God’s playlist?

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time in nature, and in nature, I also experience God. As it often goes, I have been praying for clarity and directions with some specifics lately, and while I feel connected with God, I haven’t really felt any sense of direction or response. Also lately, I have been peeling back more layers, shedding a lot of therapeutic tears, and subsequently have felt deeper healing and growth occurring.

This morning, I got in my car to head to work. As I was pulling out of my driveway, my stereo came to life. What was odd was that the song that displayed on the screen was not from the playlist I had been listening to the night before, and typically, it starts up right where I left off. Most mornings, I drive to work in silence so I can pray and talk to God before I get to the office. The song that popped on the screen took me back a few years and my first instinct was to immediately hit stop, but for some reason I did not follow the urge. The first lyric plays through the speakers, “Loving can hurt… loving can hurt sometimes… but it is the only way that I know…” And then- silence. The song abruptly stopped playing. My mind was swirling in that moment. I was wondering why this song started playing in the first place and what this meant, if anything. Now I realize most people would chalk this one up to a weird coincidence. But, I stopped believing in coincidences a long time ago. I believe that God is always, ALWAYS communicating with us. Often times, I think this happens through small details and events that we think are “just a coincidence.” Many times we get frustrated, wondering why God is not responding to us and all of our questions and prayers are falling on deaf hears and even more deafening silence. But, what if God is answering or responding to us in ways we are not allowing ourselves to be open enough to hear or see?

So, needless to say, when this happened I felt puzzled but also very quickly wondered, “Is that you, God?” And if so… what are you saying? What is the message? So, I made the decision to allow the rest of the song to play. I hit the play button. Nothing happened. Tried again. Still nothing. After a few tries, I then picked up my phone in an attempt to hit the play button on there. My phone was completely blank. Would not “wake up” initially, however, a few seconds later the apple appeared. LOL, I guess whatever message God was sending me was so powerful it had crashed my phone… πŸ˜†

After the phone restarted, music resumed, but it was a totally different song. I spent the last few minutes of my drive marveling at what just happened and trying to make sense of it.

Here is what I do know. In the tears and the healing, I have spent some time reflecting on how deep some of the wounds had been and the scars they had left behind that were more extensive than I had ever imagined at the time. I had no idea I would be dealing with them a decade or more later, and realizing new ways they still held me back.

I’d like to think that if you asked around, people who know me in different capacities would probably all say in some form or another that I am a loving person and that you can tell I genuinely care about you and about how I handle myself and treat others. I am a lover in every sense of the word. As silly as it sounds, one of the my favorite compliments from my last boyfriend was that I should have a PhD in love, because love was who I am, and that I was the most loving person he had ever known.

Yet, as I have prayed for some navigation as of late, I have recognized how scary love still is to me, at least in the intimate relationship sense. Because every time I have been involved, I have been deeply hurt and betrayed by those who claimed to love me. As much as I hope to have that kind of love in my life, I know that we cannot love without risk. Ironically, as I type these words, I thought of one of my all-time favorite quotes about love… and also ironically, this quote was mentioned just the other day in a podcast I was listening to. (*also not a coincidence). β€œTo love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” C.S. Lewis

“Loving can hurt…loving can hurt sometimes. But it is the only thing that I know…”

Still reflecting on why this lyric popped onto my stereo and why it has struck a chord and hung on all day. What I do know, is that defines me well. I know that love can hurt. And as much as I want it, it terrifies me to take the risk and be hurt again. Yet, it is the only way I know how to live. I don’t know how to stop loving. And I don’t want to learn.

Striving

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast that talked about waiting on God, and how we should not have the mindset that if we perform well, we will get what we want/what we are waiting on. This gave me pause. In this healing journey, I have not consciously felt as though my motivation was to get what I want/am waiting for. It is about undoing the effects of trauma, breaking generational curses, healing past hurts, and becoming a better version of me. After all, I have to live with me for the remainder of my life, so I am trying to learn to be kind, gentle, accepting, and loving to/of myself, in all versions along the way.

But, even though this process is not about “earning” something from God, I realized that in those agonizing and frustrating moments in the waiting where I am so tired and weary and feel like giving up on ever seeing an end to the wait or getting what I most desire in this life, I find myself asking where I am falling short… why I am not enough…what others are doing that are allowing them to be blessed in the ways I feel that I am not.

This thought has been percolating in my mind for the past 24 hours. Today I was reflecting on where this came from. What made me this way? I imagine all of us are like this to some degree. We live in a culture that promotes the idea that everything is earned. We praise status, busyness, hustle, and hard work- the last two not being bad things, per se, but certainly can breed into extremes to form actual addictions (such as to work, exercise, achievement, or success, to name a few, or develop into greed). The idea that the poor, homeless, addicted, etc are directly related to laziness persists as a common belief, though any study on these populations will prove otherwise. Busyness is worn like a badge of honor, and we applaud others for all of the wrong things.

Certainly, this bears some weight on my own personal development. Sometimes my mind drives me crazy in its relentless pursuit of understanding and answering “why?” My faith walk has been challenging since faith requires acceptance that you won’t always understand or know the why. Sometimes, it serves me well, as I reflect and seek to learn more about myself in order to grow. It is a fine line, trying to balance between the positives and negatives.

As a child, I was a perfectionist from early on, and I have always been my own worst critic. I grew up in a home where I was loved, though I didn’t feel or recognize this until I was an adult. I was a high-achiever and effortlessly did well in school. School was my happy place- which largely influenced my desire to become a teacher. Thinking about it now, I realize the reason why it was my happy place wasn’t just because I was curious and enjoyed learning and reading. It was also because there, I was praised. There, I received approval and validation. At home, nothing I did was praised. I was criticized for my messiness, my appearance, my behavior… my mom would say I was apparently a perfect angel at school (per my teacher’s praises and accolades) and a monster at home. I would bring home straight A’s, and this would earn me a prize- a toy or money, but never what I wanted most- an “I’m proud of you.”

My home was also absent of hugs and “I love yous.” As I type this, I feel guilty… not because it is not reality, but because I have a much better understanding now, in my 40s. Today, I know that many times dysfunctional homes/families are not devoid of love. I know that many of those homes/families can appear “normal” or “good” from the outside, as there aren’t obvious traumas such as physical abuse and neglect. I know that many of our parents do the best they know how to do, but that some of them were/are wounded and didn’t/don’t realize it. They pass on trauma and wound us in new ways.

I realize that when I am sitting with God, crying out and wondering why my report card is not good enough to earn the one prize I have been seeking for most of my life, I am that same little girl who has subconsciously learned that high performance is rewarded. The little girl who keeps trying harder to get the one thing that is never given. I am also the woman who has been conditioned by a world that tells her that we are defined by our achievements- specifically the ones that can be seen externally.

A lot of healing is really about reprogramming. And reprogramming is not easy! It often feels like I am unlearning almost everything I have ever learned. Today, I know that I do not have to do anything at all to earn God’s love or His grace. They are freely given to me. I also know that God’s economy is not based on earning things through good behavior. Re-writing that narrative is tough, though. The world teaches me that the more I strive, the more I can thrive. The funny thing is, that ideology creates nothing but a hamster wheel. Because even as you thrive, there is always something else to strive for… and in this vicious cycle, there can be no contentment or peace.

Blisters

Lately, I have been working to intentionally create more balance in my life, and focus on the things that bring me peace and joy. I love spending time in nature, and when I walk the towpath, I experience something that touches my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health all in one. Since I tend to slack in addressing physical health, I have been working to make this a more regular routine.

Two weeks ago, I was walking 4-5 miles along the canal 4-5 days/week. One night, I came home and noticed the most atrocious blister on my big toe once I removed my socks and shoes. At that point, it did not hurt, but it looked hideous. I hit the canal the following day anyway, which only aggravated the blister. After some googling, I picked up some hydrocolloid band-aids the next day, slapped them over the blister, and walked my 5 miles. The morning after that walk, the blister seemed to have developed its own personality, and that personality was angry. VERY angry. It did not look good. It looked like a growth or a 6th toe.

At that point, I figured I better take a few days off. This was incredibly frustrating, because I could feel the effects of my walks on my mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and since I struggle to commit to my physical health, I was concerned that taking a break would cause me to lose momentum and motivation. I could tell that I was feeling irritable. I prayed and basically begged and pleaded God for relief so that I could get back on the trail because, after all, what I was doing was so good for me! I also had to skip my mani/pedi appointment because I did not want them anywhere near that toe.

During this time, I also vented to my closest friends, who urged me to pop the blister. The idea of popping it to expedite the process was appealing, but I resisted, mostly because the American Academy of Dermatology told me that this was not recommended, since it could lead to infection, and that would mean having to go to the doctor, and would only lengthen the healing process. I continued to research (online, of course) and read about all the suggested ways to expedite the healing or provide a quick fix. I also purchased moleskin to wrap my toe and special socks for walking & hiking to prevent friction blisters. Mostly, though, I just waited. The internet told me it could be up to two weeks for a bad blister to heal. Today is the two week mark, and it is STILL there…though it does look much less angry.

During this process (which is not yet over), what struck me is how something seemingly so small (yet largely obnoxious), mirrors life and our spiritual walk. The blister was an injury, a pain, something that I at first tried to ignore, but it grew to a point where I had to address it. So, first, I looked for a temporary or quick fix, which only exacerbated the problem, since I tried to stick a band-aid over it and keep going. My well-meaning friends suggested I pop it- rather than allowing it the natural and necessary time to heal and for me to rest it… because we humans are naturally impatient and do not want to wait on anything, nor do we always give ourselves the rest we need. Plus, we often think we know what is best. Even those who love us and have the best of intentions sometimes try to steer us against what God is asking us to do. I also tried reasoning with God. I pleaded my case and asked Him to remove the roadblock or problem. I insisted on all of the good reasons I had as to why I needed to keep walking and why the blister needed to disappear. During the first week, I really fought against it. I was tempted to just go walk anyway. But during the second week, I decided just to submit. I found other fulfilling ways to use my time. I read a few books, listened to a few podcasts, planned some material for my group therapy sessions, & went to bed early. (It also happened to be over 90 degrees that whole week, with high humidity and heat warnings).

I don’t know why I got the blister… my shoes seem to fit well and are comfortable, my socks were not too thin, I had been walking regularly… but life often works that way. One of the biggest things that steals our peace is our need to know why, to not be able to accept that many things are just not to be understood, at least not in the moment. I thought I knew what was best for me, but clearly God had other ideas, and I was forced to surrender, slow down, rest, and deal with it, rather than plow through, ignore, attempt to speed it up, take matters in my own hands and force my own solutions, and/or apply quick-fix methods. I’m not even exactly sure how God is using this, other than as a reminder to be patient, and to remember that He knows infinitely more about what is best for me than I do- I have to trust that rather than constantly work to present my arguments to have things my way.

A Real Look at Trauma & Healing

We have become a world that desires to be immune from pain. As I wrote before, when the slightest pain hits, we immediately seek a quick fix. Sometimes that is in the form of a medicinal pain reliever… and our country is severely over-medicated… while I am not suggesting medicine is never a viable option to assist in treatment, I am stating that many people run to mental health meds to solve their problem rather than attempting to do the inner work. Sadly, these will only ever be a band-aid.

Last night, I was sitting in solitude, reflecting, thinking, talking with God, but mostly just listening and receiving. Lately, it has seemed as though some old things have been resurfacing, and I believe God has been applying salve to my old wounds, working on small pieces that still are not fully scarred over. I had a pretty hard cry last night as I sat there as well. We typically think that we are far healthier and far more healed than we truly are, and only God can see these blind spots & bring them to light to receive the proper needed treatment.

I work with people who are hurting, and my job is to offer them comfort, but also help; to give them strategies to cope and assist in their healing process. ALL of us have experienced trauma- some to a lesser degree than others, and for some of us, our trauma is obvious, while for others it is hidden beneath the surface, a facade. People approach emotional, mental, and spiritual healing the same way they approach the physical. In an instant-culture, we want the quick, easy fix. The problem is- not a thing about true healing is quick nor easy. There is not a one-size-fits all method or a magical pill. It is a slow process, and ironically, healing from your pain is a painful process. This is why so many shy away or refuse to do the work… who wants to trade pain for more pain? Most would rather stuff it and pretend they are fine- they may throw themselves into work, kids, or another relationship. Or, they may find ways to drown it out and numb it; using substances, too many of their prescribed mental health meds, excessive exercise, shopping, eating, gambling, sex… the list goes on… Trauma is the gateway drug. It is the root of so many mental health struggles and addictions. We pretend we are fine, throw on a mask to hide behind, and can sometimes fool a lot of people, even at times, ourselves.

But, the trauma and the pain is still bubbling beneath the surface, and it will continue to resurface and create problems until it is dealt with- for most people, this never happens. Healing is done in the dark. It is done in solitude. Most cannot handle being alone with their pain or their thoughts. The irony of this is we never have to do it alone. There is another way. When you invite God into your pain, He sits in it with you. He is the ultimate counselor- He will comfort, mend, soothe, empathize, and impart wisdom. He will walk you through forgiveness and take away your guilt and shame. There is no wound God cannot heal.

As I sat in the darkness of the night, alone with Jesus, crying, I thought about what healing looks like. Many times, it looks exactly like this. So much of my journey has involved rest and quiet time, moments where I ultimately must surrender things over to God. (I still have a bad habit of laying things at His feet, only to pick them up & worry about them again). It is in these moments when God is doing the work for me. He is doing what He knows best, and what only He can do. He has healed pieces that I thought were long-mended, only to realize there were still sharp edges.

But, there have also been times during my journey where I have been asked to do the work. I continually fuel myself with spiritual food through sermons, podcasts, devotionals, and books. I devote large chunks of time to prayer and time alone with God. I journal and write about my thoughts, struggles, and hopes. I share encouragement and work to help others who are in pain as I recover from my own. I battle hard against the thoughts the enemy uses to attack me with. I seek out my faith-filled friends and ask them to speak life into me. I do my best to walk in obedience and follow the directives I feel the Holy Spirit gives me. I also use strategies and tools from my counseling toolbox to replace old patterns with healthier ones. I practice good soul-care. I allow myself to feel all of my emotions… but have to work not to live in them or let them dictate my mood at times. I allow myself to cry when the tears come. Working in counseling, I have witnessed how much many people resist feeling any emotions that aren’t the feel-good variety and refuse to cry. Crying is therapeutic in itself.

Healing is the best gift you can ever give yourself. But to do so, you must create the space. You must allow yourself the time. And you must get REAL comfortable with being uncomfortable. I can promise you, it will be worth it. Pastor Tim Ross said that when God is the orchestrator of your realignment, He will do so perfectly, from the inside-out. The inner work is the hardest, but also the most rewarding, as it is where you will eventually see the fruit, and the healing will be eternal. I remain a work in progress, devoted to continued growth and healing as long as I am here on earth.

In Rhythm with God

It has felt as though “waiting” has been the theme song of my life over the past few years. Recently, I thought the waiting period was finally over in two different areas. I was nervous, but very excited, to step into the next chapter. In both of these circumstances, I learned that rather than moving forward as I was anticipating, I was going to have to wait some more.

In the past few days, the enemy has been firing at me full force, from every imaginable angle. I have truly felt like a warrior in battle each day, fighting -tooth and nail- for my sanity and peace. Yesterday, as I was spending time with God, trying to regain my footing, I had a thought that made me chuckle. At first, what came to me was the reminder that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Then, I had a visual image of me and Jesus. Like a child, I kept wanting to run ahead. Each time there has been a glimpse of what is coming in these situations, I get excited and am ready to take off running. What I am running toward- these are good things, which I know would produce fruit. They are things I feel like I have been preparing for for a very long time. So, why does God push me forward only to say “just kidding! stop and wait again.”? I suppose a part of it may be because He does not want me to focus in on the things I am starting to see on the horizon, but always on Him.

No matter how often I have wished I was a runner, I am absolutely not one. I have no experience training for or running an actual marathon. But, I do know that in a long-range race, it is important to maintain a slow and steady pace, rather than burst out of the gate full speed ahead, or to have any fast bursts during the course of the race. As I reflected more on this metaphor, I went to the internet to get some more information about marathon behavior. I learned that much of what I suspected was accurate- in a marathon, runners should take regular breaks to walk for brief intervals. Taking regular breaks allows for a faster recovery and also increases endurance. Also, runners should take at least one long break from running altogether each year.

Relating this to life, to my situation, and to the message I was receiving yesterday… I have definitely learned that God operates in marathons. Getting to the blessings He has for us typically, if not always, involves waiting, moving at a slower pace than we would like, requiring rest along the way, and perseverance to keep going even when we are tired, weary, and want to give up because we cannot see the finish. When I get glimpses of those blessings, I want to take off at full speed and charge toward them eagerly- and with good intentions. But, as challenging as it was to learn I would need to wait some more, I am grateful that God grabbed my hand and held me back, and that He has been working to get me in step with Him, at His (SLOOOOOOW) but steady pace. In the past, I have not allowed myself to get into this rhythm, and have likely created messes and heartache in situations unnecessarily.

Last night, I listened to a podcast in which the speaker said that we can ruin things by not staying in step with God’s timing. Today, when I allowed myself a short scroll on social media, I saw a message that said, “God is saying to you today, if you rush it, you’ll ruin it… pause, pray, and be patient.” Pretty safe to say He is speaking to me. I am glad I didn’t miss it. Sometimes, we expect answers to come in prayer or a certain way, and we can miss the ways God is communicating, as He has infinite ways.

During these last few years, I have had periods of rest and recovery. For some reason, right now, it is as though I am in a holding cell… between the preparation I have done and the next phase I can now see ahead. I can’t say I know why I am in another period of forced rest, but what I keep reminding myself is that God sees the whole picture, and I see only a tiny drop in the bucket. So, I must choose to submit, and to trust. At times like these, it isn’t easy, but it is the only choice for me…not because there are no other options, but because I no longer wish to be in control.

More Jesus, Less Jennifer

Yesterday was a rough day. I have had a collection of them lately, to be honest, and I am missing my peace, but cannot seem to get a firm grasp on it. This is a tough time of year for many, myself included. Yesterday, I was bombarded with anxious and negative thoughts, and this led to feeling angry, frustrated, fearful, worried, and uncertain. I have been praying for clarity and direction in a certain area of my life for the second half of this year. I seem to “feel” the same leading each time, but I very quickly want to abandon this “knowing” for things that are more logical and safe. I have yet to feel led in a different direction by God, but inevitably, my “need” for urgency, desire to protect myself, think of me first, and lack of patience in waiting try to win me over and convince me to do otherwise.

Last night, after a long day of a tough battle, I got in bed feeling defeated. As I reflected on my thoughts- once again, I kind of wanted to laugh at how much I revert to toddler, me-centered behaviors, but also am embarrassed that in all the growth I have made, I still turn back to my fleshy ways. As I laid in bed, I was thinking specifically about how I didn’t want to show love to someone who wasn’t giving me the love and attention I wanted in our friendship, and how I didn’t want to give a gift I had bought on a whim because it made me instantly think of this friend.

When I am truly struggling and uncertain about things, especially when I feel I am not getting answers to the questions I am asking in prayer, I always refer back to Jesus. Years ago, the cliched “What would Jesus do? WWJD” movement was popularized, and I laughed at it then, but now I recognize how significant this question is. As I thought this over last night, I immediately knew Jesus would not behave the way I was in that moment. Jesus gave love freely, without expectation, and it was never an equal exchange. My whole life, LOVE has been so important to me, and I view Jesus as the ultimate representation of love. Jesus IS love. He was love in human form. No matter where I was in my faith journey, I loved big. As my faith grew, the more capable I was of loving in a less selfish, more unconditional way, like Jesus. While I am proud of the progress I have made, I know I also have plenty of room left to grow. Last night was a huge reminder that even when I am living out this love, I will inevitably have moments where I return to my selfish human nature.

Today, I was determined to have a better day. As I sat down with my journal to spend some time alone with God, one of the first things that entered my mind was the title of this post. It was a good reminder that when I feel as though I am unsure and not getting answers, I can always look to Jesus as my example. I could typically tell you fairly quickly what Jesus would do. I have learned so much in the last few years about relationships, but I forget that many of those lessons should be applied in our friendships too, especially in times when I am tested- when friends are distant or selfish, or not pouring into the friendship. When you think about it, it really is very revolutionary to behave and think and act like Jesus. Again, it challenges just about every message we receive through culture. We are taught to treat people completely differently than Jesus would. We live too selfishly, seek to protect ourselves, are slow to, or even refuse, to forgive, we hold grudges, we punish people for their offenses… the list is endless. What if, we erred on the side of grace and love? It is a scary concept when you consider it. But, that is what Jesus would do.

More Jesus, less Jennifer… I am a work in progress, and this whole dying to self bit takes time.

Waiting is required.

Something I struggle with often is trying to filter all of the conflicting messages I receive. Messages from the world, messages from the Christian community, messages from my own intuition/from God. While it is easiest to recognize a message that comes from culture, sometimes it is not as easy to ignore it, as many of these have been subconsciously engrained in us, and they become our default thinking. While there are many incredible, healthy messages from within the faith-based community, I have also seen and heard “wisdom” that does not sit right in my soul. I used to wonder if I was just too immature in my faith, as surely these “experts” must know best. But, what I have learned is there is only one true expert, and that is God. I must do my best to sift through all of the direction and advice thrown upon me and dig deeply to find the answer in Him, and there are times when this contradicts everything I have ever learned or been told. This makes it difficult to trust my own instinct/intuition. Add to that, we all have an enemy who will do everything he can to confuse us- that is one of the oldest tricks in his book… look no further than the garden, where he convinced Eve that she had heard God incorrectly.

Last week, I had one of those thoughts that seems to contradict what we are told. I could write an entire post on waiting (I am sure I have a few times already) and how we are an instant gratification society, programmed to not wait on anything, which is in direct opposition of how the kingdom operates. In the world, we want everything now, we are always in a rush, and we quickly abandon anything that requires us to wait. Our faith journey is designed to help us develop the fruits of the spirit; one of which is patience, otherwise known as “long-suffering.” (This is such an understatement in 2021, as we surely feel as though we are suffering in any kind of wait!)

Having lived many years with ferocious anxiety, I am the queen of what-ifs? God sometimes turns this back on me, having me spin my what-ifs into exploring the possibilities that are positive or supernatural. As I have learned from my beloved pastors, God tends to ask questions more often than answering them. We humans have an insatiable need to ask WHY, but God’s questions are often Why not? (or, said another way, what if?)

Most people who know me would probably describe patience as one of my virtues. But, apparently, my patience is not quite at that fruit-of-the-spirit level, because our fruit is drawn out through testing and pruning. Which means, if we need to develop patience, we will be required to wait. And 2021 has been a year of waiting for me… each time, that wait has been uncertain and scary and frustrating, and the answer or resolution has not come until the last possible moment. As I was chatting with a friend about some uncertainty in her marriage, I considered what messages I have always heard- we are taught never to wait on someone else. If a friend is not giving us what we need, and the experience is lopsided, we should get rid of them. If a partner is not ready for a step we are wanting to take, we need to find a new one. If a person seems like they are not changing in a way that we need them to to maintain the relationship, we should move on. While there are many reasons why dating, relationships, and marriage are a mess these days, one of those reasons in my opinion, is because we jump ship, convinced there is greener grass elsewhere, and our “best life” is found somewhere else, so we should serve ourselves and move on to find it. Many of us fail to realize relationships are meant to be a space where we serve others, not ourselves…

This caused me to wonder, what if we have it all wrong? When I look to what I KNOW, the message is clear. God meets us where we are at. He accepts us, loves us, and does not attempt to manipulate or force us to meet Him where He is. What if we loved the people in our lives this way? What if we were to meet them where they were at, accept that is what they are capable of in this moment, holding space for them to grow and heal, while loving them where they are? What if, instead of looking at it from our own perspective- one that is surely coming from a space of impatience and frustration, we look at it from their perspective of being accepted for exactly who and where they are in this moment? How beautiful would it be to receive this gift? How would this change our relationships?

Life is meant to be a journey of evolution and growth. The people we are in relationship with are never going to grow at exactly the same time as us, or at the rate that we want them to. We cannot control the pace of our own growth, and we also can’t force the pace of anyone else’s.

I am not suggesting that we spend out entire life waiting on hold for others. I am not advising you to wait on an abusive person to stop abusing you. Sometimes, when we wait, we must do so at a distance. I think of an incredible story of a pastor and his wife who separated early in their marriage. They spent a year and a half apart. Committed to personal growth. This may as well be a lifetime for most people. At 18 months out, many people are divorced and engaged to someone else! This couple used the time to heal separately, then they attempted to come back together, and now have around 25 years of marriage that has sowed into a church and a big family of their own. What would have happened had they treated their relationship like most? I am convinced that we often miss out on God’s best for us simply because we are not willing to wait. Even those of us with the best intentions will wait awhile, but soon we begin to get anxious, weary, discouraged, doubtful, impatient, frustrated fearful… we wind up telling ourselves to give up because clearly it isn’t going to happen. Even well-meaning friends and family encourage us to let go. But, just because it isn’t going to happen on our timeline, doesn’t mean it isn’t meant to happen on God’s... I am convinced that all of the very best things we could ever be blessed with involve both risk and waiting… waiting in itself is a risk. What is faith? Trusting for something we cannot see. Waiting develops the fruit of patience, and it also develops and strengthens our faith.

Waiting is often scary. I have had to work to overcome my desire to grasp for certainty. Waiting always involves unknown and uncertain elements. There is no guaranteed outcome. There seems to be a risk of getting hurt or “falling behind.” It may not ever turn out the way that you expect. These are scary realities. Why wait? Well, if there is a chance I will miss out on God’s best for me because I won’t wait for it, that is a much scarier option. I will put my trust in Him to produce something out of my waiting…at the right time, it will produce a harvest. Not my time; His.

Simple Reminders

This weekend was a doozy. Life itself has been challenging and I have noticed the physical signs of stress recently taking a toll on me. I was prepared for a fairly lazy Saturday. Chilly weather hit Maryland last week, and I had held out til November before turning on my heat. I picked up filters on Friday and went down to change the one in the lower unit Saturday morning. It had probably been a few months since I had been in the basement and even longer since I had entered the storage area, so it was a rather unpleasant surprise when I walked into a soaking wet floor.

My simple Saturday started with a major cleanup effort, moving tons of boxes and junk out, calls to plumbers, and a major breakdown of tears, stress, and anxiety. Being a homeowner is not always fun or stress-free, and times like this highlight the fact that I do it on my own and don’t have a partner to help or assist in big decisions or repair bills. With all that I already had on my financial plate, I could not understand why the unfortunate timing and death of a major appliance would hit right now. Sunday, the plumber came, and delivered additional bad news, since the problems extended beyond the water heater. Sunday brought a lot more tears and anguish, though I did the best I could to squash it for the time-being, since it was my youngest son’s birthday.

Monday, I sat down at my computer with a long to-do list, feeling completely overwhelmed. As the clock ticked, and my list was not getting any shorter, I started to grow frustrated and agitated at myself for not being more productive. At the same time, I started to feel an internal tug. I wanted nothing more than to go sit outside on my deck, in the abundant sunshine that was unseasonably making an appearance today. I pushed it off for awhile, feeling both guilty and annoyed since I had a lot to get done, but it grew more persistent, until I reminded myself that sometimes our soul longs for what we need most… and sometimes, when we are living our busy, over-filled, stressed-out lives, as counterproductive as it may seem, what we often need most is to rest. To return to the most simple of things. To sit with God.

I wound up spending the next few hours basking in the sunlight. The warmth of the sun felt amazing on my face, and it truly felt as though it penetrated right through my skin. I did my best to clear my cluttered mind, and asked God to speak to me, to provide some direction and wisdom in some areas I have been confused and anxious over. While I throughly enjoyed the Vitamin D therapy, I didn’t get the a-ha moment or the big idea or hear even a small voice. Where was He, I wondered? I had opened myself to receive and sat quietly to listen for hours and He seemed nowhere to be found.

Eventually, I returned to my office space and checked off a few items on the to-do list. But, I reminded myself how few and far between days like this would be, so I committed to a little more time out on the deck, watching the sun slowly make its descent into the mountains.

A funny thing happened while I marveled at the sky. I remembered a thought I had earlier in the day- the first time I was outside. I had pondered it briefly, but had also dismissed it as just another thought of mine. When it re-surfaced, I wondered… was it truly my thought? This took me back to a revelation I had the previous week- one that came together from a combination of mental health resources and spiritual ones. As children, we are highly intuitive creatures. We have a knowing about people and situations. Many times, adults are dismissive of this intuition, and children start to learn they cannot trust themselves. Then, as we develop, we add layers of hurt, junk, and messed-up thinking which are are characteristic of this fallen world. Satan worms his way into our head. As adults, we tend to ignore our intuition- often this leads to us ignoring red flags. Last week, as I was contemplating all of this, I reflected on how dismissive I am of my own intuition. I have a hard time trusting those feelings I get. I believe intuition is a way God speaks to us; sometimes in the form of warning us of danger or potential bad choices/situations, and sometimes to guide us toward His plan for us. Last year, I took a giant leap of faith, leaving my career with no logical support for the decision, but knowing very deeply in my soul it was what I was meant to do. Almost a year later, I am still grappling along blindly in the dark, trying to figure out where this path is leading, but I also still feel at peace, knowing it was the right decision.

Intuition often goes against the advice others would give us, but that is because God is capable of so much more than what is humanly possible. He is able to work in the supernatural, so as advanced and as smart as we sometimes think we are, we still cannot wrap our tiny brains about what He can do, especially if we surrender and allow Him to steer us. As I sat with the thought I had earlier, I started to feel as though it was my intuition, and that God actually had spoken… Ironically, last week, He reminded me I needed to trust myself and my intuition. In fact, I felt very compelled to work on doing so, and in this moment, I wonder if He is responding in this way to push me to make good on that promise to myself.

Here’s another thing about intuition. Like many directions we get from God, it does not come with a fully laid out plan or all of the answers. We naturally want to have all of the details and all of the answers, and we create even more questions… God wants our obedience. He wants us to learn that He can be trusted, and that we do not need the answers until and/or unless He gives them.

The message I have today is twofold. Our world today is so much busier and so full of unnecessary distractions than what we were created for. Often the last thing we ever prioritize is rest… because we are too busy or too preoccupied. We keep pushing ourselves or consuming tv, social media, and mindless entertainment until we finally crash and burn… but so many of us then find we can’t even sleep. I read something last week that said so many of us take medications or drugs to help us sleep, then spend the day caffeinating ourselves to stay awake– what an unhealthy cycle!!! Our body… our soul… needs rest to recharge and to restore ourselves properly. Fight the urge to stay busy all of the time rather than fighting the urge to rest and spend quiet time alone and with God. The Bible tells us we should be child-like… children rest. Children trust their inner voice, and their brain is not programmed to tell them otherwise. Resist the enemy’s attempts to control your mind and your life. Use that quiet space to tap in to your inner knowing. And don’t be afraid to trust that instinct.

Changing Seasons

The other morning, I noticed this intricate beauty outside my garage. My first thought was one of awe- pretty incredible that a tiny spider can create such a masterpiece, and in a short period of time too. My second thought was Charlotte must have decided it was time to decorate my house for fall… as much as I love fall, I have been digging my heels, not wanting to accept that summer is over. And this is the thought that gave me pause…

I feel fortunate to live in an area where I do get to experience seasons- although, at my age, I would prefer to forego winter altogether. My favorite season since I was a kid has always been fall, though summer has always run a tight second. And again, as I have aged, my feelings have shifted somewhat. I love the slower pace of summer, the days filled with sunshine, reading by the pool, and the golden color of tanned skin that somewhat camouflages the things I feel are highlighted by winter Casper-ness. So, when the days start to lose hours of light, the mornings are crispy, and that color starts to fade, I find myself feeling a little blue. Around the same time that I saw the spiderweb, I had gotten my nails done, and with great reluctance, I had selected a dark, “fall-appropriate” shade. It was my first bit of acceptance of the changing season.

I think this year has been particularly difficult for me to make the transition. Summer had been good to me. I felt as though I was finally walking out of a very dark chapter in my life, one that had extended across many season changes. I was feeling healthier- emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically, than I had ever been. I had stepped into my purpose, which enveloped me in a sense of joy and fulfillment I had been missing since the days my boys were young and I knew I had been called to be a mother. I was also filled with contentment, for probably the first time in my life. Things were looking up. Then, right as summer threatened to turn to fall, I experienced a disappointment. I tried to shake it off, keep it in perspective, tell myself I was ok, and keep moving forward. But, for whatever reason, it just hasn’t been working. And the more I tried to make it work, the more frustrated I would become. I wanted to hold on to my summer.

I have always loved metaphors, and the Bible is filled with them. The idea of seasons is one of my favorites. The shifting seasons mimic the seasons of life. We will all experience these in our lives repeatedly. Winter brings our dry, barren, hidden, dark seasons. Spring is when new life appears and begins to bloom, leading us into our summer seasons, which I think can be viewed two ways. Sometimes these are seasons with lots of growth or rest, with sunny days. But, summer also brings intense heat- we may be tested, and this heat inevitably brings storms as well. Summer is a time when we often must do a lot of weeding in our flower gardens, and in our lives. Some things may need to be removed in order to protect our continued growth. And, then comes fall. Fall is the season of the harvest, the time when hard work pays off and we see the fruit of our labor. At the same time, here in the northeast, fall means one of my favorite parts of the year- when the leaves change from green to brilliant shades of orange, yellow, and red. This change is short-lived though, and then they fall away. The autumn seasons in life may also bring changes, and require things to fall away that cannot survive in the next phase.

The seasons of life are addressed in Ecclesiastes 3. After we read the various contrasts, we are reminded that God makes everything beautiful in His own time. Each year, the four seasons are predictable when relating to climate. The shift occurs around the same time. This is not true in our life seasons. God determines when we walk from one season to the next, but always with the purpose of weaving the events and growth together to create a story uniquely written for us. I am thankful for this promise, yet, I still reluctantly cling to seasons in my life like I am clinging to this summer- with a vise grip- much like a toddler not wanting to give up her toy. Other times, I long to rush through the season I am in, just as I do during the cold Maryland winters, yearning for spring, and not wanting to appreciate what the current season has to offer. I have probably kept myself stuck more than once due to my lack of surrender and acceptance. Today, my prayer is to let go of what is in my hand, and embrace where I am being led next. As with most things in the way of the Kingdom, this is a task easier said than done…

Learning to trust in a broken world

The image is an excerpt from a devotional I read this morning. More on that in a moment…

The last few weeks have been challenging. I experienced a disappointment that sent me spiraling back into anxiety, self-pity, negativity, and fear/panic in uncertainty. It was incredibly frustrating- since I no longer live this way on the regular, I know just how bad it is. It is no longer my norm, so I can recognize the dysfunction and I know now there is a much better alternative. But, nonetheless, I found myself stuck in it, frustrated I wasn’t succeeding in digging myself out. Every day, I was praying for guidance, direction, wisdom, discernment…anything to tell me what to do now.

Last night, I saw the reminder that when God seems distant, He is not the one who has moved. I blew it off, thinking to myself, I have been praying every day, but He is not speaking. He is silent!

Then, today, I read this devotional. It struck a chord with me. First, because it spoke to something I was observing in myself a few weeks ago. As I was sinking into the quicksand of anxiety, I realized that I was projecting. I was taking my past experiences as evidence in a current situation, which was unfair to me and to the others involved. Yet, I kept repeating the same issue. I did finally get a handle on it, but I also experienced a disappointment in the end which seemed to validate the things I was feeling, so that didn’t help!

When I read this, it struck me as to how accurate it is for I suspect, most, if not all of us. We view things through our personal lens, one that has been shaped and formed by our experiences. Since humans are messy, broken, and imperfect, we don’t often escape through life without damage, scars, and/or without being hurt by the betrayal or heartbreak surrounding someone we had trusted. Trust is hard to give, and when you have felt the pain of this, it subconsciously and consciously becomes embedded in your lens; how you see people and situations going forward.

When we look to God, we are using this same lens. It is nearly impossible to imagine someone so perfectly deserving of our complete trust, because we have been jaded by our earthly experiences. And then, God rarely works in the way we expect or “want,” so in our minds, this provides more evidence that we cannot fully trust Him. If you have ever been betrayed or hurt deeply by someone you cared about, you know how difficult it is to take a leap of faith and try again, or maybe you said you were trying, but had reservations that held you back or caused you to project.

Uncertainty has always been scary to me. But, I continue to learn, God doesn’t allow a whole lot of certainty. HE is the certainty, and I suppose that is His whole point- He wants us to cling to Him. To trust He is who He says He is. Any other “certainty” we have really is not truly certain anyway.