Wednesday, June 29, 2016

milestone days

If you missed part one of this three part series/story, please take a moment to go back and read about dates we circle in red and why there are also ones we pray fervently will pass quickly, and "as difficult as it is those days, Hope is still present. that promise never left, and laying those hurts at the feet of Jesus and learning to see those days through a different lens allows a beautiful ending to come no matter what date is on the calendar".  I hope you were able to ponder a bit about your own days, your own dates, your own anticipations and dreads, and how you can ask to remember them in a different way.  Today I will share some of my own along with my very favorite days of all.

Before Logan entered the world of one year olds and beyond, I was a dedicated baby book filler-outer. Written in those pastel animal filled pages are dates marking first baths, first teeth and first steps, along with all their favorites at different months that seemed to change right after I wrote them down.  The only stat that never seemed to move was the one connected to the dreaded "How long do they sleep at night?" question which never failed to make me examine my mothering skills. But I can happily say that at ages 9, 7 and 4, it is no longer an remember when you are in the trenches, it is only temporary. 

The best of days we are sad to see as temporary.  We want to hang on to them forever, wishing and wishing they will never end, but knowing that to go on to the next thing they must.  But with the good comes the bad (and vice versa) so the worst is only temporary as well.  The days we have and the places we feel cemented into are just as fleeting.  Life is always going on, the world around is always on the move. At times, our place in it whirls right alongside with happiness and action, and at others we watch it go past in a blur as we sit and work through and wait for a season before we can jump back in the mix.

I have a combination of both just like the next person.  Days of happiness and sorrow that intermingle together, weaving in and out of my consciousness, teaching me new lessons and reminding me of past mistakes but working in unison to grow my heart, my compassion, my wisdom, my life.  

If you have not picked up on it yet, and if I have not alluded to it enough, I am a believer in the writing down of things. A memory-keeping enthusiast and to repeat an already repeated reason, it is so that I can remember.  Remembering can be a beautiful thing when you let God take your memories and show you Hope and Truth throughout them.  It can take time.  Yes, oh god yes, it can take lots of time, but His promise is true and though you might not be able to say the wisdom learned was worth the pain, because for some the pain came through horrific circumstances, you will be able to say that the wisdom learned is the good He promised He would provide. (Romans 8:28)

 As Forrest says when sharing his beloved stories, he likes to know where he's going and where he's been.  As promised, here follows a few of my bests and worsts, the days I circle in red and the days I once wanted to hide from but now welcome because I see my promised Good within them.  I love seeing where I have gone and where I am going even if the latter is more than a little hazy if not completely pitch black at times.  

The day I was born results in a day of celebration once a year.  It is one of my favorite days.  Now in life I share that day with my youngest son.  I pout a bit at first but love usually wins out.  

I met my husband on Halloween in 2001.  Because of this night my happiest days came on June 5, 2004 when we were wed, February 15, 2007 with the birth of our first son, May 8, 2009 with the birth of our second son, and November 15, 2011 with the birth of our third.  At our wedding I gifted him a journal I had written throughout our dating years with dates and memories, some big and some very small, but all part of our journey.  

My first heartbreak came in 6th grade, many more followed with the biggest one in December of 2000 that I am not proud to say dragged on and on until it finally came to an end in September of 2001.  That day is also one of my proudest moments one that holds a place in my favorite kind of days of all.  I had a car accident on November 13, 2000 that still gives me flashbacks and makes the Georgia/Auburn game played on November 11, 2000 one of my best days as well...odd but true.  The worst day of my life was September 8, 2013 when a marital betrayal of the worst kind was admitted (I even mistyped it the first time and wrote 9 because that is favorite my 12:01 am day to look forward to).  It is the uncontested winner and I pray it holds first for the rest of my days, because what it would take to beat it i

s not something I would ever look forward to experiencing!
Just as I do, you have days of happiness, days of sorrow, but most importantly you have my favorite days of all: days where you are given the gift to see something new about yourself. The day something in your heart changes, whether the circumstances you are living through do or not, and you can see things that God has been revealing culminate into a beautiful picture that sets a milestone in your soul and in your story.  These days make all the days worth living!

Milestones are well named.  A marker telling a distance traveled.  A point reached that results in only going forward from now on or one that reminds you that you have been that far before so it is more than possible to do it again. 

A friend recommended a movie to me a couple years ago that I did not just love but absolutely loved and has stayed with me since.  While I can not begin to describe About Time because you will most assuredly grow bored with the length that this will become, I can say put it on your to-watch list and then think about this one tidbit out of the many hundreds I could share: In the movie, the men in the family have the gift of traveling in time to any place in their past until one thing happens - their wife has a baby.  

Once a child has entered their world, that milestone keeps them from traveling to a time before it was part of their lives. There are scenes in the movie that portray this fact in somewhat sad ways, as it might cause you to lose connection with a person who has passed before the milestone, but for me it is a distinct reminder that there are times God gives us where forward is the only direction we can go. Where the past must remain the past and while it is there in memory, it is just that - a memory.  

The best days we have, whether they include a marriage and children, or whether those are milestones coming in the future, are wonderful memories, but they can not be our only references to move forward.  My wedding day was a mess of beautiful and nerve wracking emotions but if I relate to my husband with the same feelings I did on that day, we would be sunk for sure.  

The worst of days will come with heartache. Even though they will produce wisdom, if we function day to day with the emotions they invoke, our decisions will be questionable coming from the roller-coaster of feelings that can change by the minute.

God, in his ultimate wisdom, gives us these critical milestones, or turning points in our walks and in our lives that most often come out of nowhere.  They creep in and surprise you at first until you stop and realize there have been pieces coming together you just did not notice, and what a bigger picture they were going to make.  In my experience, these milestones do not come in the best of times or the worst of times when emotions are high or dragging dangerously low...they come in the middle when you are least expecting it but fully able to notice it.  

In those moments a light bulb goes off...a ding is heard inside your soul, and you grow.  Your heart grows because it feels more loved, and feels more of a love for yourself or another.  Your faith grows because you are reminded yet again of Hope, Faithfulness, and the promise of One that never fails.  Your wisdom grows because answered prayer and truths combine with knowledge changing how you relate, how you decide, and how you share from then on.

These days are precious gifts and they are the perfect kind because they are a gift you didn't know you needed but now can't live without.

I have one monumental such day that planted a large marker in my story, brought clarity and healing, and yet another reminder of how much God loves that I will share with you soon.

 Until then, I hope just as you pondered your days of joys and sorrows, that you will look back on now and excitedly anticipate later the milestone days for your heart and how they carefully show you a specific lesson, an intentional love, and a reminder of whose you are and the comfort that brings.

I'm praying for you, pray for me.

circled on the calendar

Welcome to part one.  Rest assured there is no cliff hanger at the end as some 'to be continued' episodes like to use to torture you.  At the end of these few paragraphs from my heart you will not be left with anger from your imagination being cut off before the conclusion or maybe not even racked with anticipation that keeps you on the edge of your seat until next Wednesday, though personally that would be one of the best compliments ever.  Instead, I hope you are left with a thought to ponder, like when your professor at the end of class throws out a "make sure to check out chapter so and so" before the next class, which almost always happens in movies and on Gilmore Girls, but almost never happened in my own collegiate experience.  Read, and while reading, I hope you will substitute your information for mine and therefore allow my story and heart to disappear as you see yours in its stead.

Since the beginning we have had this thing called a day.  Ever since God called the light day and the darkness night.  Ever since there was an evening and a morning, one day. GrantedL it was a little bit longer until He was not the only one who was enjoying it, but He set up this system, this ability to know when one period of time stops and another begins.

Recently in one of those random car discussions that you still are not sure how it got started we were talking about days.  How did people discover or decide that 24 hours made one whole day.  Or that 365 of them made a year?  Why have them in the first place?  The 'without having to check google while driving' cop out answer I gave was because a long time ago men more intelligent than I said so but the emotional from the heart answer that followed after was so that we can remember.

As years go by we all compile a list of dates that mean something, that do something to our hearts.  

Some bring nothing but smiles and stomachs full of excited butterflies.  Dates that we circle on the calendar in red so that they don't rush by forgotten.  Dates that bring about the anniversary of something wonderful.  Dates that will bring a new adventure or remind us of the friends and family that we will be seeing soon. At times there are ones that many people celebrate simultaneously like the entire world with the opening of a globally celebrated Olympics, our entire country with the founding of our nation, an historical church family and their summer campmeeting, or a birthday surrounded by family and friends.  Still others you might celebrate on your own.  They may not be cause for a party but the memory of them brings a smile to your face and hope to your heart.  The day you met your significant other, the day you found out you were cancer free, and a million other dates that are personal and while insignificant to another are wildly significant to your life and who you are becoming.

Not every date you have ingrained in your memory brings about such feelings of happiness and anticipation.  There are those other dates that carry along anniversaries and upcoming events as well but aren't celebrated with fireworks, fancy cakes, and presents.  Those dates don't have to be encircled in red physically because emotionally you can't help but feel the pressure of the pen on your heart.  

Thankfully some of those days we do get to remember with the support of a multitude.  Veterans have an outpouring of support as they struggled with December 7th or June 6th and the many other difficulty days in military history.  Members of the same country can stand together in love and encouragement on September 11th, June 12th, June 17th, and the many many other times attacks have happened without provocation that taught others to love their neighbor better than they had been before.

But just as we each have personal days that bring smiles, we each have days that bring dread and tears and are too often remembered alone as the world around you seems to go about their daily lives without a hitch.  Dates will come looming around a corner that we might do anything to forget.  Remembering is painful, remembering takes us back, remembering hurts and instead of feeling like ourselves we feel lost or confused or paralyzed until 12:01 am appears and the date on the calendar is not one that we recognize as a defining point.  

I refuse to trivialize those times.  Life is hard is a statement we all understand but no one no matter how well intentioned can truly get what another is feeling.  Humans will say stupid and unhelpful things, friends will walk alongside, counselors will give wise words, books will give advice and examples of another's struggle with a similar event but there is only One who understands our heart and only One who can sympathize with it.  Get over it is a phrase I'll never use, but lay it down is one I'll go to again and again, and one that has to be done again and again before the deal is done.  There is no timeline for healing from any hardship no matter the situation.  Some may run, some may walk, some may crawl and some may get stuck several times along the journey.  And as difficult as it is those days, Hope is still present. that promise never left, and laying those hurts at the feet of Jesus and learning to see those day through a different lens allows a beautiful ending to come no matter what date is on the calendar.

A since-childhood friend posed a question recently wondering if listing goals makes a person more accomplished, more apt to complete those goals listed. While making lists is number one on my list of favorite pastimes, my answer was a resounding "I don't know" and not because I don't think it works but because that's not why it works.  Writing down a date, circling it on the calendar, isn't what brings joy or sorrow, in the same way listing goals won't make your accomplish them. It's the same heart-filled answer I mentioned earlier and bears repeating.  It helps you remember.  And whether those memories bring anticipation or dread right now, I pray one day that each of them will enable you to remember what has been accomplished, give encouragement for what is being achieved, remind you that God never stopped working and make you thankful for what has been done and what we are promised will come.

Matthew wrote "but of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but Father alone."  While he's referring to next coming of Christ, I can't help but think about how it relates to my now.  I can circle, I can plan, I can remember the past, but I don't know what will happen on any certain day.  I can only Trust the One who made the moon for the seasons and the sun to know the place of its setting (Psalm 104:19)

Part two will share dates of happiness, dates of sorrow, but more importantly my favorite dates of all, a day where you are given the gift to see something new about yourself, the day something in your heart changes as finally the things God has been revealing culminates into a beautiful picture that sets a milestone in your heart and soul.  

Until then think about your own days, your own dates, your own anticipations and dreads, and how you can ask to remember them in a different way.

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

a project for hope

Rejoice in the Lord alone.
Hope in the Lord alone.
Rest in the Lord alone.
Be satisfied in the Lord alone.

One text message, four sentences, and a spiritual awakening that might never be topped in my lifetime.  Though I pray that God will see fit to continue to grow my heart, mind, and spirit in leaps and bounds, even if He doesn’t, this was enough.

No two people will have the same story, even in the most similar of circumstances.  We are exquisite individuals created for unique purposes and thus the lives we live must be unique as well.  All of the road began from birth is a series of hard and lovely  God’s design is for each of us specifically and all of us together and it is my firm belief that we are all learning the same lessons just in a million different ways while our Sovereign Father speaks straight to the heart of all of them using the same Truths.  

I know very little about the medical field but I do know that flat lining is pretty much the worst thing that can happen.  When it does occur, buzzers go off and lots of highly trained people move around in a necessary flurry to do all the things they have been trained to do to keep said thing that is happening from continuing to happen.

On this earth we will see joys and failures, experience elation and devastation, and convince ourselves more than once that these individual moments are what define us, are what are important, are the reason we live.  In these times, no matter how serious or frivolous they may seem, there is Hope, a promise of redemption, a promise of renewed heart and being molded into the ultimate goal of the likeness of Christ.

Hope, in the world’s eyes, can seem so much like a wish.  Like a desire for something that might never be, might never come to fruition, and then all that is left is a longing that won’t be filled or a yearning now pressed down deep in an attempt to be forgotten.  Oh how I {hope} this might happen or that might happen.  We live our lives hoping for things that might never come true, that might never be, because our hope is not real, it’s not set upon a Truth that never fails.

Hope, true biblical Hope, is unfailing.  It is the eternal rest in His promises, in God’s promises, that will stay with you through the next thing and the next thing and the next, pouring into your heart, building up your faith, and drawing you into deeper relationship with Him.  It is excitedly anticipating the fulfillment of God’s future blessing for you, His child, while living a life this side of heaven.  It is beauty given to us, but it is also, so often in our view during our hardest experiences, unreachable.

I want to share how to search Hope out, where to find it and how to reach out and cling to it and when you inevitably let go how it never lets go of you.

Hope is there to cling to because things happen in life that require us to need that Hope in which to cling, need that Hope to wrap it’s arms around us when we can’t hold on any longer.  Becoming a child of God does not mean you are stepping into a life of easy perfection where everything goes your way and you no longer have a care in the world.  Becoming a child of God means you are living this life with all it’s ups and downs resting in the promise of the Hope God provides.

**If you would be willing I would greatly appreciate you taking this brief survey to share your personal thoughts on hope as research for an upcoming project. Please feel free to share as much or as little as you like, but whatever you share let it be your real self, unedited, unafraid of judgement, secure that there is no wrong answer.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

alexander hamilton, rosa parks, mother theresa and you

"Beautiful are the ways of God if we allow him to use us as he wants"  ~Mother Teresa

Music is a very large part of our household.  Both of us grew up in households where music, to play, to sing and for dance, were not only encouraged but pretty much demanded.  Just ask my younger brother who spent three years of piano in the first primary book and then suffered through a year of show choir in middle school.  Or ask my husband's family, but I may have to warn you that they might just break into song to give you their answer.

While I will never be the one seeking out new songs, artists, albums, etc because my other half will always do it for the both of us, I will always join in in the listening over and over until the songs that touch me become a part of me.  Any teacher will tell you that the best way to make something stick in a child's mind is to put it to music.  This is the very reason that to this day I sing the ABCs to myself when alphabetizing and why in my head the books of the bible song is constant when looking up scripture.  It's also the reason why I may never be able to rattle off the 50 states because somewhere in my education my teachers neglected to teach me "Fifty Nifty United States."

Currently in my home I have been bombarded with a musical that has become quite a sensation across the country.  My husband is obsessed with it and has generously passed that obsession down to our boys so that in the car my four year old is singing "to the union, TO THE REVOLUTION" at the top of his lungs.  If you haven't heard of Hamilton I highly encourage you to seek it out.  The story of one of our founding fathers told through Hip Hop by a melting pot of ethnicity and an amazing amount of musical writing genius and vocal talent is worth your time and then some.

Two of the songs on the album have brought me to tears, both for very different reasons, but there is no limit for the ways, hows, whys and whens your heart can be touched.  The last few lines of the show hit you with a lasting thought, not about the man whom the show was based on but for your own life, "who tells your story."

This can be a depressing thought to some depending on from which angle you want to view that question.  It's easy to look back and see all the lacking, to doubt what you have done to make an impression to others or to look forward and continue to doubt that there is not something great and special out on a horizon somewhere.  You and I are not the only ones to see the faults glaring brighter than the gifts, but you and I both do hold the promise that gifts are exactly what we have been given, and a Hope and a Future are there for us as well. (Eph. 1:3, Jer. 29:11)

Paired with the thoughts Hamilton has produced, are the ones that come from reading a book by Eric Metaxes that features seven amazing women from history, their impact, and the secret to their successes.  I could go on and on about the amazing encouragement each of these women were as I read the stories that I was told about them, but I'll spare you the hours it would take to read such a gush filled review and share only these few thoughts.

None of these women, from Joan of Arc to Mother Teresa with 5 others in between, began their life seeking greatness, none of them made choices based upon the ladder they could climb and the prominence they might be able to carry, and none of them are established names in history because the steps they took were quick or easy, and all of them went through physical, emotional, verbal, and/or spiritual damage and upheaval before their story was done.  Each of them, however, had one very important thing in common, desiring to tell a more important story than their own.

Their secret, in a nutshell, was a Faith in their Creator, Savior, and His Spirit that enveloped their every decision and letting that Faith carry them in the midst of a variety of difficult and darkness in order to shine.

How thankful I am that we can share that one commonality with them as well.

Just as Sally Lloyd Jones tells us that every story of the bible "whispers His name," our lives do the same but sometimes "in a futile attempt to erase our past we deprive the community of our healing gift.  If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others." (Brennan Manning)

The vast majority of our lives will not be turned into a Broadway phenomenon, and our names will not be written in books that generations and generations after us can read, but every single person God has created has a story that can be used for Him, and whether millions, thousands, hundreds, or just those a few close and personal people will know it, you are promised that it will be used for Good.  

I'll be praying for you, pray for me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

on purpose

Do you have any words or phrases that make you cringe?  Ones, that when you hear them, your shoulders shrug up your head tilts uncomfortably sideways and you shiver just a bit.  In early adulthood I met a friend who hated the word moist.  Seemed odd to me since that's a word I would use to describe yummy baked goods, but I soon discovered that it was a familiar word to have an aversion too.  You learn new things every day.

As for me, I tend to have similar reactions around buzzwords, words that all of a sudden become trendy and therefore get thrown around by anyone and everyone.  The judgmental part of me can assume it's an act needed to assist in integrating a cool group by proving you know the lingo.  The sympathetic part of me wonders if it's a ruse used to sound as intelligent as everyone else in the group discussing current events when inside you might feel as if you are way over your head.  Of course the majority probably truly do understand and desire to use the phrase because it is the best word for the occasion, but it takes one to know one and as I honestly tend to fall into the first two categories, the third always seems far fetched--transparency at its finest.

When I started college the trendy word was random.  Not like a random word, but the actual word random.  Whether in response to what you did last night, where you were going after class, or who you saw from your hometown, a proper response could always be "whoa that's so random." I vividly remember feeling like I had entered a world of adult conversation and had never felt so inept by my naivete and non world wise vocabulary.  Oh Freshman year...

In my teaching world, the buzzword of the day was paradigm shift.  My principal found a way to work it in every conversation and said it almost as much as piggyback which I may or may not have kept up with by tally marks on faculty agendas next to a hand drawn pig complete with curly tail.

The Christian world is no different.  Though the Word of God is inerrant and never changes, the words Christians tend to bring out of it to focus on, throw around, and share can most definitely change.  One such word that I have self professed to giving me the reaction I mentioned earlier has been on the top of that list for the last few years, at least in the realm of believers I have contact with, and it is intentional or intentionality as some may say.

I understand its meaning, but in the sea of conversations it had been tossed into, commands given because of it, and flags waving to make sure others could see whomever's intentional steps without seeing much action behind the speak, that meaning began to become lost on me.  One day a list, of course a list, was made in my notebook of all the synonyms I could think of for intentional; purposeful, thoughtful, considered, preplanned, intended, designed, and voluntary all lined up and took their places on the page hoping that my stubborn mind would make the automatic shift to those when confronted with "that word" in conversation and I could meditate on that instead.

To be quite honest, it actually worked. Though semantics is a bigger deal than some may think, the real reason it worked wasn't because my mind was focused on a synonym, but because my heart was focused upon all of them.  Who cares what word was used, the care is that the heart was actively pursuing a direction that God called it to go towards.

To be intentional is to do something on purpose, to do something deliberately, and when used to describe our walk in Faith it is quite a beautiful thought with an even more beautiful outcome. Spending each step, each decision, each moment to deliberately, on purpose, glorify God in all you do, praise Him in everything, think about the effect before plowing through to the next cause, the next place, time, meeting, or conversation, and understanding how light can be carried through the important and through the mundane is gospel in tangible form.  Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:17), intentionality makes Faith come alive to those around you.  

While it is always a hope to encourage whomever blesses me enough to read my words, the purpose always begins because of a needed pep talk to myself.  This time last year as summer was beginning, the calendar was full, the summer fun list created, and as it always does time zoomed past with most everything checked off the list, but as I sat alone on the first day of school I realized one of the most important things that had been missing those last couple months, quiet.

Quiet in the midst of chaos is most definitely achievable, but without the deliberate, on purpose, intentionality it is almost impossible.

Before the next two months go whirling past in a swirl of sky, sun, and green I am praying that God continues to pull our hearts to Him so we, in whatever tasks this summer holds, can intentionally point others to Him as well.

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.