LIBERATION

How do you describe living through many years of hell and the relief felt from escaping it?  I’ve been told it is a loss to grieve over, but all I feel right now is relief.  The feelings surrounding this living situation had grown so intense in a negative direction that jail started to sound like an amazing alternative to continuing in the same day-to-day muck and mire.  So many days I prayed for relief from the situation….that a certain element would just be removed and I could continue life in somewhat the same comfort zone, but yet actually enjoy it for once.  Obviously, that prayer wasn’t answered in the spirit in which it was uttered, but it was answered in a way I never expected.

So many years of my life are just gone and I never felt a thing through any of them.  I was once told that those years were stolen from me, which is true to an extent, but the real truth is I allowed them to be.  I remained hidden behind raising kids that were not my own, buried everything about me deep inside where it could not be hurt or discovered, and just kept on going.  I missed out on a lot of stuff during those years…. I missed my grandfather’s funeral – how I loved that man and how I miss him still!  I missed out on the best years of my mother’s life when she was active, felt good, and was actually hunting/hiking again.  I missed out on opportunities to go hunting with my father.  I missed opportunities to spend time with my grandmother.  All of that gone….and they are all things that cannot be recreated.

Once the fear and timidity that ruled my heart were replaced with a sense of purpose and rediscovery of a backbone, my perspective on life changed dramatically.  Through the help of some amazing friends who were not afraid to put a mirror up to my face and show me the truth of how my life really was, I was able to begin to put the pieces of myself back together again, although very slowly.  I found my worth buried deep down and realized that I deserved to be happy, to be loved, and to be treated with respect.  That realization was so very liberating and became the turning point in my life.

With a great deal of support, love, and encouragement, the situation in which I was living has changed drastically and I am now living on my own for the first time.  The freedom and the quiet is something I am growing accustomed to….and the peace is so very healing.  Although my music had been slowly returning over the last few months, the speed at which it has done so has increased.  Music returning to my heart and to my pen is such a source of healing for it is through music that my heart truly speaks.  I’m hoping that my passion for writing will return as well, even though it has been slower to rise up from within than I first expected.  When it is time, I’m sure it will return as well.

So now, this is the beginning.  A brand new chapter is being written on fresh clean paper…a new outlook on life…a new chance at happiness…a new chance to continue to understand how wonderful it is to be loved by the most amazing woman I have ever met…a new opportunity to discover the depth of who I really am and what I am really capable of.  The future is wide open and my heart is ready to embrace all that it hold!

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CHANGE IS ON THE WAY

What an emotional day today has been so far!  There are many changes coming in my life and the reality of just how drastic things will be is sinking in far deeper than I anticipated.  I am looking forward to the change with great excitement and expectation, but I also find myself mourning what I am leaving behind.

Today was the first day of school.  While this is normally a very happy time, especially because the kids will be occupied for most of the day, it was not so much this morning.  I helped my favorite 14-year-old with her hair this morning, which is something I have done since before she started kindergarten, and started to cry.  There will only be one more day in which I will have this opportunity to have this moment with her.  As I dropped off my favorite 8-year-old for his first day of 3rd grade, he did not want me to walk him to the playground or to the line as I have done in times past.  He just wanted to be dropped off like a big kid.  Before each kid goes to school, I make sure to remind them that I love them and that I wish only the best for them.  I only will get to do this in person one more time…

In the last 19 years I have spent raising kids that were not my own, I have made a lot of mistakes and have screwed up more ways than I can count.  However, it has always been my goal to make sure these kids knew they were loved – that they were loved unconditionally, deeply, and unfailingly.  They do not go to bed at night without being told they are loved and I do not leave them without telling them as well.  I hope that they remember just how much I love them…

An adventure awaits me – an opportunity to explore who I am and what my purpose is in life.  There will be time to relax for the first time in too many years to count…there will be time to write whenever the words pop into my head…there will be time to take care of my battered, weary, and worn heart/soul that have been so damaged by the past years I have survived.

While I am so looking forward to this change and know beyond a doubt how good it will be for me, I am dreading the heartache that will come with it.  However, as is true to His nature, the good Lord has provided for me in ways I cannot even explain.  I have been blessed with not only friends who care about me and accept me for who I am, but also with a very special person who loves me in ways no one ever has before.

Stepping out in faith is never easy and that first step is the most terrifying.  My first step comes Friday morning.  Although I am nervous, I know that I am stepping into my future and that this future that has been laid out before me as a gift.

The River continues to flow, the next bend is coming up fast, and I am so grateful that I know Who is in control of my ship.

TRUSTING, EVEN IN THE DARK

The last few months have been a confusing, confuzzled configuration of one mess puddle after another. There are times when it feels like I walk out of one valley and fall into another that is deeper than the last.

So much of my life is unrecognizable compared to even six months ago. Everything has been turned upside down and I have been forced to branch out and learn things I never thought I would have to learn – and some I hoped to continue to avoid.

I have found myself in situations where a rather destructive behavior was planned, but the Lord intervened and I ended up with other plans/commitments during the time in question. There have been other times when I was so determined to go through with the destructive plans that I made sure I went through with it. I did not leave myself or my heart open to any other options or possibilities. However, these times ended up doing nothing more than making me look like a fool and feeling so much worse in the end.

I have:
raged at the heavens desperate for relief…
yelled at a friend in a desperate search for clearing of my confusion…
hardened my heart to the Spirit of God in defiance of His Sovereignty…
denied myself the release of the feelings through the tears I have not allowed to flow…
isolated myself from those who would speak the ugly truth to me in the moments when I needed it the most…

But most of all, through all of this, my stubbornness and hardheadedness have cost me the peace I could have been enjoying all along if I had only allowed God to be God rather than blocking Him at every turn because life was not going how I felt it should go.

Despite all of the jumble of junk and mess that have been trudged through, there have been moments of elation, moments of surprise, and moments of freedom. The truth is not as frightening as it once was and I have found a strength within I did not know I had. I have also been blessed with a friend who is not afraid to speak the truth to me in bold living color when it is needed – and whether I feel it is needed or not.

When the storm rages and the darkness envelops my heart, I must remember to fight against the darkness, but not fight against the One who anchors my soul throughout the storm. Even though I cannot see His hand and I do not have a clue where He is going with my life, He is still there, He knows every pain in my heart, and He understands every tear I cry. He knows the beginning from the end and He will carry me when I lack the strength to even stand. He can be trusted for He is faithful.

Even in the darkest of times, the deepest depressions, and the most difficult circumstances, He continues to be faithful. He can be trusted, even in the darkness of the heart.

THE POWER OF FEAR

My life has been a challenging assortment of stuff over the past several months. Lots of changes, some loss, some heartache, and a whole lot of confusion. It has affected my health, my heart, and my writing.

At the core of all of this is one simple truth deep within myself, but this truth scared me beyond all other fears I had ever experienced. It scared me so intensely that I pulled away from God in terror – in gut-wrenching fear of receiving His condemnation. Countless hours of crying until there were no more tears, praying until I had no more words, screaming at the heavens until I had no voice brought no relief or release. I pulled away from Him further and pulled deeper in to myself.

The funny thing is, He had already prepared for the day when I would cry out like this a long time ago in an old hymn He embedded deep in my heart and in an early and continuous relationship with Him that firmly plant the roots of my soul. I did not see it at the time, but I see it now – which is how it often happens. I now realize that, in my terror and in pulling away from God, I hindered my own writing and robbed myself of the peace that was freely offered to me.

Through all of this, I have been richly blessed with friends who were patient with me beyond belief, spoke truth to me even when I did not want to hear it and didn’t like what they said, and continually reassured me that I really was okay….that I was not broken or messed up beyond repair. At one point, I even screamed to the heavens demanding to know if there was not mercy and grace for even me, but I now see that the friends He has placed in my life speak to the depths of His love for me. They are the representation of His grace and mercy poured out on my life.

I am working on accepting and not hiding the truth of myself and learning to walk in the freedom that was given to me long ago even though I was too blinded by fear to see it.

I do not know where you are in your journey, but I pray that His peace surrounds you, His love enfolds you, and grace goes before you each step of the way.

SEASONED WITH KINDNESS

I signed into my WordPress account the other day and was looking through the blog feed.  From time to time, interesting things pop up, new stuff can be learned, and I find new blogs I want to read.  As I was scrolling,  “The Courage To Be Open”, the title of this blog really caught my attention.

As Christians we are called to be salt and light, but we are also called to be kind, compassionate, gracious, and loving – in other words, to be like Jesus.  Throughout the four gospels, I do not recall Jesus speaking harshly or in a condemning manner to anyone else besides the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious “authorities” of the time.

I know that there are very strongly and passionately held beliefs regarding the subject matter this blog talks about, but I would challenge each of us as Christians to take to heart the words of the Apostle Paul:

“Let your speech at all times be gracious (pleasant and winsome), seasoned [as it were] with salt, [so that you may never be at a loss] to know how you ought to answer anyone [who puts a question to you].”
Colossians 4:6 (Amplified Bible).

Despite our personal feelings and opinions, we should always speak with grace first.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,],”  II Timothy 2:24-25 (NIV)

What do we accomplish by speaking out so quickly in judgment?  What right do we have to inflict so much damage with our words?

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”  Proverbs 18:21 (Amplified Bible)

Our words, when they are not spoken with grace but rather with judgment and condemnation, bring about a death in the heart of the hearer.  How many of these “deaths” does it take before the spirit of the hearer is irreparably damaged?

People of God, let us show the love of Jesus to all that we meet.  After all, according to the Scriptures,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23, NIV).

There is no disclaimer included…ALL have sinned and ALL fall short.  While this does not nullify our right to have a strong or differing opinion, it also does not give us the right to judge the heart of the person or to tear them down with our words.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen… 32  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” 
(Ephesians 4:29, 32)

If you come across a fellow believer who is hurting or a person whose orientation or lifestyle you do not approve of, take the time to care for that heart.  Regardless of who we are, where we come from, or what we have done, we all want the same thing – to be accepted for who we and to be loved.  Perhaps, through your love, their heart will be opened and, if there is work to be done or things in their life to be corrected, the Holy Spirit will then have a willing vessel through which to work – you.

Dare to be open.  Dare to be the one who makes a difference, even if it is in just one life.  After all, for that one person, the results of your kindness can change their whole world.

In case you would like to read more, the following verses would be good to look into as well.

Proverbs 15:1
Romans 14:10-12
Proverbs 10:12
Galatians 6:1-3
Luke 6:38
Luke 6:31

The Heart of the Problem

A little over two months ago, my PC was attacked by a very nasty virus that inflicted irreparable damage to every document that was saved and not open at the time of the infection. Many years’ worth of writing was just gone. I could see the file name, but not open them. Countless ideas that had been jotted down and saved for future expansion and elaboration were gone. Hundreds of poems (many of which were not very good at all, but they had a line or two that could be used in another work) were gone. In one brief moment, all of my words seemed to just disappear, stolen away. Unfortunately, this was just beginning of many more trying times and various losses that were to ensue over the months that followed, however, I never realized how profound of an effect the loss of my writing would have on my heart.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, I attributed the heaviness and emptiness of my heart to being just a side-effect of all the other stuff that was unfolding in my life. No matter what I did or how hard I prayed, I just couldn’t seem to shake a rather specific feeling of emptiness that I just could not explain.

The other day, I was reading a wonderful novel my cousin wrote (Steal The North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom) and happened to read the acknowledgment in the back. In this, she references a tragic event in her life when a fire had taken place and she thanked the fireman who ran back to save her laptop. In this statement, she referred to herself as a “frantic” writer and it was at that moment that the light came on. The emptiness I had been trying to pray through, or pray away, was a subconscious mourning of the loss of my heart, the loss of my writing. A poetic heart with no poetry is like a heart with no purpose or peace.

I have often felt that my heart was more poetic in nature, but I never realized the depths of that truth and how tied to those words my heart really is. It is almost as if I can barely breathe without them. This thought, however, is rather astonishing considering how long it has been since I have written anything, even a sentence – and even longer since I have written any poetry (over a year…).

In an ironic turn of events, I was cleaning my desk the other day. Now, before you think I just left the sentence hanging around and unfinished, I must admit that cleaning my desk can be a challenge (If I am not careful, my desk gets as cluttered as my mind!). However, I was cleaning my desk on an act of faith that situations would be restored or renewed and that my desk would be needed again (the story in the Bible of the two farmers who prayed for rain, but only one prepared his fields in faith that God would send the rain). During this wonderful cleaning moment (not really….), I noticed a manila envelope in the corner with a stack of paper beside it. It is not like me to have a stack of paper standing up without it being in a clip or envelope or something.

I carefully remove both the stack and the envelope and I could not believe what I had found.

I had found my heart!

I found the manuscript (both the edited version and unedited version) of a book of poetry I had assembled for a completion a couple of years ago. All of my “best” works were there – in their finished form! In the envelope, I found the rough drafts, pieces in progress, thoughts/ideas for new works, and my notes regarding the format/setup of the “book” as well as the pieces I had elected to not include. While it was not everything, it was the most important parts – the pieces that I worked the hardest on, invested much of my heart into, and the ones that spoke the loudest to the depths of my being.

Up until this point, I had no idea that just the thought of losing my poetry (let alone the reality of its loss) would have such a devastating effect on me, that the words had that profound an impact on my heart and mind – almost as if they were a part of my very soul.

During these past few trying months, my heart has leaned heavily on Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God…”) and I had remained in Psalms on a basically daily basis searching for answers or something to fill the emptiness inside. The night after I found the manuscript, I just opened my Bible randomly and found myself in Jeremiah…29:11-13, to be specific. I was totally floored – again! The thought that there could be a plan through all of this, a reason, some purpose – some hope– was rather shocking. Hope had been in rather short supply in my heart despite the knowledge in my head that there is always hope so long as we have Jesus.

In re-reading this passage, I found that I love both the way the KJV is written as well as the NIV. Both give such a unique perspective and, in my opinion, complement each other very well. With your indulgence, this is how my heart reads it.

I know the thoughts I think toward you, the plans I have for you, what I have in mind for you.
Thoughts of peace, not of evil.
Thoughts to prosper you, no to harm you.
Thoughts for well-being, not for bad things.
Plans to give you a future and a hope,
An end and an expectation,
A hope and a future.
You will call upon me, come to me, pray to me –and I will hear you,
I will heed you,
I will listen to you.
When you search with all your heart, you will find me.

During this experience, I found that all the searching, seeking, crying out, and pleading don’t always end in His miraculous majestic arrival at the foot of the bed to announce to the universe He is here, but rather, when we are trying, searching desperately to find Him, He finds us.

He comes to us in ways that can be so subtle, so still, so quiet that if we are not looking for Him in that way, we will miss it altogether, but, thankfully, this does not negate or minimize His arrival! While we would all love the majestic fanfare announcing His intervention in a situation, sometimes He arrives in a manila envelope and a random stack of uncontained paper that He had been saving for just the right time – a time when I was broken, I had stopped fighting the emptiness, and given up all the hope I dared to.

It was in the moment that He quietly stood beside me and returned to me what I had given up as lost – He returned my heart and my hope.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

I received a message from a friend this morning and something she said in it really started my brain whirling, starting some serious soul searching. The summation I have come to is this: What if the true meaning/reason behind my actions is to paint an exterior portrait of what it is expected from a certain group so that the ugliness of the reality within is covered up? What if all the trappings and sayings and posts and actions are directed in a certain fashion as to detract from what the truth really is on the inside? And what if the answer to that question is an affirmative answer? What then??? (Ok, I know that is actually FOUR questions, but that is just how my mind works sometimes.)

If the answer is indeed affirmative, so many more questions arise – and the heart gets a little heavier. Do I then become branded a hypocrite? Obviously, there is a heart issue that needs to be addressed, but what if the reality is too much for the heart to take? What if the truth is ugly enough that a mask is worn to cover it up, even from oneself? Perhaps, the mask has been worn for so long that it has been forgotten and the heart thinks that this is the reality…

Even more disturbing is this thought…. What if that which we are trying to hide WITH (or within) is the very thing we are trying to hide FROM?

As with many areas of life, I must sit and be still for a moment. I must evaluate my heart and determine if my actions, posts, words, and behaviors are for real or for show? Are a few extra thrown in to make it look like I am a “stronger” Christian than what I really am? Do I write about Him because it is something my soul must do or because it is expected? Are my words and actions regarding Him really for Him? (Please do not misunderstand. I know fully where my faith lies. I know who is God (and it’s not me). My faith in Jesus remains the same (the way, the truth, and the life).)

If we can find the courage to face the reality, to pull back the mask, to truly look into the mirror which reflects our own souls, we must. What we are to do with that reality is an individual journey, but it is one that begins at the foot of the cross.

Be kind to each other.
Be accepting of each other.
Love each other unconditionally.

How many hurting hearts could we touch with our words if we would season them with grace? May we not be the cause of someone wearing a mask to hide from condemnation or be bitter in our words so that hearts are turned away.