Saturday, April 22, 2017

Serving Out of Rest

Hey all!  Its been a while since I sat at the computer to write.  I've been in what I think has been an intensive time of growing and strengthening.  I've been learning how to apply everything God has taught me to every aspect of my life.  I feel like I am truly learning how to walk in a place of victory. Yay!  If you remember from my other writings, its been almost a year to date since we stood in front of our church family and told them we were stepping down as small group pastors and going on a 4 month sabbatical.  A year ago I wasn't sure if I would ever step in a church again.  I wasn't sure if I even believed anything I thought I believed about God, about ministry, about myself... it was the beginning of my total unraveling.  I'm sitting here remembering everything God walked me through in the last year, and am overwhelmed with gratitude.  I'm grateful to still be in fellowship with my Genesis Church family and pastoral staff.  I'm grateful to be living with a healed heart, free from past pain and bondage.  When God asked me to write this post I have to be honest, I felt unsure about it.  I've gone back and forth with God on it all week.  I've been able to share freely about my pain and healing with all of you.  I've been open and vulnerable about so much.  But this is different.  This is a post about victory.  About learning from past mistakes.  That makes me uncomfortable because I don't want the impression to be that I am "tooting my own horn".  I'm not.  I am boasting in the goodness of God, and what he's done.  Truly this is beauty from ashes.  The old me burned to the ground, and he is crafting something beautiful, in a way only he can do.  With such gentleness, patience and love.  I told God a while ago I want my life to display his goodness.  That's it.  I don't care about anything else.  God just show your goodness in and through my life.  That is the heart behind this post. 

Easter.  If any of you are leaders or volunteers at your church, you know how big Easter is.  Its a huge opportunity to reach out to the community and invite them to church.  Not just to fill chairs, but an invitation to come and encounter and experience the love of Jesus, and hoping and praying that it will grab hold of their hearts and be either a beginning place, or another part of their journey with the Lord.  It is a big service.  Lots of planning, preparation, and prayers go into a service like this.  Since Chad and I came back from our sabbatical last fall, we've been slowly immersing ourselves back in to serving.  We have been very intentional about what we say yes to, staying close to the Holy Spirit and following his lead and direction.  Its been good, no, its been great.  I have felt God calling me in a little deeper every week since the beginning of this year.  So when we began discussing Easter service in our staff meetings, I was ready.  So I said "yes".  I felt my spirit completely engaged in what the spirit of God was saying about Easter.  Before I go any further I have to tell you the most life changing lesson I've learned thus far - Rest.  Rest is more than not working.  Rest is a promise from God.  A promise available to all of us.  Simply defined, the promise of rest says you are perfectly complete in Jesus.  Rest is knowing who you are in Jesus, your identity.  Rest says you are fully equipped to handle anything God asks you to do.  Rest flies in the face of Religion.  Religion says you have to work to earn.  Religion says you are sinful.  Rest says you have, because God freely gives, now just receive and walk in it.  Rest says Jesus already covered your sins, and you are complete, you are redeemed.  Nothing is missing, nothing is lacking.  If this is a new concept to you, or you want to learn more about Gods promise of Rest, I HIGHLY recommend listening to a series my Senior Pastor, Jeff Korsen, taught at the beginning of this year.  Click here http://www.genesiscc.net/watch-listen/  scroll down to Jan 8th 2017.  Its titled "Gods Rest - Entering His Rest pt 1"  There are 6 messages total ...SOO  good.  Life changing.  Listen.  Ok, so Rest.  I've been intentional about applying this promise from God to my life, and it has changed the way I live.  It changed my perspective on so many things.  Including serving in the church.  I have always been such a doer.  A total worker.  In the past, I would work work work till I was completely spent.  I never even really asked God, "do you want me to do this?"  I would just go go go.  I would work as hard as I could for as long as I could, then completely crash from burn out.  Ready to quit.  Hating ministry.  Hating people... ummm this is not good.  And not Gods heart for serving, at all.  Back to Easter.... Rest.... I started by just saying "yes".  I didn't have to even really "press in" a whole lot.  My spirit was already engaged.  Instead of jumping in and working, I listened.  As I heard or was prompted by the Holy Spirit to do something, I would do it.  I did nothing else.  Only what He said.  Here's the beautiful thing.  I ended up being able to do quite a bit.  Between Chad and I we spent several late nights at the church the week leading up to Easter working on various things.  We spent all day Saturday at church cleaning and setting up.  We were some of the first ones there Sunday am, and some of the last to leave.  We worked hard... but from a place of Rest.  Rest told me I am fully equipped to handle everything God asks me to, and I don't have to do anything else.  Rest told me I have grace and favor.  Rest told me I am full of peace and joy.  Rest reminded me I am fully loved and accepted already, so I don't have to work to earn it.  Out of that place, serving is an overflow of that love.  Love for God, love for people.... flowing in, then out.  So even though it was a busy week, and I will add, it was still a normal week with 4 kids.  Soccer, dentist appointments, laundry, groceries, meals... that never stops.... I stayed in Gods promise of Rest for me.  Here's my testimony of victory - I never felt the burn out!  I never had a moment of wanting to quit.  In fact, it was life giving!  It was full of joy and peace!  That is a beautiful way to serve.  This is our secret weapon - Rest!  We can so easily burn ourselves out in ministry, or anything else in life.  We do it from a dangerous place called "good intentions".  But outside of the promise of Rest, its a work of the flesh, rather than faith. 

So on the way home Sunday, after a beautiful Easter service, I was tired.  My body was tired.  My heart was full, but I was tired.  So I told God, "God, I need to be here for my kids.  I can't be too tired to be here for them today.  This is a holiday, we have plans.  God I need more grace today."  We got home, ate a little, had some down time, and I was refueled, fully covered by grace, and we had a great day together as a family.  I wasn't spent, not burn out, not ready to quit.  I still loved God, still loved people.  I was full of life, peace, and joy.  This is Gods heart and plan for serving.  Did I need naps the next week?  Yep :)  Did God provide time for me to have those?  Yep :)  And I slept hard for a few nights.  My friends, if you haven't yet, grab hold of Gods promise of Rest for you.  It is for everyone, for every aspect of your life.  Marriage, Parenting, Work, Ministry, Relationships... everything.  It is a way of life.  If you want to hear more on Rest, go out and listen to Pastor Jeff's series.  I promise you won't regret it. 
Much love to all of you!  You are blessed, you are highly favored, you are fully complete in Jesus!  There is nothing lacking or missing in you!  You are in Jesus, and He is in you!


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Finding Strength in Brokenness

     I am home with sick kids today.  They are currently watching their umpteenth cartoon, so I have some time to sit and write.  I wanted to share something that's been stirring around my mind the last few weeks.  Brokenness.  For many years I fought being broken.  I always had the mindset that I needed to be strong, independent, and keep myself together.  If you haven't met me face to face you may not know that I have a pretty strong personality.  Those of you who do know me might be thinking "pretty strong" doesn't do it justice... Ha!  I am not ashamed of my personality, even though there have been many who have tried and are still trying to change me.  This is what God gave me, and I know it's for a purpose. Do I need some work, uh yes.  Always growing and changing... aren't we all?  But I do know I will never fit into other peoples boxes of "expected behavior", or "appropriate religious way of living, talking, or thinking".  I just don't fit there.  I have a tendency to say inappropriate things, push boundaries, and stir the pot.  I'm convinced this is why God has put such amazing, strong, loving, and understanding people around me.  Starting with my husband, who for reasons beyond my understanding, loves me with this crazy strong personality.  Don't get me wrong, being strong willed definitely has its advantages, like when it comes to working out and loosing weight.  I refuse to quit and I work hard.  But it has made it incredibly hard for me to ever let myself be broken. In the past when I pictured myself broken, I saw the bottom falling out, and everything falling apart.  I couldn't see past that.  That seemed like an end to me, not a beginning.  Clearly I thought I was the one holding myself together, and my fear of failure wouldn't allow me to fall apart.  What I didn't realize was the amount of energy it was taking to "hold myself together".  If you've read my last several posts starting with "My Unraveling" posted in January, you now know how well that turned out for me.  The bottom did fall out, and I fell apart.  And I am truly grateful.  That was an end to a hard journey, and the beginning of something beautiful.  Now on the other side of all of that, I have a completely different view of brokenness.  I am not afraid of it anymore.  I learned so much through my brokenness.  More than will fit into one post.  So for today I will share just a couple of things.
    
     The first thing I learned is that God is not ashamed of my brokenness.  In fact, He didn't even seem all that surprised by it.  Instead of showing me all of my failures that led me to that place, and pointing a disapproving finger at me, He met me, face to face in my brokenness, and loved me.  He held me, and showed me that He is the one who holds me together, so I don't need to any more.  I can rest knowing that even when I fall apart, He never does, so brokenness is a safe place in His arms. 

    The other thing I found in a place of brokenness was strength, incredible strength.  It surprised me.  And it wasn't the kind of strength I was used to.  It wasn't my strength, or my strong will.  I didn't have to come up with it - I couldn't.  I didn't have the energy to be strong.  It was a strength that came from within the depths of me.  It didn't remove all of the hurt, there was still much healing to be done.  But it was a strength that got me out of bed each day, and held me up.  I now understand the verse in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that says "My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."  I never understood this verse before last years unraveling.  There may be more context to this verse than just emotional brokenness, but for me right now, it resonates.  Before, when I thought I was the one holding myself together, I was making a choice to not trust in Gods grace for me.  I didn't trust that He would catch me, hold me, or love me if I fell apart.  But there He was, even in my unbelief.  It was His strength in me.  Now I can rest knowing that I don't have to be strong all the time, I don't have to exert so much energy to hold myself together.  He holds me together.  There is so much freedom in this place.  I don't have to be the strong one.  He is.  I can safely and securely rest in Him.  I don't have to fear pain or failure anymore, because I've experienced His sufficient grace.  I failed in some of the worst ways, and yet He was still there, loving me.  I faced incredible amounts of pain that had been kept in my heart for decades, and He healed me.  His grace is sufficient for me.

    Let me leave you with this today - Do you trust in Gods grace for you?  If you haven't yet, are you ready to let go, stop trying to hold yourself together, and allow God to take you through a process of facing your pain and finding healing?  I know it seems scary, but take it from someone who has walked through it, it's worth it.  You are worth it.  God's got you.  He is holding you together so you don't have to.  He is safe.  You can let go and experience His strength in your weakness, His wholeness in your brokenness.  Healing and wholeness is for you too.  What are you waiting for?

" ...to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor."  Isaiah 61:3

Monday, February 6, 2017

My Life, an Open Book

Last summer I was driving home from yet another trip to the grocery store to buy more food to feed my kids unending hunger.  The radio station I was listening to was talking about a breaking story.  A family lost their young child in horribly tragic circumstances.  In my mind I went there, I put myself there and imagined what it would be like if that was my family.  I was crying.  My heart ached for this family imagining the kind of pain they were in.  I asked God, "How will people who don't already know you're good, ever know your goodness, especially when stuff like this happens in their lives?"   I heard "Through your life, and others like you."  Others like me?  I didn't really understand what that meant, but at the time that answer satisfied.  A few months later I heard "Will you be open and vulnerable?  Will you let your life be an open book?"  With out even hesitating I said "Yes."  I was surprised at how quickly I responded, and with out any fear or anxiety.  That confirmed healing had been happening in my heart.  I didn't know yet what that was going to look like, still don't really.  But I don't need to know.  I am trusting, resting in God's goodness and grace.  I know this will not be free of challenges and trials, but I also know that God is good, and He will not ask me to go anywhere He hasn't equipped me for.  And He will never leave me.  I now really know this because even when I told him to, to leave me alone, He didn't.  He had an out, He could have said "Ok then, you think you can do this with out me, I'd like to see you try.  Good luck."  No, He stayed.  He heard me.  He saw me, the real me.  All of my anger, pain, doubt, fear - everything.  He wasn't ashamed of my brokenness.  He wasn't even surprised by it.  He loved, He supported, He understood.  He was my rock at "rock bottom".  Knowing this I can keep moving forward, step after step, guided and held.  Even if I fall, He is still my rock at the bottom so what do I have to loose now?  So... here I go... 
My last several posts were easy to write and share because all of that represents the old me.  I'm not that person anymore.  To keep writing and sharing I have to share who I am now, the new me.  The truth is I don't know her all that well yet.  We are just getting to know each other.  Everything still feels new, even months later.  So here's where I can start.  I can tell you the things I am thinking about, struggling through, contemplating, and what I am going to be intentional about this year.  Today, I am thinking about my dreams.  I don't have many right now, so mostly what I want my dreams to be.  I am nearing the end of an era in my life.  We just signed Nolan, my youngest, up for preschool next year.  For the last 12 1/2 years I have been home raising kids.  Next year all of my kids will be in school.  Nolan only for a few hours a week, but it feels like a milestone.  And now I have to decide what I want to be when I grow up :)  I am struggling with it, honestly.  It's a strange tension.  I am crazy excited at the thought of not having babies or toddlers to take care of 24/7.  And the thought of having a life outside of kids is also quite exciting for me.  The struggle is I don't want to get a job.  HA!  I would really love to just enjoy a kid free, quiet house.  Listen to my music as loud as I want.  Dance all day.  Eat what I want, when I want, without having to share ANY OF MY FOOD! Oh, and getting to finish a cup of coffee while it is still warm without having to reheat it a billion times in the microwave!! But, alas that won't pay the growing bills...  thus my struggle ;)
Alright in all seriousness, going forward I can promise I will do my best to be open and honest.  I by no means have anything all figured out.  I plan to keep learning as I go.  One thing I have learned so far through feedback from many of you is that we all face a lot of the same daunting questions.  We are all on a journey with God, and they all look different and yet the same.  I'm learning that we need each other.  And we need to see each other, really see each other.  And truly hear one another.  We all have so much to share.  Speaking of sharing, I would love to hear from you!  Would you comment on this post or on my Facebook page and tell me where you are reading from, and how you found this blog?  This blog has traveled to many countries and I am interested to know how.  I would love to know who my readers are.  I think you may need a google account to comment???  Not 100% sure.  Also, to "follow" this blog so you are emailed when I publish a new post, you need to go to "view web version" at the bottom of this post, and there is a blue bottom on the left side of the page that says "follow".  Thank you again for all the love and support!  It really helps on the days when discouragement tries to creep in and keep me from coming back to the computer.  :)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Found in Love

Hello all!  It is Monday morning and I am stirred to write, but my mind is a blank right now... weird.  The last several posts felt like they flew out of me.  This one feels different.  It has more depth, more weight.  But it is coming much slower.  It feels more intentional.  What I am about to share with you are the moments in which my life was completely turned around.  But it was such a personal experience for me, my fear is that it wont make much sense as you read it.  My hope is that it will some how resonate with something inside of you.  Especially if you are reading this and don't yet know your worth.  I didn't.  Let me bring some context to this.  Up until August 2016, I always felt worthless.  From what I can remember no one ever told me that to my face, I just felt that way.  I always felt like I was on the outside looking in.  I never really quite fit in with groups of friends in school or church.  I always had friends that I hung out with, but could never connect with anyone in a way it appeared they all connected.  I tried, but I was so uncomfortable with myself, so insecure, so I put up walls all around me.  Looking back I can see that even if anyone wanted to connect with me I wouldn't have let them.  I was so afraid of being rejected that I never let anyone in.  Never gave them the chance to truly know me, so they couldn't really reject me.  So I never really understood or experienced a real richness in relationships.  They were pretty shallow.  I was very much in control of how much I'd let someone see me.  There were times I would start to open up to someone who seemed safe, but as soon as I felt vulnerable and like I was going to loose my control of how they viewed me, I'd immediately close up again and push back.  It was an automatic self defense mechanism in me. It was strong.  And the more friends I lost, the stronger it got.  I just learned to live like this.  Truthfully I didn't really know what I was missing in relationships, because I never experienced anything other than this.  For years and years I'd watch people come in my life, then leave.  It was just what people did.  At some point in the last few years I came to the conclusion that this was what my relationships would look like - people come in to my life, take from me what they want or need, then when they have gotten all they can from me, leave.  Rejection.  That's all I was worth.  Clearly something was wrong with me.  Person after person, came, took, left.  Mostly women.  I was fully expecting my husband to do the same thing eventually.  I would even tell him that.  I figured eventually he would realize I'm not really loveable and leave me for someone else.  I now have tears running down my cheeks as I write this because I can't believe I lived in this mindset... and it makes me all the more grateful for the healing that's happened in my life.  Ok God, help translate this into something relatable... One Sunday last summer I was chatting with a couple of friends after church service.  A purse came up in conversation between the two of them.  One friend had given the friend this purse as a gift, but for some reason she didn't feel like it belonged to her.  She really wanted to love this purse, and thought she would, but she knew it wasn't hers.  She looked at me and said "The purse belongs to you, Marissa."  I was still in a funk at this time, just barely coming out of the fog I'd been in, and didn't really understand how a purse could belong to me.  But I know this friend, and when she says something like that, you believe her.  She told me she would bring it to me.  Many weeks passed and we didn't see each other.  During those weeks my heart was getting freed up.  Much of what I wrote in my last post "Seed of Hope" was happening, just to give you a timeline.  It was now August.  By this time a lot of healing had taken place.  I had faced my pain and baggage, and walked with God through a lot of it.  Joy was being restored in my heart.  I was feeling some freedom.  We were nearing the end of our sabbatical, and looking to the future with hope.  I was ready for something new.  You have to understand the timing of all of this was so God.  Had that purse been brought to me just a week or 2 before I wouldn't have gotten this.  My heart had to be ready to receive it and hear what God was going to speak to me through it.  There are some things I don't fully understand, but I do know this.  This was Gods perfect timing for me.  Ok, so at church one August morning, before service my friend walks in with a blue bag and handed it to me.  At first I didn't realize it was the purse because it was in a dust bag... I had no idea purses came with dust bags.  Listen, I don't buy expensive things for myself, ever.  I'm a bargain shopper.  I don't pay full price for much.  So my purses were always super cheap.  I certainly never paid enough for one to come in a dust bag.  She handed me the bag, and I closed up.  It was weird.  I felt vulnerable all the sudden and so out of place.  I didn't even open the dust bag.  Didn't even look inside to see what the purse looked like.  I didn't feel like I could.  I wasn't good enough for it.  I tucked it under my chair.  After service I went back to my other friend, who had originally purchased the purse, not the one who brought it to me.  I sat next to her and she asked me if I looked at the purse.  I said "nope".  She laughed, she knew me well.  She told me to go get it.  I brought it back and she began to share with me what God had been speaking to her about this purse.  I opened the dust bag and pulled it out, realizing in the moment how representative the purse in the dust bag was of me, and where I had been the last few months.  I was the one in the dust bag, being protected, kept, held, safe.  Now I had the purse out, holding it in my hands somehow knowing this purse was now representative of my life.  The purse was big, much bigger than anything I'd ever carried.  She explained to me that God told her I was an essentials person.  I only carry the essentials in my purse, just what I'm going to need.  So I could get away with a small purse.  And it was comfortable for me to hold something small.  But this purse was big, it had room for what I wanted to carry also.  I knew that meant my dreams... what I wanted in my life.  I had been such a doer for so long, focusing on the task at hand, and working to be super efficient so I would be able to get by with just the essentials.  I never took with me things I wanted, or ever expected to be able to carry any of that.  She went on to tell me the size of the purse represented the calling on my life, it was bigger than I imagined.  "Oh and by the way," she said, "I did not go to the sale rack to buy this.  It was not on clearance.  I paid full price.  And it wasn't cheap."  This was a designer purse.  Many of you might know the name, I didn't.  Dooney and Bourke.  This gift, a purse, represented the call on my life, allowed for my dreams and wants, not just the essentials, was bought and paid for - full price.  I knew she meant Jesus.  In that moment I felt uncomfortable.  I didn't know why, but I did.  There are more details about the purse - the color, the fabric, finding a random unused toothpick in it... I'm not going to share all of the significance of those things right now.  There was a lot.  Maybe another time.  But hopefully you see the significance of what was happening.  I was so uncomfortable, I felt exposed and vulnerable, and I needed to leave.  I put the purse back in the dust bag, found my family, and we left.  On the way home I was trying to explain everything to Chad.  I told him how I felt so uncomfortable with this big expensive purse.  I knew it was representative of Jesus paying full price with his life for mine, and I felt awful about that.  Why did I feel so guilty?  So unworthy of this gift?  We got home and had the after church lunch rush.  Every one was hungry and so I kicked into mom mode and made lunches.  But still with these thoughts running through my brain.  "God what's wrong with me?  Why am I this way?  Why do I feel so guilty about Jesus dying for me?  Why can't I accept that was for me too, not just everyone else?  I'm not worth it.  I'm just not good enough for that."  I was standing at our kitchen island at the end of the lunch rush, and as clear as I've ever heard God, He began speaking to my heart.  And suddenly something was exposed in me - a lie.  A lie I had been believing my whole life.  God showed me, and I knew.  It was really as if a veil was taken off of my eyes, and I saw it for the first time.  The word "just".  That was the lie.  I'm just a mom, just a wife, just a woman, just.... me.  Nothing special.  He began to show me that the lie I believed was I was "just not good enough."  Then he told me "No, you are.  Period.  Not you are 'just'.  You are."  I ran upstairs to where I had a notebook to write in.  And I wrote as God spoke to me.  "I Am" he said, "And because I Am, you are.  'Just' is a lie.  You are - chosen, my child, beautiful, valuable... The enemy lies and tells you that you are 'just'.  My truth says you are, and you are mine.  Time to step into the 'You Are' I've called you to be."  My knees hit the floor.  I wish I could explain with the best words the feeling that over took me... love.  My heart was open, free, and filling with love.  I now understood, not just in my head, but in my heart.  Now I had a choice, now that I knew.  I can continue to believe the lie that I'm "just" whatever, and keep trying to work and strive to earn love and approval, OR I can now choose to believe God's truth that says I am loved, He does approve of me.  I am who He wants... He wants me.  Not for what I can do for Him, or what I can do for anyone else.  Not for the good things I do, or how hard I work or how much I perform.  He wants me, because He loves me.  My worth is found in His love for me.  That's His truth.  I'm choosing truth. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Seed of Hope

When Chad and I returned from our little anniversary getaway I was just starting to come back to life.  Truly when I say that, it honestly felt like a part of me died, but it had to.  For me to really face my pain, heal, and move on, those pieces had to die.  They were cancer in my heart.  For my heart to be full, healthy, and complete, the old had to die so new life could replace it.  When you think about it, it's really quite amazing and beautiful.  That things in us that are so dark, ugly, broken, and so unhealthy, that these things can die and be replaced by hope, beauty, purity, honesty, love, life and wholeness - its almost more than my mind can comprehend.  If are reading this right now and you feel the yuck in your heart, I want to tell you there is life for you too.  You may not believe me yet, and that's OK.  But I have to tell you hang on, you too can find beauty from your ashes.  There is hope for you!  That weekend we had family in town and had planned to head up to the mountains all day Sunday.  We decided to go to a Sat night service at our previous church.  A place that we loved deeply.  It is a big church, so we could hide pretty well there.  I was torn between wanting to see old friends, and not wanting anyone to see me.  That meant more pretending.  Pretending that I was ok.  We got the kids settled, hugged a few friends, smiled and pretended, then walked into the sanctuary and hid in the back.  After service there was just one person I wanted to see.  I found her working in the back.  She is one of those friends where we can go years with out seeing or talking to each other, and the moment we see one another we just pick right back up again.  I love that.  I hadn't planned to tell her everything, but as we started talking something came over me and I began weeping.  I started to tell her, slowly, just a little bit, about what had been going on.  She met me with such compassion, because she knew.  She too had walked through stuff, through yuck.  She knew.  At that point I knew she was safe, so I opened up about everything.  She loved me.  Didn't try to fix me, just loved me, and knew.  She said a few words of encouragement, then stopped.  She hugged me, loved me some more, then told me "If God can restore my life, he can for you too".  I wasn't at a place where I believed that yet, but I remembered those words.  I didn't recognize it at the time, but those words were a seed of hope planted in my heart.  They went deep.  She told me she would pray for me, and I know she did.  The next couple of months were a blur.  The days kind of melt together in my mind.  It was summer break, and my kids were not about to slow down or stop needing me because I was going through something.  So I got out of bed everyday, loved my family, took care of them, and talked to God.  I felt depression knocking on my door a lot.  It felt like I could so easily open that door and sink into it.  But I didn't, I kept talking to God and to my husband.  My days were spent in the car driving to and from swimming lessons and grocery stores, or hanging with our friends.  As I kept talking to God I could feel some changes in me.  I didn't have the words to express what was happening to me, but I could feel the changing.  Now, looking back I can see the more I talked to God, the less pain I felt.  Pain - we all have it.  We've all experienced it and will unfortunately experience it again.  I used to think it was a bad thing, but now I'm not so sure.  I don't think pain was Gods plan for me... I am still figuring this all out, I definitely don't have all the right answers.  I'm thinking it thru as I type....  here's what I've learned from my pain thus far.  First - it is not from God.  Even though He was the 1st one I blamed, I now understand He didn't inflict pain on my life.  That's not who He is.  The more time I spent talking to God, the more I understood this.  All of my pain has come from other people and myself.  The level of pain in our lives can vary of course.  Some things hurt a little, some a lot.  Some can go away, some will be with people for the rest of their lives.  Pain of loosing a child, a spouse, a sibling, a parent....I have not had that loss, so again I'm no expert, but I imagine that kind of pain never really goes away.  You just learn to live with it.  The pain I carried had names; rejection, abandonment, feeling unloved, unworthy, always on the outside, never a part, fear of failure, fear of people rejecting me, feeling used.... That was my pain that I carried for decades.  And instead of facing any of that and allowing myself to heal and forgive, I just let it pile on.  Pain after pain.  I'd open the door to that part of my heart and let it go in, shut the door, and move on.  Strange, isn't it?  Why on earth would I do that?  Somewhere along the way I had decided facing pain was too hard, that it would break me.  I would come completely undone and fall apart if I ever opened up that part of my heart.  But the strangest thing happened.  When I started facing my pain, while yes it was hard, and for a time I felt broken, walking through the process of healing, I found strength.  A strength I never knew was in me.  This is the best way I can describe it.  In those moments where I felt the rejection, or fear, or whatever was hurting me, I made a choice to leave a piece of myself there.  Stuck in that moment of pain.  I gave a piece of myself away to make room for that pain in my heart, thus weakening my heart and myself.  As I went back to face those moments, I was able to make a different choice to allow healing and forgiveness, and in doing so, pick up that piece of myself that I had lost.  So the more I faced, the more I healed and forgave, the stronger I was becoming.  Amazing, isn't it?  My ashes were becoming something beautiful.  So when I say that pain maybe isn't a bad thing, what I guess I mean is pain is inevitable in this life, and in and of itself it is not good, but how we choose to deal with it in the moment can actually strengthen us.  Instead of it being a place where we lay a part of our hearts down to accept the pain in, it can be a place where we can choose, in that moment, to forgive, heal, and strengthen our hearts, and in doing so, increase our ability to love and be loved.  When there is less pain in our hearts, there is more room for love and life.  As my heart was being freed up from pain and baggage, more room was being made available for the most incredible love encounter I have ever experienced.  It started with a purse.  Yes, a purse.  My life was about to be completely turned around with a purse.  It's a crazy story that I will write next ;)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hope Restored

It was the beginning of summer.  All 4 kids were home on break.  Our house was filled with noise and activity.  All the noise and business of my life could not drown out the thoughts that still consumed my mind, my life.  All day these thoughts circled around and around and around.  It was what I dreamt about at night.  How?  Why?  What?  How did I get here?  Why am I in this place, and still feeling nothing?  What happens next?  God?  Do you love me?  Do you know me?  Is this a game? And am I loosing?  Am I a total a complete failure?  Did I miss something, forget to do something, go the wrong way, make the wrong choices?  Everything I knew and believed was now being viewed through a lens of doubt.  At this point the fear had left, because I felt I had nothing to loose anymore.  I knew Chad and I would get through this together, and we would continue to love and raise our kids to the best of our ability.  That was all that mattered.  Family.  And somehow, someway, I was going to find a way to have fun again.  That was settled.  I knew I was in process, and it might take a while, but I was going to laugh and smile again.  I had to.  The choice became clear, either choose to face this pain, and walk through the process of healing and letting go of it, whatever that looked liked.  Choose to continue this very honest, raw, and open conversation with God, and maybe get to know Him in a way I never have.  Or I could choose to walk away from God, which would mean closing my heart up for good, because there was no way I was facing that pain all by myself, so it would just have to be shoved back down again.  Seeing this in writing makes that choice look so crazy.  Why would I even consider that?  Here I was in the midst of destruction from continuing to shove that pain down instead of truly facing it.  I was watching the consequence of that decision right before me, and yet I truly thought about trying to shove that pain back down yet again.  That shows the power I had given over to this pain and baggage in my life.  I was choosing to face it, and choosing to be completely submitted to the process.  I didn't understand, and I was filled with doubt and uncertainty, yet peace was still there.  I had no idea what this was going to look like, or how long it would take, but I couldn't go back to that way of living again.  This was my time to heal.

In the beginning of June Chad and I had an opportunity to go away for a couple of days for our anniversary.  It was a chance for us to enjoy each other again, and have some fun.  We spent dinner just sharing our hearts.  Checking in on each other to see where we were in the process.  Chad had his own journey he was on.  We found that we were both pretty much in the same place.  A whole lot of uncertainty.  Emotions at this point had started coming back to me.  They would kind of come and go.  I would be fine in a moment, then in tears the next, angry again the next, confused the next, back to okay again.  I was kind of all over the map.  It was nice to feel alive again, even if I was sad, I was alive.  I really enjoyed my time with my husband.  It was life giving and fun.  We were happy together, and that was a gift.  Even in our pain and confusion, we were walking forward together.  This was the one relationship destruction would not touch, we wouldn't let it.  After dinner and some shopping we decided to run into a Walmart close by to pick up some snacks for the night.  We walked in the front door and there was an employee greeting everyone.  He was on the other side of the door from us.  He looked straight at us, said hello, and made a comment about a shirt Chad was wearing.  He engaged us in conversation.  At first I was a bit annoyed.  We were on a date.  And I had decided not to talk to people anymore.  I had nothing to give to anyone.  Opportunities to love on people had come up that last few weeks, and I just told God "you better send someone else, because I am not your girl today".  But here was this man completely opening up to us, perfect strangers.  He shared about his 4 children and his confusion over all of them growing up to be republicans even though he was a strong democrat.  We laughed.  He told us he was a professor at CU Boulder, this was a part time job.  We talked for several minutes and were just about to walk away when he called me by name.  At this point we hadn't exchanged our names, so my first thought was "He's prophetic!  And he has a life changing word for us!"  I think he saw the excitement on our faces and pointed to the Starbucks cup in my hand with my name written right on the front...duh.  We all laughed a little, then I had a thought.  Maybe we should offer to pray for him?  Hmm, that's weird.  I felt completely powerless and empty still.  But there was something gently moving me to extend the offer anyway.  He was in a wheelchair and had braces on his legs.  So in conversation we asked about that and he told us the story of his injury.  I asked if we could pray for him.  His face lit up, and he said yes.  We laid our hands on him and prayed over his body, his relationship with his kids, and blessed him.  He was incredibly grateful and told us "You just made my day".  We said our goodbyes and walked into the store to buy our snacks.  This feeling came over me, it felt good!  I could see it on Chad too.  All the sudden we were smiling, really smiling.  It was like my spirit was reminding my body what life felt like.  I remembered, this is what it feels like to love and to be loved.  For months I hadn't been reading my bible, listening to worship music, or even going to church regularly.   And I definitely did not "feel" love inside of me, or "feel" Gods presence like I had known it.  And yet, in a way only God can, He loved that man through me and Chad.  He could have sent another Christian who was doing all these other things, like reading their bible and going to church every Sunday.  He could have picked someone who was "more qualified".  Someone who at the very least believed that God loves them.  Yet, He chose us.  In our absolute brokenness and pain, He sent us.  We were at a place in our lives where we could no longer do, we had to just be.  In that place God loved us, and loved through us, and my heart, mind, and body came back to life.  This was a turning point for me.  That 5 or 7 minutes with a stranger had opened my heart back up again.  Imagine that, healing for my broken heart while simply loving someone else...I have a feeling that's gonna come back up again later.  Lets just let that sit for a minute and settle.  Is it possible to find healing for our own brokenness by loving someone else in theirs???  We were so excited about this encounter.  I remember telling Chad in the car "This is what I remember loving about ministry.  Just loving people and watching them experience Gods love."  That is everything.  That to this day is what brings me to life.  Somewhere along the journey I'd lost that.  I had become such a doer, working so hard to earn approval and love from God and people around me.  I completely wore myself out, ran myself into the ground.  That's what broke me.  Carrying pain and baggage for decades was exhausting, and it kept me closed off to everyone because I was so afraid of someone seeing that pain and ugliness and rejecting me.  At the same time I  was working so hard to earn love and approval, to fuel me to keep going, and to fill a void, yet not letting that love in because that would mean opening up my heart more and revealing more yuck.... does any of this make sense?  I don't know yet that I fully understand what my mind was battling.  As I keep writing I see more.  So I apologize if this doesn't make much sense :)  I trust that God is bringing this out for a reason though.  Clearly I am still healing.  I'm thankful for 2016, because me breaking down was the catalyst for all that was about to happen in my heart.  I would never recommend this way though.  Its painful and destructive.  There is a better way, but this was the path I chose.  That night as we drove back to the hotel our hearts were starting to fill up again.  Not full, but not empty anymore.  It was like we were in a dense fog, but suddenly a ray of sunshine was starting to peek through.  Hello hope. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My Unattachment

There I sat filled with anger beyond what I had ever felt before.  Completely out of control, spiraling downward.  Ready to walk, no run away.  Away from everything familiar, from everything that meant, sounded, tasted, felt like God or ministry.  Away from the people who had loved me more than I felt I ever deserved.  Ready to just live life, away and apart from God and from church.  I was done, totally and completely done.  It all felt like a game to me.  Like I had been a pawn on Gods chess board.  You know, the pawns you sacrifice in the game to move your more important pieces out.  I felt like God had completely set me up to fail, all along.  I couldn't wrap my mind around it anymore.  There was a war waged between my heart and my mind - my mind was winning.  My heart was broken.  It was desolate, cold, isolating.  How could everything I knew about God suddenly not make sense?  How could I be a Christian for so long, truly love the church, love people, and love God, yet find myself in this place, thinking these thoughts?  What is wrong with me?  I'm a mess, hopeless, and just done.  I remember standing in my kitchen thinking these things - so ready to turn and walk away from it all, then looking at my kids.  Oh God - what about my kids?  All the sudden the heaviness of that decision multiplied by 4, then my husband, by 5.  This wasn't just my war, it was theirs too.  This sucks.  Though they didn't know the gravity of the situation and what was going on behind the scenes, they are smart kids, and they saw, they knew.  My pain monster was on the outside.  It wasn't hiding anymore, from anyone.  We sat them down one night and told them we were stepping down as pastors for now.  What we told them was true - we needed to refocus on our family.  We needed to refresh.  What we couldn't tell them was that I was falling apart,  that the pain I had carried for decades was out and was destroying everything I loved.  I think I wanted to tell them too.  To be honest, to warn them to never open up their hearts and welcome in a pain monster.  But they aren't ready to see that in their mom.  They needed to still see stability.  They were seemingly unmoved by our announcement and the conversation quickly went to something else.  I can now look back and see that was Gods grace over my kids, over us.  He was protecting them, protecting Chad and I.  Though I would not have admitted it at the time, he was loving us.  The announcement was made at church, we officially stepped down.  Failure.  It hurt.  We walked away from a ministry that we had put every ounce of love and life into we could.  Not just the ministry - the people.  We were separated from our church family.  We could feel the distance.  This had been our family for 4 1/2 years.  They had walked with us through some difficult times, celebrated many victories with us, mentored and discipled us, trusted us, nurtured us, loved us... deeply loved us.  What just happened...  Driving home that Sunday the car was quiet.  I don't think we had the words to express.  It felt so weird to be separated, like we were in a barren empty land - all alone.  We had the support and love from our pastoral staff to step down and take the time we needed to heal.  We decided our sabbatical would last 4 months, till the end of summer.  Our pastoral staff - oh my gosh how I love them.  God loved us deeply through these people.  Even with my pain monster and yuck all on the outside, they loved.  You see, some people have this amazing ability to look at you and see the gold - like God.  He sees gold.  If you ever get the chance to be in relationship with people like this, don't ever take it for granted.  Its a gift.  Receive this gift, love it, appreciate it, let it change you and bring out your gold.  Then turn around and share that gift with others - see their gold.  The week or so after the announcement Chad and I spent time talking - going over and over the details.  He too felt the loss, the pain, the distance.  It was so weird to be unconnected, and yet somehow we knew this is exactly what we needed, and there was some relief.  At that point I couldn't fathom the depth of life change that was happening.  All I saw was my pain monster.  I could barely bring myself to look in the mirror.  I hated myself, everything about me, I hated.  It was as if every single failure, every mistake, every misstep was staring me right in the face.  There is a depth of pain there that simply cannot be put into words.  It wasn't failure of having to step down as pastors, it was life failure.  I failed to measure up.  I failed to earn Gods love.  I failed at being a Christian.  I failed at relationships.  I was currently failing as a wife and mom because I was consumed with myself and my pain.  There it was - every single moment of the day.  What am I going to do with you now, pain, now that you are out in the open?  What's next?  Thus began my conversation with God.  A very real, honest, open conversation with God.  As angry as I was, as much doubt that filled my mind, I knew I couldn't face this thing alone.  Its sole purpose was to destroy, and I didn't have any energy to fight back.  "Alright God, if you are real, and if you really do love me, you have to show me.  I need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I'm tired of playing games.  I don't want to waste my life.  I want to have fun again.  I want to enjoy my family.  So either you show me you're real and you love me, or I'm out.  Done with church.  Done with ministry.  Done being a Christian."  There it was - It was a relief to be so honest.  It wasn't scary at all.  I was relieved.  Nothing happened that day.  There was no warm fuzzy feeling in my heart, no magic song that appeared on the radio, no prophetic word... nope, it was just me and God.  It was pure.  It was honest.  Somewhere in the next few days I lost all emotion.  It was all gone.  There was no more anger, no fear, no pain.  Also no joy.  I didn't laugh or smile.  I didn't even pretend to be happy when I was out.  I didn't care about anyone out in the world.  I didn't have any love inside of me to share with strangers.  I loved my family the very best I could, but where I couldn't there was grace.  So much grace.  God was loving them, and that's all they needed in those few weeks.  I carried on with my day to day tasks.  But I was totally numb.  I still met with my best friend, Heather, who has been a gift in my life.  She just listened, really listened to my heart.  She didn't try to fix me, or give me a magic scripture to try to change my heart, or show me the error of my ways.  She just loved me, right where I was.  She was not full of unwanted advice or wisdom.  I couldn't absorb any of that then.  My heart was closed.  This is what true friendship looks like.  Where we give room for one another to not be ok, where we listen to the heart, and we choose to see the gold, and walk with each other to the other side.  God - thank you for Heather!  One morning we were sitting in my kitchen, as we often do.  Drinking coffee and just sharing life.  I was sharing with her about my very lack of emotion.  As I talked it out with her, I began to understand, in my heart not just my head, that I was being unattached.  I can't explain how I knew, it was just the spirit of God gently speaking to my broken and closed heart.  Through our conversation I told Heather that I thought God was unattaching me (this is apparently not a real word, because spell check is going crazy, but its what I've got).  God was unattaching me from everything that I had ever related to my relationship with Him.  Everything.  Prayer, my bible, worship music, church, relationships... all of it.  Some where along my journey I had made all of this about doing, and earning.  These things are how I earn Gods love and approval, and the love and approval of the people around me.  That was my fuel.  How I kept going.  Approval.  At this point I had not opened my bible in months, and could not bring myself to listen to worship music.  And I wasn't praying anymore, at least not the way I thought prayer was.  Before when I prayed, I secretly (like somehow God didn't know) would close off parts of my heart before talking to him.  I was hiding my pain monster.  I didn't want to talk about that.  It was off limits.  Too painful, too ugly, too scary, nope - not going there, and you can't either God.  But this was the time for me to stop all of that - it was time to unattach.  I didn't see it at the time, but later I saw it - the lie.  A lie I had believed my whole life.  A lie I think so many of us choose to believe.  A lie that says we have to perform, we have to earn, we have to work more than others.  A lie that told me Gods love and freedom for everyone else was real, but not for me.  I was unworthy, unlovable.  A lie that told me I would never know what others knew.  Those who really knew God loved them, it was like they knew a secret.  In my pain I was desperate to know that secret.  I longed to know it.  Here I was, in my kitchen, with my best friend and a cup of coffee, becoming unattached.  Not at some huge prophetic conference, with the best of the best evangelical speakers, or top prophetic voices - no prophetic word.  Just me, Heather, and coffee.  Not that God doesn't use those conferences or prophetic voices.  He does!  All the time!  I am in no way minimizing any of that at all.  Just saying that sometimes it doesn't have to be so dramatic.  This was a realization for me.  Unattached.  What does that even look like?  It felt like nothing, still, nothing.  But in that moment I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  Hello peace.