FROM THE MIDDLE

  • A Farewell from The Middle

    I’m not really sure what to say, but it seems remiss to leave this space behind without saying something. The Middle has been my home for the last three-and-a-half years—an interim in which I’ve learned and grown and cried and doubted and started and stopped and hidden and revealed and gotten lost and been found. When I began writing this blog I couldn’t fathom a day I’d stop. It was new and fresh and cathartic—a freedom I’d never experienced. And I needed that. Having just lost the job I had my life and identity wrapped up in, I was crushed, wandering, afraid. I didn’t know where to go or what to do or really, how to live.

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been good enough for anybody or anything. No one ever told me that directly, I just sensed it deeply. When I became a mom, I didn’t feel it lurking in the corners anymore. Not Good Enough no longer hid in the shadows; he stood beside me every day, shouted loudly in my ears, whispered darkness into my heart and soul. I knew it was true. I fell into the hole he dug and for many years, I couldn’t get out. He threw prison clothes down for me to wear in the pit—depression, eating disorder, perfectionism, anger, loneliness, fear, low self-esteem—and for a long time I wore them.  

    Over the course of time and with God’s help, I was able to shed several of those jumpsuits. Some of the stripes I kept, but it took losing that job for me to realize it. And this space—The Middle—is where I finally found the courage to strip down to my Skiviez and climb out.

    I’ve born my soul here.

    I’ve struggled here.

    I’ve matured here.

    And you, dear reader, have been with me through it all. You’ve encouraged me, you’ve fought with me, and together we’ve carved out a path through our own middle places—those not where I was, not where I’m going to be, just keep swimming journeys we all have to take on this road of life. And I thank you for that. If it hadn’t been for this Middle, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have made it through that part of my middle.

    This journey has taught me a lot. It’s given me knowledge that I now must put into action. I’ve been redressed with courage and grace and hope and it’s time for me to share those in other ways. For as much as I’ve revealed here, I’ve also hidden. I’ve used the cloak of anonymity that cyberspace provides to shelter me from real, face-to-face interaction; I’ve given generalized reassurance but haven’t taken the risk of specific, intentional acts of kindness on the individual level.

    I’m not being self-deprecating, and I’m not saying what I’ve written here hasn’t been an encouragement or served a purpose. What I am saying is that it is time for me to change the type of encouragement I offer. I am at the place on my journey where I must step off the path and become the encouragement rather than just tell it. I must now make tangible what before has been indemonstrable; I need to make the general specific, the words deeds; the grace palpable. It’s no longer enough for me to merely say; I must be.

    So, as of December 1st, this blog will no longer be. I’ll still write. I may publish another compilation of devotions. The other devotion books I’ve put together will still be available, but this space will be gone as all my efforts will concentrate on the Bundle Up Club and other ways in which I can directly serve others and help meet the physical needs of those less fortunate.

    Be encouraged today and always. God is with you. He is for you. He loves you, and He will help you.

    Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure it out on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. – Provervbs 3:5-6 (MSG)

    Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

  • When the Miracles We Want Aren't the Ones We Need

    “Yay! God is good,” was my response to the news. What could have been a tragic story ended up a marvelous testimony of God’s grace and power. She almost drowned. She should have brain damage. But she doesn’t. She woke up well and whole, perfect. And along with the others, I posted my confirmation that God is good, God is faithful, God is a miracle-worker, God is awesome.

    But what if the outcome had been different? What if she had died? What if she had woken up a vegetable, incapacitated? What if she had regained some of her brain function but not all of it?

    Sometimes mamas do lose babies. Sometimes loved ones wake up paralyzed. Sometimes friends are involved in accidents and come back unable to speak or learn or communicate in the way they once did.

    And what do we say about God then? That He is good, that He is faithful, that He is a miracle-worker, that He is awesome?

    If it was my son or daughter—dead, cancer-filled, handicapped, lost, kidnapped, abused, murdered—would I still say God is good?

    I’d like to say yes. I’d like to believe my faith is strong. I’d like to think I would stand, arms raised, hands outstretched to praise God in the midst of the black.

    But I don’t think I would. I would beg and plead and ask God why. I would bang my fists and snot and cry and bargain and blame. I would remind Him of everything I’ve ever done that was even close to good—everything I claimed to do for Him—to convince Him that He was making a mistake, that He needed to do something, that He should prove His goodness and faithfulness and miracle-workingness and awesomeness.

    Because the truth is, even though God’s attributes never change—He is always good, always faithful, always a miracle-worker, always awesome—according to my circumstances, I change my perception of Him. My belief in Him is based largely on my approval of His actions—based on what He does or doesn’t, on what He allows or doesn’t—instead of who He is.

    And it’s easy to say how I wouldn’t do that, how I’d be different, how no matter what I’d believe and trust not just His hands but His heart, how I’d be thankful in all things. But even when it’s my baby lying on a gurney? Even when it’s my love in a box being lowered into the ground?

    I have found in my most difficult times—in mental illness and debt and loss and trial and eating disorder and suicide—that God really is Who He says He is, that no matter how I question and bargain and blame and curse He remains unchanged, unmovable, unshakeable. And because He loves me and holds me and keeps me in spite of my questions and hurt and blame, I can believe that no matter what the circumstance—whether He stops the bad or not, whether He heals or He doesn’t—that He is all I need Him to be.

    I don’t know why God heals some but not others. I don’t understand why some are called to endure when others are welcomed home. I can’t comprehend why He allows a mother’s child to be ripped from her or why He won’t keep massive tornadoes from leveling whole cities and destroying lives.

    But…

    God is good. God is Faithful. God is a miracle-worker. God is awesome.

    And maybe the miracle we want isn’t the one we need. Maybe we don’t see the whole picture. Maybe we don’t fully understand or appreciate all the ways in which He works. Maybe endurance is a miracle. Maybe resolve and dependence and resignation to His sovereignty are the most phenomenal acts worked in us. Maybe trust and assurance and acceptance are the greatest gifts He gives. Maybe His staying power, holding grace is the real wonder. Because it is through those we have a testimony; it is in those scars that our stories—His story—is told. It is through those we can still say God is good.

    Be encouraged today. God is with you. Maybe you’re struggling, praying, begging. Maybe you’ll get your answer, maybe you won’t. But recognize the miracles of the middle—His encouragement for your journey through, His protection and strength and grace—for it is by those wonders we remain; it is because of those wonders we continue on.

    They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. – Revelation 12:11 (NIV)

  • Holey + Wholly = Holy {My Recalculation of Piety}

    I’m going to preface this blog post the same way I did the last one. There are some things you need to know upfront. First, and most importantly, these words aren’t meant to condemn, but to convict. Second, these words are mainly for me, so there’s no need for you to take things personally, unless you just want to. Third, these are my feelings, my thoughts, my convictions, my experiences—you may disagree, and you have every right to. Fourth, I’m not trying to change your mind or convince you of anything, I am however, asking you to keep an open mind and heart.

    That hairdo up there? It’s pretty much a visual of what my definition of holiness used to be: the higher the hair, the closer to God. It’s an illustration of the ideals my religion emphasized as the proper representation of Christ: Be holy, for I am holy (I Peter 1:16); Don’t conform to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2); Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

    I’m not making fun or trying to make light of that. Holiness is serious. It’s something that should be on every Christian’s radar—something we’re striving for. I do, however, think that what I learned about holiness was somewhat misrepresented. Yes, holiness is an important way of living, but we alone do not bear the burden of personal holiness. Now before you get all worked up, please hear me out. Yes, it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to Christ, but it is also vital to accept the fact that we do not have that power within ourselves.

    I always walked away from church with the notion that my holiness depended on me—that if I couldn’t tow the fine line of perfection in my actions and attitudes and appearance and speech, I was not holy. Consequently, I felt like a failure all the time. The concept of grace was not really stressed; the hellfire and damnation approach was used often. There was an emphasis on separation, on being set apart, on removing oneself from the world and its evil influence. And I get it, I really do. We’re not supposed to be like everyone else; we’re supposed to be salt and light.

    I was surrounded by people who could tell you freely what would send you to hell, but they didn’t necessarily model the actions that would send you to heaven. For instance, loving your neighbor as yourself meant loving your churchy neighbors—not the worldly, smelly, addicted, dancing, smoking, drinking, cussing, hussybelle-looking, lost ones; helping in the community meant helping in your church community, not the actual one you lived in.

    And I think in that attempt at separation from the world—because of the tendency to depend on our own ability to be holy instead of fully accepting God’s grace and blood-covering that is the only thing that can ever actually make us holy—we created an exclusive gospel. In an effort to stay quarantined so none of the vulgarities of the world would jump on us, we created a chasm of fear. And because of that, our only involvement with the world became to tell them to repent without jumping into the dirty trenches to offer grace and help and guidance and support for the repenting. Our involvement became judgmental and harsh; we changed to the Pharisaical definition of “neighbor” so we wouldn’t risk our own holiness.

    But how does that holiness help? How does a holiness that shows more of our differences than our similarities, a holiness that creates more division than communion, reflect Christ’s holiness? How does staying in our own life groups and church pews and Sunday school classes share His holiness with those who need it most?

    I’ve had to change my personal perspective on holiness; I’ve had to recalculate all the components that equal holy living. To do that, I had to revisit the definition of holiness. To be holy is to be dedicated or devoted to the service of God, to be saintly, godly, pious, and devout. To be holy is to be devoted to the service of God, to follow His rules and example. And when I do that, it’s clear to me that separation is not the answer; Jesus was inclusive—He didn’t separate Himself from anyone in an effort to remain unsullied. Instead, He went straight to the people who needed Him most—sinners and thieves and liars and hypocrites—people a lot like me. He took His holiness to them. He wasn’t afraid it would wash off when He waded through the muck and mire of their lives. Jesus was secure because His holiness came from God living in Him.

    And guess what? We’ve got that too—God living in us. He is the One who makes us holy. He is the one who covers and washes and protects and cleans. He is the one who gives us the power to make right choices. It’s not going to wash off when we wade through the muck and mire to help others. We can be in the world (not in our own carefully carved out niche—the real thing) and not of it.

    What does the practical, every-day version of holy, consecrated, washed clean look like? It looks like us.

    Regular people.

    Holey, imperfect, incomplete, without-all-the-answers people who are wholly, fully, committed, recklessly abandoned to trying their best to live every day the way Jesus did.

    Holey + Wholly = Holy

  • Conditional Compassion

    I don’t know how many of these posts I’ll end up writing. I have so much thought and emotion swirling around in this head and heart of mine, but I’m not really sure what’s for me, what’s to share, what’s to let stir and settle, or what’s to release. I guess I’ll just share when I feel I need to. I’m not even sure I can fully articulate it all, honestly. But I do have a few things I’d like to say upfront.

    First, and most importantly, these words aren’t meant to condemn, but to convict. Second, these words are mainly for me, so there’s no need for you to take things personally, unless you just want to. Third, these are my feelings, my thoughts, my convictions—you may disagree, and you have every right to. Fourth, I’m not trying to change your mind or convince you of anything, I am however, asking you to keep an open mind and heart.

    I thought we were doing a good thing. I thought we went above and beyond. For a split second I even thought I might change someone’s life. I was right on all three points, but not in the ways I expected. That thing we did? It was good for me. What I thought was going above and beyond? It’s what should be my ordinary. The life that was changed? Mine.

    The trip we made to Kentucky to deliver the hats, scarves, and blankets we made for the homeless has shaken me to my core. And I’m grateful for it. It has unraveled my apathy; it has stripped away my arrogance; it has caused me to examine myself in the mirror of God’s Word in a way I never have before. It’s made me realize things I once thought were okay, aren’t—things like going to church every time the doors are open but never really being open outside church; things like thinking I know what it’s really like to serve Christ when, for the most part, I’ve only served others like me; things like determining who I’ll give grace or compassion based on my judgment of his/her lifestyle.

    I say I have compassion for those not like me, for those hurting and dying and weak and bruised and addicted and dirty, but I really don’t—didn’t. What I had wasn’t true compassion at all; it was conditional compassion. My view of others’ needs wasn’t based on Christ’s way. I’ve been looking back through the Scriptures, and for the life of me I can’t find one place where Jesus expected people to put down their cigarettes or stop their drinking or carousing or stealing before He would talk to them or lend a helping hand. I can’t find any place He told people they’d have to commit to coming to at least three out of five messages in His sermons by the lake series before He could comfort them. I can’t find any place where He put conditions on His grace. Jesus just met people where they were. He gave comfort and grace and help and love and compassion in the moment—no matter how messy or smelly or greedy or poor or hypocritical the person was. And yet somehow, every single time, the person’s life was changed. He met the immediate need and then gave grace and hope and guidance for the future. Imagine that—it wasn’t judgment, but mercy that brought about change.

    What’s so wrong with helping someone right where they are? Enablement? Are we afraid they’re going to take what we offer and misuse or abuse it? Guess what? We’re not responsible for that; we’re not accountable to God for how someone uses what we offer. We’re accountable to God for making the offer, for extending the grace, for meeting the need, for speaking the truth with love.

    When we get wrapped up in church culture we forget about our responsibilities to those outside our walls. We forget that at no point has Jesus ever been interested in our comfort level. Sure, it’s a good thing to serve other Christians. Yes, it’s important to be actively involved with a community of believers. But if we get so wrapped up in our roles in the church that we can’t be the church, there’s a problem.

    That’s where I’ve been.

    That’s not where I’m going to stay.

    I’m done using the barometer of church participation or comparing myself with other Christians as an indicator of how well I’m following Christ. It’s not accurate. My level of comfort or feeling like I’m okay spiritually shouldn’t be equated with God sanctioning my lifestyle. Truthfully, I’m a bigot most of the time when it comes to self-examination. The only thing I should be measuring myself against is God’s word, and His word is pretty clear on matters of compassion and grace and forgiveness and loving our neighbors and sharing what we have (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially) with those who don’t have it. His word gives unmistakable instruction that our priority as Christians is to share His good news with everyone—not only those we deem worthy, not just those we think we’ll benefit from, not merely those who look and smell like us or have the same socio-economic status we do.

    It’s our job to extend His mercy and grace. No questions asked. No conditions or qualifiers.

    I don’t know why or how many of those homeless people we met came to be in that situation. I don’t know how many of them are drug and/or alcohol abusers. I don’t know who among them is really trying to get off the street and who isn’t. I don’t know if I got played by some of them or if I didn’t. And guess what? I don’t care. All I know is that if not for grace, that could be me. And how can I—knowing who God is, knowing who I am, knowing to do good, knowing God’s word, understanding my responsibility, realizing that what I have or haven’t done for the least of these I have or haven’t done for Him—not do it and expect God to be okay with that? I will be held accountable.

    So here’s what I’m going to do from here on out: I’m going to stop caring what other church people think about what I’m doing for my neighbors; I don’t answer to them, I answer to God. I’m going to stop worrying about what others do with what I give them; I’m not responsible for them, I’m responsible for me. I’m not going to keep saying, “I don’t know where those kinds of people are, I don’t know what I can do.” I’m going to quit justifying my inaction. I’m going to stop ignoring the truth: I’m guilty, and I need God’s grace and mercy just as much as the next guy (if not more).

    “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor,” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” – Luke 10:35-36 (NLT)

  • You Get What You Pray For

    Four days from now, I, along with my daughters and a true friend, will drive a car loaded down with blankets, hats, and scarves—

    For eleven hours

    One way

    To stay with people we’ve never met or seen in person

    To deliver the items we, and many generous others made

    To homeless neighbors we know nothing about.

    We’ll do radio and newspaper interviews—we’re nervous about that.

    We made/collected enough goods to make 104 gift bags, each containing a hand-made hat, scarf, and blanket—$3,500 worth of materials. There’s so much we can’t fit it all into our vehicle; there’s so much we get to donate to two homeless ministries instead of just one.

    This morning I get to meet with the director of a local crisis pregnancy center that not only provides services and support to women with unplanned pregnancies, but to struggling families of young children as well. I’ll tell her what we’re all about, show her what we make, elaborate on how we’d like to help, give her our plan to make a difference in the lives of people in our own community.

    Before we even officially started that project (yesterday), we had already been given $1,050 through a grant and one generous benefactor.

    Why I am telling you this?

    Not to make myself look good—I’m nobody.

    I’m telling you this stuff because six months ago I was restless, anxious, searching for a chance to do more, to get out of my comfort zone. I was praying for God to give me work to do—not church work, not work I’m used to, but work I’ve never done before, work that’s selfless, work that can’t be repaid by anyone, work that shows Jesus to people who’ve never seen Him.

    And He did—

    Through an idea He gave one of my daughters

    An idea to make hats and scarves and blankets for people in need.

    And now, just five months later, I’m way out of my comfort zone doing things I never, ever would have thought possible—because of the limits I put on myself, because of my personality, because of my fear.

    I’ve never been crafty; I’ve never liked working with my hands.

    I don’t like meeting new people. I’m not outgoing. It makes me uncomfortable.

    I don’t like conversation—I can write so much more clearly than I can speak.

    But here I am doing all those things I thought I’d never do.

    I knit—well, with a loom anyway.

    I’m driving to far-away places to meet AND stay with people I don’t know.

    I’m getting opportunities to talk to people about who we are and what we do and how we want to help.

    I’m fundraising and organizing and labeling and inventorying and packaging and supplying.

    I get to give to people who can never pay me back, and maybe, hopefully, when I’m giving it I’ll have the chance to tell them about God.

    And it’s all because of Jesus.

    I can’t do any of this stuff by myself. It scares me to death but I’m doing it anyway.

    Because when you pray and ask God to guide your steps, you have to move your feet.

    When you tell God you want to work, you have to do what He gives you—even if it’s stuff you don’t think you can do.

    Actually, that’s one way to know it’s really Him—He’ll give you stuff you think you can’t do, stuff you won’t be able to do unless you’re fully relying on Him.

    But He’ll provide. He’ll give you every single tool you need for the work you’ll need to do on yourself and for others.

    I don’t know where this thing is going. I don’t know how long it will last or how many projects He’ll give us. But I do know that as long as we’re willing and obedient, He’ll keep showing us where to go and what to do.

    Are you tired of the same old, same old? Do you want more? Be encouraged today. Ask God to give you an opportunity. Open your eyes and your heart. Don’t discount anything as too hard or too small or too far-fetched. He will give you what you ask for. And when He does, don’t be afraid to do it. Rely on Him. He’ll show you what to do.

    Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure everything out on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. – Proverbs 3:5-6 (MSG)

     

  • From My Soapbox: The Bundle Up Club

    So I’ve been thinking about this whole Bundle Up thing a lot lately. Maybe it’s because my family room is literally covered in hats and blankets and scarves, or maybe it’s because we’re getting really excited about our trip to deliver them, or maybe it’s because my hands are sore from tying knots on blankets—I’m not sure—but I’m starting to sense a much greater purpose here.

    What started as an idea has quickly snowballed into a full-fledged campaign. We have nearly 300 likes on our FB page—most of which are from complete strangers. We have received donations of supplies or items made or money from people in 10 different states. We’ve had people ask us if they can start local chapters of the Bundle Up Club in their communities so they can assist in our efforts. We have radio and newspaper interviews scheduled. And I’m just going to be honest—it’s scary. Really scary. I don’t know how to run this kind of operation.

    When we started back in May, I just wanted to support my daughters; I didn’t realize God would take the idea of a tender-hearted girl and turn it into an actual ministry. But that’s what it is. We’ve had to manage funds and buy supplies and figure out logistics and plan fundraisers and get supporters and ask for helpers. We pray over the items we make. We’ve made sacrifices; we’ve put a lot of time and effort and hard work into this. To us, it’s not just some cute little idea—it’s a calling. And although we’ve received a lot of support, we’ve received some criticism too. We’ve had our motives questioned and our methods condemned. We’ve had people tell us we’re not doing it right.

    When God gives you a job to do, He doesn’t promise it will be easy or comfortable or that everyone will like it or that you won’t be afraid, but He will give you what you need to do it. And He has. Because of the help and support we’ve received, we’re going to be able to touch the lives of at least 100 homeless people with our current project. And, He’s already blessed us with a second opportunity we will be starting on as soon as we get back from delivering these items. We don’t plan on stopping after that either. We’re going to find somewhere else we can serve when that one’s done. Because guess what? This thing isn’t about us. It’s about Jesus.

    Maybe it doesn’t seem like it to you. Maybe you don’t think knitting, crocheting, and tying hats and scarves and blankets is about Jesus. But it is to us. Why? Because it gives us the opportunity to meet people we’d otherwise never come in contact with. Because it creates a way for us to not only meet a physical need, but a spiritual one as well. Because when someone finds out we’ve taken up our time and energy making something for them, they might understand we really care, and when they know we really care, they might let us pray for them or introduce them to Jesus.

    That’s the whole point.

    I can’t keep worrying about who understands that and who doesn’t. I don’t have to answer to people who say we’re not doing enough or doing it right—they didn’t give us this vision. I’m not trying to be rude, I’ve just come to an understanding.

    This project has made me realize a lot about myself and my motives. I want to be a better person. I want to be a better representative of Jesus. And that means I have to change. Some people will like it and some people won’t. Some people will help out and some people won’t. Some of it will be easy and some of it won’t. But at the end of the day, I don’t answer for people; I answer for me. Jesus doesn’t call us to a life of comfort and complacency; He calls us to a life of work and servitude. So here’s what I’m reminding myself of today, and maybe you need the reminder too:

    When God puts a burden or desire in your heart to do something, do it. Don’t wait. Do what you can where you are with what you have. When you step out in faith and obedience to His directives He will bless you. He will give you what you need (emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, financially, and any other –ly you can think of) to complete the task.

    You will probably be surprised by whom your supporters are and are not. People I thought would care or jump on board and help out (including some family members and close friends) have not responded to us at all. Conversely, there are those who I thought would have no interest and those who have no connection to us whatsoever who have donated to our cause. But the point is this—you don’t need to wait for validation or approval or support from other people to do the work God wants you to do. You may never get it. God is the only One who has the authority to endorse you and your vision. Just start. He will provide what you need to accomplish your goal. And once He does start providing, don’t focus on where or who the support comes from. Keep your efforts centered on the task and the God who gave it to you.

    Want to become more grateful for the things you have and less concerned with the things you don’t? Do something for someone else—someone who can’t reciprocate, someone who would love to have your life, someone who is far less fortunate than you are. It will quickly renew your proper perspective.

    The most precious gift you can give someone is your time. We are making and not buying scarves, hats, and blankets for a reason. We want people to know they are valuable—worth effort and work and time. Money can be recouped, effort can be rewarded, but time is valuable because once spent, you can’t get it back. It’s really the ultimate gift, and where and with whom and on what you spend yours matters. A lot. It speaks volumes about your priorities and values.

    People (myself included) often use the words can’t and won’t interchangeably. I tell God and others I can’t do stuff all the time, when what I actually mean is that I won’t. We use can’t to cover ourselves, to make excuse. Inability, whether perceived or real, always sounds better than blatant refusal. It’s more palatable and makes us feel much better about ourselves. Think about it the next time you offer an I can’t to someone. Is it really that you can’t or is it that you won’t because you don’t want to inconvenience yourself?

    I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. – Edward Everett Hale

    All you have to do is start. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know how or when or where or how much. If God gives you something to do, just start by doing what you can where you are with what you have. He will make all the crooked places straight. He will provide. He will give you opportunity. But you won’t get those things until you take the first step. You don’t need a straight path if you’re sitting down; you don’t need provision if you’re content where you are; you don’t need opportunity if you’re not even willing to get up and look for it.

    God is way bigger than you realize. I thought my version of God was big, but I’m beginning to understand just how small a box I put Him in every single day. He does what He wants when He wants with Whom He wants. He runs this thing, y’all. There’s not one second we live that wasn’t orchestrated and set into motion by Him. If He can give you the idea, He can give you the plan. If He can give you the start, He can give you the finish. If He can give you path, He can give you the strength to walk on it. All it takes is faith.

    Be encouraged today. The task set before you may be hard. You may not have the help or support of others. You might get some criticism. You may be saying you can’t because you feel like you aren’t able or you may be saying you won’t out of fear of failure or rejection. But remember this: God is faithful. His strength is perfect in your weakness. He is not sorry for the call He has placed on your life; He does not regret giving you the job you have. You can make a difference. You can change. He will help you. Start today. Don’t wait.

    But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)

    Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ - Matthew 25: 34-40 (NIV)

  • On Mom Voices and Answering God

    “Come get your phone off the table, please!”

    No response.

    So I try once more, with feeling.

     “I said come get your phone, please!”

    Again, silence.

    This time, I go with the neck-veins-popping, face-turning-red, blood-pressure-raised Hitler voice.

    “You have exactly two seconds to come get this phone or it stays with me!”

    Her run across the hardwood sounds like a herd of cattle thundering out to pasture. Sliding sideways into the room on one socked foot, she gives her excuse: “Sorry, Mama, I was doing something.” “Well, you could have at least acknowledged my call. If you don’t respond, I don’t know you’re hearing me, and if I don’t think you hear me, I’ll find a way to get your attention, and it will probably be something you don’t like. Answer next time,” I say, brow furrowed, voice raised, finger pointed.

    This is a familiar scene at my house, and one that annoys me to no end. Really? How hard is it to acknowledge  you hear me talking? A simple, “Coming!” would be enough for me—at least I know you’ve taken notice of my call. But to remain silent, to snub me by not even admitting you’ve heard my mom voice when I know you have because it’s so loud everyone in the surrounding counties can also hear it—that bothers me a lot.

    I don’t NEED a response to know my children have heard me—I know they have. I know their location, the amount of distance between us. I WANT a response. Their replies and actions in answer to my call serve as recognition of the command I’ve sent and substantiate their comprehension of my authority and guidance. It lets me know they heed my words, direction, and input in their lives.

    Then I realize—that lack of response I find so annoying, that slight of their disregard that digs deep under my skin—I do that to God.

    So many times He’s called out to me—asked me to give, implored me to change, presented opportunity, provided direction, communicated instruction—and I’ve snubbed Him by offering no response. Instead, I pretend like I didn’t hear, like I don’t know better, like I was doing something so important I couldn’t heed His call.

    And just like me with my own children, He doesn’t NEED a response to know I’ve heard—He knows my location, the amount of distance between us; He WANTS a response. My reply and action in answer to His call serve as my recognition of His command and substantiates my comprehension of His authority and guidance. It lets Him know I heed His words, direction, and input in my life.

    Is God calling you today? Are you responding or hiding, pretending not to hear? You cannot hide; He knows right where you are, He knows you’ve heard. More than anything else He desires your response, your action as proof of your commitment to His guidance and love. He will never lead you where His grace cannot keep you; He will never ask you to give up anything He is not prepared to replace with infinitely more than whatever you left behind. He doesn’t need resources; He is the source. Answer Him today—you won’t regret it.

    This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.” – Isaiah 48:17-18 (NIV)

  • The Reality of Dreams

    Sometimes life—the everyday, the mundane, the tedious—can chip away at your dreams. What once seemed possible gets lost in routine; what once brought hope and excitement slaps in the face. Reality turns harsh, a cruel taskmaster demanding more time, vitality, strength. It makes us wonder if the vision is really worth it, really feasible.

    I mean, let's face it, dreaming don’t pay the bills. And dreams take time, dreams take work; dreams take commitment and vision to see beyond this moment, this reality. Dreams require faith; dreams require hope.

    Dreams demand all the things reality snatches away through the every-day. And it's hard to hold on sometimes. It's difficult to see how any of those things we hold in our hearts--those deep desires, those God-given passions--could ever come to fruition.

    I'll share a secret with you. I have a dream about my daughters' service project, The Bundle Up Club. I have dreams of it becoming a real, full-scale, non-profit organization. I have visions of us sharing our blankets and our faith and our Jesus with folks all over the US. It's a big dream, a scary dream, a seemingly impossible dream. I don't know how to make any of that happen. Right now, we don't have the resources for it to happen.

    But then I think of Joseph—of all the dreams he had, the ones God was faithful to fulfill—and I realize none of his dreams were dreamt in the place of possibility. All of his dreams were scary, crazy big-- like so straight cray they made everyone around him nervous and uncomfortable and angry, like so big they were completey inconceivable. And all of them came to him in hostile, impractical places, environments of improbability. But that's the thing about dreams--they don't come us in the places they are possible; they come to us in the middle of reality. It falls upon us to decide whether we will pick them up and carry them with us through the land of impossible. Just like Joseph, we have to make a choice: believe the vision or focus solely on what we see.

    If we choose to believe, we will pay a price; dreams are expensive. Just as they did for Joseph, they can cost us time, possessions, relationships, status, and opportunity. But, believers who hold onto their dreams always realize them. Joseph went through many ups and downs. After years of unfairness, things were finally looking up and he gained the recognition he deserved. Then, in an instant, a false accusation knocked him all the way back down to the bottom for another years-long stretch of undeserved reality.

    But he chose to hold on. He chose to believe. He chose to continue dreaming. And in the end, it was all worth it. Those dreams from the very beginning, those dreams others laughed at and mocked, those crazy, huge, impossible dreams came true. And when they did, he was ready.

    God used reality—the imprisonment, the unfairness, the improbable, the unlikely—to prepare him for the fulfillment of his dreams. If his dreams were fulfilled too early, he wouldn't have been ready. But because he was, because he held onto his dreams even in the harshest of reality, because he realized that reality prepares us for (not keeps us away) from our dreams, because he understood that our dreams are our resonsibility to carry until God picks them up to fulfill the order--because God always fulfills His word--he literally saved a whole group of people.

    Be encouraged today. Sometimes reality is harsh and unfair, but if God has given you a dream, refuse to give up on it. Make the choice to believe and follow in spite of, no matter how impossible it seems. He works in ways we cannot see or understand. He uses our experiences to prepare us. Remember, God cannot lie. If He said it, He must do it. He is His word. If He has given you a dream, He will fulfill it.

    For nothing will be impossible with God. – Luke 1:37 (HCSB)

    “I watch over my word to accomplish it.” – Jeremiah 1:12b (HCSB)

  • On Capes and Shiny Red Boots

    I threw up yesterday.

    On purpose.

    And I feel like a complete failure.

    I know better.

    I could have made a better choice.

    But I didn’t.

    Anxiety and panic overflowed.

    And instead of running to the One who can help, I ran to the toilet.

    Because for just one moment I wanted to feel in control.

    That’s really what it’s all about—control.

    It’s not about food or calories or weight or size or fat or thin.

    It’s about manipulation. It’s about finding one thing in the chaos I can dominate. It’s about making answers when there are none. It’s about feeling in charge when I’m at the mercy of things far beyond my influence. It’s about my inability to cope. It’s about my need to know what can’t be known. It’s about my lack of trust.

    It’s my way of taking over, of prying from God’s hands things only He is big enough to carry.

    I know it’s gross. I know people don’t understand.

    But really, it’s no different than having a drink or taking a hit or rolling a joint or eating a box of thin mints or lighting up or texting gossip or treating people like crap. It’s just my way of trying to escape the truth: I don’t know; I can’t do it; I’m not in charge.

    And I know hanging over a toilet won’t bring me answers; I’m disgusted when I see my reflection in the porcelain’s pool.

    I’m sorry and I’m sad and I feel lost all over again. I’m disappointed that I can’t walk the way I tell others to go without stumbling, falling, floundering.

    But I can’t go back and change it—it’s done.

    I cry out to Jesus and ask Him to help me let go of things I was never meant to hold, the stuff I ripped from His hands and put into mine, the future only He knows; all I can do is ask Him to help me accept my limits, to help me understand it’s okay not to be in control, to help me be content to trust.

    That’s all I can do—get up, go to Jesus, and start over—and that’s all I have to do.

    And that’s all you have to do too.

    If you mess up, lose your Super Christian cape, trip over your shiny red boots, or have a human moment don’t beat yourself up. We all make mistakes—it’s the nature of our condition. We have to remember, it’s what we do in the moments after our mistakes that determine our course, not the mistake itself.

    So…

    Get up – This mistake doesn’t constitute total failure. Don’t wallow in pity, regret, and self-deprecation. The longer you stay down, the harder it will be to get back up and the more tempted you will be to further self-medicate. Admit your wrongdoing, get up, and…

    Go to Jesus – He’s where you should have gone in the first place—you know that—so don’t waste the opportunity, go there now. Talk to Him. Ask for His help. And He will tell you to…

    Start over – Go and sin no more. His mercies are new every morning, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness. He doesn’t condemn. He is love. He is compassion. He is mercy.

    Have you ripped your Super “C” cape or tripped over your shiny red boots lately? Be encouraged today. Get up, go to Jesus, and start over. He’s there waiting on you. There’s nothing too big or small for Him. And no matter where you are in the journey, not matter how long you’ve been serving Him, remember—He loves you. He’s not mad. He wants to cleanse you and make you new.

    Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. – I John 1:9 (NIV)

    “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” – John 8:11 (NIV)

  • A Letter from 40-Me to 20-Me: What You Need to Know

    Dear young, naïve, 20-year-old Deidra,

    I know you can’t imagine this now, but you’re about to turn 40. What?! All you can see is what’s right in front of you. You think you know a lot, but wow, if you only knew how much you really don’t know, you’d be terrified. That hope, that expectation, that blissful unawareness, that faded 90’s denim you’re sportin’? Twenty years from now it will all be gone (trust me, you’ll be thankful about the denim part).

    The degree you’re finishing up? Wait for it…totally useless. But not to worry, you’ll earn another one. Psych! That one’s worthless too. It’s okay though, because believe it or not, you’re actually going to work on a Ph.D. Never mind, you won’t finish it. But guess what? You’re still paying for it all. Well actually, that guy you just got engaged to? He pays for all of it, because here’s another good one. Brace yourself. You’re a stay-at-home mom.

    All those dreams you have about being a world-changer? All that certainty you have about a career? Just kidding. You’ll end up going from job to job, switching from profession to profession trying to figure out where you belong only to find out after twenty years of searching you still don’t know. Those kids you aren’t going to have? There are three of them. That state you just visited on tour with Ladies of Lee, the one you hate with all of your being? You live there.

    Your feelings of security, self-reliance, confidence? They will disappear. Your family? Um, yeah, just wait. In the farthest recesses of your mind you can’t invent a scenario like the one you’re about to experience. Two years from now your dad will be dead. From AIDS. He’s gay. He’s lived a double life and betrayed everyone. Your carefree attitude, your eagerness, your trust? They will melt in the fires of trial and disappointment. Your sense of worth and value and competence? It will fade.

    Those kids you were never supposed to have? They deliver black the day you deliver them. Those tiny, precious hands fisted tight will punch a hole in your soul. You won’t know it at first, but a few months in you’ll begin to experience the fight for your life. There are no words to describe the pain and despair you’ll endure. You’ll try to cry and scream and beg and cut and starve and puke your way out, but you won’t be able to. And after six years of battling you’ll come to your end, too tired to try anymore. But you’ll meet God on the bloody, tear-soaked bathroom floor that day. The real God, the One you’ve learned and talked and pretended about your whole life. And you’ll find out He’s everything He says He is.

    You’ll know what it means to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side because God carried you the entire way. You’ll have to work and work and work and work, but with His help you will get better. And the life you never imagine you’ll have—the life of messy, scary, uncertain, crazy, roller-coaster, whirlwind, unpredictable moments—will be the life you come to embrace and love. Because even though the journey is hard, it’s your journey; and even though everything you think will never happen to you does, plus some, twenty years from now you will realize that all you think you need is none of what you need and all of what you have is everything you don’t know you want.

    That guy you just got engaged to? Marrying him is the best thing you ever do. Those kids you aren’t going to have? Parenting them is the purpose you are looking for. That state you just visited, the one you hate with all your being? It is the place you find your freedom to live, to laugh, to love, to be, to accept all you aren’t as well as all you are.

    So, 20-Me, here’s what you need to know to make it through the next 20 years:

    Never say never.

    Things pretty much never go according to plan.

    Everything will work out the way it is supposed to.

    Nothing is wasted; everything has purpose.

    God really is Who He says He is—you can trust Him.

     

    With Love,

    middle-aged, done-some-stuff-and-seen-some-things, 40-year-old Deidra