Hello Again, Familiar Friend…

Oh grief, no matter how much time has passed, there is no escaping your return.  Ten years, an entire decade, has passed.  I’m always amazed how forever and yesterday can feel the same.  Today it hurts to breathe and the tears spill out as I long for my 2.5 year old, blue-eyed boy who had the sweetest little voice.  I come to my keyboard hoping to write something that can capture what my heart is feeling, to unravel the emotions wound so tightly around my heart, but the words don’t come so easily.  My tender-hearted almost ten year hugs his mama knowing today into tomorrow evokes tenderness and sorrow.  His embrace reminds me of God’s sovereignty and how, even in the midst of heartache, there is hope and promise in tomorrow.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

In the Beginning: Lost and Found

*Reposted from a piece I wrote for The Beautifully Broken Blog series, “In the Beginning”

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old is gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

In the beginning, I was lost. I tried to “fix” my brokenness, my heartache, and my pain by works alone – exercise, writing, vitamins, counseling, and finally medication.

I was in a state of feeling stuck – stuck in my grief and stuck in a mundane state of survival. My relationship with God felt irreparable and non-existent.

The space between where I was emotionally and where I desired to be seemed vast and unattainable. How do I move forward? Will I ever be able to move beyond this state of hopelessness?

The only explanation I have for the shift my heart received was the pursuit of a faithful God, a loving father who stopped at nothing to find me.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it…he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:4-7 NIV

Jesus reminds us that we are all valuable to Him; He chases after those who are far from Him, rescuing them from the depths of their brokenness – grief, abandonment, suffering, addiction, pride, sin.

My heart had been in a silent plea for help, in need of rescue. I was lost and desperate to find the answer that would help me escape the life of suffering I was living.

When I welcomed Christ into my heart and into my life, my spirit became lighter. The grief was still present, however, there was a sense of peace that started to seep into the cracks, softening the edges, allowing the sharpness to fade.

My heart was brought to a new place, a posture where I was able to see God’s goodness, His faithfulness, and His constant love for me, even in the messy moments.

It wasn’t overnight, it was a process. And I had to decide every day to lean into the Holy Spirit, surrendering my bitterness and hate, so that I could live in the peace and promise of eternal life.

Holly Gerth, one of my favorite authors, puts it beautifully this way in her devotional, Fierce Hearted, “I grew up in a place where hurricanes were frequent, and I learned this: the trees that survive are the ones that bend…If we stiffen our souls and harden our hearts, then the wind blows against us until we break to our core. But if we can bend – keep trusting, hoping, loving – then we are transformed in ways beyond our understanding.

In the beginning, I was lost. But God’s pursuit of me and my continual surrender allowed me to trust and believe that our God is a faithful, loving Father who will never leave us or forsake us. It allowed me to have a new perspective of brokenness, taking me out of that lost place and bringing me home to the Father, safe and sound.

Deep Grief, Deep Love

March is here, and there is no denying the fact that this time of year stirs up emotions that have remained dormant.  My eyes sting as I fight back the painful ache that March brings. I sift through those final days, clinging to the memories that are quickly fading.   I long to hear his voice that echoes in my mind, wondering what he would look like today.

I look back wondering how I survived the intense pain and heartache child loss brought into our lives.  After nine years, I can still relive these days like they were yesterday.

Tonight the words don’t come as easy, but I will share an excerpt from another blog  – its a snapshot of grief and its endless timeline.

This dance with grief is my connection with my son and it is all I have left of him here on earth. It is during this intense dance with grief that I can feel my son’s small arms wrapped around my neck and hear his infectious giggle once again. It is proof that he lived and that I loved him with all my heart. As we spin round and round, those sweet memories of him swirl around me. They make me laugh and cry as pain and joy twist together. They give me hope and make me long for Heaven.

Grief  – it is a life-long, never-ending dance. But as always, I am reminded that where there is deep grief, there is great love. My son, he was loved fiercely, and because of that I will gladly dance with grief for the rest of my life.  Dance with Grief by Heather Ducksworth

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday B-Man

First written on August 17th

The tears welled up and stung my eyes; my heart became heavy as I clutched any and every memory I possessed of a beautiful boy who first called me “mama.”  I can hear his voice echoing in my mind and see his smile that could light up any room.

Today, I am reminded of a day where my life changed forever, for the better.  As moms we all hold a story, especially with our first child.  I can remember almost every detail of this day, from waking up feeling “off” to later in the evening when I was putting a death grip on the ceiling strap of the Subaru as Rich drove me to the hospital.

Like a flip movie, Braden’s life passes by in a blink, and I am left to wonder what this child would be like as an eleven year old.  It almost seems impossible to know and understand what that would look like, feel like, etc.  How would this life be for him, for us?

Continued on August 27th 

On Braden’s birthday, we went to B’s site with a balloon and ate cupcakes.  We decided to fully celebrate B’s birthday with a trip to the zoo that following weekend.  It’s a place we frequent, where I find peace and feel Braden’s presence.  It just so happened to be Zoo a-la Carte, so it was full of people, food vendors, and bands playing music.  As we were just about to head back towards the parking lot, one of the bands starting playing Folsom Prison. As irrelevant as that may seem, it was the song B most loved to sing as he’d start out with, “Hello I’m Johnny Cash.”  We were at the right place at the right time; thank you B for that gift – a precious moment we could all smile through the tears.

Thank you God for this gift of a boy who taught us how to love in so many ways.

A New Perspective

How does one embrace a day like today?  Do you honor it in a special way or hide under the covers, letting time pass until tomorrow comes?  Do you pray to God for comfort or seek it elsewhere? Do you let anger back in or try to seek the peace you once felt?  Do you throw a tantrum at the unfairness of life or celebrate the memories in a special way?

I find there’s no “right” way to embrace the moment that forever changed your life.  I’ve walked a long road of healing with my grief, and no matter how many years have passed, there will always be a piece of me that remains altered.

Waking up this morning and hearing the birds in the early hours brought me back to when I’d wake early and search for an escape through the computer – to write, read messages, and find a thread of encouragement to hold me up.

I can’t begin to describe the void that death leaves behind, like an unavoidable emptiness that no amount of laughter or joy could fill.  The longing for a boy, I could now only find in pictures, leaves an ache so deep, it’s suffocating.

How does one cope?  How does one move on?  How does life ever return to normalcy after loss?  Does it ever return?

I know I have shared the moment when my heart shed the bitter, hard scales that were leaving me stuck in a state of hopelessness – the realization that God was going to use my pain for purpose.  There were other moments that started to shape a new perspective on not only life but death.  Not too long ago, I was taking a walk in the neighborhood and having a prayer-like conversation with God (or whatever neighbors were listening as I passed).  I said out loud without any forethought, “Thank you God for keeping my Braden safe, not having him endure anymore surgeries, no more pain, no more suffering.”  I felt incredible peace, knowing my words matched what my heart was feeling.

Where is the bridge?  How does one go from the painful agony of emptiness to the peaceful rest in knowing her son is safe in his creator’s arms?  I can honestly say that it wasn’t overnight, and there are still tearful pleas for Braden to be back in my arms.  But where distrust once resided, I started to see God’s faithfulness, His sovereignty, His goodness take root – a new trust started to evolve.  John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  This is a reminder to put my faith, not in the world, but in the One who will give me eternal life.

Everyday is a choice to focus on the negative, dim, unfair parts of life or choose to be the light in someone else’s life.  Whether it’s my kids’ lives, a friend or a stranger I just met – more life filled with love, giving love, is a life I choose to bravely live.

This year was still tough to embrace; I know every year will have the same effect – reliving the panic, fear, initial shock and reality of loss.  In the midst of our grief, however, we were embraced with prayer, messages, cards, and more love than one ever expects to receive.  It was truly humbling and brought me to tears many times to see how our B is honored, remembered, and loved.

I saw this quote, and found it to be a new perspective on grief:  “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love.  It’s all the love you want to give but cannot.  All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is love with no place to go.”

I find this song appropriate to share.  I hope it brings a level of peace and comfort to anyone facing a battle of their own.  Mercy Me – Even If

One last thing –  I am apart of a ministry called Beautifully Broken.  I was able to share my testimony back in January and was asked to be apart of their newly launched blog. Check it out – http://www.beautifullybroken.blog.

The Magic of Christmas

As a child, Christmas was a time of year that felt magical.  I can’t quite put it into words, but there was something inside of me that would reignite this time of year.  Traditional memories made with family, decorating the Christmas tree, wrapping gifts, singing Christmas carols, watching movies – the overall cheerful mood and buzz this time of year sent that magical feeling all throughout our home.

bradens-christmas-photo-2010As I grew older, that feeling inside dimmed a bit, but there was still a little spark that would reignite each year with the first snowfall. When I became a mom, and I was able to see Christmas through my child’s eyes, the magic not only returned, it intensified.  It was now time for our  little family of three to make new traditions.  Santa visiting the neighborhood, the oohs and awes of Christmas lights, the squeals of delight with the first snow fall, the countdown to Christmas, watching classic movies, seeing the stores come alive with everything Christmas, and watching the love of the holiday season evolve through Braden’s eyes was truly magical.braden-christmas-2009  I still remember his third Christmas with the excitement of seeing Santa, attending Trees on Parade and the Christmas light parade, building a gingerbread house, helping to decorate the tree, reading his favorite book, “Can You See What I See, The Night Before Christmas,” and the excitement in his voice with every light display we passed, “Christmas lights mama, Christmas lights!!”  These were moments we savored as we tried our best to carve new traditions into our holiday season, making Christmas the most magical time of year.

For some folks, “magical” is not the word they would use to describe Christmas time. They might replace this adjective with words like stressful, empty, painful, hopeless, or other feelings that wouldn’t quite paint the picture with delight.  Sadly, I know all too well when the “magic” plays a disappearing act.  When, poof, just like that, it’s all gone and what was once a dancing flicker of excitement has now been replaced with emptiness, heartache, and an echo of sadness that is almost deafening.  How could a season once loved for everything it held become a time of year that is most dreaded?

I’ll never forget reading the following quote from another grieving mother:”Undo it, take it back, make every day the previous one until I am returned to the day before the one that made you gone. Or set me on an airplane traveling west, crossing the date line again and again, losing this day, then that, until the day of loss still lies ahead, and you are here instead of sorrow.”  It took my breath away reading this as it had truly captured how I felt every moment after Braden died.  Death leaves a hole like no other, a void where new traditions, magical moments, and everyday joy once sat.  As tinsel, lights, and holiday cheer danced around me, I found myself avoiding anything Christmas at all cost. If I could just close my eyes, shut the blinds and hibernate until January 1st, survival of the holiday season might be possible.  Because the thought of the alternative, watching others celebrate with their children the way we had celebrated with Braden, might not allow my heart to recover the depth this heartache would ensue.  The big, cavernous hole that death had left behind was swallowing me up little by little.

As I sit here writing, I weep remembering this time in my grief when the reality of death left me grasping and searching for answers, “What do we do, how do we move forward, how do we survive this?  This. This right here. This time when my son should be here embracing another year of fun, magical, twinkling Christmas lights, and family traditions. Dear manual on grief, what do we do?  How do we embrace the holiday firsts with our Owen when we are suffering our holiday firsts without our Braden?”

“Where there is love, there is hope.”    

owen-christmas-2009 Owen Nicholas – December 2009

Seven years later and these moments can be just as difficult to relive.  Seven years later, however, allows me to look back and see how we survived and how it is has been possible to see the magic of Christmas come to life once again in this house.  It started with our special Santa Clause who visits our neighborhood (and house) the first Saturday of December.  I closed the blinds and told myself not to look outside as the firetruck drove by – this had been our favorite tradition with Braden.  To our surprise, the door bell rang and when Rich answered the door, in came Santa requesting to hold baby Owen.  My heart was overwhelmed with gratitude.  This is the same Santa who places an ornament picture on the firehouse Christmas tree of Braden to honor and remember him every year.  Love was and has been all around us, either physically embracing us, sending gifts to honor and remember Braden, or being in prayer as we embrace another holiday without him.  Each step forward has been through the love, support, and generosity of others who have come along side us in our grief.

As time moved on, and as each Christmas passes, I have been able to clear away the fluff and frill, the hustle and bustle, and put the meaning of Christmas into a greater perspective. There is a beautiful spirit of giving that seems to linger about and illuminate this time of year – it is truly an amazing thing to witness.  What’s even more beautiful is the celebration of the birth of Christ.  There’s this beautiful, peaceful, magical feeling when I think of Jesus and all that He has done for me in my life.  He takes away my anxiousness, fear, feelings of not being enough, my anger, sadness, struggles, and He replaces it with rest and the peace in knowing I can trust Him and His plan for my life. “Jesus’s peace results in a quiet conscience, a restful mind, and a hopeful heart”- Proverbs 31 Ministries.

Christmas Today:  Our children are now seven and three and magic is all around our house, from our little elf Cooper, to the Advent Calendar they cannot wait to open every morning, it’s Christmas fun everywhere.  There is still, however, an emptiness that sits and is ever-present in my heart.  As the tears wade in the shallow end, ready to spill out at a moment’s notice, I can finally see joy and heartache co-existing.  As odd as that may seem, it is progress.  There was once a time when my laughter was hollow, and I didn’t know if joy would ever fully return without the guilt of its existence.

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Final Thoughts:  Christmas really isn’t about the tangible things we see and may even receive; it’s about the things we cannot touch and what we feel within our hearts.  It’s the presence of hope, generosity, kindness, and the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.  Wherever you are in this season of life, I pray that hope can ignite in the very depths of your soul, allowing a spark of Christmas magic to be felt – a kind of magic that doesn’t extinguish on December 26th but burns brightly inside of you, allowing the darkness to slowly fade.

Luke 2:11-14  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

 

 

S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that matters most.”
Winston Churchill

Success.  What is it?  Being a mom to school age kiddos, I find myself defining it through their eyes as an accomplishment, whether it be progress made in school, doing well on a spelling test or hitting a ground ball in baseball.  According to Webster’s dictionary, it is defined as, “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

Success has never really been a word or action I’ve pondered; being a school teacher, success could mean a multitude of things.  Sometimes it meant surviving the school year with a tough class, gaining respect from students, or not having disgruntled parents approach me during the school year.  Success could also mean above average scores on state tests or goals met on IEP’s.  I found success as a school teacher to be dependent on others, mainly the students, and not so much about myself and/or what I did to accomplish the above.

This past year, however, I have been chasing the meaning of success like it was my responsibility and/or  j.o.b.  The root of this obsession was failure.  Yes, the one thing many of us try to steer clear from and most of us fear,  FAILURE.

Rewind:  I left a very secure, reputable career to journey through a world of business and sales – something I had never done before.  It was a risk, but I felt I needed to take this leap to spread my wings and prove to myself that I could create my own success.  In this new journey, I learned a lot about myself and discovered many positive qualities I never knew existed.  This birthed a whole new level of confidence, and I felt I had gained the qualities that could/would create the success (climbing the ladder with financial gain) that I had watched around me.

To make a long story short, that business idea didn’t quite turn out.  In fact, it failed. Many people might be shaking their heads in disagreement.   Was I successful in the process?  Yes.  It did, however, come to an end and that is okay.  Failing is okay; it doesn’t make me a failure and in fact it became a stepping stone to the next chapter in my journey. Although I can say this with confidence and a smile now, it took awhile to heal and process all that had taken place with failure being the focal point. In all honesty, this entire last year has been an emotional roller coaster.  It was a reprogramming of my emotional state, not allowing shame, guilt, fear, or resentment to take residence in my heart.  I will spare you the journey, but I will share some of the lowlights, highlights and defining moments.

Being on the other side now has made me realize I haven’t lost any time or traction in my life with this transition.  Instead, I have regained perspective on life’s true treasures, felt the peace and comfort of God’s presence, gained wisdom, and discovered the grit it took to get back up and keep moving forward. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine – it was a process of stripping one’s pride in the face of humility.  The lowlights were the emotional battles I faced with shame, comparison, and the repeated “should-ing” on myself: “I should have done this.  I should have done that.”  This emotional battle was consuming and exhausting.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up,” James 4:10.

True confession:  I am a Christian who tends to pray for others and not so much myself. Instead, I try to figure life out all on my own.  The result of trying to figure it all out has left me feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and out of control.  How quickly I have forgotten that I am not in control of most things, so I need to let it go and surrender, allowing peace to settle in.  Easier said than done.  It is a daily decision to surrender, to pray away the anxiousness, and to truly trust in God’s plan for my life.  Every day is a choice to choose to be grateful or filled with envy.  Each day I can live in the past and “should” on myself or to be reminded of this beautiful scripture in Isaiah 43:18 – 19:

“But forget all that—
    it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
 For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

What I found in this year of transition is that there is in fact another definition to success: “The correct or desired result of an attempt.”  I have also learned that we all have different definitions of success in our own personal and professional lives.  My personal desire is to live in joy and have peace within.  It starts first by living in gratitude, and not focusing on the things I desire, but what I already possess – love, health, family, beautiful friendships, and most importantly my faith.  No matter what job or career I have, I am not defined by it.  I will BE who I am, DO what I do, and LIVE.  I will live my best life by loving, writing, praying, reading, growing, speaking, and being the light for others.

 “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

Ten.

Ten. Ten. Ten. It’s a number I can’t quite wrap my mind around.  How would ten look on you, Braden?  I see the actions of your seven year old brother, and I see your smile in your three year old sister, and I wonder…  Moments like today, moments that remind me of what I’m missing are the hardest part of your loss.  Happy Birthday B-Man!!  Thank you for blessing us with your presence, especially today.  Love & miss you more than you’ll ever know.


 

Birthday

Braden on his 2nd Birthday

Birthdays are always tough as there are always a million “what if’s” on a day like today.   As Rich had his first day back at school, I was able to bring the kiddos to the beach to swim and play in the sand.  We were blessed with a cardinal sitting on our front step this morning and a lady bug landing on my finger at lunch – B’s presence is always noted.

As the grief lingers within, heavy with its presence, I struggle to find the right words to truly capture today and where we are at on this journey.  I listen to the words of this song and feel lighter – I pray that this song can be encouraging to any of you who are walking through struggles of your own right now.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 

Another part of this “ten” message is to share that this past Saturday we embarked on ten full years of fundraising for Heart of Gold as we held our final golf outing.  It was a beautiful day that surely captured love, celebration, and generosity as we raised over $28,000 for Heart of Gold Charity – AMAZING!!  This was our top fundraiser!!

Family

 

John 1:5  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Golf

firetruck

Ball drop – Braden’s love of firetrucks made this part of our event extra special

Below are the words that were shared on Saturday:

Someone once told me that God’s presence is often shown through the love, support, and generosity of people, others who will help carry you when you have lost your way and need help putting one foot in front of the other.  Those who will walk beside you, supporting a mission like heart of gold and will do whatever it takes, traveling great distances, and making sacrifices to be here tonight.  The reason I share this is not only because of my faith and what I believe, but because this is where Heart of Gold originated – through people, their generosity, and a heart to serve another family, our family.

The beginning.  As most of you know, Braden was born with an undiagnosed heart defect, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a congenital heart defect where he was born without a left ventricle – he was basically born with 1/2 a heart.  Braden underwent two open heart surgeries at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin by the time he was four months old.  During this time, the outpour of support, gifts, and monetary donations we received blew Rich and I away.  We were inspired to somehow use these finances to start a trust fund or create something to give back as a way to honor those who have helped us.  Rich and I started to brainstorm ideas – our mission, our name, our purpose.  And with the assistance of my cousin, Terri Ollis, Heart of Gold Charity was born.  If you have never been in a situation where you have spent a long period of time at a hospital, it is a time where it can be considerably lonely and confining.  You start to question if life is still moving beyond the four walls of a hospital room.  The purpose of our gift bags allows families to see that they are not alone.  I will share with you a few words from the social workers who have acted as a liaison between us and the heart families.

Providing the heart bag to parents often ‘bridges the gap’ and opens up conversation with the families.

The teddy bear is ALWAYS a plus for the sibling(s) of a child who is in the CICU.  I’ve witnessed a little girl who would not put the bear down while her sibling was in surgery.  It gave her comfort and subsequently provided comfort to the parents as well.

The onesie is always a hit.  I have literally taken it out of the bag while standing by the baby’s bed with a parent.  I’ve held it up and referred to the baby as a champion and a fighter.  This always makes a very anxious, tearful parent smile.

Our families are often in the hospital with their children for months and months.  Often one or both leave their jobs in order to be available to the healthcare team and near their child.  The financial burden on families is great.    When they receive the bag and explore it’s contents, many are amazed that someone (your charity) would pay it forward and help them in their time of need. 

So far Heart of Gold Charity has been able to help 840 families –  YOU have all made that possible.

We also wanted a way to give back to the doctors and nurses who allowed Braden to thrive in his 2.5 years of life and who have helped give us a lifetime of memories.  <Some of Braden’s doctors and nurses are here tonight – Dr. Cava, Dr. Ghanayem, Anne, Jenny, Melissa, thank you! > Giving scholarships to those who have a heart to serve in the medical field, we felt, was the best way to inspire others to continue to pave the path of medicine.  To see the normal life that Braden was able to live and thrive with only half a heart, because of the advancement in medicine, is an absolute miracle. So far we have awarded 52 individuals with $1,000 scholarships.

When I think of our Braden, when I think of his life, I am reminded of the scripture on the back of your program, Romans 8:28:  “And God works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  Losing a child is one of the most crippling moments one will ever experience – you are forever changed.  However, out of darkness, came light – beautiful moments of giving, kindness, support, love, and some of the most generous, selfless acts of generosity that we have ever witnessed.  Braden’s life and death has made an incredible impact on so many people.  There are so many, but I will highlight just a few:  shortly after Braden passed, a couple of young girls (who aren’t so little anymore) in our neighborhood would sell some of their toys and have a lemonade stand to raise money for Heart of Gold.  Another young lady who we just met today was so touched by Braden’s story that she too has raised money with her lemonade stand and this year lead her girl scout troop to fundraise for Heart of Gold.  The Johnsburg girls basketball team coached by Bill Ewert pledged to give a dollar for every basket they scored.  They were able to donate over $700 to Heart of Gold.  Anne, one of the first nurses who cared for Braden before he was diagnosed with HLHS, who felt in her gut that Braden needed more medical attention and needed to be transferred ASAP was inspired to go back to school so she could teach nursing students how to advocate for their patients who need special medical attention.  And I can’t forget to highlight our beautiful children who gave us back our joy and allowed our hearts to heal.

Although this is our last outing, Heart of Gold Charity will continue to thrive with current funds and donations we receive throughout the year.  And as we close tonight, after our silent auction, we will be launching ten gold lanterns to not only recognize our ten years as a Charity and how our B would be ten next Wednesday, but to symbolize the light that has overcome darkness.  Matthew 5:16 says:  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Be the light so other can do the same.

Be the Light

Free to be Me

Imperfectly Perfect: Have you ever listened to a song a million times and have even sung the words on numerous occasions, but never truly captured the meaning of those words?  Yesterday the song “Free to be Me” by Francesca Battistelli came on my Pandora station, and the words stood out, brand new as if I’d never heard them.

When I was just a girl
I thought I had it figured out
My life would turn out right
And I’d make it here somehow
But things don’t always come that easy
And sometimes I would doubt

‘Cause I got a couple dents in my fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
On my own I’m so clumsy
But on your shoulders I can see
I’m free to be me

And you’re free to be you

Sometimes I believe
That I can do anything
Yet other times I think
I’ve got nothing good to bring
But you look at my heart and you tell me
That I’ve got all you seek
And it’s easy to believe
Even though

I got a couple dents in my fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
On my own I’m so clumsy
But on your shoulders I can see
I’m free to be me

Over the course of the last few years, my self-discovery, uncovering years of unnecessary self-sabotage, has  collided with the  unveiling of my true identity and who I am in God’s eyes. After all, He is the one who created me.  Yet even though I believe God will meet me in my weakness and qualify me to tackle what lies ahead, I have doubt that continuously creeps in.  I’m a perfectionist, so often I find myself wanting to do things right the first time, creating unnecessary stress and anxiety in my life – just ask my husband.  I struggle with accepting criticism, people pleasing, and seeking approval from others.  This battle within creates a hot mess of emotions, self sabotage and the negative replay “I’m not enough.”

I’m Enough:  I’m here not to wallow in the past or “should” on myself, but to give others freedom from their imperfections and offer a gentle reminder that we are all a continuous work in progress.  Everyday is a choice to accept the old lies or live in the new truth.  I feel like I’ve lived too long believing I wasn’t good enough.  I was never the smartest, fastest, coolest, prettiest, craziest, funniest, or “bestest” at anything that would’ve put me “on the radar” growing up.  Confidence is often gained by acceptance.  Not that I never felt accepted, but I thought the path to acceptance was by being noticed for something amazing that I did.  I guess doing a handstand and juggling with my feet wasn’t noticeable enough?  Totally kidding!  If only I would’ve just accepted me for me – not the funniest, but I can make others laugh; not the smartest, but this ain’t no hat rack; not the prettiest but there’s beauty in my smile; not the fastest, but I do find joy in running; not the craziest, but I have ridden on a few roller coasters in my time.  The point is acceptance – accepting myself and being apologetically me at all times (within the boundaries of respectful behavior of course).

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(Above sign can be found and purchased at fellowflowers.com)

I find myself trying to teach my kiddos at a young age to identify and live in their strengths. I try to remind them often and have them remind themselves with the following affirmation:  “I am brave. I am strong. I am smart. I am beautiful. I am a child of God made for greatness.”   I want them to know the truth of who they are before some turd-burglar comes and robs them of their identify with hurtful words or actions.  I want them to believe that God made them just the way they are – talents, gifts, imperfections, and all.  Psalm 139:13 – 14 reminds us:

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I want my children to know that they might not be the best at everything or anything, but they are amazing in so many ways.

Wrap Up: “God gives the exact experiences he wants them to have in order to shape the specific destiny he designed for them.” – Steven Furtick, Sun Stand Still .  Although God did not want years of self-doubt added to my resume of life, He will help me shape it for purpose.

I recently wrote this mission statement:  “I create a world where others see themselves through God’s eyes, unique and wonderfully made, by affirming and constructing written words of truth.”  God is so faithful – I could not have had this awareness had it not been for Him pointing out my skewed sense of identity and speaking truth into my life.

As I move forward in this writing journey, seeking guidance and opportunities, I am reminded not only by my mission statement but also by Isaiah 43:18-19 (NLV):

  “Do not remember the things that have happened before. Do not think about the things of the past. See, I will do a new thing. It will begin happening now. Will you not know about it? I will even make a road in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

So, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can” -Arthur Ashe and remember, “Be free to be YOU!!!”

Love Actually

True confessions. There have been moments when I have sat in church with an unsettled heart filled with anguish, hurt, bitterness, and maybe even a little bit of the “h” word. To be honest, a heart filled with this type of ick can be consuming and poisonous to the soul. As the ick lingered within, conviction swooped in through the words of the pastor preaching about forgiveness. Dear God, how did you know to preach this to my heart today? Conversation and questions evoked from this particular sermon, “How does one forgive? How can one forgive betrayal? What does forgiveness look like? I want to do the right thing, but please help me navigate through forgiveness when that’s all can do is harbor these feelings that come with the aftermath of heartache and hurt.”  I wish I had the magic answer to help not only myself but others navigate through the path of forgiveness.  The only solution that has managed to help my own heart is to purge the “hate,” releasing and surrendering what I cannot control through prayer.  And repeat until peace trumps the anguish that has settled within.  Romans 12:9 – 19 has often helped to free myself from the bitterness, hurt and even hatred:

Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

 “Let those around you, even those who have hurt you, see Jesus through you and your actions,” were powerful words once spoken that shook me to the core.  Love with abandon. Love without fear. Love without judgement.  

“Love means giving up-yielding my preferences, comfort, goals, security, money, energy, or time for the benefit of someone else.” – Rick Warren.  

Love has been a word that has crossed my path more than usual lately, and it is the inspiration behind the following messages that have been laid on my heart to share.

Undeserved Love:   The first message came through one of my morning devotions where Jesus is asked why he would choose to eat with sinners and tax collectors.

Mark 2:15-17   While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Think about that for a minute. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Jesus’s life on earth was spent helping those who were in need, not only from physical ailments, but those who also needed acceptance and love. How many people need to experience love and acceptance? What if you or I could truly be the hands and feet of Jesus, offering people a chance to live a life of freedom – free from shame, condemnation, and bondage from their sins and wrongdoings by showing them love through our words and actions?

Sacrificial Love:  Another moment came recently while watching the Passion of the Christ. I watched the Passion years ago before I had a true understanding of Christ’s journey and suffering. This year I was committed to re-watching it through a different lens.   I will admit it was difficult to watch, yet convicting in so many ways. The entire time Jesus was whipped, beaten, kicked, and mocked, He knew what lie ahead-the suffering that would lead to death. Jesus’s death on the cross would be the ultimate sacrifice for sin, making a personal relationship with God available to us.  As I watched him suffer, I wept knowing He did this for me, for you, for all who believe in Him.  The people He loved not only betrayed him but denied that they ever knew Him. And yet, Jesus didn’t curse their name, He didn’t hold a grudge, or get upset. As He stretched out on the cross, nails pounded in His hands and feet, and His body marked for death, He prayed for those who persecuted Him, crying out to God, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they have done.”  Oh my heart, can I offer the same level of forgiveness and love to others that Jesus displayed here on the cross?  Everyday I have a choice to harbor the ick or with the help of God’s Spirit, I can love and pray for those who have done me harm.

Wounded Love:  My final point is told through the recent heartache of a woman named Lydia. Lydia has loved the same man for almost her entire life. Sadly, her and her husband parted ways after decades of being together in what so many thought was an infinite bond. Her heart still aches and longs for the only man she has always loved. His heart, however, has fallen in love with someone else. What complicates things is that the life Lydia and her husband built includes grown children and grandchildren-a family they shaped, knit together with unconditional love. What was once a close knit family is now trying to pick up the pieces, doing their best to navigate through this new family-dynamic.

I recently paid a visit to Lydia and what surprised me was the welcoming of her now ex-husband into her new home. Against the advice of some friends and family, Lydia welcomed him in for the holiday. She had a place for him at the table and gave him an opportunity to be with the entire family. Her loving, giving, gracious part of her heart bypassed the bitterness and pain she still harbors. Lydia, in her humbleness, attributed her welcomed invitation to being “emotionally weak.”  What she doesn’t understand is the love and sacrifice I witnessed that day despite the hurt that shown in her eyes. Thank you Lydia for showing me the love of Jesus through your actions.  

Final Thoughts:  From the written words of Steven Furtick in his new book Unqualified, “Look at every human soul Jesus encountered, from the disciples he handpicked to the sinners he ate dinner with, to the thief he forgave on the cross. Jesus saw the best in people at their worst. He met them in their messes, in their realities, in their most desperate moments. He loved them and believed in them when there was nothing lovable or admirable about them.”

Love, actually.   “This is my command:  Love each other.” – John 15:17