Of statues and of love

There is a spot on the highway of SR 280 in Ohio, right before you cross over a railroad track. It is a non-descript spot, nothing exciting or noteworthy.  Farmland and houses sprinkled here and there.  To anyone driving down this road, traveling from the Bowling Green area into Defiance County, nothing along this monotonous stretch would cause an emotional response. Unless a deer jumped out, their hearts wouldn’t quicken or eyes moisten.

Unless you are me. For the last 20 years, any time I am heading to the town I grew up in and I come upon this non-descript, paved, two lane stretch of road, my heart does quicken and my eyes do begin to get a bit teary. Some trips more than others. This trip elicits emotions of sadness and of longing that no one else traveling this strip would experience.  As I come upon the exact spot, just a few feet before the railroad track,

Every.

Single.

Time.

The scene unfolds in my memory like a movie clip trailer.

Me as a 24 year old mother of four littles, pulled over to the side of the road, on the phone with a nurse from the Defiance Hospital.

 

“Your mom just passed away.” “What?!?”  “Your mom has died.”

 

Stop for just a moment. Pause and allow your mind to bring forth some similar such memory.  Something traumatic, life changing, a crisis of life occurred, a betrayal or death. 

Can you think of some landmarks of that event that serve as reminders to you and bring about some sort of emotional response? Maybe it is photos of the person who has died? Or a gift from a friend that is no longer a part of your life; that space and grace has not healed and brought you back together again? Maybe it is the spot on the road where your family had a life changing car accident? Or the exact place you were sitting when your spouse told you they were leaving your marriage?

Different people handle these landmarks of life in a variety of ways.  Tear the photos into shreds and burn them.  Or just pack them away in case some day…   Place a cross at the side of the road. Buy new furniture.  Never wear the necklace that reminds you of the pain of a broken relationship but that you cherish too much to give away.  Take a different route home so you don’t have to pass the location of where your beloved lost their life’s fight here on earth. 

Now.  Take a breath and hold on with me as we take these memories held so tightly in our very souls and delve into a current hot topic.

Landmarks. Statues.  Memorials. General Lee. Confederate war memorials. On school campuses and town squares. 

Pieces of stone and marble placed in certain locations to commemorate specific times in our history. 

Maybe non-descript and with little to no negative, painful emotional responses for many people.

And maybe… just maybe… very descript and very full of quickened heartbeats and tears at the memories of past trauma, crisis, pain, death, inequality, oppression and persecution.

 

Does the feelings of one individual trump the feelings of another?

 

Just because driving past that same spot before the railroad track on SR 280 does not elicit any emotional response for you, does that mean that my feelings and sadness and actual physical response does not matter?

Before anyone gets so quick as to say things such as “don’t touch that monument, I dare you take that down from our town square”.  Before any one clicks so quickly to share a snarky meme on Facebook or put together a 140 character tweet to downplay and belittle the feelings of a fellow human being. Before you spend time in your day, with a group of people who feel and believe exactly as you do.

Before any of that, could you take that time and sit down and HEAR the words of The Other?  Because the other is your fellow human being. They are journeying in this life on earth, just as you are. They are paying bills and going to work and trying to be good people. They have a history and they have wounds and memories and joys, just as you do. They have families and legacies and hearts. 

If you have these strong beliefs and feelings of your own about these statues, about the confederate flag, have you taken the time to sit down and have a face to face conversation with The Other over a Chipotle burrito bowl or some burgers you cooked on your back deck?

Are you only spending your time shouting from the rooftops your indignation without taking the time to hear your neighbor, your fellow humankind, about why it is these landmarks bring them such pain? Why they believe, in their heart and soul (because they do have a heart and soul, as you do) that these monuments to their pain, oppressions, race discrimination, and ancestral enslavements should be removed?

Just because these rock and marble items don’t elicit these same emotions in you, does that mean that their emotions do not matter?

I humbly admit that until I learned more, listened more, opened my heart more, I did not understand it myself. I admit that I cannot, as white, privileged, middle class American, understand fully the depth of emotions The Other’s are experiencing.

But their emotions and their beliefs still matter to me.

I’ve learned that while a particular monument or flag may bring forth these strong emotions from one person of color or racial background, it may not bring that from another one of their same color or race.

My husband, Ben, is an African-American Army veteran.  We have discussed at lengths these issues.  The statues and monuments do not really effect his emotions. It is not a hill he would die on personally. 

However, the confederate flag? An entirely different story. This brings a strong emotional response.  The quickening of the heart. The reminder that his ancestors were enslaved by white people. That his lineage includes that of white slave owner and black slave. That not just tears, but sobs of broken bodies and souls mark the land of America.

Ben is proud to have fought for the freedoms of our country and works to serve veterans every week.  He is, at the same time, very aware of the flaws of our nation, of the work that needs to be done so that all people can TRULY be equal. Ben is raw in his awareness of the discrimination, hatred, and persecution that exists to this very day in the nation he risked his life to fight for.

He is also the first to say that just because the monuments do not particularly affect him does not mean that the feelings of his fellow black friends and family do not matter. He will be a voice FOR them because THEY do matter.

So I ask this.  Does the worship of an idol of a stone and marble monument or the cloth of a flag matter more to you than the experiences and emotions of a fellow human being?

Just because the general or the marching of a flag did not negatively affect your people group, does that mean that the people that were slaughtered or cast North from their families does not matter?

Writer and speaker Glennon Doyle says this about Jesus’ words to love your neighbor as yourself: “If every good thing that you want for your self and for your family are not the same good things that you want for your neighbor, then you are NOT loving your neighbor as yourself.”

Ending hatred. Ending division. Putting the atrocities of our American history behind us.  None of that is completely going to occur as long as humans walk this broken planet earth.

Taking down statues and throwing away the t-shirt with the confederate flag is not going to completely eradicate it either.

However, living on this planet means living with every flesh and blood person who has been created equally as Children of God. As people of faith, we are commanded to seek peace, live in unity, break our hearts open with the compassion that Jesus lived His own life with, and to love and want the same goodness for our neighbors as we do ourselves.

Those commands come before monuments and flags.  My faith in Jesus, your own faith journey, should come before that as well. 

If I want to bypass that stretch of highway heading to my hometown, if you want to throw the pictures away that remind you of a friend’s betrayal, then we have to decide that relationship, peace, love, and compassion come before all those things and allow our fellow humankind the same relief from pain and increase their worth as a fellow human. 

If people want the monuments removed so they don’t have to be reminded of the pain and history every time they drive to Target, walk to class, or shop the town square, can our hearts be opened to that? Can moving them to a museum to be viewed and discussed as a part of a history day trip be an option you can consider?

The Other matters.  Stop posting the memes. Stop the snarky comments with only the like-minded thinkers.

Sit. Break bread. Close your mouth. And Listen. Then engage and dialogue and learn a little and understand a little more.

Love them as you love yourself. 

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They will know us by our love

“What in the holy name of God is happening in this world? The division, hatred, exclusions, borders, politics. WHAT AM I TO DO?”

This is the echo of the cries of many people as 2017 has continued to unfold. The cries of people of many faiths… and of no faith.

I have been internally struggling with what I am to do.  Protest. Flood Facebook. Create conversation opportunities. All good efforts, certainly, but is it enough? Is it really anything?

As I was listening to Daily Audio Bible for January 30th’, the scripture passages, both Old and New Testaments, the Holy Spirit got my brain pondering.

As the words of Exodus have unfolded in the early chapters, a king, a mere man, but a power-hungry egomaniac man, was leading Egypt and enslaving the Jewish people.  Moses, a mere man, but a humble and unwilling participant much of the time, is directed by God to go before the king and demand he let the Jewish people go back to their ancestral land. The king refuses. Time and again at God’s command, Moses returns to the king. Each time the king refuses to free the Israelites from slavery, there are consequences ON ALL THE PEOPLE living in Egypt.  Egyptians. Jews. Men, women, children.  All of them are dealt the consequences of frogs, body sores, darkness, locusts.

Because of one man, full of power, pride, ego, and money.  Because of him, all the people suffer.

Moses, obviously frustrated with God and with the king, and that neither seem to get his exhaustion as the go-between-man of these two hard heads – king and God - keeps returning to God.

Keeps returning to God. 

“Ok, God, I did what you said. I protested, I warned the king and his officials heard it, too! But he is going to do what he wants to do. I tried dialoging with him in a calm and diplomatic manner. Natta.”

And God says, “go do it again.”

 

And Moses returns to God.

And it struck me. Keep returning to God. I fully believe that we should be protesting, if not in groups gathered in airports and courthouses, than in our own personal tribes and nations. I believe we should be a voice in this time of fear, confusion, knee-jerk reactions, and exclusion.

When we do this, we can begin to feel a bit like Moses. “Ok, God. I tried to reason. I put some memes on Facebook, I’ve re-tweeted some quips by famous people, and I signed a petition. AND YET, the every day people of the nations continue to suffer because of the edicts of those in power. Nothing is changing!”

And then we need to return to God. We return to God to get rest. We return to God to be reminded that ultimately He gives life. He gives and He takes. We return to God to be reminded that love always wins and Jesus railed at the egos and power systems of his days.

We return to God for His Spirit to remind us to pray for the enemies of love and openness. We go out into the world living love and openness with every person we encounter – regardless of our agreeing and our likeness.  

And then we return to God.

And eventually, God wins. Loves wins. There may be present consequences and pain for the every day people. Plagues of darkness in hearts and lesions on souls.

But the enslaved and the oppressed will eventually be set free. The Promised Land is still on the horizon. There will be giants even there. But God will continue to raise up the Mose’s and Joshua’s and prophets and the true Christ-like voices to stand strong for those who are weak.

Jesus gives the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  The Landowner gives equally to those who were in the right place at the right time and put in a full day’s work for the wages AND to those who seemingly were less fortunate and SHOULD have only received a little.

It struck me that just because some were born into the right place at the right time, into the right family in the right nation, we get to put in a full day’s work. For that we can buy our needs and our status and our education and our safety.

Seemingly, the less fortunate are born into the wrong places. The warring places. The poverty-stricken places. The places of oppression and fear and scarcity. 

They cannot buy their way into anything; except maybe a rubber dingy with hope of arriving at a shore that will provide a little bit of work to buy the most basic of needs.

Within the story of God, in His Kingdom that is on this earth, those born into the right nations are not guaranteed any thing more than those born into the wrong places. For us to be angry and exclusive because we just so happen to be born into the prosperity and ability to earn all the comforts of God’s creation… this is simply not Jesus.

Ann Voskamp writes, “We’ve all been the ones outside the gate pleading for someone to risk everything to rescue us. This could break a million little self-righteous pulpits: the brokenness in the world is but the brokenness in our busted hearts.” (The Broken Way, page 201)

We need each other. We need to learn the stories and hardships and hearts of those who did not get the ‘luck of the draw’ in the nations and families they were born into. We need them… just as much as they desperately need us. 

For any of this to unfold in a manner that is “in heaven as it is on earth”, we must all return to God. Again and again. And be told again and again “Love the Lord God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  Love.

 

P.S.  Here’s a link a beautiful song… we need our people, our church family, our local community.  AND we need the broken and oppressed and the different.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5_7LEWnGaQ

Rejoice!

Below is my journal writing from this morning... the Spirit has led me to share it. Maybe someone else needs to hear these words...

"This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it!"  

                                                                                  Psalm 118:24 NLT

This is the day the Lord has made and I WILL BE Glad and I WILL Rejoice in it!

Struggles come. Disappointments. Setbacks. Reminders of broken places in our past story. Sorrow. 

But I have a choice today. 

Regret OR Rejoice

Reminders OR Rejoice

Reeling Heart OR Rejoice

"...we will be glad..." is a choice we make. The words here infer that each person must make the deliberate choice to "OH... I WILL be glad!"

My choice is to rejoice. 

Thank you, Lord, for creating in me the ability to...

Rejoice in my regrets... they remind me of lessons learned and growth pursued. 

Rejoice in the reminders... this is where You have shown your glory, power, provision, and plan. 

Rejoice in my reeling heart... for in here I discover gratitude for simple joys... and for gratitude that I have another day you have made in which grace, forgiveness, and love can win. 

Brennan Manning writes this:

Through good humor a Christian triumphs over that subtle form of egotism that would make one pose as a martyr or victim to be noticed, consoled, or placed on a pedestal... Good humor, rather, makes community life richer and more delightful... Paul called upon the church in Philippi to manifest it in their Christian community. "Rejoice int he Lord always! Rejoice! Everyone should see how unselfish you are. The Lord is near!" 

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" 

                                                                                 Philippians 4:4

So, today, I will my will to rejoice. Life is hard. Life is precious. Today is a new day that the Lord has given me to be in His Kingdom. To work out my salvation and to lead the way for others to choose their own working out. 

Let us choose to rejoice. 

The Perfect Storm and God's Beloved.

I took the last couple of days to enjoy some solitude.  No work to be done at my three jobs. No people here and me nowhere BUT here.  Yoga pants, leftovers from the fridge, a stack of reading, Netflix, my pup to walk, time for me to lift my heart to God and for my ears to be open to hearing His heart for me.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time pondering and praying the “what’s next?” question.  In my assessment, research, and pondering (of which I will save you the long wordy process of THAT journey), I reduced it down to one page of a diagram of the last two years and two months.


The Perfect Storm.

This stormy season consisted of the clashing together of several seasons of life that most women face… but not all at one time, clamoring all over each other like a pile of puppies fighting for the last bite of food.

 

A season of intense loss and grief.

A season of empty-nest and living alone for the first time in my life.

A season of pre-menopause where my body seems to be this foreign raging creature.

A season of mid-life identity crisis.

A season of scoring 375 on the Holmes-Reye stress inventory of loss and change that predicts the likelihood of depression.  A score of 300 predicts an 80% chance. Gulp. 375 wasn’t even listed! Better that I not know!

 

All of this in two years and two months. Okay. Maybe I should cut myself some slack that I feel so… foreign. Unknown. A bit crazy at times. Teary for who knows why. Depression hanging like a background fog. Anxious of the future. Yet, excited at the freedom.

 

In a blog I read (which I can’t remember the name of), a woman referred to a similar season of her life as a time of unraveling.

UNRAVELING. 

That’s it. That word defines it. I feel as if my whole being has been unraveled and I am running around chasing the unraveling yarn, trying to wrap it all back up into the nice neat knitting ball that has a defined purpose.

 

Ain’t. Going. To. Happen.

 

In my time of quiet rest yesterday, I read a book. The entire book. A book I’ve had for several months that I was frustrated I didn’t have time to read. But now I know why I needed to read it yesterday. In one setting.

 

Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book “Pastrix: The cranky, beautiful faith of a sinner and a saint.”

 

Her book is my book. Well, not literally.  But it is my story. Messy. Tragic. Full of her sins. Full of the sins of others. Full of God’s grace. Full of cussing and seeking and healing and wondering how in the world people like us become shepherd’s of others on the faith journey.

 

I cried. I laughed hysterically out loud. I paused to underline, write in my journal, and to pray.

 

The following is what I needed most to hear.

“’This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased.’ Identity. It is always God’s first move. Before we do anything wrong and before we do anything right, God has named and claimed us as God’s own. But almost immediately, other things try to tell us who we are and to whom we belong (parents, kids, media, voices of the past, etc)… they all have a go at telling us who we are. But only God can do that.” Pages 138-139

 

As I have struggled and sought and cried and given up and listened and tried again, I realize that through all of that, I am trying to identify who I am now. Without the titles of my past. Yet, with the scars and lessons of the past.

 

Who am I now?

 

I have a lot of other things and voices trying to tell me who I am now and what I should be doing next.

But I have go back to the beginning before I move to the next. I have to go to whom I have always been. 

 

God has named me his beloved. He has claimed me as His own. He is pleased with me regardless of what I have done or will do and regardless of whether it is right or wrong or wrong with the right intentions.

 

God has already made His first move.

 

I have no idea how the rubble, destruction, new sprouts of growth, hormones, and remnants of this Perfect Storm will come together… what they will form… or how I will exist in that new dwelling place.

 

But I do know this. I want to love too much for the pious people. And I want to dream and do too much for the safe people.

 

I want every human child of God I get the honor of encountering in my day to either hear, feel, or experience the outrageous love of God as His child because the are His beloved, too. I want them to know this either by my words, my presence, my service, my faith, or my silence.

 

I know I won’t do this perfectly. I know I will screw it up.

 

But I also know that I am much less inclined to be tied down to rules, walls, behavior modification, sin management, and human traditions.

 

And I know that God is doing something very deep and very transformative in my inner-being. And He is doing it in a manner that only the Potter can do to the Cup He created.

 

May my cup only hold His love. And may that cup overflow with that Living Water turned to wine that begins the process of the world meeting Jesus as the Son of God.

 

I would love to hear your experiences of any of those seasons that have crashed together in this perfect storm. Hormones. Grief. Identity loss. Freedom. And fear.

 

Signed,

A not-so-cranky but often teary, beautiful sinner and saint. 

 

Why Me?

I have just returned from vacation. A time of joy and beauty and family and friends.  As I was spending some reflection time on the plane flight home, this was what I wrote in my journal:

Thank you My God, Creator, and Provider!!! 

WHY? Why did you place me in the place at this time? You've given me so much. I was on this trip visiting your glorious creation, mountains and deserts. 

Some people never see anything but the slums of urban America or the ravages of war. 

I've experienced life. Traveling, flying, hiking, foods. 

Some have only experienced fear and tragedy. 

I've met people with rich stories full of pain, defeat, triumph and joy. People of all shades, coming from various nations and cultures. 

Some people have only met people who harm and oppress. 

So WHY? Why have I been given this life by your hand? So richly blessed? I've had moments of living with out. I've witnessed war, from afar. I've had moments of fear and loss and heartbreak and tragedy.  

But those were only moments. They were not my life. 

So WHY? Why me? 

And what do I do with this life? 

Where I am going? 

I have questions and I know your answers to me these days has simply been...

"Pay Attention."

And I will.  And I will give thanks, embrace the richness of this life, choose joy, and seek the Holy Spirit's eyesight on this world… Who can I serve with what YOU have given me? Who can benefit from these rich experiences and the lessons I have learned along this glorious journey of life, loss, and transformation? 

WHY ME? I have no idea. But I do know that God has a purpose and it is MEANT TO BE SHARED. So I will embrace them. Live them. Share them. Grow and transform in then. And be a servant of God in using them to make a difference in this world. 



Closing 2015

December 31, 2015.

I’ve sat this morning, reading, facebooking, listening, watching, praying, resting, questioning.  All which is a wonderful way to begin the last day of this year. I don’t even know what to say about this year. I believe in many ways it was more difficult than 2014.  I spent 2014 numb, surviving, planning, packing, purging, surrounded by people trying to help.

2015 was filled with the pain. Feeling. Every. Damn. Ounce. Of. It.  Feeling it. Crying it. Screaming it. Praying it. Denying it. Living it. Praying GOD HEAL IT!!!  2015 was filled with so much more loss, accumulative, like complicated grief, all tangled together, building off of the previous, not even sure what feeling went with what loss. 

2015 will most be marked by change.  So much of it.  More than any other season of my life.  Stripping change that has left me simpler, truer, free-er, more protective and yet more adventurous… because what the heck… after all that’s been lost and felt… what do I have to loose at this point if I choose to live more rebellious and truer to God’s identity of who I am. To hell with what other people think they know about me!

On December 27th, 2013, I posted this quote:

"Becoming comfortable may be the greatest enemy of your life's dream, so decide what you're willing to risk and that will help determine your level of commitment." Phil Cooke

Little did I know just how comfortable I had become, just how much God would allow me to loose in order for the dreams of my heart that He had placed there (not the ones I had chosen in order to fulfill MY life’s plan) to be lived out. Little did I know that less than two months later all that comfort that was the enemy would be shattered to pieces.

Now here I am two years later, comfortable! But in a very new way. Comfortable in God’s care, provision, love, peace, grace, forgiveness, and ultimate reliance on only Him.

I enter into 2016, much farther down the healing path, with a lighter load of baggage to carry into the next frontier. I enter with a truer Self.

Yet. Yet. Yet I want to dream so badly and Yet… I am so scared to do so. Dreams get shattered. Praying God’s will for my life to shadow that of Jesus’ means that some of MY dreams get shattered.  And the pain of that… that pain that I’ve carried in 2015… I am so damn scared of feeling that again.  The tears roll even as I type that sentence.

So my prayer for myself this year is to dream again.  To allow God to overshadow me and birth dreams that are only of His creation. To silence the voice of fear.  A few days ago, I came across this blog by Pastor Joe Koy.  These words leapt off of the screen at me and all I could say was “yes Lord, please Lord…”

My new year’s wish for you: That you dream. Dream boldly. Dream audaciously. And let those dreams change you and the world around you in some ways this coming year. (See more at: https://sojo.net/articles/new-year-may-you-dream#sthash.YWhtyLKG.dpuf)

Koy goes on to remind us… me… that Jesus was a dreamer. Yes He was. And it certainly wasn’t easy and pain free for those dreams to be lived out.

So, back to this morning’s list of activities for this last day of 2015. I listen to scripture each day at dailyaudiobible.com.  Today was the final passages of the bible for this year. This verse in particular in the New Testament portion is what spoke to me today:

          Revelation 22:2b “and the leaves of the nations are for the healing of the nations.”

Leaves. Why the leaves? I thought of the leaves on the logo I designed for Grace Outrageous Ministry.  So much symbolism for me in that GO Tree.  And the leaves are hearts… hmmm…

So why the leaves as the healing? There’s the whole Tree of Life standing there. Why the leaves? So off to Google I went to study the purpose of leaves.  I read a lot of science ‘stuff’ (not my strong or favorite subject) and pondered the information on a spiritual level. 

-       they are filters – out with the harmful chemicals to the tree (which just so happen to be good for us humans) and in with what is needed for the tree to grow

-       they are thin and fragile yet without them, the tree would die.

-       They offer protection.

-       They absorb light

-       Thousands of shapes and sizes to fit into thousands of climates and purposes

-       They are the tree’s aqua duct (picturing the River of Life…)

-       Take in the light and yet provide shade from the light

-       Arranged on a stem in a particular pattern for that specific tree

-       They are regulators of what the tree needs

-       The cooling elements of the leaf help the tree to not overheat

-       And the list goes on…

There are definitely some parallels that I want to pray about. I have begun to see the healing element of the leaf’s purpose and now I’m left with an even stronger “hmmm… leaves healed the nations…” musing.  I believe God has given me the word “leaves” as a 2016 theme. Seems a little odd. But He once gave me ‘clouds’ and that turned out to be amazing, so I’m just going to go with it.

The final verses of my Bible scripture for today, as read on audiobible.com, amazingly contained the verse God gave me over a year ago that became my fight song, my anthem, to remind me of who I am through Christ Jesus:

“She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear at the future.” Proverbs 31:25

That is the truth of who I am. Not what another human may think I am… or am not. Now I don’t just read those words and say “that’s who I want to be”… but I now own those words!

And I ask Lord, do the final healing of the fear… let the science lessons of a leaf help me with that… let the truth of your closing words of Revelation provide the final healing balm my soul needs. Let YOUR DREAMS only be planted and come to life in the weeks and months ahead.

I close 2015 now with such a sweet deep gratitude to God my Father, Jesus my Savior, and the Holy Spirit my comforter and counselor, echoing the voice of the psalmist in Psalm 150 “Praise the Lord… let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the Lord."

And I pray for all of you this prayer by Leonard Sweet:

My 2016 prayer for you:

God lead you.

God feed you.

God seed you.

God weed you. God speed you…  and… God exceed your greatest hope and dream.

It's Spring!

I’m sitting down to write. Take a deep breath in and exhale… take in an “okay I’m ready” sigh. I believe my soul just gave the same sigh

(queue the sigh Axel Rose gives at the beginning of  “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”)

I haven’t posted a blog since March. Nine months. 

Much of the time spent in those months I would term “Comfortably Numb”.  (I can’t help myself. I love classic rock. God hasn’t purged that from me!)

After nine months, the words are starting to come again. So fast and so out of no where that I can’t get to a keyboard fast enough to get them tapped out. Please Lord, bring them back to my mind!  It feels so amazing to have my brain back!

I decided I was officially ready to write again when I heard this song and I thought THAT’S ME!  We may be entering the winter season here in Ohio but my soul is bursting forth in Spring!

SPRING by Sound the Ocean (Lyrics)

All these months of dreaming and hiding from the shadows

Let me down, they always let me down

Fleeting hints of daylight, never-ending evenings

Let me down, they always let me down

But a song begins with a kiss from the sun

Soon my heart will be singing along

Bursting at the seams I just can’t keep it in

Winter’s sting is gone and I can breathe again

Long-forgotten colors are throwing back their covers

Waking up, they’re slowly waking up

Melting frozen shackles, resurrecting feelings

Step outside, I wanna step outside

This song begins with a kiss from the sun

Soon my heart will be singing along

You put the spring back in my step and I’m dancing outside again

Your song is everywhere

You chased the winter blues away

And I’m drinking deeply of your open skies

I’m alive and I’m breathing again

Yeah this heartbeat stopped but it’s screaming again


“…And I’m drinking deeply of your open skies. I’m alive and I’m breathing again. Yeah this heartbeat stopped but it’s screaming again…”

Those closing lines did it. That is me. I would only add the word brave. I feel strong and brave and ready. Finally.

Ready to write. Ready to immerse myself in reading again. I’ve committed to a book every two weeks. That’s in addition to blogs, articles, sermon research, and such.  I’m ready to engage in the world again. Finally.

These past 22 months have been the coldest, harshest winter of my 47 years. Some of you know there have been many seasons of death, loss, change, sin, and just life. And yes, the last 22 months is the worst.

I could have never imagined what was coming. I lost more than I ever imagined I would on March 5th, 2014. The journey through all of this has cost me more than my grieving brain would understand.

I’ve been embraced and cast away. Covered with grace and judged. I have far less people in my daily life and far more real depth with who is here.

There have been broken hearts and broken relationships. Some of which only space and grace can heal.

During this raw brutal winter, there has been pleading, sobbing, dead silence, death, grief, and God.

God has been here in all of it. When I pleaded and sobbed. God ran to me. When I sat numb and confused. God sat with me. When the death of so much was occurring and the grief was drowning me, God pulled my face from the waves, providing the rescue breaths I needed.

God has been present, popping in and out of sight, like the glistening you catch on a snowy winter day. The glistening on tree branches as the sun light hits them for a flashing moment. You see them out of the corner of your eye, turn and they are gone. But you know they were there. That was God.

Glennon Doyle Melton writes this in "Carry on, Warrior":

"…I like to compare God's love to the sunrise. The sun shows up every morning, no matter how bad you've been the night before. It shines without judgment. It never withholds. It warms the sinners, the saints, the druggies, the cheerleaders - the saved and the heathens alike. You can hide from the sun, but it won't take that personally. It'll never, ever punish you for hiding. You can stay in the dark for years or decades, and when you finally step outside, it'll be there…"

I’m stepping outside in the beauty of spring again. God’s love is still here.

I believe that so much of life is just figuring out how to live it. Fall. Sin. Lesson Learned. Try this way because it’s what you know.  Well that didn’t go well.  Lesson learned. React to the information you have at hand and with the tools you have on board. Learn later that didn’t go so well. Lesson learned. Stand up. Stick your head out into the sun. Lesson Learned.

The biggest lesson learned for me is this: God is still here. He hasn’t punished me for tears and doubts and fears and hiding, for some not-so-nice things I yelled at Him, and for taking 22 months for my spring to arrive.

Three other blog posts have already arrived on paper as well. One is forming in my mind right now as I’m trying to finish this one. A few of my friends have said… “SHEEEE’S BAAAACK!” 

But I’m not really back. I’ve been here all along. Transforming. Morphing. Healing.

“People ask “are you sure you’re better?”.  Better is a troublesome word for me. Better suggests increased value, and I think I was worth exactly the same when I was a fall-down drunk as I am now: a sober, loving, creative wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. I prefer the word healing to the word better… healing means surrendering to and following the world’s truest rules, the rules created by God” (Another soul touching quote by Glennon Doyle Melton in “Carry on Warrior)

So, no I’m not back. And I’m not better. I’m healing. Just as the earth heals in the spring from the death and bareness of winter. New life pokes its head through with bravery and courage.

I don’t know why God has called me to this life. There is much I do not understand. For the life of me, I can’t fathom why God has given me a voice and compelled me to share my journey.

But He has and my spring has arrived. Open skies and wide open spaces are before me.

And I’m breathing again. 

God's Love in the Blueprint

Yesterday was my birthday.  I awoke with a great sense of peace; which was quite remarkable seeing that my previous evening was filled with sadness and frustration. Sadness at learning about the state of a person I love’s life and frustration that I fried my laptop and lost six weeks of sermons. Please refrain from asking when I last backed-up… as I’ve been asked enough! :-) 

Being inside of my brain can be quite frightening at times – it never seems to rest from processing, seeking, and chatting with God. I had spent the previous evening chatting with a friend to process my thoughts about the sadness I was feeling.  I ran through several “maybe if I had…” scenarios; doing this more to confirm that how it had all played out was truly God’s ultimate plan. But I needed to make sure I did not miss something. That I wasn’t carrying around some unneeded guilt. That there was not a lesson I needed to learn in this, yet. 

But the ultimate question was this…

“Do I feel guilty that I am at such a peace-filled place in life?”

Really? Guilty? Maybe I feel guilty that I don't feel guilty?

 God has so clearly told me, on many occasions, the reasons and given glimpses into His plan. Why would I feel the need to feel guilty about being in a place of peace? Seriously… I don’t understand my psyche most of the time!

 So I wake up yesterday morning, my birthday morning, and I am guilt free for the peaceful place in my life. All is well with my soul. I was thinking about the difference a year birthday has made in my life.  As I am journaling, I ask God…

"Is my life is anywhere close to the blueprint He had when He formed me in my mother's womb? Am I living my life anywhere close to what He had in mind??"

 I do some writing about that and then set about to reading scriptures and devotions. My questions were answered in a way that only the Spirit of God can answer and through the voices of an ancient and a modern prophet.

Henri Nouwen: "God's love for us is everlasting. That means God's love existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. It is an eternal love in which we are embraced."

Nehemiah Chapter 9.  "But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon the Israelites in the desert. You did not cease to guide them by a pillar and a cloud. You gave them Your Spirit to guide and You provided manna and water." (my paraphrase)

Such perfect words from scripture and from Henri to follow up and answer my questions of God!  Am I anywhere near His blueprint? Well, just as God never fully or directly answers Job’s unending questions, God doesn’t directly answer mine. But what He does is even better.

God points Job and Tress back to God. Back to Who God is. The minute details and the simple answers are bigger than our finite minds could understand.

But what I can understand is this: Whether I am close to the original blueprint - or not- He loves me with an everlasting and all encompassing love that is based on Who God is… and not what Tress does.

God will continue to guide me on this path of life... When I am on His path AND if I'm not… He'll guide me back to it… if I allow.

He is providing for me regardless. I have abundantly more than 2/3 of the world’s population. How upset can I get that I have to buy a new computer? I have a home the Lord has provided as a peace-filled refuge for me and for many others. I am fed and clothed and am surrounded by so many amazing fellow sojourners of the faith.

 I have all of this in spite of myself. Because I know many times I have not stuck to the divine blueprint so well. The Israelites, for all their idol worshiping and whining, certainly did not resemble God’s original blueprint for them, and yet… He did all of those things… providing their manna and bread and repeatedly wooing them back to His plan for their journey.

Jeremiah 29:11-14 (MSG):  “I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you and bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.

God is in the minutia of life. The details of His plan and blueprint are precise. And He will continue His construction work even if I stray from the plan. YOU CAN COUNT ON IT!

 So… I need neither to fret about yesterday nor to be anxious about tomorrow.  He has done all He said He would do… regardless that I might have not. 

As my heart was smiling at that trail of thoughts yesterday morning, God spoke these beautiful words to my soul…

"Enjoy your peace today Tress. It is My birthday gift to you. Don't worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Rest and praise today. It’s been a good year for Us."

 I wrote those beautiful words in my journal. Opened up Facebook and was greeted by this quote by St. Augustine…

 "The Holy Scriptures are our letters from Home."  

 AMEN!! They certainly were yesterday morning!

 So… yes I am at peace.  There are choices others are making and struggles loved ones are experiencing that saddens me greatly.  God is allowing and working in it all for His purpose, when allowed. I can be at peace finally. I have welcomed the Holy Spirit to fill me with a peace that surprises all understanding.  (Philippians 4:7)

 My computer may die and all my savings may be gone. I may have to rewrite six sermons.  And not only am I at peace… I have realized I am filled with such joy! A joy that has flooded my soul regardless of plenty or want, regardless of circumstances. I will rejoice always in the Lord! (Philippians 4)

I close with some beautiful follow-up words through the LOOP devotional this morning…

“What if I told you the plan I have for you is not for you to worry about? What if I told you there is only a small part you can understand of all the things I know and the things I want you to know and the things you don’t need to be concerned with?... Here is what you need to know: I love you, and I  never forget you. Your life is my preoccupation. You are a part of my plan for this world, which I love and which I desire to heal and bring to life and have know Me.”

You and I GET to be a part of His Divine Blueprint plan! He loves us with an Everlasting Love regardless if we get every plumb line straight and screw fastened tight.  It may look different. But it is our journey.   

Own it. Celebrate God’s work in it. Be at peace with it.  And rejoice that Jesus sacrificed His life so that we do not have to have guilt about ours!

Restful darkness

It has been eleven months now.  Eleven months since the life I had carefully maintained shattered with just once spoken sentence from another.   The life I had loved for its beautiful messiness. That had been glued together many times by me, by God, by determination. A life that I had deliberately prayed for and pursued in an effort to have what I had never had, to fill what I felt was a void that needed filled.

Yet, God saw a different life for me and has gently shown me glimpse of His work.  I now know that I was not a victim of a person's choices. But rather, a person's choices were filtered through the Hand of God and allowed to unfold so that God's pursuits for me can be fulfilled. We can fill our voids with all sorts of ‘stuff’ in order to right what we feel has been wronged, to sooth what still aches from decades past, to quell the longings of today’s dreams. 

 

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The life I live in the home I have

“Your home is so peaceful.  Anyone could come here and just feel peace, said a friend who spent the night at my home recently, as she was curled on my couch with a blankie.  Such a sweet compliment, full of much deeper meaning to me than to her.  When the world is in chaos, when loss and grief have seemed to be constant companions, when hope is lighting up the darkness more and more, the peace of my home has been my retreat.

Through these past months of crisis, my home has been my safe place, my peace place, and my life’s place.  It is where God and I spend extensive hours together as He heals and allows my grieving soul to rest. It is where the Spirit’s comfort pours out and into me as I pour out my prayers and tears and fears.

My heart’s desire for this peace filled home is rooted in much ‘yuck’ from my past. (That’s for another post on another day.)  God has blessed me beyond measure with my home, this dwelling place where my children gather, where my grandson chases my ‘gog’, where my friends and family and faith community gather to love, support, and journey through life together.

This past Sunday the Lord brought me to Psalm 16. As is usual with our Loving Father, it was the perfect Word for me on this very emotional day.  It spoke to me in many ways; but it was verses 5 & 6 that soothed my heart and connected so deeply to my friend’s words:

“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (NIV)

This NIV version connected immediately to my life verse from Job 36:16:

“He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.”  (See http://www.goministry.net/so-i-was-thinking/2013/3/23/a-god-who-woos for more on that verse.) 

Boundary lines laid out in a pleasant place, in a spacious place that is free from restriction. A place that is the delightful inheritance my Father has provided with choice spiritual foods to comfort my soul.

Immediately my home, my safe place, my space with my Loving Father, came to mind. I then looked to the Message version of this scripture. Tears began to flow. Gratitude filled my soul. 

 “My choice is you, God, first and only. And now I find I’m your choice!You set me up with a house and yard.And then you made me your heir!”

My house and yard. My home. My peace-filled home. God has indeed laid out the boundary lines for my life. Within this restriction free inheritance, God is becoming more and more my First and Only. He is revealing more of Himself and I am desperate to be with Him. To bring Him glory. More of Him. Less of Me. 

And in that, I am learning to live with the truth that I am His choice! My imperfections. My brokenness. My yearning. All of me is His choice. What  is not enough for others is chosen and set apart by God.

 This learning and growing and healing is occuring in the home where the life I love is being lived.

 In the midst of the struggle and God’s intervention this week, some friends gave this absolutely perfect picture to me. Writing the words of the scripture on the back is just one way for me to remember God’s little but life-transforming gifts along this journey of life.

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And the journey continues… new life, new routine, new Tress, new experiences… the journey of discovering it all continues… and my home and the beautifully messy life I live is grounded in the peace of my inheritance!

 

 

So Little. So Cared For.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays His handiwork. Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals His greatness. There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth.” Psalm 19:1-3 (NET)

Natural revelation is the discovery of certain attributes of God through the study of creation. In contrast to written revelation in which God communicates with us directly (the Bible), natural revelation is inferred from human observations. (www.provethebible.net

This term, Natural Revelation, was not a tossed around in theology circles back in the days of King David.  This shepherd boy, turned hand-chosen King and leader of the Israelites, experienced and wrote of the majesty of God’s creation in many of the Psalms of our scriptures.

David’s appreciation of nature certainly began at a very young age as he wondered the fields and mountains, tending sheep, finding shade under the trees, picking berries as energy snacks along his miles of trekking. This appreciation seems to have grown as he grew into the man God called him to be, putting his words to music with lyre and voice.

 I have always loved being outside; swimming, walking, sitting (though much to my kids’ dismay, not camping!) and many other outdoor activities.  Over the years, I have had flower gardens, veggie gardens, and experimented in my yard. I appreciated God’s creation and all that is in nature (except spiders) and believe the sciences bring understanding to what the Creator brought into existence.

Recently, however, my appreciation grew into a deeper sense of awe and wonder at the majesty and detail that displays the handiwork of God’s creative mind and talents. A long distance old friend of mine took me on a venture to ‘The Farm’ that is in the middle of NOWHERE Pennsylvania. The Farm is owned by a college friend of my friend (are you following this?) and is 160 acres of untainted, at its best, nature. hills, trees upon trees, a river, deer, eagles, corn fields, birds, fish, bears, and amazing beauty.

As I headed out on this long weekend of relaxation and girl fun, I was three months into the life-changing crisis that had pushed me deep into the waters of drowning grief. The excruciating heart pain and the daily numbness of the shock were my companions as I worked, survived, loved, and wept.

The two girls (you can be in your 50’s and still be called girls, right??) had much to catch up on with life’s events. I could feel the untainted acres of nature’s beauty calling me to explore it. So, several times over the next couple of days, I laced up my Keds and took to trekking the solitude of God’s creation.

 

I prayed. I sat. I cried. I hiked. I journaled. I read century old gravestones. I recited scripture from my heart’s memory. I yelled. I looked for hope.

 

And in the towering trees and endless fields and wide open sky… I. Felt. So. Small.

“Who am I to God anyway? My little life is so insignificant in these rolling acres of earthworms and soaring eagles… let alone the world. Is He really even listening? Does He really even care? Is this crisis and my changing life really so important in light of famished children and cancer and militants? And in light of so many of God’s kids not acknowledging Him as Father or His Son as brother?”

 I began to feel pretty ridiculous out there crying and asking God for discernment, for the ‘what’s next’ in my one-person show.

 Who am I, O Lord, that you are even mindful of me? That you care for me?” Psalm 8:4 (Tress via King David)

 King David wondered the same thing. That tender shepherd boy and bold warrior.  That man after God’s own heart and bratty sinner. My heart’s cry was his heart’s cry millennia before me. It has been the question of many of God’s children.

I sat down at the water’s edge and pondered the question. Who Am I That God Cares For Me? Who Am I That He Would NOT Care For Me? The circle of life that the Master Creator designed by His own hands did not abandon His creation to fend for themselves but rather created the environments for them to thrive at the very purpose He created them for.

 He ensured those earthworms could survive and fulfill their purpose within the ecosystem of soil, sustaining their life while providing nourished soil for the rolling fields of grass and corn and trees to grow.

 He filled that river with fish so those majestic soaring eagles had dinner to swoop down and feed on.

 Those towering trees were created with roots the burrowed deep into that nourished soil in order to hold them tight. They held their ground in windstorms and rainstorms and snowstorms, providing shelter for the deer and squirrels and eagles. 

 All of it so connected, lovingly provided for, strong and built to survive whatever nature throws at it. Created not just with purpose but with beauty to decorate the world’s landscape and for humankind to gaze upon and live within.  

 

Tress, would God do all of that for a tree and earthworm… and then not you?

 

“I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?” Psalm 8:3-4 (MSG)

 

He ensures the blazing hot stars don’t fall to the earth. That the earth’s core is NOT toasting our toes with its +-6000 Kelvins temperature. (I’m not a scientist but I am guessing that’s pretty hot!)

 

So, Tress, why would He ensure all of that and then not care for you and your tears and those around you who are hurting so deeply through this as well?

 

Who is mankind? Who is Tress? Who are Your children?

 

“You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:5 (NIV)

 

We are just a little lower than the angels. Crowned with glory and honor. We are not inoculated from storms and tragedies and grief and having our roots ripped up from the soil we believed to be planted in.

 

The We… is Me. Tress.  So small in God’s mass creation. Yet, crowned with glory and honor.  Lovingly cared for and placed in a wonderful community of people that I am connected to who stand with me to keep me strong, regardless of what the world throws at me.

 I was not created simply to survive but with a beautiful purpose, for such a time as this. My journey, my pain, my lessons, my wisdom and even my sins, are all being redeemed through Jesus Christ.

 And as the circle of life continues, they shall be used for those God connects into my life, to nourish them, hold them strong in their storms, when they are feeling small. 

 I will not give in or give up. I will not feel small. I will not live for me.

 Rather, I will bring life, represent life, and testify to the One who wears THE crown of glory and honor… The Master Creator of Life, Himself, Three in One, Blessed Trinity. 

 

 

Believers and Beggars

It has been several months since I posted to the blog.  Not because I have not been writing. Honestly, I have written more than ever over these many, many weeks. I would say that my relationship with the Lord is deeper than it has ever been as He has revealed more facets of His character and unveiled the scriptures to me in unbelievable new ways. Yet, I have not shared the writings. They have been too personal. Too raw. Too much…

If you do not know, a little over four months ago, a crisis hit my life out of nowhere and the journey I was once on has taken on a whole new direction. I spent weeks swallowed in grief from the loss of so much that I held dear to my soul. Eighteen weeks later, grief is a journey I am still on. Yet, peace, contentment, joy, and hope have firmly planted roots in my daily life once again.

“Crisis is an opportunity for God to pivot us to a new destiny road…crisis is critical to our destiny path.”  Beth Moore, Esther Bible Study

 I have been experiencing the violent emotions accompanied by a crisis WHILE having hope in God’s destiny for me on the other side.

 I have begged for relief from the pain WHILE believing that God is present in the darkness.

 Several weeks ago, I served at a ministry seminar that I participate in twice a year.  People come from around the world to this seminar and trained caregivers serve under the leading teacher of the seminar. As a caregiver, I have had the opportunity to make friends with other caregivers, of whom I only see at these twice-a-year gatherings. We come from a variety of backgrounds, denominations, wounds, and celebrations.

 As I headed off this time, I was wondering if I should be serving as any type of a caregiver considering I felt like I was barely caring for myself at the time. Yet, a series of promptings of the Spirit led me there for some needed retreat time before the seminar began. As to be expected, the Spirit was spot-on and my heart’s healing went into overdrive almost immediately. There were many astonishing moments.

This broken vessel that seemed to leak out tears 24/7 was permitted to be poured out to my friends and to those in the group I was called to care for. Poured out in service and adoration of Jesus.

One of the sweetest parts of the week was the fellowship experienced with some caregiver friends whom I’ll call K,L,V, and S.  We traveled in from Canada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  During this week, these four Sisters – these four fellow Beggars and Believers – brought an audible voice and a touchable hug – direct from God to me.

Beggars and Believers. The five of us all living grief, broken dreams, questioning, and struggles while living our every day lives. 

 Begging for some understanding, some relief, some healing. Believing that God would deliver. Begging that it would be now. Believing that His timing is perfect.

Beggar and Believer. Yep, that’s me.

I have begged for relief from this grief. I have begged for understanding of why this happened. I have begged for those that I love to be healed of their devastation from this crisis. I have begged for this to not be my life.

I have believed when He said to me “I will never forsake you or abandon you. I will fight for you”.  I have believed that God allowed this crisis to filter through His fingers because He had a destiny plan in place before He said to me “I allowed this to happen for your own protection”.  I have believed God’s promise that “1000 generations I will bless of those who believe in me”.  I have believed that He knows the plans He has for me, "to prosper and not be destroyed."

A Beggar. A Believer.

I have laid in puddles of tears for hours on end, begging like a homeless waif in a third world country for some scrap of food to nourish my wasting-away soul.  I have been the soul-sick woman reaching out through the people surrounding me, yet oh so alone, reaching out blindly to touch some part of Jesus that would perhaps bring healing.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  (Matthew 15:22)

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Believing Jesus is who He says is and can do what He says He can do. Begging for the mercy and grace He promises to deliver.

Hmmmm… wait… am I Believing THEN Begging?

 So maybe I am a Believer first. And a Beggar second?

Because I believe, I beg.

 Because I believe Jesus is the Son of God. Because of that belief I can come with full confidence to the foot of His cross and beg for all that my heart cries out for. I beg because I believe He will meet all those heart’s cries.

Jesus, Son of David, I believe who you say you are. "If you are willing, you can make me clean, healed, whole again." (Mark 1:40).  And because You are who You are, in Your perfect compassion, you say “I am willing… be healed”. 

My begging does not discount my believing. My faith in who You are is what will bring about the destiny You have in place that will grow out of this crisis.

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go forth in peace, healed.” Mark 5:34

 These are the words you speak to those of us who believe. To those of us begging for healing, wholeness, purpose. The begging that springs forth from our belief is all part of the process.

“Great warriors focus on the process, not the end result. They know that life in the spirit is all about taking the next step, however small it may seem at the time. God does not stipulate what size the step is going to be, He just encourages us to keep walking toward Him." Graham Cooke

I believe I will keep walking towards Him and I believe I will keep begging. The story’s end result is already recorded… the war is won and I have a seat reserved at the banquet table.  I do believe and yet, I know I still need the Spirit’s help with my disbelief! (Mark 9:24)

For now, this Believer and Beggar will keep living in the Spirit of the One who is, who was, and who is yet to come! This Believer and Beggar will continue to enjoy the fellowship of fellow Believers and Beggars, like my caregiver friends who fleshed out Jesus to this weary, yet hopeful, soul.

 Any other fellow Believers and Beggars out there?  Join the journey of taking the next step with me!

 

The Smiling Christs

“Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.”               (Romans 12:9 MSG)

Below is an excerpt from my personal journal from May 1st. It is in the raw but the message is from the rawness of my heart. Yet, I hope you hear my journey from death to life in the words. Countless other people are on different yet same journeys of grief and hurt. I pray my journey brings hope to just one other person. In His Hands, Tress

 

Today is the first day of May. The month of spring and new life and warmer weather. A time when people naturally have a bigger smile, laugh a little freer, and have a little more hope as the winter has come to an end.

Today, I plant my feet firm in the spiritual meaning of a May 1st beginning for me. March and April are done and going down in my autobiographical history as two of the most horrid months of my life.

Now, however, spring is here, new life is shining before me, the warmth of my heart is returning and maybe, just maybe, my smile and laughter is being unburied from beneath of my soul crushing grief.

As I sit here typing, I can hear the birds chirping, the sun is shining in, and I am looking forward to a time of worship at tonight’s GO Gathering. This is such a precious time for me tonight - a time of hugging people I have not seen in three weeks; hugging and loving them for their prayers and support and understanding these past nine weeks – even as they are on their own difficult journeys of life.

I read these words of Brennan Manning’s today: The smiling Christ heals and liberates. With newly discovered delight in ourselves, we go out to our brothers and sisters as we are, to where they are, and minister the smiling Christ to them. Not far away from us, there is someone who is afraid and needs our courage; someone who is lonely and needs our presence. There is someone hurt needing our healing; unloved, needing the support of our shared witness. When we bring a smile to the face of someone in pain, we have brought Christ to him.

So today I must be thankful for the many, many ‘Smiling Christs’ who have spoken courage to my fear, been a still and quiet presence in my darkness, given love and hugs and warmth to my cold heart, and who’s smiles have evoked even the faintest smile from me. You have brought Christ to me. 

And now it is time for me to return to the person God created me and redeemed me to be: Tress the Smiling Christ. Just as I am going to just where they are. In that, there is healing and liberation.

I lift my prayers, God, to You! You are a mighty God, everlasting, before and in and waiting in all the events of our lives. Thank you. Thank you for your patience, your love, your understanding, your acceptance, your knowledge of my inner self. Forgive me for my questions, my fears, my impure thoughts, my rebellion and the many more ‘my’s’ that I seem to be oblivious of. Set your law in my heart and your grace on my tongue. Give me your eyes as I look into the world, as I serve and live, to not simply see my own pain and journey but the pain, needs, and journey of all people that I encounter. Quicken my heart in how I can represent You to them, show them the love of Jesus, to be a Smiling Christ to them.  That all I do would bring glory and honor to You, the Perfect Smiling Jesus! Amen.

 

 

The Oak Tree and A Smile

"She is clothed in strength and dignity and laughs without fear at the future."

                                                                                                         Proverbs 31:25

These past six weeks have been like sleepwalking through somebody else's nightmare. Yet, the reality is, this is my life right now. My prayer has been that on the other side of this I will have transformed more into Jesus and that I will be closer than ever to my Ever-present and Never-abandoning Father God.  I would love to say I have journeyed well and lived these truths with perfection.  I have not. I have cried, pleaded, raged, grieved, doubted. 

 

The beautiful and simple words of the above Proverb have become my life verse, my goal each day. I pray that my not-so-perfect journey would bring me closer to being a living example of this proverb. While I am not perfect, I am continuing to be reminded of a Perfect God with a Perfect Plan.

 

This past weekend, I was doing some spring-cleaning in the garage and yard.  If you had the ability to see past the outdoor sunshine as I waved to neighbors and passersby, and were to peer into my heart, you would have seen a Peanuts’ Pig Pen type of emotional cloud surrounding me, following me with each step of the day.  This cloud was filled with the dirt of self-doubt and anxiety-riddled sadness.  I picked up bags full of dead broken limbs, last autumn's leaves, and blown in trash.  The more I cleaned, the weaker I was becoming and the larger the dirt cloud became. 

 

I came inside for a drink and to get the mail.  Opening an envelope from a hospital colleague, I was brought face-to-face with the loving care of an attentive Father God.  The beautiful words of "The Oak Tree" poem were imprinted across a Hallmark card. Inside, I discovered heartfelt words penned by my fellow Sister-in-Christ. Through the words of this card, I was immediately reminded that God was committed to providing exactly was HE knows I need in every moment of my life, with each step I take, even in the task of cleaning up my yard. 

 

I had picked up dead leaves that were blown harshly off trees in the fall and winter storms.  I had  crammed into bags the limbs that had been pruned by nature.  Trash that needed put in its proper place was removed, leaving the yard ready and waiting for the new life of spring.  "The Oak Tree" devotional gave spiritual words to my physical labor that day.  I have been stripped bare these past weeks, my body and heart is weary, battered, and broken in many ways.

 

Yet, the deepest part of me, the strength that has been attacked by both circumstances and human words, has held me upright and standing strong with each new day.

The deep roots of that strength and dignity that dig deep into God’s foundation are growing deeper, making me stronger. Neither human words nor principalities of darkness can touch those deeps roots, for they are protected in the Shelter of The Most High. 

 

Nature testifies to the glory of God.  Indeed, it did just that for me as I sat with the greeting card in my hand looking at the labor of my day.

 

Amazingly, the Spirit's care for me that day was not yet complete.  The day before, I had read a devotion that spoke of the trials of life stealing away our smile and our laughter. (The Day I lost My Smile http://networkedblogs.com/VN2MK)  I had realized just last week that the smile on my face, that appeared only when required, went just as deep as the back of my teeth.  It was not a smile grounded in my cheerful nature and the laughter that brought joy to my heart had been silenced.  Reading the words of the devotion made me sadly aware that another human being's choices had taken from me a quality that was most often complimented by others.  My smile was something God had handcrafted on me. It had been a gateway for Him to work through me with hurting people throughout the years. 

 

Now, two days after that realization, the handwritten note of my compassionate colleague included these words "your big beautiful smile always warms my heart."  My tears flowed again. This time they were tears of praise and thanksgiving for the Holy Spirit’s power to speak truth into this weary soul, this bare Oak Tree of a person.  These tears were used to wash away some of the dirt in my ever-present cloud; allowing some sunshine to warm the chill and energize my fatigued body.

 

What has God taught me through this? My roots are deep in the foundation of my Creator and He will not stand for anyone to rip them out. My Loving God will use His Body of Believers to give those roots the nourishment they need and crave, even it is just one ounce or one sentance at a time. As my thank offering to Him, I cannot allow one person to steal my smile, my laughter, my joy.

Jesus Christ is alive and living inside of me. By the power of the Holy Spirit, new leaves will appear from my bare branches. I trust completely that God has big plans for new life to sprout from those places where I am being pruned,

 Now that’s something to smile a strong and dignified smile about!

 

I want to see Jesus

"Sir, we would like to see Jesus" (John 12:21)

My heart is drawn to these words of a group of Greeks who traveled to meet Jesus. Jesus - the one they had heard stories of; of His healing, speaking, forgiving, accepting, loving, and grace. "Sir, we would like to see Jesus." Such a simple and polite sentence. Yet, I am left wondering about the passion behind the words, the desire, the need; if there was a tone of pleading in them. "SIR, we would like to see Jesus!"

Those of you reading these words of mine right now may not know that I recently was thrown into a heart-crushing life trial. Much of what I thought to be secure and true has crumbled before my very eyes. Just 20 days ago my life's course changed forever. I am left feeling hollow and yet consumed with feelings of sorrow.  I am questioning myself, my life, and many who surround me. The future is scary and uncertain. 

My faith in the Lord has not faltered but my faith in myself has. I hold fast to the Truth that God can and will make all things beautiful; sprouting new life out of the ash I am sitting in. It is the journey to that redemption - the tears, anguish, life-changes, anger, new perspectives, and hard work - that seems overwhelming. 

So instead of looking to all of that, right now and right here, I simply and yet with an urgent plea say "Sir, I want to see Jesus!" I want to see Him today, Holy Spirit. I have allowed grief and fear and the enemy to swallow me. I know a wide array of feelings will flow in and out of my soul like tidal waves in these days and weeks and months to come. 

But I also know that I need to get a grip - get my eyes and heart set on Jesus. I simply cannot continue paralyzed in this pain - I have a life God is calling me to participate in. 

So today and each day ahead, I pray, "Holy Spirit, I want to see Jesus." 

I want to see Him holding my fears and anxieties for me so that I can focus on the good and true areas of my life. So I can think, and write, and speak, and live today. 

I want to see Jesus' hands full of the pieces of my shattered heart. Trusting, that while He is holding them, His warmth will soften them and that His hands will begin the work of molding them back into the shape of beautiful, living heart again, that beats full of Holy Spirit life again. 

While He is a work on those broken, jagged pieces, I want to see Jesus still living through me. Through my words, my decisions, my love, my forgiveness, my work. A heartbroken Tress in her weakness cannot do those daily tasks in a manner that brings Glory to God. Where I am weak, I want to see Jesus be strong!  Through Jesus, I move, and breath, and have life and I need His strength to enable that. 

Sir, I want to see Jesus through my words. Sanctify, cleanse, and purify them. Allow me to lament and yet inspire me to praise! 

I want to see Jesus through His love. Love carries people through the hard times, It enables us to rejoice, bear, believe, hope, and endure. I have indeed seen Jesus' love these past 20 days; through family and friends, through prayer warriors and the Body of Christ. Help me, Spirit, to see His love for me, in me, and flowing out of me.

I plead, LET ME SEE JESUS defeat the enemy of my soul, blocking the flaming arrows being shot at me. Let me see Jesus' victory over death. I want to see Jesus, the Defender and Shield of my faith.

I have seen Jesus. And, Sir, I want to continue seeing Him everyday. In these ways I have put to words in my prayers… and in so many more ways. Open my eyes, clear the scales, and center my heart on You. That I may join the biblical saints before me such as Paul and Mary; along with the believers throughout the ages; who in their own sorrow, their own sin, their own life-alteirng moments could shout out with joy "I HAVE SEEN JESUS!"

Praising God for… ME!

“I thank you because I am awesomely made, wonderfully; your works are wonders – I know this very well.” Psalm 139:14 (CJB)

Today, March 4th, 2014, is my 46th birthday. As I settled in this morning with my cat, my tea, and my prayer materials, I was quite caught off guard by a sudden need to praise God. Now before you wonder why praising God caught me off guard, let me clarify. I praise God continually – for my children, my life, the manners in which I see Him working in my midst, for the beautiful sunshine, a smile from my grandson, the redemption of my broken life, loving and devoted friends, opportunities to serve Jesus, and the list goes on. Yet, there is something, or rather someone, I rarely, if ever, praise Him for…

Me. Tress.

I was caught off guard this morning because I had a well of praise bubbling up and out in a need to praise Creator God – for creating – ME!

Like far too many women, sinners, and just humankind in general, I tend to spend time praying for myself in a manner that goes something like this: “Forgive me for not doing (fill in blank), Forgive me for doing (more blanks), I am sorry I have disappointed You again, Fill me with more of Your Spirit and less of me” and the list of all I am NOT goes on. Then there is the critical eyes and voice that I cast upon myself “UGH, more cellulite, If only I could do this (yep, more blanks to fill in) better, I’m getting old and my warranty is wearing out”, etc…  It would seem by those prayers that I do not "know this very well" that I am wonderfully made.

Much to my surprise, none of those words and prayers came this morning. My 46th birthday present that the Holy Spirit has graced me with is a fresh and new prayer of praise that the Creator and Lover of my soul made Me. He made me unique, gifted, and in the image of the Trinity. AMAZING!!

The result of this gift was my  prayer that began with the “fearfully and wonderfully made” scripture. Although, I love the CJB version of that verse, which I have listed above. The next words I wrote were “I need to thank you Lord that you made Me. I don’t know that I have ever thanked you for making me who I am. It’s a hard thing to take an honest, humble look at myself and see Your Image, Your Handiwork. I pause to see your craftsmanship – not shoddy duct-tape work – but true craftsmanship. You, Lord, began your work in Linda’s womb and it continues until I am ‘made new’ in heaven.”

I then prayed for spiritual eyes, the eyes of the Craftsman God, to look at myself and note the gifts, talents, and uniqueness He crafted in my being: student and quick learner, feeler of the pain of others, big green eyes, wordsmith and speaker, chef, peacemaker, creative and adventurous, gigantic smile that takes up half my face, planner and detail queen.

Honestly, it was a little weird to me making that list but when I was finished, I smiled. Yep, that’s me!” In all my broken, messy glory! I can easily slip into pouting over who I am not but today I thought of the talents and abilities that I was not granted with and I decided that it is quite alright with me because that just is not who God made me to be.

So, today I lift up praise and thanksgiving because God truly made me wonderfully, fearfully, and awesomely! This is a lesson – a birthday gift – from the Lord today. The same eyes that I see the wonder of His creation all around me in people, nature, and life; these are the same eyes I will learn to see the wonder of His creation WITHIN me as well.

I’d like to say I will never be pouty again over grey hairs and a slipping memory… but I can’t make any promises on that. I will, however, strive to do that less and to hold God to His Word given through the prophet Isaiah “Even to your old age and gray hairs I Am He, I Am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Is 46:4 NIV)

The gray hairs are here (though camouflaged well) and my God is sustaining me, His creation.

Can you pause for a moment today, as a birthday gift to me, to give a truthful and heartfelt praise for who God created you to be? Let’s celebrate that craftsmanship together!

Big Dreams and Deep Waters

This is going to be a rather humbling post. You see, I have grown immensely in my faith and I am so much closer to the Cross of Jesus than I have ever been in my life. No girl is more thankful for the healing grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. than this girl 

And yet…and yet… I am still a fallible, broken, insecure girl living in this human body. As far as I have come, I still have a road ahead of me and there are still big boulders that plop themselves smack dab in front of me. I know the Holy Spirit is within me to crash those boulders and enable me to live onward in my human state. I tell that truth to the many people I serve on a regular basis. And yet… at times I still find myself curled up on the road staring at that boulder that I think is immovable. 

I have discovered over the past several years that I enjoy writing. Writing in my journal, writing what I hear from God, writing about my story, writing my thoughts on other people's writings. Others have encouraged me to write a book about my own experiences in the story of my life with Jesus. A few years ago, I got excited and challenged by that prospect and have even written little blurbs for my 'future book'. My journaling, blogging, and sermons are all a part of what will also be added. I have even been taking on-line seminars on improving story telling and learning writing tips from published authors. All of this in preparation of penning my auto-biography.

Or so I thought. I have recently not been so excited by the dream of a published book. You see, I have this life long struggle of perfectionism and insecurity and a few months ago it began rearing its ugly voice in my head. It goes something like this...

"Other people are way better writers than you." "Your story is not anything special. Who would buy a book about a story that thousands of others have already written?" "Seriously, a book?" "You aren't that great of a writer." "You are too busy and getting too old to do something new." "You don't have thousands of blog followers so why do you think anyone would buy a book?" "Why bother, nothing will come of it."

And that was just the beginning...

"You are an ok speaker, but even that isn't so great." "You've got nothing to offer.""You know you will just be rejected by publishers." And the final straw… "YOU are no good. YOU are not enough." Just typing that last one makes me cry. It is a voice I have fought my whole life. 

How did these voices of old get back into my head? Amidst my tears is anger that I am back to this place. I wish I could say that I recognized it as the enemy of my soul building that boulder in my path. But I did not.. I heard it as the practical Tress just being honest with her Self - telling it like it is. 

God and I have been talking a lot about all of this these past weeks. The frigid Ohio weather has provided extended opportunities for these conversations. A common theme amongst my journaling is "What's next?" What's next at GO? What's next at Union? What's next for me as a pastor? As a Disciple?  I have tossed out words like dreams, passions, boldness for the glory of God, God's plans, and the desire of Him releasing His Spirit to take me to edge of the limits in my service. 

Every time the conversation our conversation moves to the topic of writing, however, I shut down. The voices start and I resolve that sharing a written testimony of my faith is 'just not for me.' When I dared broach the topic with God, such words as "Insecurity" and "pride" have lingered in my soul. A deep sense of fear of rejection and the insecurity of who I am in Christ fills my soul. Thom Gardner writes "Fear is like a sentinel at the frontier of all things new that we could do or experience in God."  Ain't that the sad truth!

I also wonder if pride has planted itself in there as well… only wanting to do things that I am comfortable with, will get accolades for, and that I won't be stretch too far so as not to excel at them. If so, I pray against that with every ounce of my being!

Today, however, may be a turning point for me. A Sister in Christ I had the joy of spending a week with a few years back, posted this devotion on Facebook today. It practically leapt off the screen at me. 

Step Into The Deep Waters. Friend, you and I were created to do business in Deep Waters. In other words, we're not supposed to have little dreams or little plans. We're supposed to get out there and have big dreams. We are supposed to go out into the deep things God has for us. But understand when you're out there in the deep waters, you can't touch the ground. You can't see the shoreline. And at times, it can get a little rocky. You may not always see how things are going to work out. But scripture tells us 'deep calls to deep'. In other words, God is the One who called you to the deep waters. He is with you and He knows there are deep things on the inside of you. When you are in those deep waters, you are not alone. God is with you and He's causing those deep things inside of you to come forth."

I know that I know those words were for me. Writing is very deep water for me and God is calling me into it because there are deep things to brought forth. Be it more blogging or a novel never published, there is a story to be told. I have said time and again that if sharing the ugly, nasty story of my life brings just one person to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, then my humble sharing of it is all worth it. Maybe that one person is the one and only person to buy my book.

Who am I to swim gasping for air from the deep waters to the safe shallow shores? 

swim.jpg

Most Big Dreams require doggy paddling in the deep waters of life. Lord, if your will is for me to write my story and my journey, I plead with you to silence the voices of old, to reignite the excitement of a challenge, and to remove the shackles of insecurity and pride.  

And then, Lord, toss me in the deep end!


Nativities EVERYWHERE!

I am so excited by the 'new to us' antique nativity set that we just displayed in our front window. It is made of a couple hundred pounds of cement, hand painted, cracked and chipped, and is believed to have come from an old church. As I upload the photo for this post, I'm left wondering… I wonder how may eyes over the decades have paused and gazed at this scene of Christ's birth?

If you do not know, Grace Outrageous Ministry is located on the main downtown drag of Tiffin. We are side by side with local businesses, restaurants, and a half block from our courthouse square. We rent what was an H&R Block accounting service, a shoe store, and who knows what else, store front property with big glass windows. Windows that can be decorated and displayed for all who drive through our small downtown. Windows that can display the birth scene of humanity's Savior, Jesus, the Promised Messiah. 

Each year, there are news stories of public nativity scenes being picketed, tore down, and vandalized. We hear of law suits and protests about separation of religion and state. Now before you get your ire up, this post is not about starting a debate on that topic. I simply want to toss out an idea, a thought, a suggestion that instead of joining in the debate and argument, we think bigger and more creatively on how to keep Jesus Christ and His birth at the center of the Christmas season in an ever growing anti-Christian culture. 

What if, instead of fighting a battle that is more and more being lost, we chose to display nativity scenes on our personal property, in places that we do have the freedom to express our beliefs without being sued or protested?

What if, instead of the large nativity on court house squares in communities through America, the little shops that line the streets of towns all displayed the birth of Jesus in their own store front windows? Instead of filling display windows with the products being advertised and sold as Christmas gifts, with Santas and Christmas trees - what if we shared that space with nativity scenes. As individuals and families drove to and from school, work, and the store, they would be surrounded and REMINDED each day of the Christmas season, the reason for the season, by nativity after nativity after nativity

As American Christians, it is easy to feel like the war upon our faith is being won by the enemy. However, let us be reminded that while battles are lost on topics such as public displays of religious icons, the war has already been won. We know the end of the story. The Church of Jesus Christ will endure, will overcome. The expression of our faith may need to take on different forms, look different in a changing culture - but that has been happening since the church began. That does not mean we have lost. 

Carey Nieuwhof encourages churches to skip past the debates, see the glass as half full, and look for connection points with our culture, rather than lay defeated by our culture. (http://careynieuwhof.com/2013/12/10-ways-to-leverage-christmas-to-reach-unchurched-people/)

Store Front Nativity

Store Front Nativity

Connection points. Creativity. Overcoming. Can we overcome the picketers by displaying ten nativity scenes instead of one? Can we be creative and diverse and fun with how we display our nativity scenes instead of simply tearing them down? Can we find connections to start conversations of joy and hope and of Jesus who has enough grace to envelope even the biggest of cynics and doubters and sinners and of God the Father who longs for all of His children to come home?

This Christmas season, let us not feed into fury and anger. Rather, let people say "nativities and carols and prayers… OH MY!!" there EVERYWHERE!

 

A Healing of Hands

I am a firm believer in the power of Laying of Hands for prayer. The scriptures give us many beautiful images of Jesus laying His loving hands upon the sick and broken; calling upon His Father to heal emotions, souls, and bodies. At our GO Gatherings, we will in an instant when the situation warrants, come in a circle around somebody, lay our hands, and pray in united voice for our Father to heal as only He can. I have one friend whose hands radiate a warmth and energy when she is laying hands for prayer. Another friend texted me today that while she was at the hairdresser “I swear as she was massaging my scalp, Jesus was whispering ‘just relax in these hands serving for me.’”  (come on, girls, you know that feeling!)

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