with. But I have also discovered there are things I have a new-found respect for. Michelle Obama is an incredibly intelligent woman who, much like myself, keeps it real and that is a common ground that I can respect in anyone. But the greater gift is being able to see someone through a different lens. A lens bent toward empathy rather than divisiveness.

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the new year ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whatever your word for 2019 is, whatever your goals or dreams may be…may we all be reminded that a New Year is birthed with new opportunity to continue to become exactly who you were created to be in such a time as this. The past does not define you…it was merely the training ground for all that you are meant to do in this season. The future has yet to be written…the circumstances and choices of today will prepare you for all that lies ahead. My choice today and every day will be to surrender my past, my present, and my future to Almighty God and allow Him to author a greater story than I could have ever written on my own. Becoming all that He desires me to be for His kingdom and His glory.

Happy New Year and Godspeed

xoxo

 

Turn the Page…

So, I close my eyes to old ends and open my heart to new beginnings.

New year…new beginning…turn the page and start a new chapter! The end. Shortest blog in the history of blogging.

Ahhhhh…if it were only that easy.  Yeah. yeah, yeah…many of us sit at the cusp of the new year proclaiming all the things we will leave behind in the old and declaring all the things we will improve in the new. Yet, by the end of next week our declarations and proclamations will be more like helpful suggestions that maybe we will follow…but not really. The old chokeholds the new until there is nothing new to be written at all. Just a replay of the same old scenes littered with some fresh faces and a few shades of adjusted lighting.

At some level most people struggle with new beginnings because while the idea of “new” appeals to us, we find it so difficult to close the door on the chapter we are leaving behind. It’s like reading a book and fixating so much on one chapter that you never really move past it. How will you ever get to the end if you can never turn the page? What beautiful story lies ahead that you will miss because you are content to simply stay where you are… reading the same chapter over and over again?

There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind. ~ C.S. Lewis

God is a storyteller. His story has been written since the beginning of time and it continues to be written still to this day.  We are currently the characters in His story. Hit pause right there. Take a minute to let that truth change your perspective. This story your living out isn’t actually your own. You are a supporting character in a much larger story. I just lost some of you right there. You were looking for a blog to tell you the 10 easy steps to the 3 eternal truths that will guarantee the 5 perfect disciplines that will lead to a better life. Sorry…wrong blog.

So often we stay in certain chapters of our lives out of fear. We are afraid of the unknown. We stay in painful chapters because we are afraid to be hurt again so we cocoon ourselves in the pain we know. We want to stay in successful or happy chapters because moving on presents the possibility of failure or disappointment. We chain ourselves to the past because the future has to many variables that are unknown. Man…life would have been so much easier had God just given us the stinking blueprint. I mean what writer doesn’t give His cast the script before they have to perform?!?!

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. ~ Hebrews 11:1

Hope is such a funny word. We see hope and we think “I sure hope things work out.” It’s a word that says “this is how I want the story to go BUT I realize it could go haywire at any moment and completely derail.”  However, that is our definition of hope NOT God’s definition. When the writer of Hebrew’s penned the verse above what he was saying was simply…”I am so CONFIDENT that the promises of God are true that even without knowing how the ending will look in my life I am willing to turn the page because I know with God the best has yet to come.”

Hope is confidence rooted in trust. Maybe, just maybe, it is hope that gives us the courage to turn the page. To realize that regardless of what this new chapter holds God is with us. A good author never leaves his characters incomplete or hanging. A good author always uses the events and the circumstances surrounding a character to mold and shape them to fulfill their purpose in the story. And God is the author of the greatest story ever told!!! I think if we can trust NY Times best-selling authors to write great books with well-developed characters we can trust God to do the same. Afterall, who gifted all those authors with the ability to tell a story in the first place? I’m just sayin’!

Where you look is where you will go…

“Turn you 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.”

Those words are found in my all time favorite hymn. A reminder that I never have to hesitate to end one chapter or afraid to begin the next. If I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus…the author and perfector of my faith and story…I will always know that wherever the next chapter on this grand adventure called life takes me, I will be exactly where I am supposed to be to fulfill my purpose in the greater story being told.

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. ~ Neslon Mandela

Sunday a church our pastor challenged us all not to make New Year’s resolutions but rather to prayerfully ask God to reveal a word to define our 2018. Of course he said his word was “healthy”. Immediately, I thought “stink, that’s my word!!” Being on staff at the church I knew he would ask us our word and I was now going to look an unoriginal, copycat. Or maybe I was over thinking that just a bit…whatever!!!

This morning God showed me that “healthy” was the word I picked for myself, not His word for me. That’s what happens when you forgo the prayer part and just do your own thing…God corrects you. God always has a way of reminding us of who is in charge…thank goodness.

Anyway, this morning God gave me my word for 2018. Drum roll please…

“CHOICE” is my word.

I have to admit, I was a little dumfounded. Cause “healthy” is really where I am at. Erase the highlight reel…I want lose 25lbs in the new year, start prioritizing my time better, cook dinner for family more consistently, making my quiet time with God a non-negotiable…EVERY DAY!! All of those things stem from being “healthy”, right?!?! Yes, but God reminded me this morning that all of the things start with a CHOICE!!! Healthy food is always available to me as is the ability to exercise but I have to CHOOSE to eat better and hit the treadmill. My stove always works and I’m a pretty decent cook but I have to CHOOSE to make dinner for my family consistently. Every day there are 24 hours in a day, that will never change, so I have to CHOOSE to organize myself and spend that time wisely. God is always with me, always available to me, but I have to CHOOSE to engage Him and make Him first in my day…EVERY DAY!!

I can linger in 2017, it was decent year, some really exciting things happened for us that I am grateful for. Or I can CHOOSE to close that chapter of my story…reflect with a thankful heart, lament on things that brought pain and then turn the page.

Today that is exactly what I CHOOSE to do… turn the page and begin the new chapter. I have no idea what lies before me. What I do know is that all the experiences from previous chapters, good and bad, have prepared me for all the things that are about to unfold. I know that there are new experiences on the horizon that will allow me to see God in greater ways…ways that I cannot even imagine. And I know that God will continue to mold and shape me in this new chapter to become all that He ha created me to be to fulfill His story.

I am simply a supporting character in a story so much greater than my own. And you my sweet friends are supporting characters too. Will you join me on the adventure in 2018? Will you CHOOSE to focus your gaze on Jesus and allow Him to be the author of this new chapter? I promise you won’t regret it.

Much Love and Happy New Year,

Nikki