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

Redemption, Pt. 1

It was mid-November when I received the frantic call from my former step daughter, “Daddy had a heart attack and he’s in ICU,” she said panicked. “You need to come to the hospital right away.”

Her father and I had been divorced for nearly 7 years. But we have a son together and had already walked through the years of divorce and custody related animosity to finally reach a point of mutual respect and co-parenting.

When I arrived at the hospital, I got a clearer picture of his health situation. My ex-husband had been sick for several weeks with some kind of flu virus, running a fever spiking to at least 105 degrees. No one knew exactly what it was because he had been too stubborn to go to the doctor.

A buddy of his had stopped by his home to check on him the evening before and discovered him in bed, unresponsive. The friend began CPR and called 911. The EMT’s were able to resuscitate him and transport him to the hospital where he was admitted to ICU. He was on life support, in a medically-induced coma. The nurses gave me a very grim prognosis. They had no way of knowing how long his brain had been without oxygen before the friend discovered him. So if he pulled through, he could be a vegetable for the remainder of his life. Moreover, they had no idea what his original illness was because they couldn’t ask him what symptoms he’d been experiencing. What they did know was that whatever infection had made him ill had gone systemic. It was attacking his blood and because of years of unhealthy choices and alcoholism, his liver and kidneys were not filtering the infection on their own.

I left our 8 year old son in the waiting room with his extended family so I could assess the situation for myself. I entered the room where the father of my son laid in a coma with tubes going in and out of his body, connected to machines that were breathing for him, feeding him, and medicating him. His mother stood at the foot of his bed in shock, tears streaming down her face. She kept touching his feet, hoping for a miracle as she helplessly watched machines breathe for her son. After a few moments, she said I needed some time alone with him and left me there with my ex-husband.

In those moments, I held his hand and spoke to him as though he was napping and could hear me just fine. I made amends for the years of hurt between us. I apologized for my part in the failure of our marriage. I knew this may be the last time I would get to speak my heart to him.

At that moment I felt an urgency in my heart to pray for him. He had never really believed in God and at times even poked fun at my faith, calling me a “Bible Thumper.” But I knew if ever there was a moment he needed Jesus, it was now. I spoke to him and said, “I know you can hear me and even though you can’t respond with words, I know your spirit can agree…”  Then I prayed the prayer of salvation and told him that if he confessed with his mouth and believed with his heart, he’d be saved. “The Bible says that even the rocks will cry out to praise God. So I know you can, too…”

Then he nodded.

He slowly nodded his comatose head right off the pillow!

I held his hand and wept tears of joy. That was the confirmation I needed to be assured that he had accepted Christ as his Savior. Through my tears, I reminisced with him about our son. I reminded him of the day our baby boy was born; and all the proud moments we shared as parents to our son.

Then I released him. I told him that if his body just couldn’t fight, that we would be okay. I would raise our son in a way that would make him proud. I would keep alive the happy memories for our boy. I assured him that we would see him in heaven one day if he chose to leave.

But if he wanted to stay on this planet, he better fight and fight hard. I let him know that being an invalid just to appease everyone else’s request for him to hang on would be unacceptable.  That’s not what he would’ve wanted either. It would be a complete recovery or none at all.

That may seem like an extreme ultimatum to make to a man in a coma. But I knew my ex-husband. In fact, I recall several conversations he and I had about his wishes should a situation like this arise. But he didn’t have a will. He was young. He thought he had all the time in the world.

I chose not to let my son see his father in this state. If this was his end, I didn’t want our boy’s last memory of his dad to be clouded by tubes, machines and helplessness.

I went home that night and told my son the beautiful story of how his daddy accepted Jesus into his heart. He was glad, but of course still saddened by the situation. He was confused. We all were. Why was this happening? Why his daddy? Why couldn’t he see him at the hospital?

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

I Can’t Do This

The last few weeks, I have been stressed to my gills. I quite literally have been feeling like a rhinoceros is sitting on my chest. The anxiety and pressure have been slowly building until finally, I called one of my dear friends, nearly in tears because I’ve been trying to hold it all together on my own.

I keep thinking that I can come up with a solution to this specific issue I’m having all on my own. I keep telling myself, I can do this. God gave me a brain and certain skills. I can fix this. By myself. And then I inevitably end up panicking, beating my head against the wall and having a mental meltdown. I get overwhelmed and freeze up. The fear and anxiety take over every thought until I’m obssessing over something truly small in the grand scheme of things.

Then, yesterday morning I was helping my 3 year old daughter get dressed for preschool. She was wearing pajamas which are slightly small and really quite due for donation. But she loves them and insists on wearing them anyway. She was struggling to get out of theses pajamas and ultimately tying herself up as though she was in a straight jacket. I offered to help, but she adamantly said she didn’t want help. A few more minutes of fighting and tangling herself up even more went by. Now she was frustrated nearly to the point of tears. Again, I offered to help saying, “You can’t do this by yourself. Let Mommy help you.”

“NO! I do it MYSELF!” she yelled at me. And then continued to struggle and fight the pajamas (which were clearly winning). Finally, she gave up, surrendered to my help and in less than 5 seconds, we had her safely out of the cumbersome pajamas. She had shed tears and sweat for no reason. I was right there and willing to help the whole time. But, dangit if she’s not the most stubborn, independent, and downright infuriating girl EVER!

Later, God whispered to my heart, “That’s what you look like right now.” BURN! All my freaking out, worrying, and attempts to “do it all myself” are as futile as my toddler struggling to take off pj’s that are too tight. I struggle and frustrate myself with worry and worst case scenarios for no reason. There’s an easy solution. But the solution requires me to surrender to God and say, “I can’t do this alone. Will you help me with this?”

The issue I face still exists. I don’t have the “happily ever after” yet. But I do know this: God can take care of it. Knowing that He is in control gives me so much peace. And when the worrying thoughts begin to creep up, I remind myself that I don’t know the answer yet, but God does and He’s working it out on my behalf. Until then, I will trust.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” Proverbs :5-6

Love Me Tender

I was 6 weeks pregnant with my baby, lying in my bed, weeping. It wasn’t that soft cry you see in the movies with a single tear rolling down my cheek. No. This was a full-bodied, sobbing, ugly cry. The tension release of the years of abuse I’d endured. My 6 year old son slept soundly next to me as I broke down, crying out to God. This was my rock bottom.

We’d just escaped from our abuser a few weeks prior and as the dust settled, I crumbled. My husband at the time had verbally, spiritually, and physically beaten me down to the point that I didn’t think I was worth anything better than his torment. But the terrified look in my son’s eyes and the thought of bringing a daughter into that world was the jolt I needed to flee from his tyranny.

So there I lay in the spare bedroom of my gracious sister’s basement, asking God why. How could I be here? How would I have the strength to pull it together? Where do we go from here? But most of all, how was I so blind?! Who would want me now? I beat myself up with shame and guilt for the abuse that had not only hurt me, but my son and possibly my unborn baby as well. I was spiritually and emotionally broken.

I don’t know how long I shouted in my head and cried out to God. But when I finally quieted down, I felt His peace wash over me. The precious love He says I deserve that I’d never felt in human form before wrapped its arms around me. The most comforting embrace enveloped me. And I heard the faintest whisper: “Let me be your husband.”

That might sound like a strange statement to some. But I’d vaguely remembered hearing a scripture that referred to God as a husband. The next morning, I opened my Bible and found the scripture. As I read, God began to reveal to me that He offers perfect love. Only He could repair the intense damage that had been done. I saw that although He can’t fulfill the physical aspects of a husband like picking the kids up from school or physical intimacy, He could provide all the things I’d been lacking most. He would be my Provider, Comforter and Healer. He promised to be my ever present help in times of need.

For the following months and years, God has taken me on a journey of love and intimacy with Him. He began to awaken my heart. Is it the same as having a flesh and blood husband? Absolutely not! Do I still feel the pangs of singledom from time to time? Of course! It’s a faith journey. But every once in a while, when I need it the most, I can feel His tender love embrace me and I know I am His beloved. And He is mine.

“For your Creator will be your Husband; the LORD of Heaven’s Armies is His name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth.” -Isaiah 54:5

2016 Word of the Year

I’ve seen lots of bloggers, individuals and businesses tag a single word to encompass their goal or theme for the year. My sister even has a friend who daily posts a phrase with her theme word pasted into the key word spot. For example, she’d take the quote, “Live each day as though it’s your last,” and sub in her theme word, “shine.” So she comes up with “Shine each day as though it’s your last.” Clever, right? I love how creative this is! But every day?!?! That’s too much commitment for this girl. I can’t even make it through 30 days of gratitude in November! By day 14 I’m posting something like, “Whatever! I’m grateful for each and every one of my friends. That should hold me over for a couple of years. Seriously. Who came up with this idea?!”

So you won’t catch me posting something daily or even weekly about my word for 2016. It’s more for me than anyone else. It gives me a single theme to focus on in everything I set out to accomplish this year. I have some big endeavors on my agenda and more than anything, I don’t want the important stuff to fall by the wayside. That is why my word for this year is…. drum roll please….. Intentionality.

Here’s what that looks like to me: Doing everything with intention. If something doesn’t fit in my primary focus, I say no. No more haphazard marketing ideas for my real estate business. Family time will be scheduled and protected. Prayer, worship and Bible studying will also be scheduled and protected. The point is that everything I set my hand to this year will prosper because I choose to be intentional in finances, tithing, family, work, self-education, family, and spirituality. No more wasting time. Okay, that last part may not be executed perfectly. Progress, not perfection!

What is your word or theme for 2016?

Steady Heart

“When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here! Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” Matthew 14:26-31

I can relate to Peter in this story. He was brave and stepped out in faith, keeping his eyes on Jesus. But when he saw the storm and the wind around him, he doubted his decision. I’ve done this many times. I courageously stepped out in faith, starting my real estate business. Then, when money gets tight and closings are slim, I have a panic attack and begin to doubt. “Did I hear you right, God?” I question. “Maybe I should’ve done something more stable,” I scold myself. But Jesus lovingly takes me by the hand everytime and says, “Keep your eyes on Me. Trust Me. I’ve got this.”

He is faithful and He leads us into miraculous places if we simply trust Him. Remember Peter? He was the only one that got out of the boat to walk on water with Jesus. Where were the other 11 disciples? They were back on the boat watching this miracle from a safe distance. So even if I have moments of self-doubt and I don’t know what’s around the next corner, I’d rather be like Peter and step out into the unknown to follow The Faithful One.

Listen to this song and focus on His Faithful, Steady Heart.

Who Am I?

If someone asked you right now, “Who are you?” most of us would respond with what we do, our job, our function, our strengths or weaknesses. So often we wrap our identity up in our activities. The things and actions that fill our days. I could say, “I’m a mom, a business owner, or ministry leader.” But then when one of those titles is compromised, we lose our identity.

The Word of God tells us that our identity, our success or failure, the very core of who we are is not defined by what we do. Instead, it is defined by God’s infinite and perfect love for us.

There is so much freedom in the realization that I am a child of God and I am no longer defined by the mistakes of my past, but by His everlasting love. When I respond to that infinite love, everything else fades away. It’s just me and my Daddy as He rocks me in His loving arms.

Listen to this song and declare its chorus: “You’re a Good, Good Father. It’s Who You are… And I’m loved by You. That’s who I am…”