Undone

“And they lived happily ever after…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Bittersweet Symphony

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Euphoria, noun: a feeling of great happiness and excitement. ~ Merriam Webster Dictionary

Euphoric high. That is what crossing a finish line feels like. Your body may be beaten and battered, your muscles may be screaming that they hate you…but when you cross…ahhhhhh…the high of accomplishment settles in. In that moment the high erases the pain, the set backs, and the obstacles. You revel in the victory of completion.
Every year that is how I feel on Marathon Sunday in Detroit. A euphoric high settles in, not just because I have crossed the finish line, but because once again God has left me in awe of what He can and will do through a group of people who are obedient to His call and faithful to the cause He has laid on their hearts. Every year I wonder how God will top the previous one and yet He always does. This year was no exception. Two days, 60 participants, one VOICE: Santino’s Voice. We were the voice of autism in Detroit for two days in a row and we were loud and we were proud. In us God has birthed a vision that the autism community must be heard and reached…awareness must be raised to bring forth understanding. We are a team that passionately wants every family that runs the race of autism to know that there is a God who loves them and there is hope and rest found in His arms. So we take to the streets, we pound the pavement, we run, we walk, and we do it all for the Glory of God. There is grace, there is acceptance, and there is love. We cross the finish line as individuals but we walk away forever connected as a team, inspired by a precious boy named Santino who runs the marathon of autism daily. We all walk away knowing that we CAN do all things through Christ, who strengthens us, because we see that strength and courage in Santino on a daily basis.

Bittersweet, noun: pleasure alloyed with pain. ~ Merriam Webster Dictionary

The dreariness of the day could not conceal the striking beauty of the fall colors. Deep burnt orange, vibrant red, even dull brown looked breath-taking in the landscape of trees and falling leaves. As I stared out the window I couldn’t help but be in awe of a place that I wish I could avoid, a place I never want to go. We parked the car and approached the little marker as the chill of the air appropriately settled in and chilled me to the bone. The thought crossed my mind, “what a difference a day makes.” Just the day before we were reveling in the accomplishment of our team and celebrating the victories and progress our son, Santino, has made battling autism. But here we stood, a mere twenty-four hours later, grave side, wiping away pine needles and cleaning the marker in the cemetery designated as a memorial to our precious little girl who would have turned 7 this week.  Francesca Isabella Catherincchia October 23, 2007 – January 07, 2008. The reality of the situation washes over me and I recognize that every year I find myself at the bittersweet crossroads of the finish line and the cemetery. I celebrate the accomplishment of one child while my arms ache to hold another, just one more time; to smell that sweet baby smell that was uniquely hers even if it is only in the breeze that fills the fall air.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” ~ Maya Angelou

God is a storyteller, this I know for sure.  Every day that I have the privilege to open my Bible I become more acutely aware of just how important His story is…it is the very lifeline of my life.   Then the light bulb goes off and I realize that God story is far from over and we are all living in the midst of it.   Think about the enormity of that truth…Our God is a story-teller and His story is still actively taking place…WOW!!!  The book of Genesis tell us that we, humanity, are created in the image of God.  Therefore, if my God is a story-teller and I am created in His image…then I must be a storyteller too…my story matters.  That is why there is agony in the untold story…our stories are meant to be told.  In every story…happy, sad, triumphant, and tragic…the beauty of God’s hand print can be seen if we just open our eyes and lift them up to the One who has created us.  I have found, in my own story, that God’s grace does abound when we go through the hardest struggles, when we find ourselves in the deepest oceans, battered by the strongest waves.  It is there that He reaches down to us and the power of His story blends with the fragility of our circumstance.  The result is the epic tale of a Sovereign God who loves His people so much that the pain and heartbreak of this life are never carried alone, but He indeed carries us through the storms.  He brings us to the other side better than any human mind could ever fathom.  Heartbreak is never an end when you walk with God…it is the beginning of new and beautiful normal that is birthed by that showering of His love and grace.  This is a story that matters, a story that needs to be told.  Because in the agony of silence is the robbing of blessing.  When we remain silent we rob those who are suffering from the hope that is found in our Savior.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…” ~ Hillsong United

Back in the summer I prepared a book proposal, If any of you know anything about the publishing world you know that this is a very detailed lengthy project that includes writing at least one to two chapters of the manuscript that will ultimately become your book, at least you hope it will.  I knew, for some time, that God wanted Francesca’s story told.  I had been encouraged by a few people to pursue that prompting but I held off my obedience until an opportunity sat before like a neon sign screaming “Will you be obedient NOW?!?!”  In July as I prepared for the She Speaks Conference an opportunity was presented to me on a silver platter to meet with a few publishers.  In all my preparation for this conference, emails and webinars and such, the one thought that was continually stressed was…”the point is not to get published, the point is what God is going to do through the process.” That sounded great but so did the idea of getting published.  As I sat nervously before the acquisition editor of a major Christian publishing house the question was posed to me, “What will you do if you do not get a book deal?”  With all confidence I answered, “I will continue to tell my daughter’s story.” I knew that a book deal was just one of many different avenues in which I could tell the story that God wanted me to share.  If it happened great and if it didn’t, rejection would not silence me.  So, here I sit months later…no book deal and no real desire or prompting to write the rest of the book.  My mind travels and I wonder about the loose ends of an unfinished book and then these words echo in my head “the point is not to be published, the point is what God will do through the process”.  Writing Francesca’s story was one of the most healing and precious moments of my life.  Writing a full memoir of my journey was never the point…the point has always been to share how God touched the lives of so many through Francesca.

My only qualification for being God’s story-teller is that He allowed me the honor of being Francesca’s mother; I had the privilege of bringing her into this world and holding her as she exited it.  I had a front row seat to witness one of the most miraculous and precious lives I will ever know and now God would like me to share her with all of you. Yesterday as I sat at the bittersweet crossroads of the finish line and the cemetery I knew it was time…time to share Francesca’s story.  The Spirit has led me to where I must trust that this is what God has called me to do even though it scares me, for the words that I will share will be like my diary opened for all the world to see.  But I trust that God has a plan and a purpose for this story.  Starting tomorrow, through this blog, I will share Francesca’s story.  The chapter I wrote for my book proposal will posted in this blog over the course of the next few days.  My prayer is that it will bring healing and hope to all those who are heartbroken or find themselves at a crossroads.