This morning my babe was able to load a bus with her very healthy, happy, rambunctious, precious 4th grade class to attend the Nutcrakcer. I was able to afford a $30 dress from Amazon that she twirled in all morning. I put a big ole red bow in her hair, took her picture by our glowing tree and sent her on her way. Tears. I am not much of a crier. I think over the years, I have become somewhat desensitized and I just don’t cry very often. Not at funerals or weddings or sappy movies or baptisms or award ceremonies. But this Christmas season I have shed many a tear. Tears of gratitude. Tears that can only come from someone who has had one heckuva year, one heckuva life. In spite of being a smidge broken and a tad ‘minus’ this year, my heart is so full of thankfulness, I cry at a moment’s notice. Thankful that my bed is warm. Thankful that my children are healthy. Thankful for our little shop on the corner. Thankful for this man who is by my side no matter what. Thankful for cheap poofy twirl dresses.
O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt it's worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
FALL ON YOUR KNEES.
Since I last posted, I have thought of a time not so long ago when I went into my church of 30 something years and fell on my knees at the altar. It was about this time of year and it was dark and empty and I sort of just dropped to my knees. Privately, desperately and quietly. Before I knew I would find Ashley Pshigoda again. Before I knew of a brown eyed boy that would steal my heart 1,000 times over. Before I knew that you could love a 9 year old so boldly and deeply you almost forget how much you loved her at two. Before so many things, I fell to my knees that night.
The past 7 weeks have been a physical test I was not prepared to endure. My body is trickling, TRICKELINGGGGGGGGGGG, back to normal. I have been angry enough to throw a glass on the floor. I have been numb. I have been doubtful. I have been small. I have put my husband through hormone hell and I honestly have no idea when it will really just all be over. But, I have also fallen to my knees…..in gratitude. In gratitude because I will never be able to explain how the stories shared with me have touched my heart. Thankful because I have been reminded that my situation could be 1,000 times worse. Grateful because I was able to share in some heart ache but more importantly, I was able to share in some JOY. Thankful because smack dab in the middle of typing this, I received a call from a sister whose story is finally over and I also believe, just beginning. Grateful that people would actually call me to share the deepest parts of their hearts.
We all fall to our knees don’t we? We are all, at some point, aching and grieving and at an altar in our lives. Just asking WHAT? WHAT LORD DO I DO? But then we are also allowed to bow and thank God for such a magnitude of blessings. For so much favor it hurts. For red bows and holding hands in bed and even for heaping piles of clean laundry.
This Christmas I have been given the greatest gift of all: perspective. I have been reminded that NOTHING, nothing wrapped in a package really matters. I have thought so much about Mary and how she must have wanted to cry out WHAT DO I DO???. How dismayed she must have been but instead chose acceptance and reverence with a grateful heart.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh." Matthew 2:11
As I read this verse I felt moved beyond tears. I have looked at each and every nativity scene with a new appreciation for Joseph and Mary on their knees before that tiny baby, for the wise men who traveled well past the day of His birth to bow before him and worship him. I have been keenly aware of the many ways we serve our God from our knees. And that all of it, all of it is really about serving. I was fortunate enough to watch the rehearsal of our daughter’s Christmas pageant from a back pew in our church. As the final song came to an end, the music leader gathered the children, bowed to her knees and prayed over them. I realized then, that bowing is surely in gratitude as much as it is in pining. Joy finds joy. Happiness creates happiness. I have been blessed enough to hear true miracles over the past month. I have been reminded that God is always at work. In our own homes, at treatment programs, under downtown bridges, by weekly Sunday flowers to remember a baby boy lost, in our churches, in our crying out and in our tears, He is always at work.
These stories of loss and heartache and holidays missed and bridges near burned and fires almost being snuffed out…..of tiny embers that are fanned into an enormous flame of compassion and understanding and forgiveness and joy and gratitude. These instances where despair gets all mixed up inside of us and shoots out as new promise, as new faith, as new belief. This Christmas season, I have been convinced of one thing, our stories open the door to bear much fruit. Our suffering is Christ-like and paves the way for us to help others. Our suffering teaches us to be more understanding. It teaches us to cry more tears. To look back in reflection and know that we have so much to be grateful for, we have so many abundant blessings, we have so many opportunities to share hope.
This Christmas I ask you to find someone who may not see the light. I ask you to seek out the oppressed and the forgotten and take one minute, one minute, to pray over them and with them, to remind them of the good in this life. I ask you to take that thing, that one thing that almost destroyed you and turn it into a sliver of hope. What has made you better? What is your message of hope? What has rocked your core? What has strengthened your faith? There is someone out there going through the same thing, someone in sin and error pining, someone lonely or sad, someone who cannot even find the tears, someone who just needs a tiny breath added to their ember and there is someone like you who can show them how to
fall on their knees.
Early in the morning of October 23rd for absolutely no reason at all, I opened my laptop and typed these words in a fresh new blank document.
I am not done yet.
Early in the morning of October 31st I was ecstatic to tell my beloved hubby the news of two positive pregnancy tests driving it all home with a picture of one wee tiny extra punkin. But as the days went by, we realized something wasn’t quite right. I was ordered to complete several rounds of bloodwork and finally a sonogram. Fear began to creep into my heart and soul with words like levels dropping, not out of the woods, etc., etc. It is amazing the bond you can feel with something after only knowing about its existence for a few days, how much your heart can yearn for its safety and well- being regardless of size or state. It is because God loved us first.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:5
I began to panic but simply would not let my brain go there. I believe one of my most special gifts in this life is mothering. My family is my life. I do not drink. I do not smoke. I am genetically blessed to be as skinny as a rail. I exercise. I go to bed before 9:00 p.m. even on Saturdays. I have zero health issues and my last two pregnancies were flawless. So it just wasn’t possible that this could not work out for me. But fear, especially in the dark hours of the night, just won’t rest, just won’t let go, just won’t give in. Fear, in spite of all efforts to be positive, keeps knocking at your heart’s door...tap, tap, tap. Fear is the devil.
On the same day I found out things were in a very fragile state, I received this note from a former teacher and fellow church member. Someone I have admired and respected my entire life. Someone who means the world to me.
Dear Grace, the unexpected passing of Jill caused me to wonder if she knew how very much she meant to me, so I have vowed, in her memory, to make sure I let other special people in my life know what they mean to me and you are one of those people! I have admired you from afar these past few years. You are so very beautiful on the outside and that is because you are truly God servant with a loving, kind and generous heart. You have overcome and triumphed some personal battles, and I so admire the way you haven’t let any of these battles defeat you. You & Ashley are committed to God and each other and your example is encouraging to others. You have embraced motherhood with your whole heart and that thrills me. I want to encourage you to continue fighting the good fight you are the hands and feet of Christ. I will always be one of your biggest fans cheering you on. You are so very special to me.
And with blinding hot streaming tears I turned away from myself towards God. I began backpedaling from that anxious, terrified person and I jolted towards that someone who is so much bigger than I. I decided to fight and I knew that no matter what the future held, we would triumph. With each obstacle, with each unexpected fork in my path, I have slowly and surely made a turn. I imagine myself as a dial, as a ticking clock edging closer to Him with each tock. Those ticks, those life events, are not always what we imagined for ourselves. They are not always self- inflicted pains either but they are the shutters that draw us nearer to Him.
My testimony is this dear friends: I HAVE been through some personal battles, some ugly, messy, nasty, personal battles. Some, just the cards life has dealt me, but most, I have waged upon myself. There is a mascara stain on my pillowcase at this very moment. I have layed in bed thinking I will not recover from this. I have felt punished. In spite of EVERY attempt to dismiss that feeling, I have felt punished. I have surely hurt others and made some really detrimental decisions. I have swept those transgressions under my cloak hoping no one would ever recognize who they belonged to. I am, as we speak, going through a battle I never thought would be mine but the encouragement from a sister loved by God caused a TURN in my faith. I decided at that moment I was going to own every single battle whether won or lost. Those mistakes and scrapes and scars and deep wounds that have shaped my very existence would be covered up no longer. As I walked through the halls of BSA I envisioned myself with boxing gloves on, fighting the good fight.
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:12
I would not let the devil steal my faith. I would not be afraid of the news we might receive and I would not cower in the shadows. I would NOT waver. I am a child of God.
I am not done yet.
We all have the chance to make a difference in someone else’s life EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We are charged to encourage one another and lift each other up.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Being kind is free. Pursuing love takes little effort. Listening, helping, sharing, opening our hearts, PURSUING LOVE. It is all simple really. On that day, in that moment, God knew I needed kindness. God knew I needed to be reminded of His armor and His strength. He knew I needed to be reminded of my own witnesses cheering me on. He wanted me to quit being ashamed and stand TRIUMPHANT, win or lose.
We did not receive the news we wanted to hear. I did spend time down and I am still not 100% back to normal. I wailed but I GOT UP. RISE UP. GET UP. GET UP. I dug deep and I remembered things that have been harder than this. I would survive and the perspective of that loss was cast in a new, softer, light because someone else encouraged me. Raw words, honest words, resonating words. A simple reminder that God is a faithful God. God is a loving God. GOD IS GOOD. God is on our side. If you are suffering, if you are going through a divorce or have lost someone you love or if you are consumed by depression or if you are afflicted by addiction or maybe you have lost your job or if you never got to meet your baby, do not be defeated. Do not give in. God loves you and with Him we are never hopeless.
“Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for HE WHO PROMISED IS FAITHFUL”-Hebrews 10:23.
Beth Moore states, “Life can be painful here. Loss is inevitable. So let us grieve when we must, but God forbid that we grieve as the hopeless do. In His hands, we find solace. In His heart, we find rest. In His time, we find meaning. In His eyes, we are blessed. In His strength, we’re made mighty. In His light, morning breaks. In His Word, He has promised. In His coming, sleepers wake.” I can promise you one thing through it all. Through the loss and the grieving and the tears and the pain. Through the bad decisions I have made and the second chances I have been allowed, one thing is certain. I will shed this cloak and let God’s light shine all over me. I am going to be showered in His blessings and believe in His plan for me. I am going to be the hands and feet of Christ because
I AM NOT DONE YET.
‘Do not be afraid. Stand your ground’. Exodus 14:13
A week ago, our community lost someone unexpectedly and I am reeling…..still…. reeling. She was 37 and a mother to three amazing young daughters, one of which is in Betty’s class and plays on her basketball team. We team taught Sunday school and she was a PILLAR in our church’s infrastructure especially when it came to the family side of things. She was always smiling and pure joy to be around. She was good, very good.
Yesterday in our ‘Children of the Day’ study, Beth Moore said you should feel nurtured by God. And I have to say I am not feeling very nurtured at this moment. Honestly, I feel a little forsaken. Beth said God is like a dad and sometimes you need to crawl up in His lap and cry the day away. From the moment Jill’s service started, that is just what Betty did. She cried and cried and I almost exploded from how tender her little heart is. Why do these things happen? Who decides it is our time to go?? Why now? I can’t help but feel like we are always a breath away from disaster, from grief, from loss. Why is life so scary sometimes? I am searching for some sort of answer and there isn’t one. Because it is not AN answer I want. It is THE answer. That voice I have talked about. I want it to boom down and say THIS WILL NOT BE YOU. You will not get left behind. Your children will live to be 115 and DEVASTATION WILL NOT COME TO YOU. YOU ARE SAFE.
Before Sunday school this past week, I suddenly realized those sweet ladies might very well be there. I prayed for the right words to come, to teach the right lesson, to hold it together. Would we cry? Would we hug? Would we talk about their loss? It was Jill’s Sunday to teach and I was not prepared. They were there. I opened the worksheet and we talked about the Egyptians and the chariots and Moses crying out to God and the sea parting and that no matter your situation, you can call upon God and He will be with you. We did not cry. We did not talk about loss or death or grief. We played musical chairs and laughed and almost got kicked off of Haney Street and we chanted DO NOT BE AFRAID. STAND YOUR GROUND!!!!
Jill Ann Barrett is in Heaven, there is absolutely no doubt about that, but the gaping hole she left here is so exposed and tender right now it is almost as if it is hard to breathe, impossible to even fathom. I did not grow up with her. I did not graduate high school with her but she was part of our church family. When you lose a church friend, you lose one of your own. Your heart flails about and breaks into a million pieces just as if she was your very own sister, because she was.
Our Pastor told us that in the wake of her death, the day after, her husband and three daughters held hands in a circle and vowed that they will make it. Vowed to survive and to carry on. Life goes on. The beat goes on. You breathe in and out and move forward somehow. You fill that empty space with love and gratitude and joy. You realize that life will come to an end for us all. You remind yourself that what Jill would want, what her husband and children want….. is for her legacy to live on, her good works and warm smiles to continue. She is with us firmly saying GET UP, PRESS ON, LIVE LIFE,
DO NOT BE AFRAID. STAND YOUR GROUND.
Oh, If I had a dollar for every time I hear or see ¨Where has the time gone? And slow down time! And time just flew by!”, I would be a very rich woman indeed. Where HAS the time gone? Our baby boy will be two in a few months and I swear the past 20 months have been a blink. A BLINK. He is a full on walking, talking, reading, climbing, kissing toddler and those tender middle of the night memories of when I nursed him are becoming foggy....distant. He will be 9 before we know it.
My brother texts me a quick prayer starter every morning and today it read, ¨One of the most important things we can learn in this day and hour is how to be still. I believe that one of the significant reasons so many of us are burned out and stressed out is that we don’t know how to be still. We don’t really know God and do not acknowledge Him. And it is only by spending time getting to know Him that we learn to hear His still, small voice so that He can direct our paths. We need to learn to be quiet on the inside and stay in that peaceful state so that we are always ready to hear the Lord’s voice. Many people today just run from one thing to the next. Because their minds do not know how to be still, they do not know how to be still in their heart. If we will just slow down and quiet our minds enough to hear His promptings, we can live in a place of peace, ready to respond obediently. It is easy to see that leading a peaceful happy life, free from exhaustion and burnout, is not all that complicated, as long as we remain still before God.¨
I don’t know about you but I don’t think I have ever really heard that voice….that whisper. I have certainly felt His presence and known He was there but I have never really HEARD a voice and I have always wondered if perhaps there was something missing... If maybe I am not quite connected enough to hear Him or maybe He is too busy or maybe I am not ‘worthy’ of the voice. If any person on this planet runs from one thing to the next, it is me. I have a busy mind and I work most efficiently when my mind is occupied….by a million things. This week my swimmer will begin practices and our week will consist of Monday night basketball, Tuesday night basketball, Wednesday night swim, Thursday night swim, homework, studying for multiple UIL events, an open house at our business, preparing for Art Walk on Saturday, friends in town, getting ready for Bible study next week, painting furniture, blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., etc. ZERO stillness. Even in my quiet time in the morning while I read my devotional and my Bible, my mind is wandering off to a thousand different places. That my friends is where the time has gone. When is the last time you spent an entire block of the day being still? When is the last time you spent an hour being being quiet, being small, being open? Our time is spent driving, corralling, fretting, working, stressing, chasing, checking, Facebooking, texting, Instagramming, emailing, worrying and losing precious moments. There is a line in the movie Hook when Granny Wendy says to Peter, as his cell phone rings for the 800th time, “Peter, YOU ARE MISSING IT.” We are ya’ll. When I was a child, my parents unplugged our television for about 6 years. None TV. Zero TV. Nada TV. No The Voice. No college football. No 48 Hours on Saturday night (that seems incomprehensible to me). We were shoved outside to climb trees and eat mulberry pies and play hide and go seek around the block. God wants that for us I believe. He longs for us to TURN. IT. OFF. Shut it down and seek him or perhaps there is no seeking required. Perhaps in that stillness and solitude, He will seek you. Sister friend, there is so much life happening right before our very eyes but we are not seeing it because of an acute overload of stress. A list of to do’s so intense, we wake up and a year has gone by.
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10
I want to be still in my heart. I want to make time to lie flat on the floor and be still in MY SOUL and let God go to work. I want to LISTEN. I don’t hear it because I am NOT LISTENING. I have a best friend who just won a bodybuilding competition. Through this training process, the transformation she undergoes is beyond belief: “Someone asked me why do you compete? Months of dieting, not being able to indulge in birthdays and treats, hours spent in the gym, early mornings of cardio...my response? It is my gift exchange with Christ. These mornings? They are time to get to know Him. These hours in the gym? They are time to refine my spirit and attitude. These food choices? They show me that He gives me discipline that bleeds over to every area of my life and builds my character. It is NOT about me - this is about Him. I give Him all the glory in the everyday victories and the ones on the stage as well!”
Gift exchange with Christ. Isn’t that an amazing thought? As the holidays approach and we add even more chaos to our crazy busy schedules, I ask you (and mainly myself) to ponder a different kind of gift exchange. Time. Whether you are in the gym or lying flat on the floor, find a time slot for your relationship with Christ. Find a place for the voice. Turn off Fox news, remove the FB app from your phone, get up 10 minutes earlier and be still. Be still.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9
He is there. He will establish our steps. He will exalt us and lift us up on high. He will speak to us and change our hearts and our paths if we will just let Him.
And at the end of the movie, Granny Wendy says to Peter, “So your adventures are over? And he replies,
“Oh no. To live….to live, would be an awfully big adventure.”
Many moons ago, a therapist I was seeing told me I have a super harsh punitive ego or a harsh punitive superego or something like that. Basically, I am extremely hard on myself. I internally question every decision I make and just beat myself up over and over and over. Where this came from I do not know. I grew up in a home full of love and support and I am beginning to realize one thing: it is an attack on our souls from the depths.
I feel like I have been having lots of conversations with other women lately and if I see one thing we all have in common it is this trait. SO HARD ON OURSELVES.
We apologize. We question our self-worth. We dismiss compliments. We lack confidence. We feel guilt. We compare ourselves to others. We are discontent with our appearances. We put on fronts. We lower our standards. We give up. We overload ourselves with so many to do’s, we can barely keep it all straight. We are entangled and consumed and exhausted and unsure. We beat ourselves up over and over again. I am so guilty of this. I am not sure what my fear is. Perhaps what others will think of me? Fear of failing miserably as a mother, wife, sister, daughter for the whole world to know? Fear of not being enough compared to other women? Silly, silly fear. I have thought about this so much lately. I am surrounded by amazing, beautiful, strong ladies in my family, friendships, church and community. Women that I aspire to be like. Women that teach me and strenghten me. So, why then, are we in a constant state of snuffing out our own torch? Why are we cowering, doubting and back pedaling when we should be enlightening, mentoring and encouraging?
Lisa Bevere writes, in her book, Girls With Swords, “You are a beloved, royal daughter of the Most High God. The enemy’s approach may look different with each of us, but he will do all that is within his power to hinder or bend your growth to his purposes and distract you from your heavenly destiny.”
Have you ever thought, beloved, that perhaps you are being attacked? That the little voice inside your head saying you are not good enough, saying that plan will never work, saying that idea is laaaaaaaaaaaaaame is an actual attack on your destiny? Have you ever thought it is all part of a perfect plan to wrongfully claim what is rightfully yours, to hold you back from greatness, to destroy and crush God’s plan for you? It is. It is exactly that. The enemy that seeks to steal, kill and destroy is doing everything in his power to darken your path and to cover up your trail.
“The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual…..for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.”-Scott Peck
I can safely say I have spent a good part of the last decade of my life letting the evil voice win. I have listened to those whispers of how unimportant I am. How much my voice doesn’t matter and how much I hate my too small chin. Yesterday I met with our Pastor and presented an idea which caused her to clap. She legit gleefully clapped for my idea. It was a pivotal moment for me. It spurred this article and made me feel so WORTHY. Because you know what? I am. I am worthy. And so are you dear one.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”-Hebrews 12:1
Ladies, not only are you surrounded by people that love you here on this planet. You are surrounded by the greatest cloud of witnesses clapping so ferociously for you and the amazing things you are accomplishing. That’s right my Granny Bea and Ashley’s Grandmother Paulie and all the women (and men) who have gone before us are up there cheering us on. Let us throw off everything that HINDERS us and the sin that so easily entangles us…..that snakey quiet whisper that says you cannot…..THROW. IT. OFF. Let it go. Move it out. Toss it into the ocean with an anchor so heavy it will never resurface again.
Because sweet sister, you are beautiful and majestic and all things Holy. You are anointed. You ARE ANOINTED and there is a race you MUST run. There is a battle you must fight, an attacker you must conquer and a path you must forge.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Today my friends, go out and run your race. Believe in God's purpose for you, know that you are worthy and give yourself a big ole clap.