Thursday, December 18, 2014

Growing in the Valley

Our greatest times of growth comes during the times we spend in the valleys. 

I've heard that said different times throughout my life and have come to greatly believe it more and more the older I get.  Sometimes it may take us a long time to be able to see the growth because we are blinded by the hard times we are in OR we might just be stubborn (ha!)  Seeing the growth taking place WHILE we are still in the valley itself---that comes from spiritual maturity and faith.

THIS has been a valley week (or several weeks) for me.  Multiple painful and stressful situations going on, emotionally on a roller coaster as I think of this time of year and grief, and physically a battle with lupus were already swirling like crazy and then I think the bottom of the valley floor smacked me in the face. I had the rug pulled out from under me in a way that I was TOTALLY not expecting with someone very dear to me betraying my trust like I've never experienced before. It literally took my breath away and physically felt like I broke in multiple pieces.  I also had to FINALLY face the fact that a highly valued friendship(s) has changed so much that I had to  "release" it and along with it I had to let go of my expectations, hopes, and LOTS of hurt.

In the valley, I can already see growth happening.  However, I don't want to be in the valley.  I most definitely do NOT want to be having to grow.  I most definitely would rather life be easy and without pain. I would much rather just float along on "easy street".  (Annie lyrics are going through my head as I type that----though I've not seen the newest version, this Annie fan of many years is quite excited to see it soon!). 

But...

I have a choice to make.

Kick and scream.  Fight like crazy.  Spiral downward.  Shake my fist at God.  Spew back hate and hurtful words.  Give up.

Or....

Grow. 

See what it is that He is wanting me to see during this difficulty. 

Maturity comes from trying to see through His eyes.

For me, this growth in this particular valley is all about forgiveness.

Forgiving the betrayal and trusting again, though my heart is bruised and the wound still very fresh.  Offering grace and mercy SO the relationship can have room to be healed.  Looking at the roots of the situations instead of just at the surface.

Forgiving God. 

Granted, putting those two words together is quite odd.  They really shouldn't go together.  Why in the world should I need to forgive a perfect God? Who am I to think that He needs forgiveness? 

He doesn't.

But I do.

I need to say, "I forgive you", so that the chains holding me back can be broken.  It has nothing to do with actually forgiving Him---it's all about the posture of my heart. 

Sometimes, we just need to say it. 

We just need to say it so we can move on.

God, I forgive you.

I forgive you for "allowing" me to go through this/that situation instead of preventing it.  I forgive you for not "allowing" that dream to take place or forgive you for not making it easy and without obstacles.  (After all, don't we tend to think that if God gives us a dream and calls us to something it should happen instantly and without obstacles! For example, our desire to be in the foreign mission field.) I forgive you for not allowing that friendship to remain as top priority and meet the needs that I thought it would.  I forgive you for "taking away" that person (either by death, by location, or anything that causes separation).  I forgive you for not solving the financial dilemma.  I forgive you for not healing that person.  I forgive you for not providing this/that on MY timetable.  I forgive you for.............

I forgive you.

Again, He doesn't need forgiveness.  He's done nothing wrong.  His ways are FAR beyond our ways and He sees a big picture that we can not always see.  His timing works entirely different than ours. 

But....

To say the words and mean them...

Opens the door to our heart for the chains to be broken.  The growth to happen.  The changes to take place.  The bitterness to be released.  The selfishness and expectation to be removed. 

The forgiveness changes US.

Yesterday, I couldn't breath.  Hurt was so heavy that I felt in a fog.  I felt like I was waking with a pair of the kids old "moon shoes" on.  Smiling on the outside when necessary---but crumbling on the inside. Thinking there was no way I could survive all of these "things" going on in my heart with any faith intact.

But then...

I realized that I'm growing. 

I'm growing IN the valley.  I'm not just waiting to see how I grew--after the fact. 

Then I realized that THIS growth was about forgiveness.  Sure, I need to forgive some individuals.  I need to forgive myself.  I need to seek forgiveness for some of my own reactions and faults...

But in reality...

I needed to forgive Him. 

I had to ask for the chains to be broken.  I had to release my anger towards Him.  Had to release Him from the hurt.  Because...

THAT'S when TRUE growth can happen.

I say it often, "I trust in Him."  Yet, then I don't.  I really only give him PART of my trust or I pair together trust and doubt.  In reality, that isn't trust at all. 

To trust means I have to completely surrender.

So in this valley, in this hard place, in this hard season----I surrender.

God, grow me.  Grow me, HERE.  Grow me, now.  Teach me YOUR ways.  Show me YOUR truth and YOUR plan. 

I'm yours. 

Grow me.

Either in the valley or the mountain top.  Grow me.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Garbage In...

I *may* be a bit hard-headed.
I *may* be a bit stubborn.
I *may* struggle with an issue that I KNOW has a fairly "easy" solution for WAY too long because I just won't give in.
I *may* also have learned something in the past and still slip back into a bad habit, negative way of thinking, etc..

That *may* be true of me right now....

Ok.  Forget this *may* business...

My name is Tracye and I'm stubborn.  I can be staring directly at a solution for WAY too long, but just too hard-headed or "weak" to submit to it.

That has become SO very apparent in my thought life.

I firmly believe that what you put in your mind is what's going to come out.  What you feed your heart is what's going to come back out in your life.  That is the reason we are SO very picky about what our children watch or listen to, what they are exposed to, and what we feed their hearts.  Even more so, that's why WE continue that same level over into our adult lives.

Find yourself in chaos, hard times, overwhelming stress and just in general---weighed down by life---what you've fed your heart and mind is what is going to come back out.  Most especially during times of pressure.

Garbage in. Garbage out.

It's why I flood my heart with worshipful music.  Why we have raised the bar so high on what we will watch on TV, in the theater----in public or behind closed doors. 

It's also why I've forced myself to step away 24/7 Facebook access.

I've mentioned many times before how it has drawn me into a place of anxiety, depression, bitterness, anger.  I've walked in to the door of discontent, comparison, etc..  Simply put:  it's been a poison to my soul.

BUT....

I love it.  I love the connection.  I love the encouragement from multiple sources.  I love "seeing" others outside my four walls.

Because it's the ONLY way many family members and far away friends see our family and I see theirs, I couldn't just walk away. 

I find it necessary on MULTIPLE levels.

But, I was an addict.  There you go.  It's the truth. 

I may not have spent long periods of time on it during the day, but my countless few seconds here or five minutes there ADDED up immensely. DRAMATICALLY!

I needed to step away....

But in today's media world it's nearly impossible to cut it off completely.  It IS in reality a form of communication that many people use on a regular basis.

So, I had to come to a compromise and it's working.  I don't keep it open all day and I have GREATLY reduced the amount of time by only purposely using it on mobile devices instead of mindlessly filling in every second of downtime and waiting (which was my downfall!).  I only give myself a certain amount of time to check in to see if anything is going on.  I specifically go only to certain pages to check for updates instead of scrolling through newsfeed every time (sick friends, those that are posting updates about specific prayer needs, etc...). Lots of little details that have balanced out the time I spend and therefore how my emotions have been affected.

Let me be blunt:  we often say we don't have time to read the Bible, send a personal note to a friend, spend time in prayer, sit in the quiet and LISTEN, spend some quality time TALKING with a loved one, etc....  It's a lie.  A flat out lie we tell ourselves or a lie that we believe from satan.  It IS true that life is a whirlwind speed, BUT we honestly waste so much time in big ways and little ways that add up.  We DO have time for what we decide is important.

Because my heart has been struggling with countless issues, I KNEW I had to step away and refocus.  It's come in the form of social media. 

I also had found myself watching more "tv" on my kindle (we don't have cable and our TV is so old that we seldom sit in front of it to watch anything).  Though I wasn't watching anything "bad" by normal standards, I had found myself drawn into "binge" watching shows/series.  It was affecting my time AND my emotions. 

Time to step away again.

Along with reading books that lead me towards spiritual growth, I've with great purpose been instead spending my time WRITING positive thoughts.  All those COUNTLESS positive pictures with quotes/scriptures from facebook/instagram/pinterest that I had been saving as screenshots on my phone, have now been written down in a journal (though I still have 100s left!).  It has freed up space on my phone and computer, BUT more importantly it has filled up my heart.  The process of writing them down and then having them in ONE place has been remarkable. This notebook has now become "my" place of redirect.  If I'm having a bad day, need encouragement, find my thoughts going down a path of negativity or anger, need to relax, etc....  I can pull out the journal and either read what's written or add more.  Sometimes they are convicting reminders.  Sometimes they encourage me to not give up.  Sometimes they just make me laugh.  They all point me back to Him.



The result....

My heart is GROWING in the direction it needs.
My thoughts are centering around positivity.
I can HEAR God more clearly at work in my heart and it's MUCH easier to get my heart in a place to connect with Him.
Conflicts at home in regards to parenting and marriage are not nearly as volatile when my heart is in a good place.  It's easier to forgive, compromise on solutions, and "let it go".
I'm more full of joy, affection, laughter, and at peace.
I can more easily find myself thinking of others and seeking to encourage them.
Hurtful situations don't cause the same amount of distress.
The ability to handle stress is increasing.
The downward spiral is decreasing.

Even the physically difficult days (which have hit HARD and FREQUENT with the weather changes and some SLE imbalances!) are easier to handle.

All because....

Of what I'm stepping away from and instead replacing.

So many people think it doesn't matter what you put in front of your eyes.  What you read doesn't matter.  What kind of movies and TV shows we watch don't matter.

But it does.  Oh it does!

I'm being spiritually fed and coming alive again.  I can sense His presence more often and easily---though still a work in progress.  My prayer life is reviving.  I'm reviving.





Friday, December 5, 2014

Just like a load of laundry...

Today, I found myself just standing in front of the washing machine lost in thought as I watched a load of clothes swirling around. At first I was just "out of it", lost in another world, as my thoughts were swirling around just like those clothes.  My head was working "through" unexpected thoughts I had just shared with a friend in a text message.  I was going over what I had said about some areas that God was leading me to release to Him. 

As I stood there, I began to think about those clothes and how they relate to our spiritual lives. 

We wear clothes and they get soiled.  Some just a bit and others disgustingly so.  If you have boys in your life, they mostly all will fall in the later category! :)

Life is like that.  Our hearts are like that.

They get stained.  They get dingy. They get worn out, stretched out, and in need of refreshing.

Sometimes I get angry or bitter towards God, though I know that's wrong in itself and a matter my heart still needs to work through on many levels.  I think of how sometimes life just gets hard.  Nothing comes easy it seems.

 I may have friends that on the outside look like they have it all together.  Finances never seem to be an issue to them.  They can travel around the world often and do.  They can give their children the best of everything.  They just don't ever have to really consider something as crucial as planning meals just so that you know there is enough money in the bank account to cover the ingredients---they can "do" and "go".  There may be friends that just always seem to have a great support system when hard times hit.  They don't ever seem to have to feel alone or have to struggle to balance things because they have a massive amount of people that will drop everything when they are in need.  There may be friends that are from families that are intact and relationships aren't strained. Friends with abundant talent.  Friends that look straight from a magazine.  Etc..., etc...

I can take those feelings of improperly placed jealousy and bitterness and let it get the best of me.  I can let those things bubble out of me to the point that I can't see the gifts and blessings right in front of me. 

I can get irritated at God and wonder why in the world life can't be "easy" for us.  After all, I try hard.  I do my best to live a life pleasing to Him.  Therefore, shouldn't life be easy. 

Simply put, NO. 

It doesn't work that way. 

Struggles actually keep me pointed towards Him.  Seeking Him.  Needing Him.  Unable to rely on myself. 

That load of laundry in the washing machine just didn't sit there. 

To get clean, it had to be agitated, tossed around, rubbed the wrong way.  It had to be subjected to hot or cold water---not just a comfortable temperature.  As a watched a specific article of clothing go into the water and agitate around in a specific pattern before coming back up to start the entire cycle again, I thought of how I'm in the same cycle. 

Dunked into the hot water (or cold). Swirled around and around.  Tossed and agitated.  Rubbed.  Subjected to deep cleaning.  All before I can come up for air again, barely catch my breath and then the cycle begins again.

For my heart to be clean and to be growing in Him, I have to continuously go through a refining process.  Clothes don't get clean just sitting in the laundry basket (contrary to the belief of my children!).  God can't shape me into His vision if I'm constantly living a comfortable, easy life.  Though clothes sometimes need to soak in water for stubborn stains, for the most part the cleaning process takes places through a pushing, pulling, tugging process.  An active process.  My heart and life are the same.  I can't expect to grow in Him or become more of the woman He wants me to be, passively.  I can't just sit in one spot and expect that growth process to just happen without some effort.  Without some moments of struggle.  Without some pain. 

Oh, how He loves me (and you!).  Oh, how He wants the best for us.  He loves us so much that He doesn't want us just sitting around in our own filth. 

Sometimes that growth and change of heart can come quickly and easily.  Sometimes situations can quickly shape us and refine us.

But sometimes....

Many times...

Often times...

It doesn't come from our comfort.  It doesn't come from just observation. 

We have to let ourselves be subjected to the hot waters.  The cold water.  The dunking and twirling.  The swirling around. 

Just like a load of clothes can come out fresh and clean---after the process of being washed, heated, and folded----so can we. 

He alone makes us clean.  It's not from something we do or don't do.  It's purely by His mercy and grace and SACRIFICE for our sins that we are made spotless in His sight. 

But we also require some daily refreshing...soil removal...sprucing up.

To keep growing in Him---finding out more of what His purpose for us is---we have to go through that not so easy process of refining.

As I find myself, DEEP in that refining process as He's shown my heart some changes He wants and some different directions, I *want* to just skip the cleaning process.  I want to just skip over the hard stuff and get straight to the victory. 

But...

It doesn't work that way.

So, instead.....

Just like those clothes I watched today...

I will be twisted, agitated, swirled, knocked around...

BUT....

In the end...

I'll be like that freshly washed basket of laundry waiting to be put away.  Clean.  Refreshed.  Renewed.  Ready to be used by Him. 

Oh, yes....

The process becomes much more worth it when you see a glimpse of the end.  What lies ahead! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Adios 30s!

Well, this is it.  It's my last day in my thirties.  When I wake up in the morning, I'll be 40.

I was told by many more than a few that I would or should dread it. 
I thought I'd be a basket case and totally depressed, especially as I hit the second half of the 30s.

Almost like a signal that the "good" years are gone and that the years to come are to be a disappointment. 

Whoa....
Hold up.
Stop the presses.

I've got one thing to say and that is: this girl doesn't feel that way!

I'm as excited as a kid on Christmas morning! It's not that I'm expecting a huge celebration or anything elaborate because birthdays have never been a HUGE thing for us (though we do celebrate and LOVE doing so!).  It's not that I think some giant item from my wishlist is going to appear.  As a matter of fact, tomorrow will actually be quite stressful because we have a to-do list that appears too long and we have several stressful things going on at the moment. Celebrating a birthday in the middle of it actually feels a bit of a hassle. 

Why am I so excited if it's not about the gifts/celebration and why am I not depressed since I *should* feel old or that the prime of life has just passed by?

Because...

This is the time.

To be me.

And I couldn't be more excited.

In my thirties, I feel like I finally grew into my own skin.  I started becoming who God meant for me to be.  (Notice I said STARTED....far from the finished product!).  I finally began to shake off the chains of other's expectations or my own wrong expectations of myself. 

I feel like this new season of life is to be welcomed and embraced, not dreaded and moaned over!

I say, Bring. It. On!

This is the time that I can take the changes that the 30s have been bringing and truly let them shine.  Let the places that God has been refining and working on, truly take hold.  Open myself up to His handiwork and purposes. 

Sure---I may not be "young" as I once was---but thank goodness for that!  Wisdom and discernment, priorities, and learned lessons have GREAT benefit!  I may not be as physically young as I was and sometimes I do envy the things I took for granted in my 20s, but this body has lots of miles left!  Everything my sag and be floppy----metabolism may be slowing---joints and muscles may be struggling---and my hair may be VERY noticeably gray....

But...

It means I'm alive.  I'm human.  I'm still here.

So....

Bring. It. On.

Now, if you were to ask me how I feel about my daughter graduating last week and actually receiving a graduation card in the mail yesterday....now THAT may make me emotional and THAT may make me feel a bit old....and THAT may make me get all frazzled as I think of the days to come....

But 40....

Not. One. Second. Of. Dread! 

"Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, 'A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!” Robert Browning



The Song: Awaken Love A Couple's Devotional Journey (Review & Give-a-way)


It's one of those rare times that I get to share a back to back review and giveaway with you.  With some unexpected travel plans back home to middle Tennessee, I'm posting this one a few days early so that I don't overlook it in the shuffle.  The reason I don't want to overlook it is because it's FANTASTIC!

I've been a "fan" of Kyle Idleman for quite awhile, especially since "Not a Fan".  If you've been around my blog for very long or know me in person, you will know that something I'm quite passionate about is MARRIAGE. I'm passionate about God given and God driven marriages that are thriving not just merely surviving!  This newest review is a fantastic combination---a great author/pastor "speaking" about marriage. 

What excites me about this review/give-a-way is that when I was offered the opportunity to review, Kevin and I were already actively participating in a study using these materials! I didn't *need* to say yes just so I could receive the product, I already owned it.  I felt so strongly about how much of an impact it could have on someone's marriage that I wanted to participate so I could offer someone else the opportunity to read this incredible devotional written by Kyle and his wife Desirae.

 
 
Back in September, Kev and I went to see the movie that this devotional is based on, "The Song", and then last month we watched the recordings online of the sermons that Kyle and Dave Stone presented at Southeast Christian Church.  We've also been spending time for several date nights going through this actual six week long devotional and watching the DVDs that go along with it (DVD can be purchased separately, not included in this particular giveaway). 
 
The Song is an incredible marriage resource based on Song of Solomon.  It's designed to help you "awaken" love---and it can do just that.  The book itself is very short (only 86 pages), but it is packed full of great insights, prayers, and even some suggestions of things to do or talk about to help encourage you along the road of marriage.  What my husband and I both appreciate about Kyle is his style---he infuses humor and "real life" smack dab in the middle of the deep stuff.  He's not intimidating and is REAL (which I think might encourage more husbands to participate in a devotional---since many might be hesitant).  He doesn't come across as a "stiff" preacher.  I think that is what has drawn us to many of his other books as well.  It's much easier to "take" the toe stepping on and the conviction that might come from places we need to change when it's coming from someone that comes across as a normal guy!  If your spouse isn't a big reader---no worries!  The reading itself is very short and can be done in just a few short minutes.  Practical and not intimidating, but so powerful. 
 
I know that one particular activity suggestion in the first section really melted my heart when my husband unexpectedly actually followed through with it in a unique way.  We were encouraged to write out character traits that coincided with our spouses name.  I admit---and so does Kyle---that it was actually cheesy.  Honestly, we skipped this part.  Well, at least I did at the time.  I woke up a few mornings later, having actually forgotten about the "assignment",  with my mirror covered in dry erase marker with my name and the characteristics that coincided with each letter.  It was DEEP, thoughtful, FUNNY, encouraging and just a HUGE blessing to me to see what he had written!
 
Obviously, you get more out of something of this nature if you are willing to put in the effort and focus.  This is one that is worth doing the homework! :) 
 
To enter the give-a-way of one copy of the devotional book, just comment below.  How about telling me how long you've been married?  Or just simply comment.  Entries will close on December 3. (Be sure I have an email to contact you if you are the winner chosen at random at the end of the give-a-way!). 
 
 (Also not too late to enter the give-a-way for Small Talk HERE that ends on December 1.)
 
 
The Song:  Awaken Love 
 
About the author:
 
Kyle Idleman is the Teaching Pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, the fourth-largest church in America. Author of the award-winning and bestselling book, not a fan., and presenter of eight of City on a Hill’s curriculum series, he regularly speaks at conferences and events around the world. Kyle and his wife DesiRae have four children.
 
Check out this resource website!
Check them out on Twitter!
Check them out on Facebook!
 
Fine print:
"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”



Monday, November 24, 2014

Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most (Review & Give-a-way)

"Sometimes God uses the smallest voices to teach the greatest truths..."
(Amen!!!!)
 
Friday night I finally sat down with this book I needed to read for review.  I really didn't have many pre-conceived notions about this particular book because it wasn't one I had heard of.  I just anticipated enjoying it just based on the information I was provided with the opportunity.

I totally enjoyed reading "Small Talk:  Learning from my Children What Matters Most".  It was a breath of fresh air after some stressful days.  It was nice to sit back and read something that was an excellent balance between "casual" and "deep".  Lately it seems that I've either been reading my favorite historical Christian fiction books or really deep Christian books on faith, parenting, and marriage.  Those tend to be a bit "heavy" and take awhile to soak in---leaving this introvert mind on fast forward mode for days!

What I loved about "Small Talk" is that it was a perfect balance.  The author is basically just stopping and narrating events and conversations with her children and how that little bit of "small talk" affects her heart...what she's learning about herself, the world around her, and faith.  I thoroughly enjoyed a glimpse into the heart of another mom that likes to see what her children can teach HER.  Isn't that VERY true of motherhood!  Many days I stop and wonder if I taught my children anything because in reality they seem to teach me more often.  (Sometimes what they teach and reveal about my own heart isn't always the shiny side!  Parenting has a way of revealing our deepest fears, weaknesses, and struggles.  Granted, it does occasionally also allow us to have moments that our strengths shine.) Though I do have some theological differences/different religious upbringing than the author, I still LOVED her spin on what she was learning from the little things----the little people in her life---that point her back to Christ.  Isn't that what many of us really want anyway---to see the world through our children's eyes and allow it to grow us in faith?!

Something I also enjoyed about "Small Talk" is that it's not one of those books you need to read through start to finish to "get" it.  The chapters are short and each one is independent of the others, meaning if you only have a few minutes each day to read or just have a few minutes while waiting to pick your kids up at piano lessons, ball practice, or the million other things....this is perfect.  Just a few minutes of a glimpse of her "Small Talk" is enough to open up your own thoughts and encourage you to see what God can teach you through your own children!

Though there were several snippets that really reached my own heart in the book, two REALLY sank in deeply.
  • "What I see as a failure she sees as an inconsequential oversight." (As moms we can easily make a mountain out of molehill when we make mistakes.)
  • "And I find myself wanting to see what my children see.  I want to learn how to see myself through the eyes of love."  (Pretty powerful words right there! Powerful indeed!)
I do have the opportunity to give-a-way one copy of the book to one of my readers.  Simply leave a comment (either directly on this post or on the Facebook link to this post) and I'll consider you "entered".  Be sure that I have an email to contact you if chosen as the winner.  Give-a-way will end on December 1 and winner will be chosen at random. 

From the publisher:

Every day, one of Amy Julie Becker’s children says something that prompts her to think about life in a new way. “Mom, does Santa love me?” William asks, after his mother explains the meaning of Christmas…In a chat with her dad about the children who died in the Sandy Hook shootings, Penny asks, “Did they go to heaven?” …”You was a jerk, Mommy?” asks Marilee one morning in the car.

These conversations deepen Amy Julia’s relationships with her children, but they also refine her understanding of what she believes and what God is doing in her own life.

In Small Talk, Amy Julia draws from the wisdom and curiosity of those young voices to reflect on beauty and kindness, tragedy and disability, prayer and miracles. As she moves through the basic questions her kids posed when they were very young to the more intellectual questions of later childhood, she invites us to learn from our own day-to-day conversations with the children in our lives.

This eloquent parenting memoir is about the big questions little hearts ask, the thoughts their words provoke, and the laughter and soul-searching their honesty brings—to adult and child alike.



About the author:


Amy Julia Becker writes about faith, family, and disability for Parents.com, the New York Times Motherlode blog, TheAtlantic.com, The Huffington Post parents page, Christianity Today, The Christian century, and numerous other publications. Her first book, A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny, was named one of the Top Ten Religion Books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly. Amy Julia lives in western Connecticut with her husband and three children.

Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFiRKM19JZY
Amy’s Website: http://amyjuliabecker.com

Fine print:

"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”


Friday, November 21, 2014

Facing Reality

There has been a theme pounding in my head for many days in a row.  MANY. 

Blaring.
Screaming.
Staring.
Demanding attention.

REALITY!

Face reality. Deal with reality. 

It's like those crazy numbers on the ceiling at night.  Kevin's vision has declined greatly over the years and mine is heading that way as well, so last Christmas I bought one of those atomic clocks that projects the time and temperature on the ceiling in large enough numbers that Kev doesn't have to scramble around to find his glasses to check the time on the normal display or on his phone.  In other words, lots less things get knocked off the nightstand now!

They stare at me with reality.

I hate winter.  I hate winter.  OK----I was taught not to say I *hate* anything.  So, I have a very great, exceedingly abundant disdain for the frigid, brutal months that are stretching out before us that have started earlier than normal.  Who am I kidding?  I hate winter.  I sometimes wonder what in the world Kevin must have done to convince me that we needed to move north when our requests with his headhunter had been to stay in TN or move further south when job searching.  Yep, God must have been laughing when that phone call came through that started the ball rolling to move us...north.  Now, I will admit that this time of year DOES have its perks (snuggles, fireplace, hot tea and hot chocolate, hoodies, blankets, and LOTS more snuggling).  I even do enjoy a BIT of the snow---it's beautiful when it's falling from the sky and when it blankets the world in a fresh new innocence.  It has its moments of joy and memories.  But....I still....hate it.  Sorry, Teresa, I'll rephrase that more apprioriately----I strongly dislike it. 

The numbers on the ceiling have been reminding me of reality.  Waking up and seeing that flash of 8, 10, 20....or whatever the way too cold numbers have already been early in November has been a HUGE dose of reality.

I want to hide from it. 

I want to unplug the clock so I don't see those projections. 

But....it's reality.

I can pull up another blanket or find another still warm spot on Kevin and wiggle in closer.  But...

Reality is still there. 

It's cold. 
It's going to be cold.
It's going to get colder.  Much colder.

This week as I've seen those numbers, God has been at work in my heart.

Reminding me that reality is sometimes hard, shocking, or not necessarily what we planned or hoped for, but it's reality and it has to be dealt with.

We've had some medical scares and wake up calls in recent months.
We've had the very vivid reality face us that time is moving on at lightning speed. 

We've seen multiple families facing extreme medical crisis in recent weeks.  We've seen countless friends be faced with heart-wrenching situations that are pulling apart their homes, marriages, and lives.

Yesterday, we got a phone call that a very precious family member is facing a very scary medical crisis.  A very vivid reminder once again of how very far away home feels when crisis hits.  A reminder of how important it is to make sure you love well, love deeply, and love without hesitation.  Just a realignment of priorities, focus, and a gut check of faith.  Reality that, once again, things are changing.

We've recently had to deal with some marriages ending with family members---and learning to navigate how that changes things and what our new roles will be, how to support and encourage all parties, etc...  New territory.  In other cases, some relationships have ended and in some others, new ones have started.  Shifting and changing.

Wednesday, after 13+ years of home education, our daughter completed her last final.  She's finished.  Reality is here.  There are more posts to come on that topic when my mind can wrap around the feelings I have about that! :)  But reality is this:  it's a new season.  It's going to be a beautiful and AMAZING season, but that doesn't negate the reality of the closure of another one.

The list of different "big" things going on could continue....

But instead of looking at those, I want to focus on what reality brings.

Truth.

Reality is facing truth.

THAT situation is here for a reason.  God is good and HE can be trusted.  I may not understand or like it---but there is no doubt that He has a plan and a purpose.  My limited vision just can't always see what that is.

THAT person may NEVER show the love and acceptance I desire (or support, or ask for forgiveness, or any number of things....).  Reality is this:  I am responsible for how I react and my own heart.  Not his/hers/theirs.  THAT person is responsible for his/her actions and truth is, many times they are clueless to hurt they are inflicting on others.  They are too wrapped up in their own pain, walking their own path, and are oblivious.  Reality may be that I will never measure up to that person, my choices will never make them happy, or I may never find acceptance.  Reality is this:  it's THEIR problem.  My reality is how I respond.  What I do with that hurt.  What I do with my reactions. 

THAT relationship may NEVER be fulfilling or meet the needs that we feel like we deserve to be met.  BUT...HE is the only one that can EVER meet every need and fill in every gap of our heart. Our spouse can't.  Our friends can't. Our parents can't.  Hurt is real.  Scars are deep.  Yet, He is the healer.  He is the strength.  He is the one that can hold a broken heart together with hope, acceptance, grace, mercy and UNCONDITIONAL love. He is the only one that can complete us.  Reality is accepting that. Looking elsewhere for that full completion puts way too much pressure on another individual and sets them up for failure.

THAT new situation may be scary.  It may be TOTALLY not what we expected.  Yet, He is there to walk the path with us. Leading. Guiding. 

THAT old situation may be frustrating and HARD.  Yet, He has never abandoned.  He never has failed.  He has never left us alone. 

THAT situation may require us to step out in faith, make some hard changes, or require some things that terrify---but HE is there with an outstretched hand if our eyes are FIXED on HIM.

THAT situation may be brought on by our own sin, our own mistakes, or our own poor choices.  His forgiveness, grace, and mercy wash us clean.  Yet, we still have to walk in the consequences.  But...we don't walk alone and the things He teaches along the way are powerful.

THAT situation may be a result of refining.  Refining, chiseling, reshaping, purifying---they aren't easy places to be.  BUT---reality is that the final product is beyond our wildest dreams. 

THAT situation may leave us feeling alone, abandoned, or ostracized from the "world".  Yet, reality is that those situations are the ones that bring us closest to Him.

THAT situation may require some changes in us.  We may have to make choices for our physical or emotional health that aren't comfortable.  They may require us to do things that go against bad habits that we don't think we can break.  I saw a facebook or instagram picture this week that said: "The first step to getting anywhere is deciding you're no longer willing to stay where you are."  We're finding ourselves in THAT place on multiple levels right now and are beginning to take those steps.  Whether it be health related, something in relationships, or something on an emotional level. 

Reality is this...

Life causes us to have to confront some things we don't necessarily want to. 

I don't want to confront the winter that has arrived much too early. I don't want to see those negative numbers on my ceiling.  I don't want to deal with the brutal wind, the depressing gray days (yes, Dad----I'll be hitting up the Vitamin D supplements as I promised!), the inconveniences, the travel nightmares, the heating bills, etc....  BUT----I don't want to miss out on the beautiful things in life while I wait for the spring to come.  Life is going to happen around me whether I am buried under the covers or whether I'm fully engaged in life around me. 

Life ,with its situations and tough times, is the same thing.  Bury under or engage?  Let life pass by and hide....or face it square on with the power of heaven behind me? 

Many times I've taken the duck and cover approach.  I've slid into the darkness of despair or the chains of bitterness. 

The result...

Missed blessings. Missed opportunities. Missed moments of being at the feet of Jesus.  Many missed moments with being fully engaged and present in the lives of my children/husband. 

That's no way to live.  Because that's not living. 

So, I'm bundling up.  Turning up the heat (after all, I did concede and turn it on before my yearly quest to make it to Thanksgiving due to my frugalness---what choice did I have when the house was consistently below 60!).  Adding layers of warmth.  Just being brave.  :)

Time to do that with "life" as well. 

Digging into Scripture and His promises.  Surrounding myself with those that speak hope and truth into my life.  Allowing Him to work in my heart and chisel---even though painful.  Learning to trust more.  Seeking Him more. Trusting more.  Shutting out the negative voices.  Trusting Him more.  (Are you seeing a pattern....apparently I have trust issues...ha!) 

Facing reality.  Not hiding under the  covers figuratively speaking (though literally speaking, this is being typed from underneath a mound of blankets!).  Maybe I'll even venture out IN THE SNOW this year for more than just 2.2 seconds at a time.  Maybe.  Just maybe. 



Sunday, November 16, 2014

Loss Brings Gain

THIS is the week that four years ago began what I now mark in time as BD and AD---before diagnosis and after diagnosis.  Earlier this week was the day that I got the message that something significant was wrong with my dad's health and tomorrow marks the day that we had the somber conversation of knowing just how advanced and how significant this battle was going to be.  Though from the first initial moment, God prepared my heart for the reality that Dad's healing very likely would only come in the form of heavenly wholeness---I was in no shape, form or fashion prepared for how quickly that would progress. 

Today, I still find myself very introspective as these days and "anniversaries" roll around.  Though the pain and emptiness has changed shape with time, it still is an ongoing struggle at times. Our family has changed dramatically in these years.  We've been blessed to add a new family member as my brother got married just over a year ago.  It's heart wrenching to know that in just this short year, she's also lost her own father to the same beast of a disease.  Daddy never got the gift of getting to know her or experiencing the joy of seeing my brother fall in love, marry, and start a life together.  In just a couple of weeks our daughter will officially be finished with her high school education and my niece will also graduate in a few months.  Grandpa won't be here to celebrate such a big milestone.  For me, I looked forward to the day of him seeing that we followed through with our home education plans from start to finish.  He wasn't quite sure about *this* way of school in the beginning (though he was supportive), but as time went along, he saw the difference it was making for our family.  In just over a week, I turn 40 and for some reason this milestone feels a bit empty without him around.  I think part of me always felt that at 40, I'd finally be a grown-up! Ha! 

Each one of us as siblings live in completely different states and very rarely ever find ourselves home together at the same time.  With different jobs and responsibilities, traveling at the holidays just hasn't been as easy as hopping up and going home. 

Life is just different. 

BD and AD.

I see now how amazing our lives were before BD.  We just didn't know it until AD. 

For my personal little family unit, our lives are good.  We're happy.  We're relatively healthy as a whole.  We've had incredible joys and our togetherness has grown exponentially. 

Life had to go on AD.  Life even had to go on when the holidays were completely changed and haven't returned to "normal".  Can Christmas ever really be normal again when it becomes wrapped in the memory of making final arrangements on Christmas Eve, standing around in a funeral home on Christmas Day, and burial on the day after Christmas...instead of our normal holiday traditions?  So far it hasn't, but we are purposely seeking to bring that true joy back to this season this year. 

It's time. 

After you've been through loss or dramatic change (AD)---you realize just how beautiful and amazing life WAS.  We sometimes just don't realize how great it was until it's ripped away. 

I think every single one of us fails to see how greatly blessed we are.  We have more than we could ever say thank you for, but we fail to walk in the paths of sincere gratitude.  We fail to say the words we should have said.  We fail to see what material and non-material gifts we have sitting before us.  We take those around us for granted.  We're selfish and self-seeking.

Loss teaches you that. 

I think in some ways, I'm just now beginning to see the beauty of loss.  Though that sounds strange to type and strange to think about, loss did bring about some beauty in our lives.  Though the loss of Dad and the roller coaster of his illness and the picking up the pieces after he was gone was HARD and some days is still harder than I expected, I can see now the gifts that came with it. 

Loss teaches you to look at life differently----even if it takes awhile to get to that point because grief is a journey that takes you through some anger, bitterness, and depression.  Though I still fail many days to see how fleeting life is, I do have the lens of knowing it to be true.  I try to take each day with a new perspective that wouldn't have come had I not been forced to go through the valley. 

Loss can teach you about your own frailties, weaknesses and rough edges.  The ugly shows up.  No doubt about it. 

Loss can also teach you about the strength of faith, the support of family and friends, and can reveal a side of God you just couldn't really grasp until the valley has swallowed you whole. 

Would I rewrite history if I could and keep Dad here?  My heart would say yes some days, but the reality is my answer would be no.  God knows best.  Heaven is a reward.  Dad received the ultimate gift. It isn't an ending.  It's just the beginning.

That doesn't take away the fact that we feel his loss and I wish I had been able to have more "adult" conversations with him and gleaned from his unique wisdom.  I wish my children had been more able to etch him in their memories and experience countless things with him.  However, they have learned things through loss that are invaluable.  Conversations that we may have never had with them or not have had so deeply---pointing them to Christ, heaven, and faith---have been priceless. They've seen first hand how God can heal broken hearts through the deepest pain.  They've seen the hope of heaven. 

Though I still don't understand what God's plan was and how *this* fits in---I've learned a deeper level of trust and my faith has grown.  Though my heart broke, it also grew.  Though my heart has an empty place, it has filled in other areas that I didn't know possible. 

Thinking back over those days at this point now leaves me with great memories.  Some of the *harder* things have lost some of their sting as the BEAUTY has replaced some of the crippling sadness.  God really did reveal Himself to us many times during those days.  We saw glimpses of heaven that still just leave me breathless.  I find it a blessing like no other to see how my Dad responded to everything thrown at him and his final days/hours were evidence of his faith. 

Time sure doesn't heal all wounds.  (That's a lie!)  Time DOES give us a different perspective. 

I'm thankful today most especially for those final days.  Those days that allowed for some VERY meaningful conversations.  Times for God to show us Himself in ways we'd never experienced. 

Today, I miss my Dad and I think of the journey that we've all been on and how our lives are different.  I do think of what could have been and what I hoped for----but I walk in a deeper trust that God's plan is far beyond mine. 

Today, I'm thankful.

I'm thankful that loss does bring gain.

It brings us a deeper longing for heaven.  It brings us greater gratitude for what we had and for what we currently have each day.  It brings a greater perspective.  It brings the reminder of what we're living life for.  It brings us the reality of knowing just how much we need God in our lives and just how much of a gift His sacrifice was for us. 

Loss brings heavenly focus. 

For that, I'm grateful.