Tuesday, April 30, 2013

This Little Light of Mine

In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God. From the very beginning the Word was with God. And with this Word, God created all things. Nothing was made without the Word. Everything that was created received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone. The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out. 
John 1:1-5

Dark or darkness in this passage is described as this: metaphor used of ignorance of divine things, and its associated wickedness.

The verse that I highlighted above stopped me in my reading tracks this morning. I read it over and over again and let it settle into my heart. "The light keeps shining" and "darkness has never put it out". Memories of the times I've allowed darkness to put out my light or even seep in and become the primary source began to roll across my mind.

There is one event--that is both past and present--that this verse touches and causes me to examine. While I'm going to protect those who haven't given permission to share their side of the story, I can refer to this event as 'the broken relationship', and this broken relationship is a very present source of emotional roller coaster rides for me. From confusion to anger to pain to apathy, since last November my heart hasn't settled, and more often that not, when I think of this relationship I feel anger--which I know from my Freedom journey with Gateway, that this really points to a wound.

I'm not writing now to mull over the details of this brokenness or its accompanying emotions, but to jot down what Holy Spirit impressed within me as I read the above words. If you back up just one verse we read that "his (Jesus) life gave light to everyone." Simply put, since our life comes from Jesus and that life is light, then darkness should never be able to put our lights, just like it couldn't with Jesus.

The other day I was reading a favorite blog author and came across this golden nugget--among a multitude of nuggets: Reaching a point where you say "enough" to a toxic environment is not cowardly--it is so very brave. [Jen Hatmaker, When Is It Time to Walk Away?, April 21, 2103]

Read the post and you'll see that she's not giving permission to throw in the towel because a relationship is hard work. What she is stating is that there sometimes comes a point in the brokenness where it just may be the wisest decision to either remove yourself from within it or give permission for it to no longer be a part of your life. This line spoke right to the 'broken relationship' and that place in my heart that just keeps turning it over and again.

I have not thought of the decision that was made last November regarding this 'broken relationship' as brave, but cowardly--or just finally giving in and consequently ... giving up. Much has been deposited into my heart since that time, each golden nugget making sense and resonating, but not capping the well, so to speak. This particular sentence settled deeply within me, but was still missing the mark by 'thismuch'.

And then today... the revelation that the light keeps shining and is never put out by darkness, combined with the above golden nugget and the understanding I've received about blame and control with relationships, put a period at the end of this punctuationless (my made up word) sentence that's been hindering me since November.

"Enough" was both asked for and given almost six months ago. I understand now that it was not cowardly on our parts, but necessary to the health of the rest of our family, and to the party asking/demanding said release. I cannot control someone's feelings for or against me, but I do have control over what I do with mine. I also cannot walk another's journey to freedom and healing, but I have full control over the freedom and healing that I choose to pursue, or not. So I will choose to release the stranglehold of negative emotions and pursue true healing (from the hurt I hold) and freedom (from the negative emotions attached to it).

And this light? Well, I've let the darkness of this situation cast a shadow for too long over the light that is supposed to overcome darkness, and in that allowing of the presence of the shadow, the light in my life has been dimmed and has kept me from praying for a 'light revelation' for the other one.

Is there a situation or relationship in your life that God may be asking you to let go of? He may be telling you it's time to let it go for good, or He may be asking you to release it for a season so that there's room for Him to work in that space. That's for Him to speak to you, and no two situations are the same. Just because we label something broken doesn't mean it's immune from redemption or resurrection. Regardless of the permanency or temporal answer, what God doesn't desire is for a shadow of darkness to overcome the light of Jesus inside of us, and the light we are called to be to and for others.

Two weeks before the night of the 'broken relationship', God gave me a verse--a promise--that, unknown to me at that time, spoke right to the situation that was going to occur. He was laying down a red carpet of promise along the path of brokenness to keep our hearts steady and focused on and encouraged by the One who's word never returns void.

His Word keeps our light shining in the darkness.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Woman on the Right

i watch not knowing what's coming
the words foreshadow the end
but don't give it completely away
i'm curious
and yet i know somewhere inside me
where this is going

then it hits me
out of nowhere
reaches in and grabs the very deepest parts of me
tears are inevitable
mixed with understanding and relating
of knowing and sadness
they come from the very deepest parts of my soul
that sees like they do...
the ones on the left

i am moved to my core
the images and words speak right to that lie
that lie i've believed
that lie most of us have believed
i see myself as the woman on the left
don't most of us?
but they see us as we are
not as the parts we are conditioned to see

we are taught to see flaws
we are taught to see what needs fixing
we are taught that perfection is beauty
and that imperfection is just that ... imperfect
but not beautiful
the eyes that should be like hers
the lips that should be like hers
those cheekbones and perfect eyebrows
that nose
so perfectly proportioned
but look back to the childhood photo
most of the time it's just the nose someone else imagined
and then sculpted for a price

hair color, skin color, freckles or not
i wish i could be
like her
or her
maybe parts of her
definitely her skin color
my hair isn't straight enough
or curly enough
or long enough
or young enough ... anymore

i see every wrinkle
you see laugh lines
i see tired eyes
you see the sparkle within them
i see age spots
you see character
i see gray
you see wisdom
i see who i am not
but you see who i am...

the woman on the right

Thursday, April 25, 2013

It's THAT Time Again...

(Teighlor at 17 months old: her first move)

I can't say that I'm excited to approach THIS particular season again, but I can say I know that we're moving again for the right reasons. Yep, I said it. MOVING AGAIN.

Honestly, typing those words at 4:45am (yep ... A.M.) when I have yet to go to bed (feeling icky), feels exhausting--not only because I know I need sleep but because the thought of enduring the moving process in just over six weeks seems daunting and overwhelming ... today. Just like the Texas weather: catch me tomorrow and I may feel differently.

This will be move #5 within the borders of this great state since our initial relocation to Texas in December 2006. Yep ... numero cinco. Each move has had its share of necessary reasons and each time I've approached the move with anticipation of the unknown. "It's exciting to start fresh. Be somewhere new. Pack and get rid of things unneeded. Unpack and see the familiar stuff take on a fresh look in a different environment."

But this time around, I'm not yet there--to that place where the anticipation of the unknown has bubbled up in me. All I can think about is the fact that while we know we are moving (June 15 to be exact) we have no idea what our new address will be. We believe we'll be moving back to the NRH area to be within the boundaries of Birdville High School, but even that isn't written in stone yet--it's just the most plausible outcome.

Our desire is to move from this "apartment home" into an actual house, with no neighbors sharing walls or walking above us or us needing to tread lightly for the neighbors below. We had to make the transition from house to apartment back in 2010 for the sake of the budget. And when we moved here (to Roanoke) in September 2011 for the sake of a commute for a job change we weren't anticipating, we came as close to moving into a house as we could without the expense. This place really does feel like a house (minus the aforementioned treading lightly issue, but we've become adjusted to that). With the attached garage and front door that opens into the outdoors and not a hallway, this place (minus the occasional neighbor issue) has felt more like home than any place we've lived in since Bedford (2007-2009).

And now, here we are again, in a place where a move is necessary for one main reason (school/baseball) confirmed by a secondary (high rent hike), but nonetheless important reason. God had already begun the process of untying our heartstrings to this place through conversations of "what ifs" surrounding baseball; then He untied some more when she made the decision to not hold onto that summer job as a "just in case" backup. Steps were being taken to loosen our grips on this place before the paperwork came that sealed the deal; information that would have been the initial deal breaker had the other situations not happened.

So, he we are again. No one really wants to leave here (this home) because, honestly, we like it here. It's the longest we've been at an address since Bedford and it's become home, not just in name but in our hearts. But God reminded me of truth he deposited years ago: home is anywhere your family is and it doesn't have to be owned in order to be home.

Well, the prospect of owning isn't even on our radar, but the thought of leaving where we've become comfortable is not really exciting ... yet. Probably because we just don't know where we're going to end up, and the one place we've looked (because it's necessary to consider) makes one half of this family unit unhappy, to say the least.

But this I know: God was already orchestrating a plan before we understood how the plan would unfold, so I am confident in my knowing that God will also provide a place that will become home ... again. I am not setting my heart for or against anything. I am simply choosing to leaving it open so that disappointment doesn't become my companion. I will still be praying for what my heart desires, but not locking in my expectations. I cannot see yet what home will look like come June 15, but I trust that God does, and whether it's familiar from before or new again, I will choose now to see it as a blessing and not dare curse what my soul could label 'not enough'. (Nod to Christine Caine's message from Pink Impact last week.)

"God, I know that you see what we cannot. And I know, because I know You, that your heart is for us and not against us. I also know that in times where many are struggling, my heart wants nothing more than to be grateful for a place to call home and for the blessings that come with that. But I know too, God, that you tell us You can do more than we can ask or imagine, so I'm daring to ask. Father, expand our tents and open a house for us. Expand our boxed imaginations and show us where to look, or who to ask or call. You've shown your goodness and faithfulness just days ago through a family who lost their home and were already provided another within days of their initial notice. You are good. You are faithful. And I know that wherever you lead us, I will still call you good and faithful. Help our hearts to be open and excited. To embrace the unknown and let go of what no longer is part of this next season. To store the treasured memories of what we've lived and tuck them away without regret of what's to come. God, may my only expectation be of your best for us and not a laundry list of what I think I can't live without. I look forward to you answering our prayers and to looking back on this blog and seeing your faithfulness played out. In Jesus' Mighty Name that's filled with power and grace and mercy and goodness. Amen!"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

21 Days Revealed

If you read the blog I posted on April 2nd, 21 Days to Renewal, I wrote about the fast I was just entering. I was planning on writing about what I'd learned, but another blog I read early this morning (from Rebecca) led to a comment that unexpectedly became my processed thought ... so I'm simply including it here as my blog.

These are my 21 Days Revealed:

But this one blog ... I couldn't just read and walk away. I was so captured by the way you unveiled the lie of the "perfect man" shown to us through idealistic script writing. Do I watch afternoon soaps now? No, but I used to when my kids were really young. That doesn't mean I scoff at those who do today--far it for me to judge a path I've walked--but because I once was ensnared by the characters and the love stories that never looked like my life, I can see now, with hindsight, how that daily hour fed an unnatural perspective of what my marriage and my (then) husband should look like. Talk about the perfect set up for expectations unmet!

Oh, but wait, because I'm going to fast forward to my life today. Although daytime drama no longer exists in my world, that doesn't mean that my heart can't find an escape when trials are hard and difficult seasons extend beyond their anticipated time frames.

I just came out of a 21-day fast of both food and TV. I actually wrote about it on my blog, so I won't go into the details here, except to note that through time with God I realized I had been escaping the hard times through some TV shows and through some unhealthy eating.

God, in His graciousness, didn't point a finger and say, "You bad, bad Christ follower. How dare you!" Instead He asked me a question, "What's become your source?" He didn't stand before me all indignant and bothered and accuse me of not spending enough quality time with Him, instead He tenderly said to me, "Can I ask you a question?"

And as I dared to get real with Him and myself, His question didn't make me feel condemned, but aware. He showed me how one simple decision had lead to another, and how one choice 'here' had led to another choice 'there'. He helped me to see that each of these choices led me to where I was now: feeling dependent on the characters in some TV shows to feed my desire for a life I wasn't able to live, and receiving comfort through food and drink. I was on a hamster wheel leading to nowhere and I just didn't want to see it.

So, after a week of examining my life with God right next to me, I made a decision to do what I knew was best for me in this season: I fasted the very things that had become my source.

Now, I'm not saying that God is going to come to anyone who recognizes that there source has veered off His path and ask them to enter into a fast such as I did, I'm just telling my story.

Here's what I discovered during these 21 days: while I really do still love a good meal and a good glass of wine, my body was made for balance, and not excess. God didn't remove my desire to ever eat again--I am still human and need calories to exist--He allowed me to see how I had used sugar and wine to numb the pain of a hard day (or week or month or months) and how that craving was never going to end because my body had become dependent on how that brownie or glass of wine made it feel. In these 21 days God didn't call me to give up all sugar and alcohol forever but to become and stay aware of how or why I receive it into my body. Dessert and wine are not evil, but when I use them to comfort or numb a hard day, I am replacing the source of who Jesus died to be in my life with a counterfeit.

And you know what else? I realized that my body functioned so very differently once it had detoxed from all the crap I had been putting in it, and I'm actually going to incorporate fasting on a regular basis in my life now. I know there a plenty of books on this and that my revelation of how the body functions is not new to others, but this understanding is new to me ... so I'm excited! I have fasted like this before, but it was purely for spiritual reasons so I didn't really pay attention to the physical side of it ... I just persevered through it. But now that I'm eating again, I am looking forward to fasting again -- to allowing my body the routine opportunity to utilize the tools God built into us to rid ourselves of toxins and junk.

The same thing was revealed to me about TV. TV is not the devil--well, there are plenty of shows that I would definitely label 'evil', but that's not for this comment thread--but if I'm using TV as a form of escapism, then it's time to check my heart and my source.

And TV? Not that I've thrown ours away, because I don't intend on never watching again, but I see it differently now. Those shows that I "couldn't miss or I would just die!"? I realized, by walking away from them for 3 weeks, that I really wasn't as dependent on them as I had thought. That when I filled my life with other things because I "had to"--and that was the biggest benefit of fasting, in a non-legalistic sense--I discovered how much I had been neglecting the other things I did enjoy or needed (more time reading, writing, researching, projects, people, conversations, Bible, prayer, etc.).

In the end, God's question was not to condemn me, but to get to me look up from my daily life and see something different so that I could gain perspective from what I had become ensnared in. The things He gives us to enjoy are not evil--it's in the excess consumption of these things that they become dangerous to our souls and shift our Source.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12 (ESV)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

So This Is Love

So this is love, Mmmmmm
So this is love
So this is what makes life divine
I'm all aglow, Mmmmmm
And now I know
The key to all heaven is mine
My heart has wings, Mmmmm
And I can fly
I'll touch every star in the sky
So this is the miracle that I've been dreaming of
So. This. Is. Love.

When I was a little girl playing with my Barbie's, my Ken and Barbie were almost always Cinderella and Prince Charming, in terms of the shaping and unfolding of their love story in my active imagination ... and with the help of my 3-story Barbie Dreamhouse.

As I grew older and laid my Barbie's aside--although not until I was 12, or so--I transitioned to daydreaming about my 'one day' Prince Charming. I was, after all, raised on Disney films and my favorite was, of course, Cinderella. Thoughts of my prince riding up the sandy beach on his white steed and scooping me up with one arm--me all barefoot and long hair flowing in the summer breeze, as the sun was beginning to set across the ocean's horizon--would lull me to sleep many a night. (I was raised a southern California beach girl. My dreams always included the ocean and sandy beaches.)

Ah, the dreaming heart of a young girl and her visions of love shaped by fairytales and the hand-drawn imagineering's of Disney and his crew. Now girls daydream of their Romeos with Taylor Swift's Love Story the background music to their romantic imaginations.

What's the saying? "Young love. Ain't it grand!"

Actually, it is sweet and filled with all kinds of idealistic views of enchantment and princes and glorious rescues from the mundane world of homework or chores and grand adventures of conquering the world together through a love much deeper and stronger than anyone who ever lived before, or will ever live again.

But how come there's only side to that coined phrased? Why can't I recall one about old love just as easily? You know ... the time and trial tested kind of love? Surely that deserves a catchphrase all it's own. Right? Maybe when we get a few more Hollywood writers to capture our hearts with stories like Carl and Ellie's from UP (I could watch that opening scene a billion times over and never grow tired of it), the tide of a culture hypnotized by youth and the backwards notion that passion is reserved for young love will be begin to turn. Maybe.

I digress. All of this really came pouring out of me as I opened my blog to write about this week's Marriage Builder, an email blast from Marriage Today written by Jimmy Evans (one of my absolute favorites!). Today's email really got me thinking, and there were a few golden nuggets I just had to keep, while adding my thoughts--not to improve upon, but make personal.

Jimmy writes:
"In the eyes of God, our story was far more significant than two kids who fell in love and decided to get hitched."
Story. I love that word because I adore reading a well-written story. I've often thought of my life as a story unfolding--just take a look a the sub-header of my blog--but I've given far less thought to the fact that my life with Anthony, our marriage, tells a story just as well. Why have I restricted 'story' to an individual? For that matter, doesn't our family tell it's own story?
"God brought Karen into my life for ... purpose. God envisioned us as a couple long before we ever met. He knew exactly what I needed in a life partner. He created Karen with the gifts, talents, and attributes I most needed in a wife. He created me to meet her needs as well." [Jimmy Evans]
Most love stories we watch on film or read in books never touch this concept: that of finding a spouse that meets your needs instead of your wants. We speak in terms of the hair color we're attracted to, the build, those eyes. We even list out character traits such as sense of humor or fun or intelligent or handy. I wonder how my thoughts for my future husband would have been affected had I turned my prayers for him towards God's perspective instead of being so me-focused: "Can I please have someone who likes baseball and loves the outdoors and taking long walks on the beach?"

Thinking about it now, with lots of years of marriage under my belt, He probably would have said, "If he loves you, he will spend his time doing things with you that you love (and vice versa), but that's not how I look at partnership."

I never thought to pray for someone that would sharpen me and challenge me and encourage me to become a rockin woman of God. Someone who would have talents and skills and attributes that not only complimented me but were also different (gasp!) from mine. And maybe to pray for my future husband to have eyes like God, to see like He does, and have a heart always seeking to be more like Jesus.

Do you see the difference? I know that God created us visual creatures, men more so, and that part of the love connection equation includes attraction and chemistry. God has to draw us to someone initially, doesn't He? But what if our prayers were so focused on the heart of our future spouse--the way God sees (1 Samuel 16:7)--that we trusted God for the rest of our 'wants'? How much different might we enter the convenant of marriage?
"We understood little about what we were getting into. We barely survived those early years." [Jimmy Evans]
I deeply resonate with this in my marriage to Anthony. I was no more prepared the second time around than I was the first, I simply brought in years of mothering experience, lots of wounds and no greater perspective on the real purpose for marriage. I owe our survival to nothing more than God's massive covering of grace and a handful of godly people speaking into our lives at just the right moments.
"But here's what I know: If I had seen [Karen] as someone God created especially for me, I never would have disrespected her as often as I did in our first years together. I never would have taken her for granted. I would have loved her more, treated her better, and been more patient, thoughtful and tender. I would have listened better and worked harder to meet her needs. I would have cherished her, nurtured her, encouraged her, treasured her, and helped her become what God intended her to be." [Jimmy Evans]
Oh, I would have too with Anthony. I would have too. But here's what I know: God is our Redeemer (Isaiah 47:4) and is capable of taking any number of years we feel we may have survived and turning them into beauty (Isaiah 61:3). The story He wants to write with our marriages began with His heart for Adam and Eve:
"God formed Adam and eve to build a lifelong love affair with each other, to walk hand-in-hand in the Garden, to keep each other warm at night, to work out problems when they disagreed--to grow in love and learn how to navigate life together as a married couple." [Jimmy Evans]
I know that Cinderella will forever enchant the hearts of little girls because it's meant to--it's a fairytale. But for me now, I'd much rather have my {love} story look like Carl and Ellies.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

21 Days of Renewal

If God gives such attention to the wildflowers...

Last week the thought, the desire, began stirring ... 21 days. I asked questions--of myself and God. And He asked one very intentional question of me, "What has become your source of comfort?"

The honest answers brought to light the heart behind His question dripping with the love of a good, good Father. And so I answered: food (baking and consuming sweets to kill boredom and soothe a weary soul), wine (a glass was no longer just something I enjoyed--because I do love wine--but it was becoming my blankie at the end of a hard day), and TV (the shows were moving from entertainment to my place of escaping a hard season and losing myself in someone else's story).

It was glaringly obvious: my sources of comfort--in a long, drawn out season of financial struggle--have turned outward, external. No, I haven't outgrown my clothes, but they are definitely snug in all the wrong places. No, I don't need Alcoholics Anonymous. And I'm not disconnecting cable because it's the 'bad guy'.

No, it's not about those things--my love to bake or to enjoy a glass of wine or a certain TV program--it's about my heart and my source. When I realized I was filling my time (or desires) with these things, I also realized I was neglecting prayer, Bible reading, writing and worship. And trust me when I say that it's not about replacing one thing with another; it's about recognizing my choice to [re]source my affections and desires--to fill time and a sense of emptiness and boredom with substitutes. I was growing apathetic. I was struggling with too many days of just not caring what I did that day. It felt like work to just simply desire what I had loved doing previously, let alone do them.

Write? Not in the mood.
Spend an hour in praise and worship? Not in the mood. Plus, I forgot to charge my iPod.
GO to church? Not in the mood. I'd rather watch from home so I don't have to get dressed.
Read? Not in the mood. That requires my brain to engage.
Eat healthy? Not in the mood to plan the meals and shop well. Plus, it requires more than my budget can handle right now, so why even bother?

It's not that every day was or is a struggle or that I sat or sit on my couch from sunrise to sunset. No, this past week God began stirring in me the awareness to look at where I am today--to recognize the "slow fade" now--so that I don't wake up tomorrow and find myself lost in an every day struggle.

And so I did...

An outline of what these 21 days would look like started to form in my heart. And on Easter Sunday I read a thought that further set what was brewing in my spirit: a time to reset, to renew.

[Renew: to make like new; restore to freshness, vigor or perfection.]

Yesterday morning I woke up with these 21 days first thing on my mind. It had been cemented in. My commitment switch had been flipped 'on' while I had slept. And so I began my 21 Days of Renewal.

TO RENEW MY MIND: no TV and no DVR'ing to catch up.

TO RENEW MY SPIRIT: feasting on the Word of God and two books I've committed to reading through (Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships and Fathered by God).

TO RENEW MY BODY: no food, only liquids--mostly water, some fresh juice on specific occasion, and my morning cup of coffee (cuz God's not religious or legalistic).

TO RENEW MY HEART: putting to memory the scripture passage below, for now and for always. I've also put a few prayer requests before God, some needing some pretty quick answers and others needing direction.

"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with gettingso you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." Matthew 6:30-34 [The Message}

It's not that I plan on forever giving up food (well, that's kind of obvious) or wine or TV. I know God has called me on this 21 day journey to not only renew my source, but to also reset the way I think about the external things. He's calling me to sacrifice temporarily in order to reprioritize eternally.