Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Untitled - When Life Sucks and Writer's Block Continues to Overcome and You Read Instead and Realize God ROCKS!

For as long as I have been blogging, I've held onto the secret desire to make something of myself by writing.  Live the dream, right?  

One perfect post, and I'd be rolling in publishing offers and signing parties.  

Well, not that extreme.  But, you know, quit my day job.  Have a substantial social media presence. Be the woman other women want to be.  Hold my own with Beth Moore and Jen Hatmaker and Sarah Bessey and Jennie Allen.  Move to Texas or Canada and just be another IT Christian momma like the women I secretly ADORE. 

And... then there is real life, and writer's block, and horrible tragic things that threaten to suck the very soul from the core of my being.  

2016 is not a year I want to relive.  

So many good things, but so many bad, dark days at the end.  

The one thing I know for sure about being a Christian is that God never promised an easy road.  Jesus made it pretty darn clear we would have troubles...that things would be hard.  And, even though my life is so blessed and so full, I have felt such pain this past year that I'm pretty sure I lost my voice for a while.  I was certain no one could see anything different about my life. Even if I wanted, I couldn't begin to type or write or post a single thing on any social media site. I really, honestly started to wonder if I wasn't any different.  If my faith was so great, why was I hurting so badly?  

Part of me doesn't know where I'm going with this.  I only know that I need to ramble, to vent, to let the three readers I have know that I'm still around and I'm still trusting in God, even though the end of last year sucked.  A lot. And even in the drama and the pain and frustration and stress, I am blessed beyond measure, full and still needing to pour out somehow.  

One of my favorite books of all time is Unconditional by Brian Zahnd.  I've held it close and never shared my dogeared, sticky noted copy... except to make reference in a 10 Top Favorite post or something similar on Facebook a long time ago.  But this year, 2017 - the year that promises better things than last year, we started a Book Challenge at work. Whoever wrote the challenge is biased... so I'm stuck reading a Bronte AND an Austen.  Gag me with a spoon. But, yay for culture, right?

ANYWAY, I'm sharing and recommending some of my favorite books.  Unconditional being one of them.  And Crazy Love.  And hopefully a few more entirely different, fantastic, futuristic, apocalyptic love stories along the lines of the Lunar Chronicles, which have nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with destressing and losing my mind in space or a barren Earthscape.
I've found that when I am stressed and struggling to communicate, I lose myself in a book. Regrettably, usually not the Bible... at least, not as often as I should.  I read to lose my mind and forget real life.  But this year, in addition to the book challenge, I'm spending more time in God's Word.  More time realizing I don't have it a tenth as bad as Joseph or Daniel or Paul or Job. Realizing that everything I need to know is found in that blessed Book, just waiting to speak to me.   Waiting to give me greater hope, greater peace, greater love and the ability to forgive.  
And just when I thought my life wasn't full of light.  Just when I thought I didn't have it in me to be a witness when things suck.  Just when I started to question it all...people started questioning me.  A woman I hold so very dear asked about the Bible.  I gave her my favorite book and the truth and unfathomable beauty and peace of radical forgiveness is speaking.  Louder than ever I hoped.  I'm watching doors open wide left and right.  People I never expected are asking me questions and noticing something different. Which is straight crazy right now, since I truly wasn't sure about my ability to shine any sort of light.  

There is still a struggle.  The enemy is still trying to get me and others I love so very much. I'm still watching that happen.  But, I'm in continually in AWE of the way God uses tragedy and hurt to heal and restore.  

I might not be able to formulate a logical post.  I might never write a book.  And I certainly won't be moving to Texas or Canada... even this year... but I am planning on continuing to trust my God to overcome it all.  Because HE is the Light in me.  It's not my strength, it is His.  He helps me forgive. He is the One who heals.  He is the One doing it all.  

Lord knows I can't do it on my own. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Showing Skin and Shining Light

I'm sitting here tonight knee deep in procrastination... or neck deep.. I'll know for sure tomorrow morning when I see my mess for what is truly is.  I'm supposed to be planning for a health and wellness bit this Saturday at a women's conference, but my mind won't sit still and focus.  Too many other thoughts rolling around in my head, and I don't want to get stuck on a women's lib rant on Saturday when I should be talking about self-care and healthy things.  (I'm also awake at midnight on my second spoonful of Nutella, which leads me to believe I am utterly unqualified to talk to anyone about health or wellness.)

This past week, prepping for our Personal Appearance discussion in my girls' group and having subsequent conversations afterward, I've spent a lot of time mulling over how God really feels about women and our appearance.  How does what Jesus said fit in with the message the church so often sends girls and women?  Do the women of the Bible fit the mold we've been told God made for us? Are we all supposed to strive to be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife and fight back shame and guilt when we realize we can't but the rest of the women in our church must already be because no one ever talks about anything dark and horrible in their lives?  I'm digressing, but I'll circle back.

Once again, the curriculum I have is mostly LAME.  And for the first time this past week, I read a phrase in my leader's guide that screamed nothing else but 'rape culture'.  I seriously shook the page and yelled, "Are you SERIOUS?!"  I've fought the urge to write letters to the publisher about this for quite a few years, and I never have... but I think I've met my straw.  When we as delicate, modest Christians continually tell girls that showing too much skin or overly defining their curves is sinful because it will cause a boy to have lustful thoughts, we are furthering a rape culture mindset. Do I think girls or women should dress seductively?  No.  I definitely don't choose to.  *Side note: curves aren't an issue for me, so I don't honestly know what it would be like if I had to try to cover them up.  But some girls do.  And those girls shouldn't feel like their inability to always hide their curves means they are the ones at fault when a boy looks at them with lust in his heart and sins.

Here's the thing.  Here's what I told my girls on Wednesday, and what I will continue to tell them, and what I will continue to tell my daughter and her friends and any other girl who will listen.  If a boy looks at you and has lustful thoughts... no matter what you are wearing, that. is. his. sin.  Not yours.  If he can't control his mind, control his heart, avert his eyes, control his actions.  That. Is. His. Sin. And you are not guilty for his thoughts or actions.  EVER.

We talked about clothing choices and modesty and intention.  And we all agreed.  It's a heart thing. It's a vanity thing.  If a girl intentionally wears something to attraction attention, to appear sexy, to seduce a boy, whatever you want to call it... then that is her sin.  And that is where her sin and her guilt and her part in this stops.

It should never be implied that a woman who can't effectively hide her curves is asking to be harassed. A girl should never be made to feel it was her fault she was raped because she chose to wear a short skirt at a party.  The church should NEVER tell a girl that she is guilty for the lustful thoughts a boy thinks when he sees her in a tank top.  Because once we do, that girl will never speak up when she is violated.  She will blame herself for being molested.  She will cry herself to sleep every night for years because if she hadn't worn that dress and had too much to drink that night she never would have been raped.  And it must have been her fault because of her skin and her curves and her body.  And it must have been her fault because that's what everyone, including the church, has told her all her life. We have to wake up.  We all have skin.  And women have breasts (which usually create curves).  God made us that way.

The way a woman is dressed does not give everyone around her license to decide her intent.  If a girl didn't effectively cover her curves, we shouldn't assume she is looking for attention. The way we treat someone shouldn't be based on their attire.

True to form, I'm going to end up back on my favorite Biblical topic: prostitutes. harlots. colorful, scandalous women.  I love them so much.  And I love that God loved them.  And redeemed them. And I can't find a single passage in the Bible where He gave the okay for anyone to hurt or violate them.

There are few stories in the Bible that bring me to tears faster than the story of the adulterous woman (John 8). Every time I envision Jesus writing in the sand, facing off the Pharisees, and then turning to a woman who must have been a hot, sobbing mess, I just wanna bawl my eyes out.  He NEVER condemned her.  He offered her forgiveness and the chance to change her life and leave her sin.

Joshua's men didn't violate Rahab even though she was a prostitute and was probably "asking for it". They treated her with respect and kept their promise when she gave her word to help them in return for the safety of her family (Joshua 2).

Tamar intentionally tricked Judah by posing as a prostitute (Genesis 38).  But he acknowledged her righteousness despite the deception, and he never touched her again... even though she must have "wanted it".

The woman at the well was a Samaritan (John 4).  She had been married five times and was shacking up with someone else.  Obviously a hussy.  Jesus shared with her the He was the Messiah, and she believed him.  When the disciples returned and saw Jesus talking with "that kind" of woman, none of them treated her with disrespect or disdain.

I could probably go on and on.  But I'm going to circle back around instead...

We didn't just talk about those stories.  We digressed to the messed up world of the Old Testament, with the incest and prostitutes and horribly straight family trees.  And we concluded that today's world isn't any different.

We had a candid, awkward, somewhat disgusting conversation, and I hope they all left feeling as giddy and free as I did.  This world is dark and ugly and terrifying, but we have a Hope and a Redeemer who has defeated it all.
And He loves us for us, as we are now.  
Hot, sobbing messes. Nutella-eating insomniacs.  He created us in His image, and any wrongs done to us by others are not our sin, not our fault and not our burden.  He can take that from us and free us from the weight.

I had a second conversation this week with someone struggling to identify with Proverbs 31 at all. Struggling to fit a mold and be a part of the picture we sometimes want to paint of Christian women, Christian families.  I would so love to have a clean house and ships with cloth, woven by yours truly, headed to the merchants, but it just isn't going to happen.  I'm a hot mess.  I stay up too late and sneak chocolate.  I struggle with shame for what has happened in my life.  I've spent years trying to nail my guilt to the cross and leave it there.  And I wish more of us would be unafraid to speak it out.  To yell our redemption loud and clear.  There is nothing too dark for God's light to bring out of the shadows.
The Bible is full of those examples too.

King David was a man after God's own heart.  He loved God more than his own life... but he was also a hot mess.  He sent a man to his death because he coveted that man's wife.  David's children were messed up too.  David's son raped his own sister.  The royal family of Israel had some major problems.

Samuel was a prophet of God, a leader in Israel, and his sons were complete idiots, struck down by God for their evil.

Jacob loved God, but he also tricked his dad and his brother.  Karma is real, because Jacob's kids tricked him and sold one of their brothers to slave traders.  And Judah (one of Jacob's sons) was tricked by Tamar (see above)... it's so awesome!

The list of skeletons in Old Testament closets goes on forever.

Humanity has been a hot mess from the beginning.  And I truly believe the Bible tells us these things because God desperately wants us to understand that there is nothing too dark, too horrible, too shameful for Him to redeem.  Jesus' sacrifice covered it all.  His Grace covers it ALL.  Even the horrific things we are afraid to talk about in church.  The horrible things we don't even want to admit to ourselves.  The twisted questions we want to ask but will never find the right Bible study for.

We are listening to Lauren Daigle's "How Can It Be" every Sunday at church this fall, and I can't listen to more than three lines of that song without completely losing my cool.  It's my sobbing song.

This song says everything I feel in my darkest moments and everything I know to be true even when it's hard to believe.  We struggle to comprehend the grace of God.It's almost impossible to understand, even with so many Biblical illustrations.  The last thing I ever want to do is add legalism or contribute to someone's shame or guilt by what I say or how I treat them.

More than anything, I want to be able to walk in my freedom and show others how great it is when the guilt is gone.  We don't have to be ashamed of what God's light might find in the shadows because it's already gone. Covered.  Forgiven.  

I am guilty
Ashamed of what I've done, what I've become
These hands are dirty
I dare not lift them up to the Holy one
You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome
You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be
How can it be
I've been hiding
Afraid I've let you down, inside I doubt
That You still love me
But in Your eyes there's only grace now
You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome
You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be
How can it be
Though I fall, You can make me new
From this death I will rise with You
Oh the grace reaching out for me
How can it be

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Even the Prostitute

Last week, I was blessed with extra time one afternoon to over prepare for my Wednesday night girls group.  Because the curriculum is slightly outdated and somewhat LAME, I generally choose to redo it. I am tragically inconsistent, but every once in a while God steps in and helps me out.  

We have been talking about college and career.  True to my expectations of these lessons, everything was a little too... ugh... for me.  

Now, I'm an M.Ed in Guidance and Counseling, pro-college, pro-life planning, pro-education type of girl.  But I also am acutely aware of how often we package our expectations and try to align Christian values and a certain level of professional success.  Achingly upper-middle class.  
I'm also a social worker, culture of poverty, social justice soapbox kind of girl... and I was kind of struggling to rectify it all.  

Throughout this unit, I kept feeling like God wanted us to talk about more.... dig deeper.  Get a little gritty and real. In my notes I had scribbled - 

"God doesn't care as much about what we do as He does about who we become".

Initially, I had been drawn to Rahab.  I'm generally drawn to the women in the Bible who don't fit the mold.  The ones God redeems.  The ones God uses to show us that He loves us no matter what.

I resisted my gut and decided not to focus on how God allowed a prostitute to help with His master plan.  Heaven forbid anyone thinks I'm encouraging girls to choose prostitution as a career.... so I listed a bunch of other jobs and names all around her underneath another scribbled question - 

"Are there career choices where God can't use someone?"

We covered everything tonight and had amazing conversation... but, true to my gut instinct, we ended up talking about Rahab.  In a flurry of excitement, I threw her name out for everyone to think about. There were the snorts of derision about prostitution, and we digressed.  

We talked about human trafficking and sex slavery, and how there are still so many women and children sold into this kind of slavery throughout the world.  We talked about how God doesn't view the prim and proper middle class Christian woman as any better than the blatant, scandalous, sell-it-on-the-corner prostitute.  He loves every. one.  We talked about the tendency to get stuck in our mindset and look down our noses at those who chose a lifestyle we have deemed unworthy and illicit. We talked about the absence of choice so many women have in this messed up world and how we can never assume we know someone's heart based on their situation.

My heart aches for my girls to understand to their very core the great love God has for us all.  I want to roar when I see those who have been set free contributing to the oppression of the broken or ignoring the agony of the lost.  And I am constantly checking myself because I know I am just as guilty. It's so tempting to look the other way.

We skimmed the surface of a murky, ugly mess, and I left a little raw.   

Tonight, I came home and read Kristen's newest blog post and sobbed.  I love her for her honesty and passion and her commitment to women and children all over the world.  I want to be like her when I grow up.  

Until then, I'm praying that our honest, gritty, messy conversation tonight... the one that pulled off a few scabs and left my insides aching... left an impression, lit a spark, furthered empathy.  Helps them to remember Jesus died for us all.... even the prostitute.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

When Bad Days Happen...

Today was a day that will live in infamy in our home.  The day the cow escaped and we spent hours and miles looking and chasing and worrying.  The day we fell a tree into the goat fence.  The day nothing went the way we planned.  The day we wanted to throw our hands up and cuss and yell and stomp in the mud and throw tree branches and pout.

Instead we were humbled and reminded of God, who works all things together for the good of those who love Him.  We still don't know when those things will start working together for good, but I guess that isn't the point.

The cow is still out.  First day in the barn, and he didn't like it, so he leapt over the fence and took off.  We saw him twice and couldn't get him to go the way we wanted.  Three hours later, we tucked our tails, set out hay and drove away.

Those three hours were supposed to have been spent building a second place for our two smallest pigs, moving Connor's chickens to a better spot, cleaning the house, making granola bars, and meal planning for the week.

Jason barely had time to fall the handful of trees he's been needing to get down.  I interrupted him to see about an impromptu evening family run.  He literally roped me into helping with one of the trees really quick...

The tree is still on the fence.  That wonky alder that has been blocking the sunlight to our garden and leaning a little too close to the chicken coop for far too long gave us a big "I'll show you" on the way down.  I didn't want to help, and I hate when we fall trees.  Because I was imaging all sorts of improbable and likely completely impossible tragic endings to a simple tree falling, I didn't keep reeling in the cable when I was supposed to, and the tree fell a little too far to the right... right onto the goat fence. Then the chain snapped off Jason's saw.

I'm pretty sure the goats will be out tomorrow too.

Needless to say, our family run was necessary for burning off some steam.  We ended with some apologies and breakfast for dinner and family devotions.

If you've ever been through the Jesus Calling devotions, you'll love this next part.  February 7 was meant for us.

Why am I so sad?  Why am I so upset?
I should put my hope in God.
I should keep praising Him, my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:11

"Sometimes things just don't go the way you expect them to, or even the way you think they should.  Bu I have a plan.  I also have the Power to take all those unexpected things- even the not-so-good ones- and use them for good in your life."

We laughed until we had tears rolling down our cheeks.  What else could we do?  We double checked the date, and sure enough... February 7th was today.  

Today was a BAD day.  It wasn't the worst.  But it was pretty suck-tastic.  And God knew it would be all along.  He also knew today's crappy circumstances weren't going to get better for us by the time we read our devotion.  And He knew what we needed to hear.

When BAD days happen, read Psalm 42:11 or Romans 8:28.

And we know that in all things 
God works for the good of those who love Him, 
who have been called according to His purpose.

I'm staying up tonight to get this all down, knowing full well that tomorrow might not be any better...or even worse.  I've already cheated and read February 8th in the devotional.  Hopefully, it's not a sign.

So.  When your cows get out, or you fall a tree on your goat fence, or something more mundane, but equally crappy, happens... remember, there is a reason.  God is working it for good.  

And it might be a few days... or longer, before you see the good.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Que Sera Christmas

This post was fresh in my mind over the holiday.  Itching to break free and find life in the interwebs... but, alas, I've been sidetracked by pork dumplings, meatballs, and tree demolition.  And my current guiltiest pleasure... Blacklist.

I'm going to digress here and there as I attempt to reawaken the phrases that kept running through my mind.  Since the poetry escapes me.. I'm going to say it out right.

This was THE most relaxed, non-stressful Christmas I've EVER had.  


Since my children and the pressures of grown-up life anyway...

And that, my friends, is a BIG deal.  BIG. 

Even the hubs agreed and said so to others... which means truth.  We had a 4-H party at the house the week before.  Family over for dinner on Christmas.  My modest home had 25 humans in it at one point on Christmas day, and we all fit.  And talked and laughed.  And I didn't start breathing funny or have to wave my hands around my face in our closet to calm myself.  I set no time for dinner.  Jason deep-fried a turkey (which didn't freak me out as much as it normally would have), and we ate when we ate.  And it all worked out.  And it was good.  

We did all the usual things.  But without my usual meltdown. There is always some kind of meltdown.  The Christmas of 2011 will forever hold the place in history as the Christmas of the most epic meltdown.

But somehow, this year was better. The best.  And I failed in many ways.  There are still some lingering cards that need sent.  I never did bake the cookie plates for the neighbors.  They must think we hate them.  We didn't make the grandparents calendars. I had to work over "break", which is new this year and would normally have stressed me to the max.

We started the month out with a fantastic trip to Southern California to visit family and take the kids to Disneyland.  It rocked because we went without a major agenda, focused on the family time, and spent more time exploring LA and museums and trails than searching for theme parks or famous people.  Although, I shamelessly posed in front of Shakira's star on Hollywood Boulevard.
Because, SHAKIRA!

Maybe it was the week off with family free from our usual stressors. Maybe it was our approach to the holiday season. We focused on staying calm and doing what we could do.  I made like a duck and let the things I missed roll off my back instead of getting under my skin and causing grief.  We que sera'd what needed let be and talked to the kids about not expecting as many gifts because of Cali.

This year, like every year, I wanted my kids to really feel the true meaning of Christmas.  I wanted to feel the true meaning of Christmas.  When Grady prayed one night, "Please give us the strength to remember Christmas is not about the presents", my heart melted.

Just before bed on Christmas Eve, we read a few Christmas books, including my favorite Nativity story, "This is the Stable", and when I prayed with the kids that night, I broke down in tears... but the good kind of tears.  The tears just rolled when the enormity of Baby Jesus hit me and I couldn't breathe imagining the heavenly hosts and the reality of birth in a stable.  It's humbling and powerful and indescribable.

And Jason got that look in his eye when he came around the corner and saw me crying for no apparent reason. The PTSD meets "husband who wants to fix things"look.  He got a chuckle out of me trying to explain why baby Jesus and the angels was making me cry happy tears.... but I could tell he was relieved.

This was the best Christmas EVER because somehow we let it be what it was.

Now if I can have that attitude for all of 2016...