Back Porch Revival

pic of me

A friend of mine has introduced me to the wonderful world of podcasts.   I know, I can see your eyes grow wide in my mind’s eye as you read this.  Podcasts have been around forever, or so I’ve heard.  I’ve been slightly aware of them for quite some time, but not knowing who in the world records them or exactly how to use the podcast app on my phone, I conveniently ignored the whole idea.  

I’m not very good at diving into new things; does that mean I don’t like change? 

I’ve discovered I enjoy listening to these podcasts as I walk around our little small town park.  I’ve had some holy experiences while walking, listening and, many times, raising my hands and giving a hearty “amen” for the birds and heavens to hear.

Occasionally I get a strange look by a passer-by, but, mostly it’s just me and the Lord and He knows me, so it’s okay.

Lately, I’ve struggled some as I’ve questioned my motive for writing this blog or helping anyone in general.  I never want to have a pious attitude or secretly harbor feelings of self-righteousness in my heart.  I was sharing this with my friend when she suggested a podcast that features the series “Postures of the Heart.” 

I knew instinctively I was supposed to listen the moment she told me about them.

Despite my best efforts, I’m still not very savvy with technology.   After a small struggle, and a few desperate prayers, I finally found the series she mentioned; I plugged in my earbuds, laced up my tennis shoes, ready to walk and listen.  You know, I’m not even sure how many times I circled the park; I was so involved in the story flowing into my ears, piercing my mind and heart, that I lost count.

I wiped tears and felt my heart tender with compassion as I listened, I know how it feels to suffer and long for God in all of it. 

She talked of personal trials and how God was walking her through with such tenderness, teaching her dependence in the deepest places of her weary heart.  She told of doctor’s visits and feelings of hopelessness that compelled her to fall on her face and pray hard for peace and rest in her painful storm. 

I just wanted to reach through all the technology and give her a big hug.

While sharing the healing stage of her struggle, she said something that nearly stopped me in my tracks.  What she said wasn’t so profound really, but because God had said something to me a few days earlier that sounded eerily the same, it made me take note.  You know, when the Lord speaks something into your spirit, it may lay there for a while and it may or may not take root.  But, it doesn’t go away.  After some time, or a lot of time, it seems He will bring something into your life and suddenly that Word, the one you hadn’t thought of for so long, springs to your mind and you realize there’s been a resurrection and a revelation. 

This type of revelation doesn’t happen to me often, but I love it when it does.

Even though the doctor told the podcast speaker the good news she longed to hear, she still found herself sitting in her car in the parking lot in disbelief.  Instead of the joy she should have been feeling, she felt numb.  The next words she said resonated so deeply, “I had been given this gift of good news but I didn’t know how to receive it.  My fear was stopping me from being able to celebrate and believe what God had done for me.” 

I felt so totally understood in that moment.

Many of you know I’ve been on a personal campaign to find joy, only to realize joy is directly related my own level of thankfulness.  (If you would like to read more about my personal journey and discovery in this matter, check out “Baptized in Salty Water.”)  It was a beautiful moment of revelation when I could see how thankfulness increases joy which increases thankfulness which increases joy and the cycle never ends. 

Well, I’ve also been praying for peace.

Not momentary peace, or situational peace, but real solid, here-for-the-long-haul peace of mind and heart.   I’d been praying and seeking God for it for so long my asking started to feel stale.   I wondered if peace was just an illusion, something people talk about, but is really only a pipe dream. 

To be continued next week…

 

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Baptized in Salty Water

Baptized in Salt Water 5.23.2018.docx pic

At the beginning of this year I felt a strong sense the Lord was going to give me joy.  Or maybe He was going to resurrect joy in my heart, or uncover it. However you want to say it, I could hear Him speaking “joy” into my spiritual ears.    I was so excited!  I posted about it on social media, wrote a blog about it and pretty much sat expectantly waiting for joy to slap me in the face. 

Joy left when mom died and I was so ready for its return!

Grief has been a mysterious thing.  It’s come in waves and stages and no matter how hard I’ve tried, I can’t seem to make any sense of it.   Just when I think I’m coming out of the dark cloud, I am somehow sucked back in. It’s like a vacuum of pain that won’t let me go.   

So you can understand why the word joy made me giddy with expectation. 

Well, days passed, then months, and I lost all confidence in my “word from the Lord.”  My days would start the same and end the same and all that lay in between felt the same.   I despaired of ever feeling any different.  I questioned the Lord on occasion about the word I thought He’d whispered, but my prayers seemed to fall flat. 

So, after a while, I forgot to keep asking. 

As a matter of fact, I forgot about joy all together.

Can I just stop here and shout a “praise the Lord!”  We may forget, but He NEVER does.

A few weeks ago I told you I had taken a Bible study with some ladies at church.  It was a study about finding meaning in life.  It took me deep into my heart to places I hadn’t been in a while; maybe even places I had tried to lock up forever.  Facing unfulfilled dreams is not my idea of a good time.  I learned a lot about myself, I cried a lot and took a lot of soul-searching-late-afternoon walks.    It was all so hard.  It was at the end of this study the author recommended we read a book that had helped in her quest to find meaning.

I remember when I read the name of the book, I’d heard of it somewhere before.

I went home and shared some of what I was going through with my daughter and mentioned this book. She said, “Mom, I gave you my copy of it over a year ago.  It’s in your room on your bookshelf.”   In that moment, with supper simmering on the stove, and my mind in a hundred different places, the miracle of what God had already prepared for me didn’t sink in.   

Since I was distracted, I didn’t immediately look for it on my bookshelf and soon forgot all about it.

It wasn’t until one glorious day sitting in white sand, watching the tide sweep seashells onto shore that I cracked open the cover of the book my daughter had given me a year earlier.  As I read, the salty breeze blew the rim of my hat in and out of my face while seagulls shrieked above me.   With the symphony of waves crashing into the hard sand, my vinyl chair, comfortably nestled under my colorful umbrella, became a holy place as I found my heart on page after page. 

The more I read the more I was overwhelmed with a strong feeling of being understood.

Yes, it hurts to grieve; it also hurts to question the very foundation of your faith and beg the question, “Why does grief exist?”  It doesn’t just hurt for a moment or even a period of time. 

It hurts forever. 

As I was reading, the word God had promised began to dawn on me like a slow sunrise.  I hadn’t thought about it in a while, but suddenly it was clear the Lord was speaking.  Between the study on meaning and my daughter’s book, He was beginning to lead me down a path.

A path to joy.

Salty tears began to slide down my sunburned cheeks.

At that realization, I laid my book down on the towel beside me and began to walk toward the ocean.  I will never cease to be amazed by its liquid power.  I pressed my feet deep into the hot sand, my steps measured and determined, my sights set on something deeper. The moment the water touched my hot skin, it felt cleansing and cold. I let out a small whimper of discomfort but pressed on into the clear blue.

 I wasn’t turning back. 

The cold waves began to crash against me, pulling me out.  I was waist deep when I stopped and dug my toes into the ocean floor.   I looked up into the heavens, closed my eyes and took in all of the sounds around me.  And then, with great intention, I sank down into the icy water.  I held my breath and allowed the current to pull me back and forth.  When I emerged from the sea, I felt lighter, like I’d left a heavy burden beneath its surface.  I couldn’t put my finger on it right then, but I knew something had changed. 

I’d been baptized in salty water. 

The joy I felt in that moment was something I hadn’t experienced in a very long time.  I laughed, frolicked and played with my adult children.  I felt free and fresh and incredibly thankful for the answer to a thousand desperate cries for healing. 

I tried to explain this to my husband after we’d come back out of the water to rest under the sweet shade of our umbrella.  But, all I could do was cry.  God was answering, He had not forgotten.

I was still rejoicing in my spirit as we wiped sand from our feet and washed it out of our hair.  I’m still holding onto my holy baptism even now, all these days later. 

It’s not something I will ever forget.

Like scripture says, weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.*   Notice it doesn’t say grief goes away and it is replaced by joy, it says joy joins the grief.  Joy is mixed with sorrow, also in scripture.**

I think that’s what I am learning in all of this searching; grief is not the enemy of joy.  You only recognize one because you’ve experienced the other.  But, I do think there is a tipping point in the grief journey where joy begins to outshine the sorrow.

And that’s the moment you come up out of the water. 

  

*Psalm 30:5b

**Proverbs 14:13

Daisies for Mother’s Day

Daisies for Mother's Day pic

It’s the fourth Mother’s Day without mom.

I’m still not myself.

My daughter and I planted some flowers in a small garden right outside the screened in porch looking over the back yard.  They are so lovely and I enjoy watching them bloom and grow stronger.  But, the one I’m keeping an eye on is a small daisy my daughter bought in memory of mom.  She loved daisies and it touched my heart so deeply when my girl brought one home last summer.  She has tended to it faithfully since.

Just a small reminder of what once was.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the emotional stages of grieving.  I secretly wonder sometimes if I’m being overly dramatic or full of self-pity.  I mean, it seems after all these days, months and years even I should feel “healed.”   I look around and everything seems back to normal.  Holidays come and go, the sun rises and falls and seasons have the audacity to continue their cycle.  All while I make the familiar drive out to the cemetery and talk to a rock shaped like a cross.  I know she’s not there, but, I still make the drive and stand stoically, the grass covering her grave bending beneath my feet, and tell her of my need for her to come back.

I don’t really know the stages of grief.  I suppose I should look them up to see where I fit into the collective steps mapped out by those smarter than me.  But, one thing I do know, I’m angry; angry at the cycle of life and how it gives and then takes.  That doesn’t sound very spiritual, but it’s honest.  These days, more than ever, I believe the good Lord values my honesty more than my best attempt at faking it.

I don’t talk about these feelings to many, I worry others are tired of hearing about it.  How many times can you tell someone your story before they quit listening?    People are kind, but grow weary of hearing about loss with all of its stages and pain.  It’s Mother’s Day, after all, time for corsages, tea parties, hats, lace and ribbons.  The perfect day to let the person who birthed you into life know how much you love and appreciate her.

I think about all of this as I curl up on a lawn chair and stare through the screen at my small garden.

In the midst of my pretend normalcy commercials come on TV reminding me of all I’ve lost; happy children making homemade cards, young adults declaring their appreciation and the older mom hugging her aging mother, thanking her for a lifetime of love.  Good old Hallmark, they’ll make you cry in spite of yourself.  For me, there will be no reason to step into the beautiful and shiny pink card section with the sign, “Don’t forget to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day” proudly written in fancy cursive font.   I quickly push my cart past that section in Target while fighting back tears.  I allow myself a glance as I walk by the aisle.  I see women, young and old, reading the poetic declarations of love donned with beautiful flowers and happy faces folded in half and shoved neatly into envelopes to be given to their mom.

They’re the lucky ones.

Life can change in an instant and one day, like me, you’ll be left pushing your cart quickly past the shiny card section feeling envious of those lucky souls who have their mom alive and well on this day of appreciation.

I noticed a couple of days ago our little daisy is getting bigger, I water it each night hopeful for a big bloom later this summer.

Day after day, I watch and wait.

My nephew and niece graduated college last weekend, and we celebrated.  Well, not ALL of us.  There will always be a vacancy, one missing.  In two weeks another nephew will get married and, again, we’ll rejoice.  But, even in our grandest celebrations, grief is a mist that hangs in the air.   I want to save a seat and just pretend she’s coming, maybe just running late.  But instead, I drive out and stand by her cross shaped rock and tell her all she’s missing.

Grief is such a mysterious thing.  One day I send praises to heaven to have ever known her.  The next I curse death and cry angry, desperate tears.   Is it possible I can feel all of these things and still remain sane?  Loss is a giant kaleidoscope of emotion that ultimately leaves me exhausted.

I saw a short video recently on social media that helped me understand my emotions a little better.

It was once believed a person would completely heal from grief.  As though it never happened.  In recent studies, that theory has been proven untrue.  In this video the author started by drawing a circle that represented your life.  Now, imagine drawing a curvy line back and forth through your circle of life so it touches each side of the sphere multiple times.  Your whole life up to the point of loss is touched by the curvy line of painful grief.  It is then believed instead of the curvy line fading and eventually going away completely, as was previously thought, it only slightly fades but never disappears.  Life continues and larger circles begin to surround your original circle.  These larger rings are said to be your life continuing.   Years pass, people come and go, events and milestones take place that have not been directly touched by your original curvy line of grief.  It definitely effects the new rings of life, but less and less as the years roll by.  By the end of the clip there is a much larger circle engulfing the smaller original one.  It is in the space between the first and last circle so much life has happened.

This short clip reminded me I have so much for which to be thankful.

The ceiling fan on the porch hums as I daydream.

Life was good when mom was alive, but, I remind myself life in the outer rings is good too.   I have kids that will celebrate my motherhood this weekend.  I am blessed.  In my daydream I laugh and hold my kids close while my mother smiles on us; kind of like one of those Hallmark commercials.

You know, life just isn’t fair.

But, if I’m going to take the good from God, I must learn to accept the hard and painful.  I must learn to trust his judgement even when I rail against it in my soul.   HE KNOWS WHAT’S BEST.  And I don’t.  He sees the beginning and the end, and I am so limited in my small world view.  So even if I’m mad, I will still bow my knees and accept what he gives.  Even in my temper tantrum, I will still obey.  Even when I feel the pain of loss, I will sing songs of thankfulness.

I will focus on the outer rings of my life and remember the good.

And, I will wait expectantly for our daisy to bloom.

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”  Isaiah 66:13

Stronger Than You Think

Broken Chains

The sun was hanging by a string in the bright blue sky, brilliantly shining down on the Alabama red clay that hugged the two lane highway.  The car was silent and I could hear the tires protest as they pressed into the hot pavement.  My mind was a wander, filled with events from recent days.  I noted, strangely, in spite of the difficulties as of late my heart felt light.

My mood seemed to be as bright as the day.

Today I felt stronger than I had in a long time.  I’m not talking physically, that’s an ongoing battle as the years roll by.   

I mean mentally.

I think I’ve lived my life on a quest to please others.  When I was young it wasn’t something I did consciously, I just liked being nice and making people smile.  I learned early on kindness and goodness brought about better results than their polar opposites.  I was grown before I really put my finger on what it meant to be a “pleaser.”  During my growing up years we didn’t really analyze personalities or behaviors, at least not in my neck of the woods.  We just sort of lived, one day after another, without thinking much about why we acted the way we did; it just “was,” you know?

It was probably about my mid-twenties when I began to understand I had “pleaser” tendencies.  Pleasing being the desire to make those around me happy even at the cost of my own personal happiness.  That’s not all bad unless you take it to an unhealthy level, as I did.  But, I was okay with it, I liked being nice.  At least most of the time I liked being nice.  (Insert winking emoji here.) 

Because my pleasing tendencies misunderstood what true kindness was, I lived to make sure every difficult person in my life was happy with me.  I would bend over backwards, give up my say in any matter, be walked on or whatever it took to receive that precious “stamp of approval” for which my needy soul longed.

You know what I’ve learned?

You cannot please some people.  You simply cannot.  Spending your time, your ONE precious life the good Lord gave you, trying to make some unhappy soul happy is a waste of your days.  Trust me.  It took over half my life to fully understand what I really longed for wasn’t their approval, but my own.  I needed to come to terms with who I was and begin to like that person and no one else on the earth could do it for me. 

I know some of you will read the last statement and feel like it is a rather obvious revelation, but it wasn’t for me, it took feeling “unlikable” to the point of desperation. 

When I finally came to the end of me and all of my empty attempts, God began his work.

My husband and I committed to read the Bible through this year.  We found and started a three hundred and sixty five day plan on the YouVersion Bible app.  We even formed our own little group of two to keep us accountable.   So, every morning I get up, get a cup of coffee and read the devotion and scripture for the day. 

It has become my routine.

Well, something kind of hard happened this week.  When hard things used to happen to me I would shrink inside and start to figure out ways I could escape the uncomfortable feelings that go along with difficulty.  My “pleaser” side would come galloping up in my heart and work overtime to try and keep everybody happy. But, interestingly, as I thought the previous events through, I noticed I didn’t feel like running for cover from the situation.   

I felt something that felt a lot like…strong.

The kind of strong that doesn’t want to run.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for conflict but I am learning sometimes conflict brings resolution.   

I began to rehearse all the passages I’d read in scripture over the last several months reminding me of the great power and unmatched strength of my God.   I honestly feel my cause is a righteous one so I brought it up in prayer like I have so many times in recent days.  It was in the middle of this train of thought, while I watched miles of Alabama red tilled up dirt fly by, the Lord showed me something.

I wasn’t afraid.

Yes, I wished the situation would just magically work itself out. 

But, I wasn’t afraid.

You know in any tough situation there is always a chance you’ll get the shaft, or you’ll be talked about, or be misunderstood, judged, or all of those things.  But, when you’ve taken your situation to the Lord, and you lay it before him faithfully in prayer, He has promised to be your defender. 

Scripture tells us He is, if only we will be quiet, settle down and let him work things out.

Being quiet and still is so very hard, especially for someone like me who wants it all to work out.  I can’t stand the idea of someone having hurt feelings.  I wish for everyone to stand around, hold hands and sing kum by yah.  And I want them to do it quickly so no one feels awkward.

This world can be a mean place.

But, we don’t have to be mean to thrive here.

We do need inner strength.  The kind that weathers storms bound to invade our lives at some point.  The only way we can have healthy inner strength, that isn’t derived from anger or fear, is by filling our hearts and minds with God’s word.  His word is strength and in it lies the power to be strong in the face of adversity.  Not the defiant kind of strength we’ve all had at one time or another in our lives, but the quiet strength that comes from really believing God can handle the situation. 

Not just knowing he CAN handle it but trusting he WILL.

I need to tell you as of right now, while I’m writing this, so far everything has not worked out and everything is not fine.  But, I want, no, I need to remind myself and you that we can be okay in the midst of very hard things.  

I find myself at peace.  

I know he is going to make sure I am kept safe.  There may be some storms to weather, but he controls the weather so, there’s that. 

The objective of this writing is to encourage us all to STAY IN THE WORD. Make time for it, get up early, stay up late, read it at lunch.  Do whatever you need to make sure you have time to stick your nose into God’s word.  It’s worth it. When I read from day to day to day, I don’t necessarily feel strength overtake my heart like a flood, it’s more of a slow seeping that builds until I find myself driving on a two lane highway on a sunny Alabama afternoon, feeling peace even though a “storm” is blowing around me. 

I know the Lord has my best interest at heart and he has my back, my front, he’s above me and below me and completely around me. 

In him I am kept safe.

And so are you.

And that is a pleasing thought indeed.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God?”   Galatians 1:10a

Silent Treatment

Silent Treatment photo

I never would have considered myself very competitive until recently.  I’m not sure if I’ve become more competitive or if I’ve just identified something that was always there.  Anybody else out there wonder if they’ve changed over time or if you just get to know yourself better as the years roll by?

Being in a lasting relationship with the same person has given me opportunity to realize this streak; I have to win.

To win what, you ask?

If you have to ask, you’re already a better person than me.

There is a real desire in me to win every argument.   Don’t judge me too harshly, I know there’s a group of us out there who have fought over the years with the sole purpose of winning.  Am I right? Whenever “issues” arise, and inevitability, if there are two people trying to live together issues WILL arise, resolving them was only possible if I was the winner of the “discussion.”

I know, you’re glad you’re not married to me.  I can be impossible.

I’ve worked long and hard not to be such a difficult person.  I’ve read scripture, memorized it and asked God to change my heart.  And He has, I am forever grateful. BUT, occasionally I get a wild hair, and some of my former behavior comes barreling up out of my soul like a bull on the loose and I can’t seem to stop it.

I had hoped those days were behind me.

I say, “I hoped” because I had a “moment” with my darling husband recently that sent me reeling back about ten years in personal growth.

It wasn’t pleasant.

The past few weeks I’ve been in a Bible study with some church lady friends and I am learning so much.  Among the many things we’ve talked about, our personal relationships has been my favorite.  I love people, but I have a hard time letting my guard down sometimes.  I find it easier if I keep up the “wall” so I don’t get hurt or hurt someone.

In our study we talked about having healthy relationships where we feel safe and don’t always have to be in control.

I’ve learned that’s what my “wall” is, my way of keeping control of the situation or relationship or both.

My husband and I were in the car recently talking away about everything and nothing, I was enjoying it, I assumed he was too.  I was IN THE MIDDLE of a sentence when he suddenly reaches forward and turns the radio up loud enough to drown out my voice.   Literally, it drowned out my voice completely.

First I was stunned and then I was livid.

I mean, really?!

If he didn’t want to listen to what I was saying, all he had to do was say so.

And I told him that in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS.

Well, actually, there was no “speaking” involved.  I quietly picked up my phone and began to aimessly scroll through social media.  In my mind I rehearsed all the reasons why what he’d done was completely unacceptable.  Unkind. Unthinkable. Uncaring.

Unforgivable.

So, in exchange for what he had done, I gave him the silent treatment.

Let him listen to the radio, I seethed to myself, the radio was all he’d get for the next hour until we reached our destination.  He’d be sick of the radio by the time I was done.

Sorry if this offends you, it’s just the unedited truth.

There we sat, me scrolling through social media, too blind with anger to see a darn thing and he profusely apologizing once he’d realized what he’d done.

He’d hurt my feelings and therefore awakened the dragon of my desire to be in control; of the situation or relationship or both.   If you hurt me, you pay.  That was my message, and he was getting it LOUD and CLEAR.  Meanwhile, he felt terrible.  All he’d meant to do was share an 80’s song from the radio.

As I was sitting there, the miles passing by in perfect silence, because he’d had the good sense to turn off the radio by then, the Lord began to deal with my heart.   Hadn’t we just discussed in Bible study how we need to quit trying to control those we love with emotional blackmail or the silent treatment.

Still I sat there in silence, determined to “win” and get my point across.  Honestly, I’m not even sure what my point was?  Don’t turn up the radio while I’m talking, maybe?  I’m still not sure why I couldn’t just say that without falling headlong into ridiculous behavior.

But, since I had started the silence, I was determined not to be the one to break it.

He would have to speak first, and then I would WIN.

Don’t ask me what I was winning, I’m not sure, but I’m guessing it had to do with my pride.

As I sat there in silence, I realized I’d come to a crisis of belief.   I could continue in my bad behavior or I could decide then and there to let it go and move on.  I wish I could say I immediately broke the silence, but I didn’t.

I argued with the Lord a bit.

Pride doesn’t die easy.

After all, what he’d done was rude, even though I’d misinterpreted it.  I was talking, after all, he could’ve waited until I was done, that would’ve been the polite thing to do.  But, he really didn’t mean to drown me out like I’d assumed, he wanted to share something with me.

Back and forth it went in my head.

Finally, after several miles of wrestling in my mind about whether or not I would have the last word in this situation, the Lord told me to speak.

So I spoke.

Ugh!   He can be so bossy sometimes!

My throat was tight when I finally spoke, and all I could think to say was, “Can’t believe it’s spring already.”  Kind of sounds like something you’d say in polite conversation with a stranger.  It felt like someone had a hold of my vocal chords.  I literally had to push the words out.

He quickly responded and we slowly fell into comfortable conversation.

As we talked I quietly thanked God for helping me put into practice something I’d learned.  Sometimes l learn a truth and the Lord has to test me on it in four thousand different ways to make sure I get the idea.  I guess I’m thick headed.  By the time he’s done, it’s burned into my soul. But, time has a way of making me forget, so I have to learn the lesson again and again.

There’s a verse that’s been rolling around in my head lately, it has to do with being tested and considering it “pure joy” when we are put through something hard; a test of character.  It’s so important that we recognize a test when we are going through it and then equally important that we pass it.  If we don’t pass, we keep being tested until we do.

I am so thankful the Lord helped me realize this “radio misunderstanding” was a test and I was able to do the right thing even though I didn’t feel like it.

I passed.

I am sure I will be tested three thousand nine hundred and ninety nine more times, but for this one time, I PASSED!  I still don’t consider it pure joy that I went through it, but I’m working on it.

One little mishap, conversation, relationship, day at a time.

You wonder what song my husband wanted me to hear on the radio?  You know, I don’t even remember, I was too busy talking.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”   James 1:2-4