Category Archives: God

Change…It is a Coming…

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If this past year and current set of realities have taught me anything, it is that there is one absolute common denominator among all people. It does not matter age, political lean, religious affiliation, skin color, primary language or educational background – every single person at some point in their life encounters a change that they 100% without question…hate. The change could be something relatively minor where you got a wild thought to try a new hairstyle – and within minutes found yourself willing the hairs to grow back at warp speed. It could be a change that you thought about long and hard – a new job, taking a relationship to the next level, deciding to get pregnant, or buying that new car you’ve always wanted. Each of those ‘good’ changes, but all with new responsibilities, expectations, hardships and cost. Changes like these are seemingly ‘in your control’ – and still they can be difficult and hard. Then there are the changes that blindside you. The ones that sneak up from behind – you had no clue they were coming. The kinds of changes that not only knock the wind out of your lungs but leave you numb and seemingly broken as you lay blasted on the ground. The changes that you have no control over – that rush in, overwhelm and leave lasting, lingering, seemingly awful affects. A pandemic, for example, that sweeps the world and altars every facet of life that you know. An election that goes far beyond 2 candidates and unleashes an anger, distrust, and belittlement of others – on all sides – that leaves your head pounding, your heart aching and your mind spinning – that ends relationships among families and friends and divides far more than it ever hoped to reconcile. Racial tensions unlike anything you had seen – with brokenness, exhaustion and anger from those who have never known anything but the like, ignorance and arrogance from those who will never hope to understand, and a lostness and ache from those caught up in the middle. Or perhaps death…of a loved one…taken far too early, for no apparent reason, wreaking havoc and forever changing the fabric of the people left behind. Changes. I hate them.

When my husband, Chris, and I got married, we were ridiculously young and relatively stupid. We were a young 20 years old respectively and had not one clue in this world what we were doing, but glory did we love each other. As a wedding gift, my mother decided to give me the hope chest you see pictured here. If I’m being honest, I found the gift kind of odd and a little irritating for a few reasons. One, the idea of a hope chest was to help a girl plan and prepare for her eventual wedding day. It was supposed to store up ideas, hopes and dreams for all the things a girl would want for her special day and start to her new married life. Its entire make up and design was to prepare you for a major change in your life. There is no other piece of furniture that symbolizes ‘change’ more to me than this particular piece. (I wasn’t a fan.) A second reason I found this piece odd and aggravating was that it was given to me the weekend OF my wedding – like less than 24 hours prior to the event. So I never actually used it for it’s ‘intended’ purpose and therefore I found it to be a super goofy gift. (I was 20 and kind of a goober – what can I say?) And then third, I just wasn’t particularly a fan of the decor painted on the front. Nevertheless, I placed a few random knick-knacks inside, sat it in my living room, and just kind of ignored it. 4 houses, 4 kids, and 24+ years later and the dumb thing still sits here – tucked away in a random corner.

It had been fine to sit in its little random spot because the area where it sat didn’t really have any purpose (seemed fitting for this piece, no?), until recently. At the start of this year, my sweet Christopher sat down with me to encourage me to finally begin to run after a dream I have had for decades. He shared with me that maybe it was time that I really began to take seriously my love for writing. Along with this encouragement came the suggestion that we finally give purpose to some space in our bedroom, and turn it into a place for me to sit and write. I ran straight into this endeavor with full gusto, and low-and-behold met up with my old friends ‘insecurities’ and ‘procrastination’ and suddenly writing needed to take a backseat until I could make the space ‘just so’. Makes sense, does it not? (We won’t mention the fact that this writing endeavor would mean a huge life change for me; my fear of said change; and how that ties into this blog on every conceivable level. No…we’ll just keep that to ourselves.). Wouldn’t you know that within moments, I was suddenly completely and totally fixated on this dumb cedar chest. My initial instinct was that this stupid thing needed to leave. I sat on the floor, and slowly began to think through where I would redistribute it’s contents so that I could finally rid myself of this wooden box. I was almost elated as I processed where and how I would get rid of it. When the random thought occurred to me – ‘you could always just paint it’. You ever have a moment where you not only begin to audibly talk to yourself, but actually get a bit snarky and seemingly start to argue…with yourself? (Welcome to a day in the life of Sarah.) I went round and round for a bit as I came to grips with both the idea of not getting rid of the chest and changing it to match my decor and my needs. How, in 24 years, had this thought never occurred to me before? A quick Google search and trip to Walmart – I found myself with the supplies I needed to transform this chest from something I really never liked, into something sweet, inviting and lovely.

After one coat of the chalk paint, it had certainly covered the chest, the cedar wood and the out dated design, but as you can see it was streaky, and still a bit unfinished looking. To truly transform the piece – it took three coats of paint and one of wax to give it a new, fresh, and beautiful new look. Suddenly, this “afterthought” of an item had suddenly become a centerpiece to this new space that I am creating. Just that simply. I love how it is turning out and yet the entire time I worked on it, I grumbled as I processed all the many ways I dislike change.

Change, is hard. It requires…something. It requires you to let go of something…or pick something up. It requires you to lose (or possibly gain) something or someone into or out of your life. It means extra work (I love the way the chest turned out – but it took days to transform it) . It means facing insecurities and conquering fears. It means trusting when you don’t want to. It means walking blind. It means pain. It means disappointment. It means being totally and completely out of control. And again, if I am honest, it has been this frame of mind that I have allowed to circle my head these last 40 plus years of life. I have often quipped that change ‘good or bad is still change and therefore hard.’ I don’t think I’ve ever equated change as anything but negative. I don’t know if you caught it, but even in the positive changes I mentioned at the front of this piece – I quickly followed with the hardships those things would still bring with them. Can you relate to the kind of thinking? For the last several weeks I have sat overwhelmed that this seems to be a season of countless changes – both small and massive – some deeply personal – some much more of a global nature. It has been almost suffocating and like a bad mantra I have just continually chanted, ‘I hate change. Change is stupid. I. Hate. Change.’ Despite my grumbling the Lord reminded me that as far as He is concerned…

“…I the Lord do not change.” (Malachi 3:3); that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:15). He reminded me that even if I wanted to ignore or bypass those truths – that didn’t negate the fact that “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Beautiful reminders that while change is the prominent and consistent qualifier for being human – it was not a descriptor that defines Him – and yet He is the author of change. Scripture is extraordinarily clear that all of mankind has sinned, has fallen, is broken, and lost. If we stop to think of our true depravity – it is beyond suffocating. We are born with a sin nature. We are brought into this world – apart from the Lord with a bent for the things of this world and our fleshly desires. He is equally clear that if we don’t depart from these things then that means a life…an eternity…separated from Him. With that realization in mind – suddenly my hatred for change suddenly becomes desperation to acquire it.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 He says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” For those in the bleacher seats…to become a new creation, to have the old things in us pass away…constitutes change. He is painfully aware of our brokenness and promises the possibility of change…“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). Change that comes from the Lord comes in ways that don’t make sense and seem impossible…and yet…promises something new. To receive something new is a gift – always – and we know from James 1:17 that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Remember the gift may bring change, but the One giving it never changes. This world is a mess. It is NOT our home. It is a momentary breezeway on our route to our eternal destination. It is ever changing – it always has been, it always will be. The changes the Lord wants for us are not the changes of this world. The changes He wants for us are ones that bring us to a more intimate posture with Him.”Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed but the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Yes, changes – more times than not – are hard, difficult and truly things that will conjure all kinds of hatred toward them. But much like my old cedar chest…the one that had no real purpose, that had spent years cast aside, that was perceived as ugly and useless – a transformation toward purpose, beauty and new life are possible…and needed. To live as His – to do more than call yourself His but actually live it – is going to require change. It is going to require work, and the giving up of something (being right, being heard, being superior, being secure as a few). Remember…“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Don’t allow the weight of the things beyond your control to overwhelm and shut you down. Be willing to let Him move and change you – to a closer relationship with Him and a much need voice of hope to a world desperate for Him. Desperate for change. When you sense the Lord bringing you to a place of change – find joy that He is refining you, pursuing you and running after you. For those changes are put there to help you “…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the lioness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Hated or not, ready or not, change is inevitable; either the world will change you…or He will. He is waiting to refine, strengthen, and love you – there is such hope in those changes, is there not? Change..it is a coming, are you ready?

Trials

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Trials

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go with Isaac on one of his school field trips to a local plantation called ‘Cypress Gardens’. It is filled with history of the plantation that used to be located there, and was currently visited for its butterfly house, swamps and walking trails. They had a cool ‘Swamparium’ that allowed you to see snakes, turtles, lizards and ridiculous sized fish from the lovely safety of the ‘other side of the glass’. Or if you were feeling a little more adventurous you could jump in a rowboat and go out into the swamp to catch a glimpse of one of these critters up close and personal. While we didn’t adventure into the boat, we did walk the trails seeing several baby gators, funny necked turtles and yes, even a black snake. All of the wildlife aside, I could not get over the swamp’s multitude of lily pads. It was ridiculous. And in many cases there seemed no break – no glimpses of the water they floated in. It was amazing. The ‘water’ was about as disgusting as you could imagine; covered in a nice thick, green, slimy film; a perfect oasis for the many alligators that I know lay hidden beneath. What I found remarkable, in all of it, were the countless waterlilies laced throughout the entire swamp. These waterlilies were pure white, unblemished, in full beautiful bloom – gorgeous – and all I could do was ask ‘how?’ How on earth could something so beautiful come out of something so disgusting?

Over the years I have developed an uncanny way of forgetting things. From a very young age there are entire chunks of my life that I have no memory of … I have only a handful of memories from high school, no recollection of middle school (if we drove by the building today I would not even recognize it), and the things that happened before my 11th birthday are so sketchy that I often wonder if it is a memory or dream. It’s something that I struggle with still as an adult. I have no idea how this came to be my reality and usually don’t dwell too much on it. It’s really more comical now than anything. I know that my childhood included many trials, as have various periods of my adulthood. Trials that I eagerly seek to forget, but that have embedded themselves into the fabric of who I am, how I respond to events and my expectations. I can go back a bit to times of stress and busyness that have placed strain on my marriage. I remember difficulties that arose when I was pregnant with Lacie that for a time faced us with scary questions and hard decisions regarding my health and her life. I remember periods of time where God seemed so silent and my own voice far too loud. I remember difficulties with various friendships and relationships throughout the years, poor decisions that I made, getting through my college years and even having to walk away from an extremely toxic relationship. Even now, I am sitting here at the start of a new year and I find my thoughts to be conflicted, torn and pulled in multiple directions. There are the thoughts of all that this past year entailed…the trials of a pandemic that rocked our nation, affected my community, and altered my family in many significant ways. There were the trials that came with the changes of leaving a toxic work environment, helping my kids adjust to virtual learning and settling into a new home. There were the trials that rose up out of an abundance of change. As quickly as each of these thoughts and memories drift across my mind – there comes flooding in the current realities of today. There is anger amongst my friends and family unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. There is disappointment, frustration, loneliness and fear in every interchange I participate in, hear or read. There is such loss. It is heavy and seemingly hopeless. Surely this isn’t the way things are supposed to be? As much as the details of each of these things remain in the shadows of my head, and the current realities of a broken world, hurting friends and unknown future scream out loudly in front of me…they all ring out the truth of John 16:33 – in this world you will have trouble.

I have been trying to reconcile this past year and the realities of this current one all while trying to be much more intentional about being in God’s Word. One of my all time favorite books of the Bible, one I am studying again currently, is the book of James. Right out of the gate James is talking trials. Allow me to take a minute to compare a few translations that demonstrate the heart of what he is trying to tell you and I at the beginning of his book. He says to ‘consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds’; ‘you will face trials of many kinds- when you do think of it as pure joy’; ‘my friends consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way’; and my favorite – ‘consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.’ I hear that, I read that, I clearly see it printed before me and all I can do is ask ‘how’? How on earth can something so hard be counted as pure joy?

And then God gave me this ‘for instance’ – when I was little I lived in a home that had some pretty peculiar rules. The youngest of three sisters we each had our own room – and we were each to stay in our own room. We had to ask permission to come downstairs – and that was usually only to ask a question, never to just hang out or play or watch TV.  I never learned to ride a bike, don’t remember ever playing on our swing set (though we did have one) and only once did I ever have a friend come over. We could not even be in each other’s rooms. I often say it was like we were baby dolls placed on a shelf. When my mom wanted to play with us, she’d bring us off our shelf otherwise that is where we stayed. Now for me, as a mom of four very active children – in need of interaction, quality time, affection, conversation, and fuel for their overactive dramatic minds and hearts – I am blown away by the fact that this was my childhood. When I was little, I experienced times of great sadness and loss, times of great fear and insecurity but I can also tell you that I absolutely can look back and count it all joy. I found solace in the comfort of stuffed animals. I found creativity in the multitude of coloring books and stories that filled my shelves. I found comfort in knowing that I was not alone. I see how it shaped who I am today. I remember my dependance on God. I see how it is something that now allows me grace and understanding to those who hurt similarly and it has propelled me to a different way of living.  Oddly I look back on my childhood and it looks strikingly like the swamps of Cypress Gardens. Gross, disgusting, nothing you would want to swim in and yet out of it came something beautiful.

Intrigued by the beauty of the waterlilies I saw on that field trip, I went home and ‘googled’ how they could grow in all of that yuck. Turns out – they were designed for the yuck. Rooted deep in the ground beneath the swamp waters – they rise tall and strong so that that their blossoms and their leaves come up tall above the swampy waters. For each lily pad you see on the water – a beautiful bloom was once attached.

My sweet friend, when it comes to the trials that we face in life – find comfort in the fact that we were designed to rise above these trials. We need to root ourselves into the deep soil that is Jesus Christ – and when we do, He will help us to rise tall and strong even in the most unlikely of scenarios. We have to stop looking angrily at the trials that come our way or that were our past. We have to look for how His hand held onto us. We have to realize that He is greater than _________________ – whatever that blank may say.  A great pastor, Wayne Corderio even explained it this way (and I’m merely paraphrasing) ‘sometimes we go through times of trial where instead of God lifting us over it – He grabs us by the hand and drags us right through it. Sometimes that process of dragging us on the ground is repetitive. We are battered and beaten, but even in the dragging – He never lets go of our hand.’ It is a fair question to ask…how on earth can something beautiful come from something so disgusting? Romans 5:3-5  – ‘Not only so, but also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ Perseverance, character, hope, endurance, and a deepened faith in Christ – each so beautiful! Yes, in this world we will have troubles…there will be trials…but we can find joy because He has overcome the world. May we rest in that promise today!

Count It ALL

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I have had the distinct pleasure of being called to jury duty at least a half dozen times within the last 10 years…and yes, just got another summons a few weeks ago. I have served on several small jury’s and had an encounter just this past fall on the inner workings of a federal grand jury. I have sat in a courtroom countless times and yet regardless of the size case or the severity of the case at hand – there has always been a common thread in the reactions of those awaiting the news of whether or not they would be called to serve.

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 10.54.11 PMJury Duty. It’s funny how those two words stir such disgust in people. I was offered condolences. I was given a multitude of tips on how to get out of serving. And consistently across the board every single person made some kind of awful face at the news. My first time heading to a courthouse here in South Carolina – I put all of the warnings and advice aside, and went to fulfill my duty. And low and behold the attitudes of the people at the courthouse were even worse than those who had warned me not to go. It was a spectacle indeed. There were those overly dressed up and ready to demonstrate that they were just too important to be there. There were others who went to great pains to look awful; from their dress, to their facial expressions, to the way they sat in the chair – everything screamed – ‘you know you don’t want ME on this case’! There were those who appeared to be clueless…but didn’t seem to understand that there is a line between clueless and calculating. There were some who thought if they just looked out the window, they wouldn’t be called on as if this were high school (has that trick ever really worked even in school?). Even the lawyers and presiding judge made comments on the painfulness of this process and that it would all be over soon. I sat through that entire experience and came to one resounding conclusion…people hate trials.

It doesn’t matter whose trial it is…trials are inconvenient, stressful, painful, and hard. And yet… James, brother to Jesus, tells us to consider them pure joy. Specifically, he says Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’  (James 1:2-4) Surely, that is a typo right? No, after checking almost every translation available they all say to consider trials as pure ‘joy’ in each one. The only differing verbiage comes from The Message and it says that we should ‘consider it a sheer gift’ – what?! Trials, a gift? A joy?

lilypadsAbout 30 min from my house is a really unique place called Cypress Gardens. It is one of the area plantations – a sweet mix of history and beauty filled with random wildlife and scenic views. Sadly it bore the brunt of some major damage in a massive flooding we had this past fall and is currently closed to the public as they try to rebuild. When I was there a few years ago I loved so much about my experience, but was overcome by the massive swamp that encompassed a huge portion of this 170 acre plantation. The swamp was edge to edge lily pads. It was ridiculous. And in many cases there seemed no break – no glimpses of the water they floated in. It was amazing. The ‘water’ was about as disgusting as you could imagine; covered in a nice thick, green, slimy film; a perfect oasis for the many alligators that I knew lay hidden beneath. Why I found this to be so remarkable were the countless waterlilies laced throughout the entire swamp. Waterlilies that were pure white, unblemished, in full beautiful bloom – gorgeous – and all I could do was ask ‘how?’ How on earth could something so beautiful come out of something so disgusting?

waterlily

Intrigued by the beauty of the waterlilies I went home and ‘googled’ how they could grow in all of that yuck. Turns out – they were designed for the yuck. Rooted deep in the ground beneath the swamp waters – they rise tall and strong so that that their blossoms and their leaves come up tall above the swampy waters. For each lily pad you see on the water – a beautiful bloom was once attached.

James tells us to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds’; ‘you will face trials of many kinds- when you do think of it as pure joy’; ‘my friends consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way’; and my favorite – ‘consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.’ I hear that, I read that, I clearly see it printed before me and all I can do is ask ‘how’? How on earth can something so hard be counted as pure joy?

In Romans, Paul echoes these same thoughts… Romans 5:3-5 – “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us.’

Peter later confirms…in 1 Peter 1:6-9 – “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

And just in case, we haven’t quite gotten the picture just yet…

1 Peter 4:12-13 – “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

There is not one of us that has escaped the experience of trials. Very rarely are they a once in a lifetime thing. For myself, trials have always been an underlying reality – in a way, like the waterlily, it seems as though I too was designed for the yuck. When I was little I lived in a home that had some pretty peculiar experiences. The youngest of three sisters we each had our own room – and we were each to stay in our own room. We had to ask permission to come downstairs – and that was usually only to ask a question, never to just hang out or play or watch TV.  I never learned to ride a bike, don’t remember ever playing on our swing set (though we did have one) and only once did I ever have a friend come over. We were not allowed to be in each other’s rooms. I often say it was like we were baby dolls placed on a shelf. When my mom wanted to play with us, she’d bring us off our shelf otherwise that is where we stayed. Now for me, as a mom of four very active children – in need of interaction and quality time and affection and conversation and fuel to their overactive dramatic minds and hearts – I am blown away by the reality that was my childhood. There were times of great sadness and loss, there were times of great fear and insecurity, and the details (too great and too numerous for any retelling) were anything but beautiful. That said, I can tell you that I absolutely look back and count it all joy. I found solace in the comfort of stuffed animals. I found creativity in the multitude of coloring books and stories that filled my shelves. I found comfort in knowing that I was not alone…as my sisters each endured and struggled. Oddly I look back on my childhood and it looks strikingly like the swamps of Cypress Gardens. Gross, disgusting, nothing you would want to swim in and yet out of it came something beautiful. I am not defined by my past or my upbringing. I have no disclaimers that say ‘because of these choices, because of these trials, Sarah is this …’

As an adult, the trials simply took on new form. I can easily think of financial trials and countless trials over failing cars. I can go back to multiple times of stress and busyness that placed a strain on my marriage. I can recall difficulties that arose in my pregnancy with Lacie and the hard questions and decisions regarding her health and life. I have vivid memories of enduring a miscarriage alone in the floor of my master bathroom. I can recall a few toxic friendships and poor choices in college. I can still instantly tear up as I recall the Lord allowing everything I loved – friends, work, church, and at the time…my purpose and heart – to be ripped from me with no clear explanation. I cringe a bit at the uncertainties of job changes and the unknowns of ‘what’s next’ that even face me right now. In John 16:33, John sums it up simply ‘in this world you will have trouble…but take heart (find joy, realize the gift) I (Jesus) have overcome the world.’

My sweet friend when it comes to the trials that we face in life – find comfort in the fact that we were designed to rise above the trials. We need to root ourselves into the deep soil that is Jesus Christ – and when we have, He will help us to rise tall and strong even in the most unlikely of scenarios. We have to stop looking angrily at the trials that come our way or that were our past. We have to look for how His hand held onto us…how His hand holds us still. A great pastor, Wayne Corderio explained it this way (and I’m merely paraphrasing) ‘sometimes we go through times of trial where instead of God lifting us over it he grabs us by the hand and drags us right through it. Sometimes that process of dragging us on the ground is repetitive. We are battered and beaten, but even in the dragging – he never let’s go of our hand.’ …even in the dragging – he never let’s go of our hand!

It is a fair question to ask…how on earth can something beautiful come from something so disgusting? Perseverance, character, hope, endurance, and a deepened faith in Christ – beautiful! Thank you Lord – if this is what brings me closer to you then keep on dragging me Lord – yes, I will count it ALL joy!

Caught Off Guard

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As a mom of four, a children’s director to 100’s and a Christ follower for over three decades – I am always looking for God in everything. I try to find the teachable moments that will resonate for my kids; those tangible moments where you can take a scripture or a truth from God’s word and watch it come alive through an illustration, an experience or even a story. Last week I was overwhelmed by such an encounter and sat down to capture it here so that I could remember. Now, normally when I write, I average a cool 15 or so folks reading it at best. So imagine my surprise when my simple retelling of a night at the movies hit numbers in the 6 digit range as it was shared all over the world.

I confess that the reaction has caught me somewhat off guard. I wasn’t writing it so much to illicit a response as I was hoping to just capture a moment. But as I am prone to do – I have spent the week trying to find God through this experience. What was the reason? What was the take away? What was He trying to teach me? It’s a funny thing, seeking after God – you will undoubtedly always find Him, but He will not always give you the answers you are after; a purposeful twist in having us continually looking for Him further. 😉

I can’t really say ‘and here is why the Lord allowed this,’ but here are a few take aways that it has brought to mind.

  • People are funny. I received an outpouring of thoughts and comments on the things that I wrote and among those were some pretty funny questions. Questions that I will not be answering, but found funny nonetheless.
    • Am I going to start doing movie reviews on all movies now?
    • Your kids don’t really talk that way do they?
    • (and my personal favorite) You are aware that you’re not a perfect mom, right? 😉
My only response to these and other questions posed: ‘For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.’  Galatians 1:10 HSCB

 

  • IMGP6694You are watched even when you’re not paying attention. The first thing that came to mind through this experience was a game of hide-n-seek that I played with my first born when he was just three years old. He thought he was so perfectly hidden behind the curtains in his room – when as you can see from the picture – it was pretty evident where he stood. Very often we don’t pay attention to those around us – we don’t notice if they are watching us or if they hear the things we say. We throw a thought or comment on social media, we go about our daily routines, we carry on…normally with our own objectives and plans in mind and little else. We forget that people might be observing the things we say or do. We underestimate the example we are or the witness we could be. If we claim to be followers of Christ – people will be listening, people will be observing. Do the things you believe and claim match the life you live? Are you someone that draws others toward Christ or make them want to run the other direction?
‘For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.’ John 13:15 HSCB

 

  • Words are powerful. I am a lover of ‘words’. Words have the power to bring forth untapped emotions. They can bring healing and hope. They can tear down and destroy. They can be used to demonstrate unbelievable amounts of love or to inflict unspeakable levels of hurt. Words that have been written can be revisited over and over or used as walls to hide behind as we throw out anything and everything toward another. In the course of this last week I experienced both sides of that coin; powerful words of encouragement and gratefulness…biting words of disagreement and anger. While I did not feel the need to respond to either of these positions – how it resonated that it was because of my words that these strong emotions rose up. Our words are powerful. Are we building each other up? Are we tearing each other down? Are we driving anger or hate or are we seeking to bring moments of hope? The gift of words has been given to each of us – how are we yielding this powerful weapon?
‘I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’ Matthew 12:36-37 HSCB

 

  • My God is far bigger than me. I don’t really need to elaborate much on this one. I am mess of a woman. I am flawed in many ways. I am terribly busy with the things of this life. I am hopelessly sarcastic. I am insecure. I have a long list of titles (mama, wife, best friend, sister, daughter, co-worker, boss, teacher, writer, enemy, Christ-follower…). I am just ‘me’. But God can and does do a lot with the ‘just me’s’ of this world. My plan was to capture a moment, God clearly had something else in mind.
‘Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.’ Proverbs 19:21 NIV

 

  • The rocks WILL cry out. At the end of the day I have absolutely no clue why that article spread to so many so quickly. I don’t know how the Lord fully used my words, and I am totally aware and fully confident that this time next week I will be resting comfortably again with my faithful 15. What I do know is that at every moment and in every opportunity I want to bring Him glory…in what I say, what I do…what I write. If I take nothing else away from this…if I can do nothing but encourage you – may it be in this…In the good moments – proclaim His glory. In the difficult times – praise His name. In the random, in the planned, in the unexpected, in the funny, in the serious…in all things at all times may we see Him, honor Him, praise Him, glorify Him and point others toward Him.
‘Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise…’ ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭96:2-4‬a NIV

 

An Unlikely View…a Different Review

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untitledAs I sit here this evening – I am overwhelmed with words and emotion and yet unsure how to express either. Days ago, I walked into a movie theater to view a movie I had been excited about since I had first heard it was in the works. Beauty and the Beast. I was 15 years old when the animated version came out. I remember watching it with my sister when she was home on break from college. I remember at the time feeling so moved by such a beautiful movie. The story hit me personally somehow; the music moved me; the characters impacted me. I remember even then thinking – how can this beautifully crafted cartoon have such an affect on me? So to say that I was both excited and nervous about the live action version is a bit understated. Excited to revisit a favorite in a new way and yet nervous because what if they totally destroyed the story I loved so much (it is after all Hollywood, where that is pretty par for the course).

Weeks before the movie was to be released – the world suddenly seemed turned on it’s side – as various reports about additional elements in the movie began to spin. I listened and observed an anger rise up in many; I heard the actual cries of ‘kill the beast’ at the hint of an ugliness that may be present in the film. Based on little information – I saw decisions made, lines drawn, and judgments locked in. I began to research sources that I trusted, and their reviews didn’t seem to align with the many angry voices I kept hearing. So four days ago, with girlfriends in tow, I went to see this newest version of my all time favorite animated movie. It was overwhelming. The cinematography, the music, the costumes, the littlest details, the story. It was far more beautiful than I was prepared for. The story so true to the original and the additional elements that were laced in – so perfectly placed and rich. For as much as I was swept away and entrenched into this poor provincial town – I did view certain moments and characters through the lens of the reviews I had heard before walking into the theater. Did I notice anything? Was there an agenda? Was there a moment? Those things couldn’t help but cross through my mind – as I watched from the perspective of ‘mama’, ‘minister’ and even just ‘friend’ for I knew I would be questioned from each of these vantage points. As I processed, I was so very moved by the character in question; watching a transformation of heart and conscience change him – I felt so proud. Then watching a hopeless ‘beast’ understand where his choices had lead him and yet he was able to hope again and an absolute jerk of a character, who swayed the masses and yet never learned a thing…I cannot say enough.

IMG_3599I knew that I wanted to take my two oldest children – my 12 year old – who is wired just like his mama with a deep heart and an overall love for theater and musicals; and my 9 year old, who has struggled thus far in life in often living out the role of Gaston more times than not. As we made our way to the theater, I had a little heart-to-heart with the kids. I asked them to do me a favor as they watched the movie tonight…I asked them to watch it with God in mind. I challenged them both to see if they could find any ‘God moments’ in the film. The opening monologue that spoke of there being no good in the beast – immediately had my 12 year old leaning over – saying ‘right there…that’s a God moment. Without God – there is no good in any of us’. The movie carried on and it soon got to the scene where the beast saves Belle from the wolves. My 9 year old leaned over and asked ‘why would he do that mama? why would he save her?’ – My simple answer in the moment was ‘because he is not evil’ – Her response ‘It’s God in us that would cause us to make decisions like that, isn’t it?’ Needless to say, I laid a challenge down to my kids and they both quickly affirmed they were up for that challenge. I soon began to look at the movie through this lens as well. Can I tell you how even more remarkably beautiful this movie became with God in mind?

free in christAs we walked out of the theater – my oldest was choked up. ‘Mom…the scene where the beast changes back to a man. That’s what happens when we give our hearts to Christ. The bad choices we made, the ugliness that may have been all over us – is cleared away. We are made new in Him.’ My Lacie chimed in ‘Mama, he had no hope. He thought he would be a beast forever – but with love he found that hope. That’s God, right? If God is love, we can find our hope in him, right?’ Back to my oldest…’The character of Gaston was a lot like Satan. Satan often makes himself look ‘beautiful’ but there is no good in him. There was no good in Gaston – none – and yet everyone (except a few) were swayed by his appearance. What a scary realization that so many can be so easily swayed by the enemy.’ The conversation continued the entire way home.

This movie was not created to be a catalyst for the gospel. It was not designed with an agenda to lead people to the cross or challenge them in their walk with the Lord…and yet that is exactly what our family took away. Was there sin in the movie – yes. There was a hateful man that treated women and men like the dirt beneath his feet, who lied, who abused, who lifted himself above everyone else. There was the inclusion of magic, of prejudice, the belittling of women, the hint of homosexuality, the abuse of the elderly, the worship of idols to name just a few. Not a one of these sins greater than the next; not a one less ungodly than the the other. None of them so blatant – all just a piece of the tapestry of the film. As a mama, I had a choice. I could have pointed out all of these things to my children before going into the theater.I could have painted a picture of hating all of these things and they would have watched the movie through that lens – absolutely. Instead, I asked them to view with God in mind. They did observe those same things, these sinful moments, but with the perspective of God in mind they viewed them with a broken heart, from a place of understanding our need for Jesus in this world. My little girl hopeful that she too would come to a place where she trusted the hope that is in Jesus – that she doesn’t have to be a ‘beast ‘ forever. My oldest challenged in his faith, strengthened in his walk. Their mama moved beyond what she can adequately express.

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The lessons I gleaned with God in mind tonight…are too many to elaborate on in an already long message. However, in one of the new songs written for this version of Beauty and the Beast – the words read ‘Love is beauty, love is pure. Love pays no mind to desolation. It flows like a river through the soul. Protects, proceeds, and perseveres and makes us whole.’ How can we not see God in those words?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

I will simply say … when we look for evil, we will find it – every time. It won’t be hard to find and we won’t even have to look too deep…if humans are a part…sin will be present. When we look for God – He can and will be found. Every time. Put that lens of ‘looking for Him’ on – it is amazing what He will allow you to see.

A Stroll Through Hell

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photoIt was the week of fourth of July, Caleb was about seven weeks old and my in-laws had come to visit. It was exciting to show off our baby, and even more fun for my then 2-1/2 and 5 year old to play with their grandparents. We decided to venture out to the beach to soak in some rays and allow the grandparents from Kentucky a little time to dip their toes into the ocean. We loaded up the car and were on our way…that’s when I noticed it. The diamond in my engagement ring was gone. I sat shocked for a moment, and continually rubbed my fingers over the sharp claws that once held that small gem. I looked throughout the car, shook out my clothes, shook out the kids clothes and once at the beach went all through the beach bag. No diamond. I sat on the beach heartbroken. I had worn this ring for almost half my life and what it symbolized, and who it meant I belonged to were extremely valuable to me. Losing a part of that was simply put…sad. We went home that evening and I searched everywhere – even vacuumed just to search through the dust collector – no diamond showed up. The sharp prongs kept cutting into my finger and I slowly realized the ring had to come off. Heartbroken. For those who do not talk to themselves this will sound odd, but I sat myself down and had a ‘what is your problem girl’ conversation. Why was I so sad by the loss of this gem? Was I any less married to Chris because it was gone? Was I less of a woman? Outside of the amount of jewelry I was now wearing – had anything changed? No. I took a few deep breaths, tightened up my big girl britches and low-and-behold carried on with life.  😉

Not all moments of sadness and disappointment can be handled quite that well. Some moments are much more difficult to maneuver. My most difficult, without question, has been going through a miscarriage. I have never journeyed through something so horrific. First, there is the loss of the dream of a precious little one. After finding out we were pregnant, I would sit down and think of our little one, and would do so by continually looking at our other kids. Would this one be as dramatic as the others? Will he or she have Lacie’s smile or Caleb’s laugh? Would Isaac’s tender heart reside in this one as well? The bits and pieces of who our newest dream might be, lay in front of us – and my mind continually wondered how the pieces would come together. But that was lost. I am ridiculously in love with my Christopher – experiencing the joy of a little of him and little of me and a whole lot of God coming together to form these treasures that we call our children is one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. But this new treasure, this new part of the two of us was lost. There’s no sweet way to express it – miscarriage breaks your heart. Hell.

That is the loss that my heart and mind went through, and then there was the loss of the pregnancy itself. As gently as I can express it – the actual miscarriage was hell. A hell on earth that I didn’t understand before this moment. There were weeks of exhaustion, pain and bleeding that wore my body down. There were so many unknowns – Will it be today? Will it happen on it’s own? What will it entail? The questions, the number of unknowns weighed heavy on my heart and mind. Then the actual miscarriage took place. It began on a Thursday evening – for several hours, I cried as my body began to sort through what needed to be done. Friday morning I woke up feeling okay, and for much of the morning wondered ‘was that it? did it happen?’ And then my body very graphically made sure I knew it had not yet taken place. There are no words to express what I went through, no horror movie that can compare to what I experienced, and no delicate way to explain. Nearly blacking out twice, I laid quiet that evening, numb in my heart, exhausted in my body, and desperately finding ways to block the experience from my brain. Hell.

I went to the doctor today – hoping to close the chapter – only to hear that more blood tests and another visit are still ahead just to ensure that I’m now not anemic or secretly housing some sort of infection. Sigh. I was doing well as I sat and listened to him talk until he began to talk about how strong I am. He admitted that he was surprised that not only did I go through the experience on my own, but that I did not cave in and go to the hospital. He fully expected that though I was hoping to avoid the hospital that I was going to end up there regardless. And he looked at me and commented on my strength. In that moment, I inwardly fell apart. He soon walked out and Chris even wondered why (having received good news that I would not need surgery) I was crying. I couldn’t verbalize in that moment, but suddenly the weeks of being strong hit the wall. Having to be physically strong to get through the ordeal; having to be mentally strong to get through the conversations that surrounded the subject; having to be strong for my kids so as not to scare or concern them; having to be strong for my Christopher so he could stay focused on work and church; having to be strong for myself so as not to cower in a corner somewhere. In one moment of a doctor acknowledging that strength – the rope broke. In a matter of seconds, strength turned to instant weakness. My body suddenly felt the pain and exhaustion. My heart felt 100 pounds heavier. My mind was suddenly fried. Strong? Me? No where even close. Hell.

Last night while the kids were eating their dinner, I took advantage of their having to be captive audiences to their dinner and decided to clean their rooms up. The normal routine of removing hidden toys from under beds, straightening up shelves, and clearing the floor. Halfway through cleaning up Isaac’s room I saw something out of the corner of my eye laying in the middle of his floor. I leaned down to pick it up and my feet collapsed under me. There laying in the fibers of the carpet sat a small tiny gem. My breath caught in my throat and my mind continually repeated – there is NO way! Picking it up I headed downstairs to the secret resting place of my engagement ring. Slowly I placed the sparkling gem into the broken setting and wouldn’t you know…a perfect fit. Three years have passed. Numerous adventures have been held in that room, countless runs of the vacuum…and yet there it lay. Impossible.

I have thought about it all day. There are a million things that could have (and should have, given the residents of this house) happened to that diamond. It should have been lost forever. Everything said to me that finding it again was impossible and yet there it was. Through this miscarriage, and even today as the bottom seems to have fallen out a bit – I am reminded that this isn’t forever. It has been hell, yes, but it’s a not a hell I have to live in. It does not have to continue. It is hell, but merely a stroll through it not a residency in it. Hopeful.

There are times that God feels distant, quiet, unseen and just not there. A considerable amount of time can go by where I can walk right by him and just not notice…but he is there; has always been there, will always be there. He is who gives me strength when I am weak (2 Corinthians 12:9). He makes himself known at just the right time and in just the right moment. He is the beautiful gem that fits perfectly into my broken heart. He himself has ‘strolled’ through hell – knows the walk, the pain, the inexpressible experience of it all – who better to lead me out of it? I am not strong, but I am gripping to him with all that I have and repeatedly saying ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD (my) God goes with (me); he will never leave (me) nor forsake (me).’ (Deuteronomy 31:6). And I wait, with great anticipation, for him to help me through. What is broken can be made whole again. Thankful!

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Blank Canvas

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Last night I was introduced to the world of painting. I have had many friends go to places like ‘Bottles and Brushes’ and ‘For the Love of Art’, but I had never had that experience myself until last night. To be honest I was excited to try something new, but was nervous that my type A personality would not just allow me the freedom to paint. I was also skeptical that the picture that was shown to us would somehow make it’s way onto my canvas.

photo 1 (1)I sent this picture to Chris and declared that my end result would probably not look nearly as good as it did right at this moment. As the instructor walked everyone through the first lines to draw, made suggestions on how to mix colors, and helped guide which end to start on – it was interesting to me how others responded. There were some who wanted to make theirs a night scene, others who wanted to replicate the original and a few who went in a completely different direction altogether.

photo 2 (1)I wanted to replicate the original (as best as I could) and by this point was feeling pretty good – how hard are straight lines really? It was just after this point that the small details of the picture had to be put into place, and that is where I began to slow down. I counted at least three different times that she was ready to show a new technique and she had to look at me say ‘It’s okay, I’ll come back to you’ because I was that many steps back. Window panes, borders, cobblestones were finally figured out and put into place and all that was left were flower boxes and flowers. I sat and stared at the painting – she came back to me and I admitted that I was stuck – the flowers freaked me out. How the blazes do you make flowers? She simply said with mild disgust in her voice ‘Flowers are the easiest part’ and kind of walked away. So I held my breath, closed my eyes (not literally) and hoped for the best.

photo 3 (1)So this was the end result, not a masterpiece by any stretch, but not as horrific as I envisioned it going either. After staring at this canvas for over three hours straight, I finally looked up to see what others had done. There were several that looked similar and there were some that were much different. The most unique of those was the XXX Adult store at night with a chalk outline of a body out on the sidewalk (and I was stressing over flower boxes). Why walk you through my evening of painting…besides the obviously riveting details of it all…ha! 😉 Over the years, God has been very creative in the ways that he teaches me and gets my attention. My tag line for this blog is ‘life is an illustration’ primarily because those small seemingly unimportant moments of life, God uses to talk to me and teach me. Yes, I’m wired weird and I’m okay with that. 😉 Last night was one of those moments. Much like the people in that room, I was reminded that we all attack life and the things that come at us very differently. What is easy for some, is stressful for others. The decisions we make can lead to good things or could land us in some pretty dark and scary places. We can strive to be like Christ (the original) or we can choose to go at it on our own. Over these past weeks of walking this road to what will eventually be a miscarriage many have wondered where strength has come from, have commented that they don’t know how they would walk that road, or have expressed confusion for me. I thought about that a lot last night. God hands each of us a blank canvas, he instructs us on techniques like pray without ceasing and leaning on him in times of trial, he gives guidance on where to start and how to maneuver through – but ultimately it’s up to us. He instructs to trust, but I can choose to fret. He promises that he will never leave me, but I can choose to think he’s a liar. He continually tells me that he loves me, but I can turn my head in hate. The picture that would ultimately create would be a pretty dark one. I’m not strong. I don’t have this figured out. I don’t know what the end result will be. I am weak. I am tired. So when he says trust that looks so much better than fretting. When he makes promises – I want to hold to that because he has shown himself faithful too many other times. When he tells me he loves me…through his word, through you…my heart simply chooses to believe. It’s just too genuine and real to be anything but truth. The peace I found in this simple moment last night was that when I looked at that blank canvas, I genuinely did not think anything good would result – I had never done this before, how would it be possible? I’m in the same place regarding this miscarriage, I’m sure you’re in a similar place regarding a decision, a health issue, a crisis, or an opportunity that is in front of you. I don’t know the end result, I’ve never walked this road before so my mind wants to think this is an impossible journey…but his word tells me differently. The canvas in front of you may be pretty blank, but he can walk you through to what will ultimately be a masterpiece in him, at least that is what I am holding to. Praying for you. 😉

Holding Strong…

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This weekend a beautiful friend from my past drove over 5 hours just to come see me and spend the day with me. She wanted to be a shoulder to lean on, have an opportunity to look me in the face and tell me she loved me – and truth be told I think just wanted to physically see that I was okay. I knew that I needed to take her somewhere where we could get lost in the atmosphere while we talked about anything and everything- cuz that’s how they do it in cheesy chick flicks, right – so of course we headed to the beach. After a delicious meal we walked up and down the beach, and while the conversation was encouraging…I kept getting lost in the scenery. The ocean was extremely rocky…crashing waves repeatedly hitting the sand…and the clouds…amazing. One moment dark, the next white, gone then too many to see the sky. I couldn’t stop watching them move and change. Then out of nowhere I looked up – the sky a beautiful shade of blue laced with clouds and there in the middle a beautifully full moon. Needless to say this completely distracted me for much of the night (I think if I pointed out the moon even once more she would have chucked me into the ocean.)

Several days later…I’m still struck by the images from our walk primarily because they remind me so much of where I am right now. I will be honest – and if it makes me look stupid, well it’s a look I wear well – but in all my years of being in the church, in my time serving in a women’s ministry, in my time having friend after friend get pregnant, in my lifetime of being a woman – I don’t think I have ever fully understood what it meant to have a miscarriage. I’ve heard the term countless times and my ignorance had the experience of it so wrong. I think I thought it was similar to the idea that comes to mind when you hear ‘she had her baby’ – when someone has a baby, they endure hours of labor (and a barrage of other things) and then ‘ta da’ the baby is here. For some reason I thought ‘she’s having a miscarriage’ operated the same way…that you struggle for a hours (a barrage of other things would happen) and that was the end. How completely stupid am I? We found out almost two weeks ago that there were problems, about a week ago that the baby was gone, and then Thursday last week I thought that was going to be the day…but it wasn’t. Friday came, my body began to show signs (some not worth detail), pain…that was going to be the day…nope. Saturday…wrong again. Sunday…tears ran down my face, my body contracting and pain that caused my breathing to be labored…this would be the day…no. Call me stupid…but this is just NOT what my head thought to prepare for…and suddenly I want to go to every woman who I know has walked this road and gently hug them for their unknown, unspoken strength.

photo 2Many have asked how I am…how do I answer? I feel very much like this picture…rocky waves that keep crashing down, a cloud just hanging right over my head. When will the rain in that cloud let loose? How much more rocky and turbulent will the waters become? I have no clue. My body has not given into the inevitable…and the clock is ticking…ten more days and the risk of infection will be too great and doctors, hospitals and procedures will have to come into play. How am I doing? In truth…I’m worn, weary.

photo 4But then…as is the way God has always dealt with me…in the unknown, in the weak moment, in my tiredness, in my sadness…He comes unexpected…much like that ridiculous moon in the middle of my sunny ocean view. Yes, the waves are crashing…yes, the storm will break loose – how, when, in what way – I don’t know. But there He is…there He will be…that unexpected beautiful image to focus my attentions on. David said it so much better than I ever could…’I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you – the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121, NIV)’  In other words…He’s got me. How am I? Thankful for the reminder that He has me…thankful to try to focus on that and not the storms and waves of weariness and fear of the unknown that surround me. Encouraged and humbled by the love we’ve experienced from others…holding strong.

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