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

March. mArCh. MARCHity MaRcH.

As March looms near, the dismal days of winter linger, and the scent of spring lurks, heightening my awareness that the boxes labeled grief, heartache, and unbearable pain will open back up bringing me to the time, place, and familiar smells of the day(s) I wish could’ve been lived differently.  My life now looks quite a bit different than it did seven years ago, but tears still spill out & my heart still aches for the longing of the little boy who forever changed my life.

My eyes see a brave, smart, young man named Owen & a beautiful, witty, little girl named Annika playing hide & go seek together.  As I watch, my heart remembers another little boy who will forever be two and a half.  This little boy first captured my heart & proudly called me Mama for the very first time.  His voice, his singing and love for books, monster trucks, trains, firetrucks, Diego, Dora, blanky & doggie are memories I long to be crisp & vivid but sadly have faded with time.  My Braden, born with a special heart, lived a short yet purposeful life.  My life has never been the same for knowing, loving & sadly losing him.

March is often the month where winter’s door is closing & the birds start to sing spring to life.  For us midwesterners, it’s a time we long for as we get the itch to welcome longer, warmer days & evenings outside; we thirst for the activities we can finally participate in without bitter temps and snow-covered ground.  For others, like me, it reminds me of foggy, empty days, numbness, a heavy chest, and a lingering feeling of hopelessness.  There’s something about the smell of March that I wish for January’s frost to diminish or April’s sunshine to dry up.  I can almost feel myself holding my breath until it’s all over.  Hello March, I can no longer hide behind winter; I have to come out & face once again another painful reminder that this loss is real.  No matter how brave or strong one can be, there will be days that can overwhelm us right to the core.

Psalm 30:5 say, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”  I take comfort in knowing that as much as I wrestle with the darkness of March, light always overcomes darkness.  I am reminded of the beautiful sunrise on the early morning of March 17th.  Rich & I were at his parent’s house; we just couldn’t go home to an empty house after leaving the hospital without our B.  I was numb to life, but there was a sense of peace & comfort in that sunrise.  It was God’s beautiful creation that symbolized Braden’s safe homecoming.  In the days, months & years to follow, the significance of that sunrise would resurface reminding me of Braden’s purposeful life. Although my arms do not hold him now, there will come a time when eternal life will allow us to never part.  The sunrise reminds me to look at the light in my life, not just the darkness.  It reminds me how precious life is, so look at it through the eyes of love & gratitude; find the joy & embrace the sunshine.  Dear March, although I loathe you, I am choosing to forge ahead knowing you are apart of the journey, you no longer control it.  I choose life. I choose joy. I choose hope. I choose love. I choose faith.

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Fall on my Faith – what does that even mean?  Ironically, when I should have or could have leaned on my faith during the most tragic event of my life, I didn’t.  At that time I didn’t know what it meant, what it looked like or even felt like to lean on faith in times of adversity.  It’s only been through these last few years that I’ve known and experienced the true meaning of falling on my faith, to get through times of trouble, to surrender and help me experience peace in the midst of pain.

Yesterday’s Faith: Growing up, I went to church, religion classes, and Sunday School.  I really only connected church and God on Sundays and in my nightly prayers (if I didn’t fall asleep first).  My prayers would often start with, “Dear God thank you for everything you’ve done for us, given us and helped us with.” Then I would pray for the hungry and sick.  Amen. That was it.  Being a tender-hearted gal, praying for others felt natural. It was a way to help them. I pictured God as this supernatural figure that was almighty and powerful.  I had the impression he didn’t have time or room for small prayers like mine only prayers for those who were sick and in great need. I believed in God, and I was a good person–I always thought that was enough.

I went through high school and college with this foundational faith, and it wasn’t until I had a conversation with one of my teaching colleagues that I started to realize believing really wasn’t enough.  “God wants more from us and for us than just our belief in him.”  I didn’t understand that–what does it mean to live a life for God or with God? What does it look like? Does that mean change?  Does that mean I have to alter who I am, what I do, who I associate with, what I read, or the movies I watch?  My lack of understanding and guidance at the time was a missed opportunity to bridge the gap between what I knew then and what I know now.

Fast-forward almost ten years later, and my life has been filled with a mix of joy and heartache, the most painful being the loss of my son Braden. That foundational faith I thought was “strong enough” crumbled to pieces, and I felt very lost in this new life. A few years later, through divine intervention, my hardened heart began to soften leading me on a path of faith restoration-a testimony that will be later told.

The Awakening:  One of my first experiences attending my new church, a more contemporary church that did not hold the same traditional style that I was used to, was a sermon about tithing.  I’ve seen these tithing sermons before where the church asks for more of you, your talents, gifts, and money.  This message, however, was different.  I cannot think of the scripture that laid the foundation for the message, but the sermon was about giving thanks to God for all that we have because everything ultimately leads back to him. It was said in a way that really made me stop and think.  God made ME, he made me just the way I am, quirks and all.  He gave me the knowledge, wisdom, and tender heart that I possess.  Everything that has value in my life – my husband, children, job, house, etc came from God.  I could’ve been born someone different, with different circumstances, more or less brain power or with a completely different personality.  Everything ultimately leads back to Him.  It was one of the biggest “aha” moments of my life.  My thank yous to God began evolving, becoming more significant than my sleepy, memorized prayer at night.

As I began my faith walk, there was a peace inside that was starting to reshape the hardened edges of my heart. But to be real & honest, there was also a mix of fear and intimidation that came with this new walk. It was my first time experiencing a “small group,” a group of women coming together to read and study faith-related material (books, scripture, people in the bible) for a variety of reasons.  Some wanted a deeper relationship with God, others needed fellowship, and others like me were trying to “get it,” to understand more about this “walk with God” journey.  I remember journaling about change and fearing that I would change beyond recognition, that I would wake up one day and my husband wouldn’t recognize me or that my friends wouldn’t know who I was anymore.  I look back and laugh now because that’s far from the truth.  But the fear was real and often when we are faced with taking a risk for the unknown, we often revert back to what we’ve always known, what seems “safe” and familiar.

My next experience came when I discovered what the Holy Spirit was.  Remember my faithful church and Sunday School attendance?  Well it seemed more like a call of duty, going only to fulfill that weekly requirement.  In this mindset, I missed out on a lot – teachings, lessons, and the desire to get to know more of God.  I guess somewhere along the line, I should’ve learned about the Holy Spirit and maybe understood His role in my life, right?  In that same mom’s bible group, nervous to say the wrong things because I felt like nobody could be this “bible dumb,” we were reading a book that asked us to pray to the Holy Spirit.  Since I’ve only known to pray to God, this was all new to me.  I wasn’t even sure who or what the Holy Spirit was.  So, what does one do when they don’t have an answer? Call mom!  My mom responded with, “Well ask your dad.  He went to Catholic School growing up and he had to learn all of that.  Ask him.”  My dad’s response was, “Well, you know Steph….the Father, Son, Holy Ghost.”  Um yeah dad, but what IS the Holy Spirit?  After my dad researched the meaning on Wikipedia, I finally resorted to asking the women in the group, those who could probably explain it better than any Wiki answer found online. To my surprise, I didn’t get laughed at (thanks for the grace ladies), and I found an answer that would start to shape, shift and alter my relationship with my maker. How come I didn’t know about this sooner?

My Recap (simplicity at its finest): God created his only son, Jesus, to come and be God in the flesh here on earth. God knew that sin was inescapable in this fallen world, and that His people needed second chances, grace and mercy in their lives.  Jesus’s death on the cross was that very sacrifice, providing forgiveness, not condemnation, for wrong-doings.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, his spirit (the Holy Spirit) was given for all who believe in Him.  By accepting and receiving the Holy Spirit into our lives, it’s like having God living in and through us.  We can talk to God just like we can talk to a friend.  God longs for us to reach out, reach up and connect with Him.  He did not create us to walk this life alone-He walks beside us.  Psalm 145:18 states, “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.”

This changed my whole way of thinking and praying, knowing I can cry out to God whenever I need him.  No prayer is too big or too small for God.  Not all prayers are answered in the way in which we ask, but releasing the control or burden brings an indescribable peace.  If only I would’ve known this great, wonderful truth years ago – it would’ve spared me anxious nights, heartache from dumb boys, and years of self-doubt that I was never truly good enough to be more or do more in my life.

Evolving Faith: I’m still a work in progress, but aren’t we all. Fall on my Faith has evolved from a journey of grief and loss to a path of surrender and healing. Turning my pain into purpose has allowed me to seek the beauty in life and look for the blessings and open doors. I learned seven years ago that I do not hold the plan for my life, and trying to navigate a life of loss on my own, with my back towards God, left me hopeless and lost. Falling on my faith has been a daily decision to surrender control and ask for God’s guidance through prayer, providing an indescribable peace in my life.

Final Thoughts:  So, about that change I was so fearful about when I first started this journey?  Imagine yourself gazing at a rough, unpolished piece of stone.  As you begin to chisel away the rough, hardened outside, you start to find out what’s really beneath that rough exterior.  A beautiful masterpiece starts to unveil itself, one that has been there all along; it just took concentrated effort to peel back those outer layers.  Sometimes the very circumstances that create the hardness can be the same that chisel it away.  The difference comes in how we handle those circumstances – we often lay the burden on ourselves instead of reaching out to God to help us through.  As we try so hard to resolve conflict, we sometimes retreat to other places or create our own resolutions, often resulting in added stress, fear, grief, or actions we might later regret.  Letting go and truly letting God take you by the hand is complete surrender.  It’s not easy, but if you allow yourself to stand in the raw, it will start to reveal the true you, the imperfect yet beautiful you that lies within.  The day that we start accepting ourselves for who we are – gifts, flaws and all – is when God smiles knowing the masterpiece he created years and years ago is finally accepted by the one who matters most, YOU.

 

 

About me…

There’s probably some fancy place to post an “about me” or an”about the author”, but please pardon my dust as I navigate through my new website, my VERY OWN website….eek!!  It’s not full of sparkles or fluff (yet), but it’s mine and the newness and ownership and blank-canvas type feeling is exciting yet overwhelming all in the same.  So, who am I?  Geesh, that’s a loaded question as there are many layers to Stephanie.  In a nutshell and to ward off any boredom or long yawns, I am a mother of three beautiful children, with one being in heaven.  I’m a wife, daughter, sister, and friend.  I am witty (or so I like to think), compassionate, fun-loving, and tender-hearted (or as my husband says, “sensitive”).  I enjoy learning, reading, running, and purging my mind through writing.  Underneath all of that though is a woman with a burning desire to be all that she was born to be, to find purpose in every crevice of her life – the good, the bad & even the ugly.  I am a child of God, a Christian woman who has flaws, needs, and painful parts of life.  I long for peace & I am discovering that the root of my joy is gratitude & to embrace every detail of my journey, surrendering to the one who holds the plan for my life.  The name Fall on my Faith has a story all in its own, but my purpose is to show the world (or the few who read this) that the journey of life has its “peaks & valleys” (a bit cliche I know).  Although we all love to be in the peaks of life, it’s in the valley where we learn the meaning of grit, where we fight the hardest, and grow the most. It’s where we most often times lean on scripture, ask for prayer & learn to fall on our faith to get us through.  I can’t promise you fancy shmancy, but I can promise you real, raw, & perfect imperfection.  Here goes….

Ruth

What’s in a name?

Early last week I felt a nudge from God to get the writing out of my fingers & onto paper by launching a new blog or writing platform. I’ve been “stuck” now for almost a year.  I have great ideas swirling about; I just needed some motivation to ignite the spark.  Next up was finding a name that would encompass not only my writing mission  (whatever that is…ha) but would give a snap shot of me, Stephanie Nicole Petska.  I wanted something that was easy to remember.  My first idea was captured through a gift I received this past Christmas from a member of our church.  It was a beautiful necklace that read, “And She Loved a Little Boy.”  I loved how the words, in its simplicity, could share so much of my heart after losing Braden.  Although I love the name, I second-guessed the title, thinking it was too long & difficult to remember.  I then thought of the name”Warrior”, feeling called to give myself a name that would define my fighting spirit.  I thought it would be neat to highlight my heritage by translating “Warrior” in either Finnish or Irish, but nothing was sticking; nothing seemed right.  On my way to work the other day, I started thinking of female biblical names.  Ruth instantly came to mind, and it sparked emotion.  Ruth was my grandmother’s name & Annika was named after her.  My grandmother was the kindest soul you would ever meet. I have fond memories of my grandmother, her delicious sponge & coffee cakes, dunking Trenary toast in coffee or hot cocoa, playing bingo, and eating the chalky pink Brachs mints or hard butterscotch candies.  Because of my grandma, the name Ruth exudes warmth and love.  I felt I was onto something.

Who is Ruth beyond a loving grandmother & the middle name of my beautiful Ana?  In the Bible, we read that Ruth was loyal; she showed love & compassion.  Ruth also endured heartache & tragedy; she was an overcomer & God used her pain for purpose.  There is so much more to Ruth – this is just a snapshot and a glimpse of how our lives run a bit parallel.

Okay, I think I’ve found my blog name, RUTH!  It’s perfectly wrapped in meaning & the simplicity in the name will be easy to remember.  Well, that’s until I found out Ruth was a URL already being used in WordPress.  Shucks!  I even tried my grandmother’s nickname, Ruthie, with no such luck.  My impatience got the best of me, and “And She Loved a Little Boy” was created with “Ruth” as my very first post. Even though the name was a bit lengthy, I was beyond excited to start this next writing venture in/on a whole new blog site.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and I am on my final call with my life/business coach.  As we went over some recent career changes I had made, we started talking about my passion for writing.  His inquiries gave me permission to share my journey, explaining to him how I had “fallen away from my faith” after the loss of my son.  He interrupted the conversation to say, “You said something about your faith that sounded like you fell on your faith.”  Even though I corrected him to explain what I had really said, he still ran with it.  “Fall on my faith can be used as an umbrella, covering many different circumstances in your life where you’ve had to fall on your faith.  It also sounds like, ‘fall on my face,’ and this playful use of words in a title is a big deal in the blog/website world.  I think you should go with it.”  I didn’t think twice. I went home & immediately purchased the domain name.  So, here she is…..

Dear “Fall on my Faith,” I’m unsure of where this writing venture will take us, but I do know it’s a calling.  There is purpose in the pain.  I didn’t endure the journey I have walked to just sit quietly.  With this new excitement comes fear, hesitation, & many questions, but God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. God calls us to let our light shine so others can do the same.   Igniting it….now!