Friday, October 26, 2012

Oh baby, baby.

I am sure I wasn't too different from many of you all who dreamed big as a little girl. I planned my wedding, I named my future kids, and envisioned my adult life revolving around a family, a significant other, and a little dog named "D.O. Gee." As we all know, life takes many twist and turns, sometimes it gets flipped upside down by our own doings and other times life just happens and dreams shift. I can tell you standing here thirty one years later; my life portrays a very different picture than what I originally dreamed up.

As a little girl my imaginary play always revolved around children. Whether it was pretending to be a Mommy to my baby dolls, the orphanage caretaker to my little brother, or a kindergarten school teacher, my mind rarely left the realm of children. Being the daughter of the church music director, we spent most Sundays at all of the morning services the church offered, and I could always be found spending the extra time loving on babies and entertaining the toddlers in the church nursery. Before I was old enough to get a real job, baby-sitting occupied my Friday and Saturday nights. And to be honest, it was less about the money and more about the opportunity to spend time loving on the children. My first job? You guessed it--child care! And college? Well my dream to be a stay at home mom wasn't anywhere close when college came around, so studying education seemed like a natural path until that vision for my life became the reality.

Close to my senior year of college, the reality of my dreams becoming alive seemed pretty hopeless, for various reasons. So, to numb the pain of that dying desire, I shifted my dreams. When asked, "Don't you want to be a mom?" I would respond, "heck no."  I remember voicing ideas like "kids just grow up to hate their parents anyway, why bother” or “I’m too selfish," or "I am enough to handle on my own, “or "that's reason 7, 432 and not to have a kid," and so on and so forth. I still loved kids and even though I didn't realize it at the time, I was building up walls of self protection, and never let myself reenter that place of possibility. I continued to pursue a career where I could love the heck out of little ones, and told myself that would be enough.

In the years between there and here, a lot has happened. I helped build and became co-owner to a business where I got to tend to newborns, toddlers and teach preschoolers daily. Two precious kiddos became knit into my life, Location change to new parts of town. A closed business. Career shifts. Unexpected life changes. And an act of God that got me into the seat I am in now.

It is in this seat, that I have learned that no matter how I envision my life, it all falls short in comparison to the life He has called me to live. You see, I still have very natural desires, to be a wife, to be a mom, and so much more that I question if my reality will ever hold, but I am learning that those desires quickly fade when placed beside my passion to follow wherever He leads.

I have lived out my own will, my plan, and at times, He has given me exactly what I think I wanted, and I can tell you, the desire for more was always seemed to be lurking. As I have tried to walk in His will, He still blesses me with many desires of my heart, and some of those desires have changed, and some of those desire I do still struggle with releasing, but as a good friend says "Oh, the joy, the unspeakable joy" that comes from seeking His will over my own. I might not have all that I think I want, but the portion I do have, satisfies, when I keep my eyes focused on His plan and not mine.

I don't know what the next thirty one years of my life will look like. Maybe my desires will fall in line with the ones He wills over my life, maybe He will grant me the desires of my heart, or maybe I will find the desires I surrender to Him, will once again come as blessings that far exceed all I could ever imagine.

And lastly, it is in this chair, I too am learning, that I don't have to hide behind the walls I have built. Admitting my struggles, tearing down walls of self protection and taking a stab at v . . .vuln . . .vulner . . .vulnerability, is the path I know that leads to God's grace, freedom, joy. As I read this morning, "Although this is an uncomfortable position, it is actually a good place to be." It's a place I get to see Him work, to see the transformation of my will into His, whatever that may be. And it's here in this uncomfortable place of sharing my heart that I lean into the trust I have, the faith that reminds me, I serve a faithful God who will take care of me like nobody’s business.

So, perhaps one day you will see this "old" lady pulling out her hair chasing little ankle bitters, screaming, "What was I thinking?" Or maybe, we will all see the beautiful childless plan God laid out specifically for yours truly, but whatever is to come, it is the cry of my heart, "Oh, Lord, let it be Your will, not mine," and in the process of aligning the two, I pray I continue to break down walls vs. building them.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Stay at the table.

Eight months ago, I got the opportunity to set aside the distractions of this world, to escape reality and to take the time I desperately need to be still and to seek God. (If you are curious about my walk to Emmaus, you can read about it here.) For the last 10 weeks, I have had the honor to be part a team that led a group of 31 women to experience that same 72 hours cut off from their busy lives and to live out Psalm 46:10 this past weekend. Just as I struggled to express all that God did in the three days of my walk, I find myself struggling to clearly articulate all that I have witnessed over the last 1,584 hours of this journey.

One of the lyrics to a song we sang frequently over the past 10 weeks says, "I've seen miracles just happen, silent prayers get answered and broken hearts become new" and I can honestly say,  I saw all the above first hand this past weekend. It has been one of the greatest things I have ever been a part of. However, those stories of miracles, answered prayers and mended hearts are not mine to tell. For me, this weekend was about serving these women and helping to keep distractions at bay and to cultivate an environment where they only had to focus on God's still small whisper, His unconditional love, and His lavish grace. In the midst of my own silent prayers for these women, acts of agape and in hearing their stories, I heard His still small whisper and realized even though this weekend wasn't about me, He was still using this weekend to grow me.

Every Friday night until this past weekend, I spent time with 28 other folks who made up the teaming team for R107. It was on those nights, that I began to see how people who come from different backgrounds, different ages, different denominations, different sides of the railroad tracks, and different ideas and passions could all unite under the common bond of having a willing heart to see the Holy Spirit move and have His way in the lives of His beloved.

For me, I have been tainted in this area, and tend to lean more on my unbelief. I wrestle with believing that Christ followers really can set aside differences and grow together under the common purpose of Jesus Christ. I mean we all say it, but more often than not I have seen the opposite.

There have been a few folks along the way that I have been blessed to know, and that have shown me there are always exceptions to the "rules" But I have yet to feel part of a community that as a whole seems to embrace this ideal with more than words.

I found myself in Ephesians 4:3 on the Friday morning, before leaving for Blackstone. It says "...keep yourselves united by the Holy Spirit, binding yourselves together in peace..." This scripture will forever be engraved on my heart. As a team, we have been coming together, united by the Holy Spirit, to be His hands and feet.

Weeks prior in one of the talks, we heard, "We are called to stay at the table." And that statement too is forever engraved in my heart, right alongside Ephesians 4:3.

In a room in Petersburg, VA on Friday nights where differences were plentiful and on occasion did arise, the feeling of peace never escaped those walls. It was consuming. And I honestly wrestled with whether or not it was worth it to share parts of my story that may illuminate differences and to test if our call to united could withstand whatever surfaced onto the table.

It wasn't until we were in the swing of things and in the middle of the 72 hours in Blackstone, VA that I had a conversation where every word being said felt like a punch in the gut. To be honest, the urge to sprint out of that place and never look back was extremely tempting. But my feet wouldn't move. And no matter what I "wanted" to do, I knew this wasn't about me, and even if I tried to make it so, it couldn't have been---my new friend, knew nothing of my story. She just needed a place to unload, to dump out her hurts and her garbage. I wish I could tell you that I was happy to help her unload it. But with every bag she needed help unloading, it felt as if a sharp edge of glass poked through the bag and cut me on the way down.

As I listened, all that kept repeating in my head was Ephesians 4:3, stay at the table, and be a peacekeeper.

I wanted to inject my thoughts, my beliefs, my story, and to put an end to the conversation but in that moment no matter how much her words hurt, I was just called to listen, to be there for her . . . to stay at the table, and to stay united.

I wish I could tell you it was easy. But it wasn't. And often, in this world it's not. But it is simple---just love.

To be honest, I don't know who knows and doesn't know my story. And I don't know who does and who doesn't agree with my stance on things. But in this life I have chosen to live, one that strives to love like Jesus, to be more like Him, honestly, it doesn't matter. There are people who will love you regardless and there are people who will not.  There are people who will choose to stay at the table and there are people who will not. There will be people who hurt you when they realize those differences, there are people who will love you despite those differences, and there are people who will stand in agreement alongside you in those differences. And even though it's hard, and at times it hurts, and no matter how much we want to leave the table, I pray for the boldness always, to set aside our differences, to come together by the Holy Spirit, to bind ourselves in peace, and to show crazy love just like Jesus would.

I don't know if there will be a time to share my story with my new friend. I hope so.
I don't know if she hears my story if she will stay at the table. I hope she does.
I don't know what God is doing in her life, but I know it’s big.

And I do hope that this weekend she saw Jesus face to face, because over the past 10 weeks I have. I have seen people stay at the table. I have seen Ephesians 4:3 lived out and it has given me hope and strength to strive for a life that continually desires to love more like Him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

SIX . . .

SIX degrees of Kevin Bacon

SIX stings on a guitar


SIXpence None The Richer

SIX Brady Bunch Kiddos
(Greg, Marsha, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy)

SIX is Bert's favorite number.
and . . . .

SIX months of absolute AWESOMENESS!!!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Risky Business

We spend our whole lives learning, exploring, uncovering, unlearning and tweaking our self image, our identity. We get the chance to represent all of the things we continually discover about ourselves by who we are--the good the bad, and yes, even the ugly. Yet, "so many people live inconsequential lives because of their fear of exposure. Allowing people to get close to you means permitting them to see your faults, your failures and your fears--and that is most people's worst nightmare." (Kay Warren)

Remember the woman who risked exposure and humiliation to anoint the feet of Jesus? (Luke 7:36-50)

She entered a room, took off her mask, and revealed who she really was. A sinner. A woman with failures and faults. And a woman who was humbly transparent.

She took a giant risk.

I had the opportunity to be transparent last week, to open up and to share part of my story and my struggles, but unlike the woman we read about in Luke, I failed miserably to come out from behind the walls of fear, judgment and rejection.

[And in failure . . . there’s always room for self reflection and a blog to help process.]

I firmly believe that we all desire "to know" and "be known." And I love that part, "to know."  I enjoy getting to know people, what makes them smile, tick, cry, and laugh. I am enthralled by stories of where people came from and what life events have shaped them into the unique individuals they are. It never gets old hearing how God moves through a person's trials, hopelessness, and strife and creates a renewed being, full of joy and love and grace. It is simply beautiful.

And I too, love the "to be known" part. I love when somebody wants to know my stories, my memories, and my experiences. But the stories and memories I want to tell, that I am willing to share, are the good ones, the ones that make me smile and laugh, the ones that bring to life moments of excitement and joy. But deep down, I want to be known in the dark places too. The places that turn my stomach with nausea, the ones that make me cry or angry or bring forth doubt and questions. But too often I let fear rule my actions when given that chance. In those moments, I want to play safe, and  I have taught myself that "safe" means staying being those walls, hiding the parts of me that I am not sure how people will react if they knew them, allowing my questions to be silent for fear of judgment, and keeping certain pains and struggles off of the table.

Jesus knew the woman in Luke, her flaws, her sins, her hurts, it all. And for her to offer such an act of gratitude, devotion and surrender, she knew Jesus too.

And Jesus knows this woman. The parts I share openly, the parts few know about, the parts nobody knows, the parts that make me happy, the parts that break my heart, the parts that make me laugh, the parts that make me cry, the parts that I wish He didn't know, the parts I struggle with, and on and on and on. And I know Him. I know His comfort, His love, His grace, His guidance, His whisper, His nudging, His mercy, His hope, His faithfulness . . . .

And as I explore more into this call to make a difference for His kingdom with my life, I am realizing His nudges aren't always safe. Sometimes He nudges me to scratch off the surface from a podium in a room full of women, sometimes He is poking me to trust Him with the outcome of taking down my mask and sharing my life with a friend, sometimes He encourages me to share my struggles with a prayer partner, and sometimes He encourages me to open the doors to my heart and share deep pains of my life with the ones I dearly love.

To make a difference, you have to give yourself, and in giving yourself, you run the risk of being known and with being known there is always the risk of getting hurt. But I believe it's in the mess of being known and in the grace found in those times of hurt, that we are able to see more clearly the hand of Jesus Christ, offering an unimaginable love and an indescribable hope and an offer like no other  to provide healing, restoration and new life.

So, may we all (especially, you Mel) allow people to get close, to let them really know you, permit them to see your flaws and failures, hopes and dreams and trust Jesus with the outcome.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Eyes on the Path.

It's been a while now, but I use to go geocaching often. For those of you who are unfamiliar, geocaching is kind of like an electronic treasure hunt. People from all over hide these "treasure chests" for others in the geocaching community to find. It's pretty simple, especially now that every smart phone is loaded with a GPS system. You pull up a "cache" or find the coordinates to where "X" marks the spot, whip out your handy dandy iPhone loaded with the geocaching app, and off you go. Once you discover the treasure you can sign the log with your “super duper adventurous born to do this” caller ID and you can rummage through the container to see if there is anything that suits your liking. (Take something, leave something is the motto.) There are also Geo Coins or travel bugs that are looking to find their way to a certain destination. Some come from Germany; others we have found seek to find a ride to NYC or South Carolina. It's pretty exciting.
In the midst of the hunt, it's thrilling to know you are on the right path as you watch the little dot move closer to the "jackpot." Usually the "treasure chests" are hidden far off the beaten path (watch out for snakes), some require hiking or crossing small streams, and every now and then you will have to descend down some large hills (which means an uphill work out on your way back to the car-like the time we descended the massive hill in the waist high grass on 288 at Westchester Commons.) Once you are in the thick of the woods, you find the container and it becomes easy to spot the way out . . . but coming in, the way was hidden, because the focus was on the map-the GPS, not necessarily on the surroundings.
We can view life like a treasure hunt at times. We can be so intent on finding what we are looking for we forget to see the path that we are on.
I feel lately that my eyes have been glued on the GPS, on the goal vs. the path that has been set before me. I've been striving to get to whatever "X" marks the spot on any given day, rather enjoy my path and its surroundings. My sight has been so self focused and future driven, that I have missed several opportunities to love well the people who have been passing through, or to stop and share a word of encouragement with the hiker who is resting from fatigue, or to take the time to venture out into overgrown thicket and help that wandering traveler find their way back.
Psalm 16: 11 found its way in front of me this morning. It says "You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasure of living with you forever."
In geocaching the joy and excitement are found in using the GPS and discovering the treasure at the end of each hunt, but in life, the game is different. We, as Christ followers, know what the treasure is--meeting Jesus face to face and spending eternity in His presence. And as I've tried to process my foul mood, and the root of my discontent this week, I realize that joy doesn't come from knowing the final destination and in waiting for that day to arrive, striving to accomplish every goal I envisioned my life would hold.
Hello?!!?!!! Mel, it's not about you!!!!!
The joy comes from walking with the Holy Spirit everyday of life here on Earth, following His lead to love others and to invite them to accompany us on this incredible journey. Yes, I do believe we all have desires and hopes for our lives, and that's a good thing. I have just discovered that when I start focusing solely on my goals and dreams, my life tends to get out of wack and I become Miss Grumpy Pants. (My apologies for all who have been witness to that this week.)
I don't need to worry which path my life needs to venture down. Psalm 16 states, that He will show me the way. And He does. I just have to let Him lead, and choose to follow. My joy comes from walking Him, knowing that He is forever by my side, covering me in love and strength and grace.
And today, I am rediscovering that God is the listening ears we all crave in our lives. He wants to hear about my dreams, and goals and desires, and every little detail of my day. But He always wants me to trust that He knows best, and to believe that the map He has already created, will lead me to a life beyond my wildest imagination.
Sometimes, there are bumps along the way. And for me, this has been a week of crawling over them, for struggling to get myself out of the way, to put others first and to let the Holy Spirit take the lead and direct me down a joy packed, love filled treasure hunt of my life.

Eyes on the path, Mel, not the destination!!!