Worship Where You Are

There’s significance when something is brought up for the first time in scripture. The first time a particular word is used, it gives us insight into the original meaning. Do you know when the first time the term “worship” is used in scripture? If not, it may surprise you. You ready for this? You better sit down. The first mention of worship is…

In the story of Abraham & Isaac. Just to clarify, it says nothing about singing or music.

Abraham was over 100 years old and finally had his son, Isaac, who was about 12 years old at this time. Isaac was the embodiment of God’s promise to Abraham fulfilled. God knew how much Abraham adored his son, this cherished, promised boy. So God chose to test him and commanded Abraham to offer his own son as a burnt offering to God. Sounds awful, right?! We know it was a test. Most of us know the end of the story. But Abraham didn’t.

Can you imagine?! Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes for a moment. Your son whom you’ve waited for many years is here, healthy and strong. And then God asks you to murder this precious gift as proof that God is first. Even over this innocent boy. That mountain must’ve looked like Mount Everest as Abraham knew what he was about to do. The weight of it mounting on his shoulders.

“Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” Genesis 22:5 

“We will worship there.” As far as everyone else knew, they were climbing the mountain to offer a sacrifice. Only Abraham knew that it was to be a sacrifice of his most beloved possession: his son. THAT was the first example of worship: putting God first to the point of sacrificing what’s most important.

Are you willing to do that? Would you sacrifice the thing most important to you to prove to God that He truly is first. What would that thing be? For some of us it might be an addiction or habit. Maybe it’s your work or what others think of you. Maybe it’s giving up control or letting go of the outcome. Oh how we like to think we can actually control things. Or perhaps it is trusting God with our kids.

We don’t need to literally burn “the thing” on a physical altar. But I would lovingly encourage you today, right now, prayerfully and honestly ask God to show you what you have allowed to take precedence over Him. Then (and this is the hard part), worship Him by letting go of “the thing” and put God first.

David & Garfunkel

I have played piano since I was 8 years old. I’ve sang since I learned to speak my first words. Literally. Ask my mom. I grew up in church and have been a part of worship teams off and on since my sophomore year of high school. Music holds a special place in my heart. It’s an instant soul connection. From writer to listener, singer to audience, soul to soul. My favorite thing in the world is to hear a song and “feel the feels” of whatever the songwriter is communicating.

I recently told a friend, “I’m a worshipper.” While, yes, all believers should be worshippers, I feel that some of us musician types get an extra dose of that thing David had. I imagine young, pre-king David hanging out with a flock of sheep, playing his lyre and writing music. I also envision him as a long-haired, Simon & Garfunkel type, chilling on the hillside, playing and writing. His desire was not to become a famous rockstar, but rather to write songs for the simple sake of worshipping God.

This whole scenario in my head got me thinking, “what was God’s intention for worship?” So I went on a super nerdy study journey. Cuz that’s what I do.

First, I narrowed it down by recognizing what worship is NOT. Worship is not entertainment for a crowd. It’s not a certain style of Jesus music. Worship isn’t an ego boost for musicians (that stings for the prima donnas). It’s not only for those on stage or for the most talented, trendiest super-clique at church. Worship is not a popularity contest.

So if that’s what worship is NOT, then what is it to be? According to Webster’s: Worship is to render reverence and homage to someone/something.

Most importantly, worship is a posture. It’s a heart response to God, Who He is, and gratitude for all He’s done. Worshippers exalt God to His rightful place. Exalt means to lift up, or make more important than everything else. As worshippers, our purpose is to bring God to the forefront and let everything else fade into the background.

Worship gets distorted when we try to make it about us. Musicians (myself included) are very good at being the center of attention. We want people to notice our incredible talent and sheer awesomeness. But worship isn’t about me… or you. It’s about God. Worship is about making Him the central focus because it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. It is only because of His creation that we are creative. It is only in and through God that we have the gifts and talents we do. Worship is simply using those gifts and talents back to Him.

So the next time you join or lead corporate worship, gently (or not so gently) remind yourself that it’s not all about you. But rather, it’s all about Who God is. And when you bring Him to the forefront and make it all about magnifying God in your focus, He can show up in your life in miraculous ways!

“I will praise the name of God with a song,
And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:30

 

Jonah Called. He’d Like His Whale Back.

“I love you. Come back home. I called you to ministry and you said, ‘no’…” As my dear friend shared these words meant for me from God, tears streamed down my face. “I didn’t say no… exactly,” I argued in my head. “But your actions didn’t say ‘yes,'” my heart tugged.

A little over a year ago, I felt very strongly that I was being called into vocational ministry. I was scared, anxious, and excited. God had been very clearly taking me down a path of preparation for full time ministry. I didn’t know exactly what that ministry would look like, but I knew writing, public speaking, and ministering to broken and abused women would play some part in it. This very blog was my first step of faith toward whatever it was God wanted to use me for.

But then my son started struggling in school. The preverbal crap hit the fan and suddenly we were in an all out war for his life. Depression and suicidal thoughts, lying, swearing, anger, and disrespect were causing more and more problems for my boy. Until, finally, we made the decision to homeschool. I stepped down from my ministry leadership roles and ultimately pulled back from everything ministry related. With the best of intentions, I chose to focus on helping my son deal with whatever was plaguing him. We eventually quit going to Celebrate Recovery altogether which had been my ministry field for nearly 3 years. Even church attendance became more and more sporadic as I tried to clean up the mess of our family.

Because of my son’s struggles and behaviors, I continued to isolate us and tried to handle it alone. This mess was too messy for church. People couldn’t possibly understand what we’re dealing with. Especially not church people. So when we’d go to church, it was like a secret mission: Slip in. Slip out. No one sees. No one knows. Incognito church attendance. Or better yet, watch the live stream online. Can’t get your messiness on people that way! I’m a single mom. I’m supposed to fix this on my own.

Isn’t it crazy the lies we’ll buy into to justify our unhealthiness? The devil is using the same tricks today as he did in the garden. Lies, manipulation, and isolation. He plays on our insecurities and then convinces us we can do this without God. He convinced Eve that just a little bite wouldn’t hurt and she didn’t need God anyway! And here I am convincing myself I can parent a troubled preteen without Him and the best way to do that is to desert my community?! Yep. That totally happened.

Every time I step out and try to pursue God’s calling in my life, something catastrophic happens that knocks me back 10 feet! (You’d think I’d figure out where those blows come from.)

The last year has been my Jonah in the belly of the whale season. God called me and I chose a distraction to focus my attention on and say, “See? I can’t do what You called me to. It’s too messy out there! I think I’ll just hang out in here for awhile.”

Many years ago, a very godly woman whom I admire a great deal told me, “You know God has called you to ministry. If you don’t step up and do what He has called you to, He will find someone else to pick up YOUR mantel.” Those words echoed in my head tonight like a movie reel stuck on repeat.

But I’m a mess! Look at me! I’m a mess! I’m supposed to get my crap together first. Make a million dollars so I can fund this ministry way off in the distant future doing I don’t know what yet… I’m not qualified. How can I lead Your people when I’m standing in the middle of my own pile of garbage?!!? I screamed at Him in my head as I sat in my seat. And then that gentle voice of Abba Father said, “I qualify the called. I don’t call the qualified.”

I leaned over to my friend sitting next to me and said, “I think it’s time for me to do another Step Study.”

“Are you volunteering to lead it?” she asked. Seriously? I KNOW she’s in cahoots with Him on this. I could’ve sworn that whole conversation was just in my head!

“Yes. I guess I am,” I said.

Fine. I submit to you, God. I’ll follow You wherever you want me to go and do what you want me to. Even if that means starting from this whale’s belly. I won’t try to figure out all the pieces on my own. I’ll trust you. I won’t put You off anymore while I chase the dollar. I trust You to take care of me just like You do for the sparrow. I’ll lean in to You and Your people, my village. I won’t try to control every step. 

And then I bawled and whimpered through the serenity prayer….

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time. Enjoying one moment at a time. Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will. So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

And right then, it was like God dropped the mic. #BOOM

Open to Everything

“Be open to everything and closed off to nothing.” One of my dearest friends shared these wise words with me recently. Ironically, I was able to nearly immediately put them into practice.

Last Sunday, I visited a church that a year ago I would’ve rejected. The denomination is one I would’ve classified as dull and dry. My home church is one with electric guitars and fog machines during worship; videos and skinny jeans adorn the messages. Conversely, the church I visited had pews, an organ and hymnals. Enough said.

When I walked in, I reminded myself of my friend’s words. I made a conscious decision to set aside my preconceived notions about what I might expect. I kept an open mind and opened my heart to receive whatever the Spirit might have to say to me.

Being raised in a Charismatic church (in the eighties, mind you), I was led to believe the Spirit of God chooses only to speak through interpretation of tongues and dramatic encounters of the rolling on the floor kind. Looking back, I don’t think I was taught to listen to the “still, small voice.” But rather, look for flashing neon lights of sorts.

This week, as I sat in the pew, listening to the teachings and singing along to the hymns (all this over the dull roar of restless children), I felt a peace that I can’t describe. Later, when I joined the women for a class, I was moved by the authenticity of the ladies and their desire to be the hands and feet of Christ in the community through whatever opportunities presented themselves. Isn’t that what the Gospel is truly about?

The services were simple and the people so kind. In fact, at a couple intermissions, I felt a bit like a rockstar. It was obvious that I was a visitor and rather than breeze past, people lined up to introduce themselves and offer to show me around. I had 3 people in a row offer to show me where my children would go for Sunday School. I was overwhelmed in all the best ways. I felt welcomed and wanted.

At the potluck following service, my children and I sat with a lovely family to enjoy the meal. While the children carried on in lively talks, the mother and I had the most engaging, authentic conversation. I think the last church potluck I attended was in elementary school. But it was wholesome and enriching. Why did we ever stop this tradition? When did we get so busy that Sunday services became an entertaining in-and-out event?

That sweet woman even invited me to join in on choir practice. Oh how glorious it was to sing in a choir! I didn’t feel like an outsider one bit. They were thrilled to have another alto and I was delighted to participate. The Christmas hymns with piano, organ and a cello resonated in beautiful harmonies. I almost giggled to myself at the thought of the drastic contrast to my normal Sunday digs.

I started out this Sunday, open to see God through another perspective. Admittedly, I was nervous initially, not knowing what to expect. However, I certainly did not expect to spend 5.5 hours at a “traditional” church, being ministered to through simple talks and hymns.

One thing I know, I felt loved and appreciated by people who would receive no benefit from loving a tattooed, single mom. It wasn’t just the sweet people who met me and enveloped me in kindness that Sunday. It was the Holy Ghost Himself. The light of Christ shown through that congregation in such an unexpected way. My children skipped to the car, begging to go back next week (did I mention we were there 5.5 hours?). I floated out of the doors, feeling a peace that surpasses understanding.

At the end of the day, we all worship the same God. Whether Charismatic, contemporary or traditional, we all follow the same Jesus. Rather than drawing lines and distinctions between the various denominational differences, we should appreciate the value in a lively service as well as the full sound of an organ. The Spirit of the Lord is present with those who desire to seek Him. As believers, we should unite over the commonalities. And as a follower of Christ, I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and worship where that “still, small voice” might be leading you.

“Be open to everything and closed off to nothing.”

Fix You

Let me start by saying I am a huge Coldplay fan. I love their soothing ballads. The song with the above title, “Fix You,” is no exception. However, in pondering the message (and many songs like it), I shouldn’t be surprised by the epidemic of codependency I see in the world.

At it’s core, codependency says, “my happiness is directly dependent on the happiness of another.” More so, a codependent person will go to great lengths to “fix,” please and ultimately enable the object of their codependency. We mistakenly convince ourselves that if we love someone enough, they’ll get better. Much like the aforementioned song implies. What’s worse, is when the other party doesn’t change, we blame ourselves.

So why all this talk of codependency? Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s talked about in a realistic light enough. Secondly, I see attributes of codependency romanticized in television and social media. For one who has lived through the horrors of it, that is infuriating!! Losing yourself in someone else’s addiction, abuse or insanity is NOT attractive. Yet our society would have us believe it is admirable.

If you are attracted to a person that is a hot mess and your primary focus is to “fix” them or “help” them, you are heading down a very messy, unfulfilling and possibly dangerous road. If the relationship is satisfying your own need to feel needed, it cannot end well.

I only speak from a perspective of one who has been there! One who has confused pity for love. One who had an inexplicable need to find the most “tattered orphan on the side of the road” and nurse them back to health. In my least healthy state, I would jokingly say I was a professional turd polisher.

The most ironic part is when we seek to help someone who is so broken, damaged or tortured by means of a romantic relationship, there can only be one of two outcomes: 1) They never get better. Your helping actually becomes a crutch and enables them to continue their insanity [addiction, abuse, self-destruction]. 2) They do find recovery. You play a vital role in their healing and they become a better person. And as much as they appreciate your help, they move on.

The first outcome is the most frequent one I see (and experienced). It’s a long and “bloody” road. The codependent party blames themselves for the lack of progress and loses themselves in the “project.” Somewhere along the way it becomes all about the other person and their problems.

If you are romantically involved with someone who (regardless of how deep your love and attraction) is a tortured soul and your world revolves around making them better, please see me on the side of the road holding a BIG sign saying, “Danger, Will Robbins!!!”

The second outcome is perhaps more painful. You feel like things are going well. They’re getting the help they need. Their relapses are becoming less and less. The relationship and your partner are moving in a positive direction. And then… BAM! They can’t explain exactly why, but they’re just not feeling it anymore. Maybe it feels to them like you’re growing apart. The sad truth is you played a vital role in their recovery, but now that your purpose has been served, the relationship fizzles. You’re left feeling used and abandoned. All the time you invested into helping that person heal will only benefit someone else.

How do you avoid either of these impossibly disheartening outcomes? Don’t get romantically involved with them in the first place. Completely remove yourself from the situation. Recognize the person  for who they truly are and where they are in life!! Take a realistic assessment of their emotional IQ and ability to be in a mutually beneficial relationship.

This step has eluded me many times! It’s so easy to get swept up in the emotions of it all. The desire to feel needed and wanted blinds us to common sense. I implore you to stop. Take a step back. Analyze the situation. Take the blinders off and look for any unhealthy habits or situations. Does he drink more than you are comfortable with? Is he defensive when you bring it up? Did she recently leave an abusive relationship? Is she looking to you to “rescue” her? Does he push your boundaries? Are you allowed to say “no” without retaliation?

Don’t justify. Don’t excuse. And please don’t ignore your intuition or wise friends’ counsel. It’s hard to hear your best friend ask you the night before your wedding if you’re sure this is what you really want because she’s pretty sure you’ll regret this [yes, that really happened]. But don’t ignore it! The subtle (or glaringly obvious) signs are difficult to recognize when you’re involved with someone. It’s complicated. There are feelings involved. But for your own sanity, be realistic about what you’re potentially signing up for. Save yourself the heartache!

And before you tell me you’re not supposed to judge, that’s crap. Matthew 7:20 says, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” And that’s in red. Jesus himself actually said, “Judge people. Look at their life. Look at their choices.”

Trust me, I was the queen of turning a blind eye. I thought, “Who am I to judge?! I’m no unblemished lamb. So he drinks too much. He’s not hurting anyone but his own liver…” Or here’s my favorite: “He says he only hit his ex-wife once. But he suspected she was cheating, so it was justified… And he’d never hit me… Right?” We who are prone to codependency can justify bad behaviors 6 ways ’til Sunday. But it doesn’t make bad behavior good. And most importantly, you deserve to be honest with yourself. Love yourself enough to wait for a relationship worthy of your heart.

It may seem glamorous to be a knight in shining armor or Florence Nightingale. But you’re not the Savior. You CAN’T fix people. There is only One who can. And as much as you want to help, you’ll only muck it up. So stop. Let the unhealthy person get well on their own, without you. As painful as it is to walk away, it’s far more painful to invest yourself into someone who is incapable of reciprocating the level of love and commitment you are extending.

In a healthy relationship there should be mutual benefit. Both people growing, changing together and spurring each other toward success. There should be abundant positivity and mutual respect. Perhaps seasons of give and take. But always an outcome of equal levels of investment, care, respect and positivity. Put simply, the good should heavily outweigh the bad. We always talk about finding a person who is an intellectual or spiritual equal, but what about emotional equality? You’re looking for a companion in life, not a humanitarian project to keep you busy for the next who knows how long!

 

 

For more info about the effects of codependency, go to: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency

Then Suddenly Everything Changed…

I grew up on a farm. Not a working farm per say. There were no high yielding crops or livestock. We had a lot of acres in the middle of a national forest. It was beautiful with plenty of room to run and dream. We had a dog and a cat for most of my years growing up along with the occasional rabbit, horse, milk Jersey, and a handful of calves.

All I wanted to do was grow up, find a successful career in some lucrative field, making oodles of money and travel the world. I wanted (and still do) to see and experience all the cultures of our vast and diverse planet. I wanted cars and houses and vacation houses. Anything BUT a farmer’s life! No stinky animals and poop scooping for me, thank you very much!

In fact, I vividly remember playing dress up in my grandmother’s furs on a particular occasion when I was about 7 (it was a regular game we played). On this particular day, I, “Mrs. Jones,” was unveiling with dramatic flare all the beautiful cars, boats, houses and jet planes I had just acquired. This is the glamorous life I have envisioned since childhood. Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous would cover my story one day.

And then I grew up.

Did I stop desiring or dreaming that childhood dream? No. Never. My dad has, to this day, affectionately called me his “city mouse.” Moving back to the family farm for a short 2 years some time ago was painful. No cell service?! A 45-minute commute?! Torture, I tell you. Sheer torture!

Then, last week everything changed. A friend who has a farm near our city, posted a Facebook request for help feeding her litter of orphaned St. Bernards. I thought it would be a fun opportunity for my kids to get some overdue puppy therapy and volunteer at the same time. As we pulled up the driveway, we noted all the animals on their farm. Cows, horses, chickens and an ornery goat all greeted us as we drove up the gravel road. My four year old daughter squealed, “Can I ride the UNICORN?!?!” Of course I told her she could… if she could find it. Haha!

When we piled out of the vehicle, we saw the puppies and their father in front of the house as well as a litter of frisky calico kittens. As we spent the evening feeding, sorting, and photographing the 10 ravenous little cuties, I felt a peace wash over me. I observed my 11 year old son who has dealt with so much trauma and heartache in his short life become caring, calm, and diligent. My son, who is normally so hyperactive and careless, was gently feeding and rocking each puppy to sleep before laying it down next to a furry sibling. Then he would gingerly repeat the process until all 10 pups laid napping in a giant ball of fluffiness.

It has taken me a full week to process the events of that evening. My son came ALIVE in caring for those animals. He and his sister have been begging for a puppy every day since. But a puppy isn’t the cure for what ails him. They have asked for a kitten, too. Although that would be far more conducive to our apartment living than a 200 pound St. Bernard, a kitten isn’t the cure either.

My son has always been what I call “an animal whisperer.” He has a gift. People confound him. He thinks he has to be the funniest, the most obnoxious or impressive person for people to like him. But when he’s around animals, he is his truest and happiest self. All the cares and frustrations of life’s unfairness disappear when he is nose to nose with something furry. He doesn’t have to perform. He doesn’t have to disguise the pain. He only has to be. He radiates compassion and genuineness when he is caring for animals. It’s a level of responsibility I have NEVER seen him exhibit towards his bedroom and household chores! Haha!

IMG_3456
My son, riding a horse a few weeks ago. Look how tall and proud he is!

Yesterday, as I was reading Scriptures and praying for wisdom and direction to lead my children into their callings it became crystal clear: It’s not about me and my selfish desires to jet set. It’s about cultivating the two little people God has entrusted me with to their own greatness. I was born into farm life for a reason and I am coming to believe that this is why. Not for me, but for my son and daughter.

Now that I have resigned to what I believe is part of God’s plan for our family, it actually excites me to consider starting a hobby farm (mucking stalls and all). It doesn’t overwhelm or terrify me (as long as there’s cell service). There’s a peace that surpasses all understanding as I embrace this slightly different plan. It’s not even a resistant obedience. In my heart I’m not saying, “Fine, God, if I HAVE to.” Truthfully, as I saw my kids not just enjoy, but flourish in that setting, I realize that a farming life is part of our destiny. It is something I can’t outrun. And now, finally, I don’t want to.

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9

Spring Has Sprung

I love spring! The gloomy winter months are melting away. Beneath the dirty snow is new life just waiting to bloom. The days are getting warmer and I can finally break out the flowy dresses and bright colors. There’s a feeling in the air of change brewing, but in a new and different way.

I love that God has given us seasons to remind us that life is ever changing, ever evolving. Nothing stays the same. For some, this is a terrifying and harsh reality. For others, it’s a welcomed adventure. You never know what might be just ahead.

In South Dakota, we have a saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” Life is much like that. If you don’t like the current circumstances, wait. Change is bound to come!

A few months ago, I felt like everything was perfectly in place. All was going according to my plan. I remember looking around my home and thinking, “It is all as it should be. Now I can just coast.” But God, in His infinite wisdom, had other plans!

Like a Jenga tower, I had stacked all the pieces of my life into what I thought would be perfect. Controlled. Calculated. In order. Then God pulled two or three pieces out and I thought my world was falling apart. I couldn’t understand why one thing after another seemed to be crumbling before me. I had placed everything so carefully!

The day I received terrible news from my son’s school, I held the phone to my ear as tears welled up in my eyes. I thought, “This couldn’t come at a worse time. I’m in the middle of a career change. How am I going to do this?!” And then, almost audibly, I heard a song: “Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place…”

A peace washed over me as I realized God is in control. I don’t have to fear the future or any changes ahead because ultimately, God is in control and will work everything together for my good. He holds the pieces. The greatest lesson I’ve learned in the last few months is simply to let go and let God. There’s no need to scramble around, grasping for control. It was never mine to begin with.

I’m excited for this new season of change that blowing through my life because it’s a clear reminder that God has a destiny for each of us.

Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”

Pageantry

I remember as a little girl watching the Miss America Pageant with my grandmother every year. We would get dressed up in our “ball gowns” and her fur coats. We’d put out mini cakes and a full tea party. She and I would “ooh” and “aah” over the beautiful gowns and lovely hairdos. We admired their talents. We even discussed the intelligent responses to the questions posed. My grandmother would comment on how well-rounded these young ladies were and how I could grow up to be like any one of them.

Flash forward 30 years. One night, I stumbled across the infamous 2015 Miss Universe. I reminisced for a moment and thought of my grandmother. I quickly realized that she would be appalled by the swimsuit competition. Moreover, the only categories highlighted in the 2 hour program was swimsuit and ball gown. So, the message conveyed is no longer, “well rounded, intelligent, talented women are vital to our society.” It is this: “Looks are everything. A perfect body is everything.” Not to mention, it’s very clear that all of these lean, thin bodies are in competition with each other.

My 3 year old daughter saw only a few minutes of the evening gown portion. Rather than admiring the beautiful dresses, she immediately ran to my closet, brought out my highest heels and began swinging her hips as she pranced around the house. While she was absolutely adorable and innocent, my insides began to scream!!! NOOOOO! She should NOT be parading around like a little sexpot! I don’t want her to compare herself to anyone! Certainly not the ultra thin, “perfect” bodies that are half naked (even in ball gowns) on TV. I want her to be her own kind of beautiful.

The other thing I noticed during the show was that although it was called “Miss Universe,” international diversity was NOT shown or embraced. While all of the women were beautiful, they all sort of looked the same… Westernized Barbies. And of course there was no variety of body type. Background, talent, and intelligence were not even mentioned.

Now, let me share with you my personal experience… I once competed in a local level of Miss America. I was 19 at the time and hopeful to receive a small scholarship for college. At the time, I aspired to be a music teacher. I had not been in any pageants previously. So I was probably far too naive to be “competing.” The “experienced” pageant girls had fake hair,  gel bra inserts, fake teeth, eating disorders, and spent endless hours in the gym. I was on an unfair playing ground.

It was a valuable experience. But one that was painful. As a size 8, I was made to feel like the “fat one.” Although we were told that interview and talent counted for the majority of our score, it really came down to swimsuit. I was confident and poised, but I wore a one piece suit. And I didn’t win. I don’t share this experience as a sore loser. Rather as a cautionary tale. I remember feeling scrutinized for every jiggle, dimple and normalcy of my body. I might as well have been an animal on display at the zoo. A polar bear perhaps.

This experience led to years of body-shaming and comparison. The shouting voice in my head, “She looks better in a swimsuit than you do,” and “If you only had toned arms like her or a flat stomach like her…” In my mind I was constantly making a patchwork of “perfect” body parts to compare myself to. Thoughts like this have plagued me and so many others for years. About 5 minutes into watching the pageant, those voices were back with a vengeance, berating me for having flaws of any sort.

Pageants are gross. There are so many beautiful, strong, intelligent women who will never get on a stage, platform or runway. Rather than comparing ourselves to one another and feeling in competition with each other, we should embrace our differences and see the wonder and strength in diversity. God created each of us to be individuals not copy cats. He made us to compliment each other, not compete with one another. I’d rather seek unity than perfection.

This is why my daughter (and son) will not be allowed to watch pageants ever again. The fake, cookie cutter idea of perfect is not reality. That ideal is not who we should be comparing ourselves to and it’s certainly not the standard our Creator uses. We are so much more than something pretty to prance on a stage for the world.

Don’t fall for the lie. Be more. See more.

In The Garden

“Many will say to me [Jesus] on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:22-23

This particular passage has always confounded me. If people are doing all those miracles in the name of Jesus, clearly they would know Him and be operating in His authority. Why, then, would He send them away? That has bothered me for years. I’ve grown up hearing stories that have focused on the love and mercy of God. But this verse seems to be angry and far from merciful.

However, this morning I had a revelation. As I woke (before my kids), in the stillness of the morning, I could feel God whispering to my heart, “Come spend time with me.” As I rolled out of bed, I started thinking of all the things on my to-do list for the day. In that moment I started considering which chapters I would read in the Bible and how much time I would have to do that before I needed to get going on my tasks. Then I felt Him say, “Stop! This is not another thing to check off your list. Just come sit with Me.”

Have you ever been in a relationship when it seemed like you were two ships passing in the night? Each running in their own direction, but never stopping to just be together. That’s usually when the relationship feels distant and cold. Or how about “friendships” on social media? So often we observe and know others by what they put on the inter web, but we don’t truly know them. We know of them, but our knowledge is very superficial at best.

So often, this is how we treat our relationship with Creator. We read the Books, we attend gatherings in His Name, and we may even use His Name to perform miracles. But that’s not why He came to the earth and sacrificed himself. He came so we could have a real relationship with Him. Not a “fakebook” relationship. He desires a real, everyday, closer than a best friend relationship. He wants to get messy with you. He does not want to be another item to check off our task lists.

As I  processed through this with King Jesus this morning, I could hear my grandfather’s deep baritone voice belting a familiar hymn: “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Today, take the time to develop a deep and private relationship with Savior and walk in the garden with Him. There is so much peace and joy there.

Redemption, Pt. 2

The next day, I called the nurse’s station for an update on my ex-husband’s status. She politely informed me that I had been removed from the “family” list and could no longer receive information about my ex-husband. “Who made that decision?! I may not be family, but our son IS!” I retorted. “I’m sorry ma’am. The patient’s brother has requested that you be excluded from any communication.” Initially, I was angry. Hurt. Offended. Who did he think he was?! This is my son’s father we’re talking about! We may have had our differences in the past, but my ex-husband had recently said repeatedly, “You’re family, Susan. I don’t care what anyone says. You’re the mother of my son. You will always be family.” And now his brother says otherwise. With a simple word, I’m cut out.

But then I realized something. My ex-brother-in-law was in the midst of the most terrifying and unmanageable situation. His little brother was on life support, fighting for survival. There was nothing he could do to control what was happening. But the one little thing he could control was who had access to the information. It was an exercise in futility. But it was something.

I only had this realization because I was simultaneously up to my eyeballs in a Step Study with Celebrate Recovery. It was through that study and the amazing support I found through Celebrate Recovery that I was able to process any of what was happening. Celebrate Recovery taught me how to understand the human reaction to an unmanageable situation: grasping at control. Most of all, I was ready to make amends and able to hear God’s voice throughout the coming days.

Six days passed with no word. No updates from my ex-husband’s family. No phone calls to my son. Nothing. I was talking to a dear friend and mentor when I voiced my concern. I needed to know what was going on for my son’s sake. She encouraged me to be a “mama bear.” She said to call and don’t take “no” for an answer. So I did.

I called the nurse’s station and said, “I know I’m not on the list and you can’t give me any specifics. But can you tell me if I should prepare his son for the worst or can we look forward to seeing him in a regular hospital room soon?” The nurse whispered into the receiver, “Don’t break any laws, but get here as soon as you possibly can. They are taking him off life support right now.

I obeyed all traffic laws and quickly drove to the hospital. I marched my son straight to the ICU room where his father lay with immediate family around the bed. No tubes. No IVs. No machines.

I stood in the doorway and looked to my ex-mother-in-law for permission to enter. She nodded and gestured for my son to enter the room. My seven year old son bravely, but hesitantly approached the bed where his father laid, gasping for air and still in a coma. He held his dad’s hand and said, “I love you, Daddy. I’ll see you in heaven someday. I’ll miss you.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. My son literally said goodbye as his father breathed his last breaths. I am so grateful that he will always have that moment to look back on and know that he was able to have closure.

Late that night, when we got home, my son asked if he could sleep in my bed with me. Of course! How could I refuse? I held him tightly as we wept together. When he finally spoke, he said, “I’m so afraid I’ll forget my dad! I’m so young. What if I lose all my memories of him?” I assured him that I would help him remember and we could talk about his dad any time he wanted. We hugged and cried together. I mourned for my son’s loss. I am so proud of how very brave he was that evening.

Several days later at the funeral, I had prepared a little eulogy. I knew I needed to get up in front of all the former family and friends. These were the people who had primarily only heard his side of the story over the years. I was nervous as walked to the podium. I could feel their eyes boring into me. I trembled as I took out the notes I’d prepared. Then I looked at my son’s big, brown eyes. This was why I was standing in front of a room full of people who were not my supporters. For my boy. He needed to hear these words. He needed to hear me honor his father’s memory.

The journey since that day has not been easy. Parenting a child through the loss of their other parent is the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced. Knowing that my son will not have his father at his graduations, his wedding, or his children’s births is heartbreaking. Not having his father as he approaches adolescence is confusing. Walking my son through the stages of grief when I cannot possibly comprehend what he’s going through is overwhelming at times.

However, through it all, we have a faithful heavenly Father. We have had many opportunities to discuss the steadfast and immeasurable love of God. And while statements like, “God will be your Father,” feel less than helpful now, I hope that one day my son will comprehend how deep our Abba Father’s love is. Someday, he will look back and see that God’s love held him up through the most difficult and trying time of his young life.

As I reflect on that last week of my ex-husband’s life, I am overwhelmed by how clearly God was in control. From allowing me the opportunity to be alone in that hospital room to pray and make amends with my him, to pushing me to call and arrive at the hospital just in time for my son to say goodbye without traumatic machines present. In the midst of an unmanageable situation, God was in complete control. A moment which is filled with pain; God redeemed for hope, peace, and mercy. My son now lives without his earthly father, but he has comfort in the knowledge that his daddy is in heaven with God the Father.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a