Changed

It is impossible to be looking into a new year without looking back into the past one.  This time of year often stirs us to take a look at our lives and ourselves, which in turn prompts us to make attempts at changing.  Our attempts may be well-intended, but studies show that about 80% of all resolutions are broken by mid-February.  That seems surprising, but it really isn’t when you think about it.  I mean, after all, where do these resolutions come from?  They are like short-term relationships that are doomed to fail from the beginning.  But why?  I believe it’s because of the manner in which we enter into them.  Like most things in our society, we start off great but lose the ability to follow through when things get tough.  It’s easier to just throw in the towel and revert back to the familiar because it’s what we’ve always known.  As they say, “Better the devil you know that the devil you don’t.”

shutterstock_446732614True changes don’t come easy.  They are uncomfortable, even painful at times.  They come at inopportune moments or cause us to lose things we really, really don’t want to let go of on our own.  Those of you who have read my posts this year will understand when I say 2019 was a challenging year.  I’ve caught myself saying a lot lately that I hate 2019 and can’t wait for 2020.  The truth is, 2020 isn’t going to change anything.  It isn’t a new year that changes us; it is we who change the new year.   As the new year got closer, I noticed my perspective on last year starting to shift.  I actually started to see things differently, and my heart softened to the experiences in 2019 that left me curled up in a ball, crying myself to sleep so many nights, thinking I just can’t get through another day.  Every day brought tears and pain, but as I looked backwards,  I began to see through those times to the incredible experiences and growth that has happened as a result of them.  It really has been amazing.   I am not the person I was a year ago, and for that I am grateful.

When looking back at the past year, most people talk about life events, changes, gains and losses, and other things that have taken place.  It is easier for us to talk about what has happened to (or around) us than to talk about what has gone on within us.  Looking inward requires us to strip down and be honest with ourselves about what we see.  For me, this past year has brought so many of those moments that I’ve lost count!  Maybe it’s because life in general was so full of loss and griefs that I didn’t have the energy to keep pressing on in the same way I had for most of my life.  Was it a brutal year?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it wasn’t without purpose.  Through the difficulties, I’ve learned to let go a little more.  I still struggle with it, but I’m finding peace in the liberation when I do.

If I were to articulate the long list of events and how they’ve changed me, I’d be writing all night.  However, if you were to ask me to name the single most life-altering thing I’ve experienced in 2019, well, that answer is easy.  It wasn’t leaving the church I belonged to for over 20 years, the loss of my husband’s parents, or even the fact my dad had to move into a memory care facility due to dementia.  Those things certainly altered my life in huge ways, but the biggest reverberation in my life came from the teaching and study I have been a part of in the home church to which I belong. shutterstock_1234835116 It happened totally organically a year ago, and I could not have dreamed how amazing it would become.  The teaching our pastor has continually shared with us has been the most liberating of my life.  Some of that impact comes from the fact he is real and vulnerable with us, while some of the impact is the way we are challenged through our discussions to live life differently.  It is certainly not a traditional format, but I’ve been changed more in the past year than I can ever remember being changed in the past.  It’s just different, and as a result, so am I.  In the middle of the worst year of my life, God brought me through it by first using a man who was willing to answer His call, then surrounding me with a group of believers who have all been called to come together to be real in this journey of learning and following Christ’s example of who we were created to be.  It is this realness in every aspect of life, the sharing of our struggles and truly bearing each other’s burdens that has only deepened our desire to learn more, and to be changed more.  It is this unique experience that has changed my life forever.  What I’ve learned has been gut-wrenching at times, but it is amazing what God will show you about yourself if you will just get your eyes off of everyone else.  I’ve been liberated from old perspectives, of myself and others. I’ve even been liberated from some specific chains that have held me captive my entire life.

2020 begins a brand new year, and i’s a great time to tackle something new or set goals for what we want to accomplish.  It’s a good time to reflect on the past year, or longer, and appreciate the difficulties we have come through or even the ones we are still trudging through.  But it is also a good time to look deep within and start focusing on the things that bring lasting changes.  I don’t want to make a resolution, or several of them.  I don’t want another task in my life to complete; I have enough of those.  I want to continue to truly change.  It isn’t easy to do, but there is some truth to the phrase, “no pain, no gain.”  If any of us want to learn how to live with peace, joy and strength even in our toughest times, we must be willing to turn our eyes honestly inward through the truth of God’s word and see what we really need to change.  It may surprise you what you find.  A year ago, I thought I knew who I was, but I have learned I wasn’t nearly the person I had hoped.

shutterstock_257497339Life can, and will, beat you up.  I don’t want to spend 2020 with the pessimistic mindset that crept in over recent years, but rather with the peace that comes from knowing God will always be working in the lives of His children.  I don’t want my inner dialogue to keep telling me things won’t work out, or that things aren’t “fair.”  I don’t want my “justice gene” to cause me to look down on others or take things personally.  I want to continue to be open to God revealing those things in me that I have chosen to be blind to in the past.   In doing so last year, I’ve experienced a liberation I did not see coming, and it changed my life.

As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t a new year that changes us; it’s we who change the new year.  We can choose to keep doing the same things we’ve always done.  We can choose to hide behind our despair or lash out in anger.  We can choose to focus on the splinter in someone else’s eye instead of the log in our own (Matthew 7:3).  The reality is that we can just keep on trucking and wonder why the abundant life keeps eluding us, or we can choose to be changed by the One who created us.

It is impossible for us to know what the new year will bring, but if we open ourselves up to what can change us far longer than any resolution, we can weather any storm because we know the master of the wind.  It’s up to us…choose wisely.

Happy New Year and blessings to you and yours.

The Little Blue Sock

shutterstock_65088625.jpgOver 70 years ago, my mom was just a sweet, little 5-yr old girl living in a small town in California.  She’d been hearing her friends talk about Santa Clause in December, and how if you hang a stocking on your fireplace, Santa Clause would fill it with candy and toys if you had been good.  My grandparents weren’t raised with the standard traditions of Christmas being all that important, but my mom certainly didn’t know it.  Mom didn’t have a stocking, nor had she ever heard of Santa Clause.  They didn’t even have a fireplace in their small house, but on that Christmas Eve she took one of her light blue socks and taped it to her door in hopes that Santa would show up. On Christmas morning, she got up, excited to see what she had received.  She ran to where the sock was hanging and it was still there…untouched and empty.  Her little heart was crushed and she thought maybe she wasn’t good enough, or maybe her friends had lied to her. 

After Christmas, Mom took a ride with her dad (my “Pop” that I adored), and he asked her if she liked what she had gotten for Christmas.  It was then then she told him about the sock.  As they talked, eventually the subject of the Easter Bunny came up and Mom asked Pop, “Do you think the bunny will leave me candy if I have a basket?”  Pop replied, “I think he will.”  That Easter season, Mom put out her basket, and when she woke up the next morning, her basket contained a package of Heath bars.  Her heart knew, even at that young age, that Pop made sure she wasn’t disappointed again.

img_4890-edit.jpgFast forward to Christmas in our family this year.  My mom is now living with my husband and I, and my Dad is living in a memory care facility.  This is our first Christmas on this new journey, and it has brought many logistical and emotional changes.  I’ve woken up at my parents’ house for Christmas my entire life.  Even as adults, we spent the night with them.   This year, I woke up with my husband in our house, the one we now all share together.  It felt strange not packing up on Christmas Eve to go to my parents’ house for the night.  I knew my Christmas morning would feel different too.  Mom, for the past 30 years or so, woke us all up at 5:00 am by loudly playing The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole.  It’s impossible for me to hear the opening of that song without memories of those mornings flooding my mind.  Our traditions have now been changed not by choice, but by our circumstances.

Traditions, no matter how strong, are always vulnerable to life circumstances or personalities of those who’ve been a part of them.  Some things in life can’t be exactly the same, but they can still be beautiful.  It all depends on whether or not we are willing to open our hearts to new experiences or are able to let go of past ones we wish we could keep forever.  Believe it or not, we have the ability to adjust and adapt in ways we never thought possible. As a matter of fact, some of our greatest revelations are the things we see when we are forced into searching for new ways of doing things.  It is easy to get comfortable and go on auto-pilot when it comes to certain aspects of life.  Familiarity can bring great comfort, but it can also cause you to not even consider what else might be just as (or even more) amazing.

mom blue sockSo, this year, in the midst of the glaring changes to the early part of my Christmas morning, I decided to do something different. I thought about my 5-year old mother and took a light blue sock, filled it with a little toy, a few pieces of candy, and yes, a Heath bar.  I taped it very quietly to the door of my mom’s room and started playing The Christmas Song on my phone that I had laid against her doorway.  As I stood hiding in the morning darkness, listening for the sound of Mom taking that sock off the door, I couldn’t help but think about how there are always opportunities for creating beautiful moments, no matter if they’ve been going on for generations, or whether it’s the very first time it’s happened.  I peeked around the corner of my mom’s room and said, “Merry Christmas.”  There sat my mom on the edge of her bed, laughing and crying at the same time.  So, we sat on the bed together in the faint glow of daybreak, reminiscing about her childhood, “Pop,” our family, and how anything can be redeemed, even if it takes 70 years.  It was my greatest gift this year.

Christmas Day may be behind us, but the gifts that remain are those experiences we shared with family and friends, or even others along the way.  It is the opening of our hearts, listening to each other and loving each other through the difficult times that reminds us we are not alone.  In life, as with Christmas, we need to look for the beauty outside our traditions as well as within them.  Sometimes it is through the changes we didn’t expect in life that we find the changes that make life more beautiful.

Live with your heart open, and when you get the chance along the way, always take time to fill someone else’s little blue sock.

Blessings!

Focus On What You Already Have

Christmas is upon us, and here I am sitting on the floor, late at night, with only the glow of the Christmas tree lights and the screen of my laptop illuminating the room.  It is quiet in my home, yet somehow music keeps rolling through my head.  It isn’t a song of the season, but rather the melodic cadence of a lifetime.  Maybe it’s the glow of the trees, or the silence around me, but moments like this have a way of pulling my gaze away from the noise and pace of everyday life and bringing my focus back to what really matters.

shutterstock_344854976As we continue through a season that is supposed to be filled with joy and love, I look around and see stress and frustration on the faces of people around me.  Drivers are out of control with anger; shoppers are pushing and shoving each other; some people are going into debt trying to meet their (or others’) expectations of gift-giving.  There are also some who are living with great losses and challenges that cause all the standard holiday activities to simply disappear into the background.  In a season that is so often labeled as “magical,” it becomes easy to feel everything but a sense of wonder.   Busyness and activity has a way of doing that before we even realize it.

I had a hard time this year thinking of things to put on my wish list for Christmas.  I honestly couldn’t think of a single thing for which I had a great desire.  It’s not that I have everything I want materially; it’s just that I found myself incredibly content for the first time in a long time.  Somehow in the midst of my incredibly difficult and distressing year filled with loss and change, I realized what I valued had shifted.  It was only when I sat staring at an empty Christmas list that I even recognized it.

It’s so easy to spend our lives focusing on what we don’t have or what we’ve lost.  This year my husband’s parents passed away just five days apart, and my own dad’s dementia escalated to the point where he had to move into a memory care community.  It was devastating for us all, and my mom had to sell their house to ensure dad could stay in his new community as long as possible, as most memory care facilities aren’t covered by insurance (don’t get me started on that).  Mom moved in with me and my husband, and we’ve been adjusting to our new rhythm as best we can.   Loss after loss, grief after grief with no end in sight.  Have you just ever had that kind of year?  If so, then you understand how quickly our perspective changes. All we see is loss, because loss is all that is visible to us.  Everywhere we look there is more grief and pain, more difficult circumstances, and more that is slipping (or has slipped) between our fingers.  It is a natural reaction, but it doesn’t remove the negative effect it can have on our lives.

shutterstock_711300070Dementia has a way of turning everything upside down.  One of the things I love about Teepa Snow, and her organization (www.teepasnow.com ), is that she continually stresses the importance of looking at what someone still has, instead of what they’ve lost.  Build and foster your relationship based on things they are still able to do instead of what you wish they could still do.  When you focus on the abilities someone still possesses, it frees you from the stress that comes from your skewed expectations.  You can expect all day long that your loved one with dementia still has the abilities they’ve always had, but you will just be frustrated and your relationship with that person will suffer.  It’s about living in the moment, taking them where they are and creating beautiful experiences for you both.  I can’t help but think how that concept applies in so many other ways in life.  When we try to build or foster relationships while continually focusing on what the other person has lost or is lacking, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and disappointment.  We will never be satisfied, because we will always be seeing the holes instead of the substance.  We keep trying to work with what isn’t there instead of what is.  What a frustrating endeavor, and even more so when the relationship we are struggling with is the one with ourselves.  It is impossible to build or maintain that internal relationship when we see nothing but what we’ve lost or can’t do anymore.   We can’t build a relationship with ourselves with that perspective, because it will always be skewed and will never be fulfilling.  From a spiritual standpoint, it becomes so easy to start blaming God when things haven’t gone right in our world, or at least what we think is “right,” and then our relationship with Him suffers also.  It’s a slippery slope for sure.

So many people talk about the art of letting go, and there is definitely something incredible about releasing things that hold you back.  But what about the art of holding on?  We spend a lot of time trying to identify our obstacles instead of our strengths.  We focus on what we need to purge from our lives instead of what we already have that needs to be fostered.  I remember a comedian once said about the Bible, “Everyone thinks the Bible is a book of don’ts, but it’s really a book of do-s.  And if we’d spend our time doing the do-s, we wouldn’t have time to do the don’ts.”  I heard that over 30 years ago, and it still sticks with me today just as strongly, because it also applies to how we look at ourselves and others.  If we would spend our time fostering (or appreciating) what we already have, it doesn’t leave much time or energy to focus on what we are lacking in skills, abilities, or even material possessions.  Ask yourself these questions: What do I have to work with? Do I have a special ability or skill?  Am I good at something?  What are those things?  If you ask people to name something they are good at, many (if not most) of them will say they don’t know.  Why?  Because we don’t stop to look at what we have; we look at what we don’t.  We see what we wish we were, wish we had, or wish we could do.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to be better people, become more skilled, get an education or go after something new.  And I’m certainly not saying you can’t change.  This year has been full of huge changes for me internally, and believe me, it is always possible to change.  It’s possible to be freed from things that chained you in the past, but you also need to focus on what you already possess.  Search your heart deeply for a moment, you know what they are.  They are those things you have forgotten as the cares of this world continually try to distract you from seeing your gifts.

Image-1Dealing with someone who has dementia has brought so many lessons for dealing with life in general.  When someone has dementia, you have to meet them where they are in order to develop and maintain a relationship with them.  My dad isn’t who he used to be, and yet he is still exactly who he always was.  I just have to find those things that he can still do and live in that place with him.  This relationship is not exactly as I wished or hoped it would be at this stage in both our lives, but it can still be something amazing.  Embracing, celebrating and being thankful for all he can still do, allows me to be open to riding this roller coaster with him instead of watching him ride alone.  It allows me to live life with him now, in this moment, instead of continually seeing nothing but what has faded into the fabric of our journey.  If we want to fully live, we must live in the NOW.

Work with what you have.  Meet people where they are.  Meet YOURSELF where you are.  There are so many other abilities you may have, but those are above and beyond the fact you have been gifted with life itself.  Even the ability to breathe and communicate are gifts.  Trust me, you can always do something and then work from there.  If you will start seeing and nurturing what you already have, you’ll be amazed at what else will suddenly appear.  When you are willing to meet a dementia patient where they are, and work with what they have, it’s AMAZING how that tightly closed shell opens up to reveal the pearls within.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  If we could just do that with ourselves, what greatness might we unlock?  What goals might we achieve?  What dreams might come true if we will just stop jumping ahead (or backwards) and look at what we’ve lost and simply develop what we still have?

shutterstock_341963009So as we celebrate this Christmas that is upon us, let us first remember the greatest gift God gave us by coming to earth to sacrifice Himself so we can have eternal life.  But let us also remember He didn’t have much from a material standpoint, but He always worked with what He had.  When He called others to join Him, He worked with what they had and compelled them to do the same.  Let us celebrate not just the life of Christ, but the life He wants for each of us.  He’s gifted every single one of us with abilities, even when we feel we don’t have anything on which we can build.  Stop for a moment.  Look within and stop focusing on what you’ve lost or wish you had.  Look deeply and start recognizing all you still have, every single thing you have or are able to do is a gift.  No matter your circumstances or what you might see as your deficiencies, you have way more “gifts” than you can imagine.

To quote the Grinch, “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Merry Christmas and may you all be blessed with moments in which to live a lifetime!

Yesterday Once More

shutterstock_1255117942Although I might be dating myself with that song-cue of a title, I want to share something very important with you about an issue that is affecting more and more of us, an issue that is leaving families hurt, lost and confused about what to do or where to turn.  This issue is the condition called Dementia, and it not only affects older people but people of all ages.  They are even finding new strains appearing in young children.  I know this is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, but it is one to which many of you can relate.

Dementia, in any form it manifests, is devastating.  I know first-hand, because my dad, who is the most brilliant man I ever knew, has now been walking this journey for a number of years.  As a result, so have the rest of us.  This disease doesn’t just affect the patient; it sinks its teeth into every relationship surrounding them and wreaks havoc in the lives of everyone who loves them.  If you had told me it was possible for my dad to struggle like I’ve seen him do in recent years, I would have told you that you were out of your mind.  Yet, here we are.  Some days it’s yesterday all over again, and other days it’s a brand new world.

Anyone who has been affected in one way or another by the devastating aspects of any form of dementia – either as patient or care partner- can relate to the myriad of challenges, frustrations and griefs that become a part of every day life.  I heard others talk about having a loved one with dementia, and my heart always went out to them, but the truth is that I had no clue about the depth of what they were walking through.  That all changed when this disease hit my own family.

golf non dadDementia is an umbrella term, under which fall a large number of different types of the disease.  Alzheimer’s, for example, is simply the most common type of dementia, but there is Lewy Body, Frontotemporal, Vascular Dementia, and a host of others.  Dementia is not a memory problem; it is brain failure.  Just like any other organ can fail, the brain can experience failure.  Where that failure first manifests itself will determine the functions that are the first to begin diminishing.  My dad did not start out with memory problems.  You could ask him about things and talk with him, never knowing there was a problem at all.  We did however start to notice he was starting to struggle with problem solving, or things involving processes or sequencing.   We saw the signs but never recognized them.  We just blamed it on not knowing technology or being tired and stressed.  Because he didn’t have any trouble with remembering people, events, stories or anything else, it never occurred to us in the beginning that he might have an actual issue going on.  We were wrong.

It wasn’t until things really got noticeable with Dad that I began researching dementia and what to do.  By God’s grace, I stumbled upon a 3-minute video of a woman named Teepa Snow, and I was captivated.  (Here is the video that started it all: Teepa – Communicating with a person with Dementia  ) Immediately I knew I was in over my head, but I also felt a huge relief that someone could make aspects of this disease so easy to understand, (and with a great sense of humor to boot).  I immersed myself in her videos and website (www.teepasnow.com).  I took webinars and attended a wonderful Care Partner Series that was a cross between a class and a support group…twice!  Teepa, and the way she imparts coping mechanisms and techniques in how to walk this journey, absolutely changed the trajectory of ours.  Did it stop the disease? Nope.  Did it change the grief and constant changes that come with brain failure?  Nope.  What it DID change, was greatly reducing the feeling of isolation that comes when your world shrinks as you care for a loved one with this disease.  What it changed was how we viewed this disease.  It provided ways for those of us who love Dad, to offer support for him, and each other, in ways we wouldn’t have known otherwise.

shutterstock_316304594As of right now, there has not been a single survivor of this disease.  Let that sink in for a moment.  We have found ways to mitigate some of the effects of it, but it still remains a 100% fatal condition.  That may sound harsh, but it is the reality.  There is no currently no cure.  We have done a great job in this country highlighting all kinds of diseases and raising money for research, but this disease falls through the cracks sometimes.  Maybe it’s because it is often a private battle that still contains a stigma that causes people to be afraid to discuss it openly.  Maybe it’s because people who would normally be out there raising money for the cause are far too busy just trying to survive from day to day as they care for their loved ones.  Whatever the reason, we need to get busy doing all we can to raise money for research, while raising awareness and educating others, so that we can reduce the stigma associated with this disease.

My Dad is still the most brilliant man I know, and every so often I get a glimpse of that same man during a visit or conversation with him.  Underneath the looping conversations or behavior is still an amazing, loving, funny, demanding, professional and successful man; it just takes a little more to see past the surface now.  Most people who encounter those with brain failure seem to focus so much on what the person has lost in functionality, but I agree with Teepa that we need to be focusing on what someone can still do!  When we focus on the skills and abilities that remain in a dementia patient, we are able to bring out the person they’ve always been.  Unfortunately, that also means letting go of what we expected or how we think things should be, and embrace what is right in front of us.  Now that I think about it, that’s not a bad way to live our lives anyway.

Blessings!

NOTE: I will be participating in the “Walk To End Alzheimer’s” on October 12, 2019 in our local community.  I have never been one to ask for financial support for a cause, but this one is near and dear to my heart, as it is may of yours as well.  If you can make a donation to join the fight for Alzheimer’s first survivor, it would be so appreciated.  It doesn’t matter if it is one dollar, it absolutely makes a difference!     Thank you! 

Deanna OLeary’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s Page

Peace In Letting Go

It seems like so long since I have been in touch with you all, but hopefully this will bring us all back together because, quite frankly, I’ve missed you.

shutterstock_213079855We all have reasons and circumstances in life that cause us to retreat.  It doesn’t matter the source, because the reactions are much the same.  For me, it has been several years (especially the past year) of dealing with a loved one who has Dementia and struggling to leave a church I’d been part of for over 20 years.  Then my husband’s parents died just four days apart.  Within a matter of weeks, things substantially declined with my dad and he ended up moving into a memory care facility which resulted in my mom (whom I love beyond words) moving in with my husband and me.  To say it has made my heart wander and wonder would be an understatement, yet here I am doing it more than I could have ever dreamed.

Life is hard, and sometimes it seems we get beat up every time we turn around.  On top of that, people can also be mean, unkind, selfish and even narcissistic, including ourselves at times, which is why it’s so important to be able to reflect and take a look inward to see how we are contributing to the situations in which we find ourselves.  I am learning (more slowly than I’d like) there are times when you just have to step away.  When reality slaps us in the face, sometimes we have to be willing to let go of expectation.  That’s something I’ve never been able to do very well because I am not a good “leaver” no matter the situation.  When I was younger, I couldn’t have anticipated how much pain that trait would cause me over the course of my life.  There is a fine line between believing or hoping for the best in someone and subjecting yourself to continual heartache, bullying or abuse.

When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel as though you are on the outside of something, whether it is a job, relationships, church or anything else, there are always things you can do to try and regain your footing.  The struggle that comes with finding your footing is that sometimes it may require you to step somewhere else.  shutterstock_1492027019THAT is something with which many of us are not comfortable.  Stepping out of what we want into the reality that exists means we have to let go, give up, and be willing to experience the loss and grief that comes with doing so.  Peace doesn’t come easy in these kinds of seasons in life.  When you are between a rock and a hard place, even if only by perception, it is painful no matter which way you turn.  But it’s also in that terribly lonely place that you are forced to look at what you are willing to do to be free.

As a person of faith, I have struggled with what to do or where to be.  I believe God has a plan for each of our lives, for my life, and yet I get discouraged or feel like giving up just like many of you.  Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t experience times of discouragement, rejection or even utter despair at times.  It doesn’t mean we won’t get tired or feel lonely.  Jesus himself experienced these same things when He was walking on this earth.  Our emotions aren’t sinful; they are human, but it’s what we do with our emotions that’s important.

They say confession is good for the soul, so I have to tell you that as I was writing this post, I was interrupted by a song I’d never heard before.  It was validating, comforting, and convicting all at the same time.  The song is called “Ordinary Love” by the Jim Brady Trio, and the words of the chorus have been echoing in my mind over and over.  “Ordinary love, a love that winds its way through common conversations and simple acts of grace, ‘cause no one needs a superstar and no one need a saint.  We need someone to just show up with ordinary love.”  As I sat here listening to the song over and over, I first nodded in validation we all need that kind of love, yet I’ve been fighting the oppressive sadness of feeling left out, unimportant, and insignificant.  My world has been feeling increasingly small and lonely until it finally takes too much effort to even say anything anymore.  Then as I continued to listen, I felt the tears streaming down my face at the comfort those lyrics were bringing, because no matter how I am struggling or how silent it feels, I am so grateful for the few people who show up every single day in my life with “ordinary love.”  They put legs on their intentions without prodding or having to ask for it. Then as I continued to hear those lyrics over and over, my heart began to be convicted about how important it is for me to just keep on walking where God has called me and to love people the way I always have…with all my heart…in the little ways that matter.

shutterstock_229454029When life gets so overwhelming and you can’t breathe, sometimes it is the smallest acts of grace and kindness that get you from one day to another or from one breath to the next.  Yes, there are things we must let go of to move on, and sometimes those things are deeply painful and even wounding to our hearts and spirits.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let go of things, people or even our expectations; it just means it’s going to take some time to heal as a result of doing so.  We simply need to step back and listen to that still, small voice inside, and then walk on as peaceably as possible down the path ahead, even if the ground is stained with our tears as we move along.

If you are in a season of your life filled with feelings of isolation, insignificance discouragement or despair, you’re not alone.  Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it may be time for big changes within your heart that lead to changes elsewhere.  Just remember, that even as you are trudging through each step right now, be kind in your silence.  Be strong in your fatigue.  Be gentle in your frustration and disappointment, and choose to still fill the world around you with ordinary love.

Blessings!

A C(h)ain Reaction

Most of us are very familiar with the term “chain reaction,” where one thing leads to another and then on to another.  Well, this past week I experienced something I am now calling “the Cain reaction.”  No that is not a typo, and yes I will explain!  I didn’t see it coming, but it totally changed my perspective, and I just had to share it with you!

Most people of faith (and some who are not) have heard the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4, and if you ask them about it, you’ll probably hear a synopsis that goes something like this:  Well, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel.  They both offered sacrifices to God, and God accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s.  So, Cain got angry and took his brother out to a field to murder him.  When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain asked that famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  It’s not a story we often talk about, but this past week, there was a chain reaction that led me ultimately back to this story, and everything about it changed for me.

 Lately, it feels like life has been knocking me down and then kicking me while I’m down there. I keep getting back up, but it’s exhausting doing it over and over. I am positive some of you can relate!  As person of faith, you’d think that I’d be stronger when the rough seasons of life hit, but being a believer does not prevent me from sometimes crumbling under the weight of this world.  Just because we are children of God, doesn’t mean we are immune to anger, depression, sadness or frustration.  Just because we know we CAN have peace and strength in the midst of difficult times, doesn’t mean we actually lean on it.  Just because the Bible tells us “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we cave and say, “I just can’t handle anymore!”  That’s what happened to me last week.  Then a series of events took place that I need to share with you.

shutterstock_566571199It all started when someone, who knows what I’ve been going through in recent months, unexpectedly came to me and said she had been reading a devotional and a verse jumped out at her that she felt needed to be shared with me.  The verse was John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  As a result, this friend made me a pendant on which she stamped “John 16:33.”  Because I was so touched by the gesture, I read that verse over and over.  It is a familiar verse, but all my life, I’ve focused on the last part of it, the part where Jesus says we will have trouble but that He has overcome it.  THIS time, I couldn’t get past the first comment, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” I just kept thinking about the fact that Jesus thought it was so important to remind His followers of why He had continually shared all He did with them.  It’s like He was saying to ME, “Look, there’s a reason I’ve told you all I have about life, it’s troubles and how to navigate it.”   That thought pushed the chain reaction into full swing, because it prompted me to pick up my Bible so I could remember the things He had “told me” in His word.  This time though, instead of turning to the many familiar passages of encouragement and promises, I returned to something I hadn’t finished reading almost three months ago – Genesis chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel.

I don’t think anything happens by accident; I never have, but sometimes I am totally amazed to look back on my path and see all the things that had to come together in order for me to experience something or have a change in my perspective.  I think we have become so cynical and/or oblivious that we no longer take the time to pause and see the interconnectedness of events in our lives.  I’m not talking about major steps, though sometimes it can be, but rather the little things that go unnoticed that end up leading us to a conclusion or decision that has an impact on us.

shutterstock_152320880So what was this epiphany I had when I read the verses telling the story of Cain and Abel?  Well, I used to think of Cain as just a terrible person, an evil man who got jealous of his brother and killed him in cold blood.  Not only that, but then he had the audacity to make a smart-a** comment to God Himself (Gen 4:9)!  I’m not excusing anything Cain did, but I want to share a different perspective.   Here were two brothers, one was a shepherd and the other was a farmer.  When it came time to give an offering to God, it was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb.  So, Abel provided an offering according to what God had requested, but Cain decided he would give something different.  Cain decided it would be better if he sacrificed the best that HE had to God.  It’s most likely that his intent was honorable, and that he thought surely it would touch God more if he sacrificed the best of his crops instead of asking his brother for a lamb to sacrifice, while giving up nothing himself.  It wasn’t that he was being a disobedient jerk, but rather that he felt like God would be more pleased if he gave Him the absolute best of all he had.  He was trying to honor God his way instead of simply doing what God asked.  Unfortunately, he was wrong, and when God accepted Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s, it made him angry, depressed and dejected.  Wouldn’t YOU be?

How many times have I done exactly what Cain did, and tried to serve God my way instead of His?  How many times have I given up things that He never asked of me?  It’s great when our heart is in the right place, and our motives are good, but we’ve all had situations in life where the end result still went sideways!  At times, the same thing happens when it comes to our service to our Heavenly Father.  We offer up what we think will make Him happy, instead of doing what He has already told us will make Him rejoice.  Modern religion and churches are filled with people with good intentions, trying to serve God in ways they have reasoned will be pleasing to Him, but ultimately missing the mark completely.  Many of us have become so self-focused on what we are doing for God that we can no longer hear how He asked us to do it.

shutterstock_137269457Ok, so back to Cain…  In my memory of this story, I somehow forgot that God actually talked to him twice, the first was BEFORE he killed his brother.  Gen 4:6-7: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  God loved Cain and knew he was upset, so He took a moment to remind him of something really important:  We have an enemy and it isn’t our families, friends, coworkers, church members or anyone else; it is something bigger.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the power of darkness.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober-minded because our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.   Cain’s emotions got the best of him and God knew it, so He basically said, “Look, if you simply do what I ask instead of what you think I want, you’ll have joy.  But if you lose focus and start trying to do things your way, sin is crouching down waiting to pounce on you.  It wants to take you down! It wants you!  If you let your anger and sadness take over, it is going to lead you down a path that will destroy you. You’ve got to learn how to let it go.”  God stepped in when He saw Cain upset and tried to help him regain his focus.

After God spoke to Cain, Gen 4:8, simply says that Cain “told his brother.”  What do you think that conversation was like?  I can see Cain venting to Abel about what happened and what God had said to him.  “Abel, I gave God the BEST of what I had and He didn’t even care!  And then do you know what He said to me??”  I can hear Cain going on about it and then Abel responding with something like, “Well, He’s right.  I know you think it was your best, but it’s not what He asked for.”  Cain was probably looking for an ally in his brother, someone to agree with him that God was unfair and mean.  When that didn’t happen, Cain fell into a fit of rage and killed his brother.  Cain didn’t purposely take Abel out to a field to murder him because he was jealous, it simply happened as a crime of passion.  Even the Bible says it just happened, “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up and killed his brother” (Gen 4:8).

On Wednesday last week, I was so angry at God for not doing things the way it originally LOOKED like He would.  I was distraught and felt like God was dangling carrots in front of me just to yank them back.  I told my dearest friend, “I just feel like I’m trying to do what God wants me to do, and He just keeps kicking me in the teeth!”  It’s so hard to stay focused when it feels like God has let you down.  It’s hard to not get sad and depressed when you thought you could see the path ahead only to find it collapse in front of you.  I wasn’t just angry; I was angry at God for having a different plan and not just accepting the one I had laid out. After all, I was giving up my best!   In that moment, my best friend lovingly reminded me of the truth of God’s word, and I knew she was right, even though my heart was crushed.

shutterstock_134516501As I sat in my chair the next morning, blown away by what God had just revealed to me, I said out loud, “Oh my God, I am CAIN!”   I realized my frustration that God’s plan was not what I thought it should be caused me to allow the enemy to leap from his crouching and pounce all over me.  And then I heard God speak to my heart the same thing he told Cain that day so long ago: “I have a plan, and if you will just trust me and follow it, everything will work out.  But if you let this disappointment you feel, as a result of me not doing things your way, just keep eating at you, it’s going to destroy you.  You’ve got to let it go and trust me.”  Talk about being humbled by something…God’s same words to Cain in his crisis of faith thousands of years ago became the same words He said to me in mine.  And just like Cain, I had a choice to make in how I moved forward, but instead of holding onto my anger as he did, I chose to unclench my hands and let it go.

It is amazing how God works and weaves so many little things together to shift our perspective.  He paints with brushstrokes we often don’t understand in order to create beautiful paintings we couldn’t even imagine.   He promised to work all things out for our ultimate good, but it’s hard for us to understand that when we are looking at a single stroke of His brush.

I guess sometimes we all need is a little “c(h)ain” reaction.

Blessings!

Replenishment Over Resolutions

shutterstock_1148041004Happy New Year’s Eve!  Every new year brings with it the hope for positive changes and experiences ahead for us.  We reflect on the past year and consider what didn’t go as we expected or how we didn’t do the things we originally planned.  Maybe your year has been filled with more successes and joy than you even imagined, or maybe it was filled with changes that brought loss and pain to your heart.  Either way, we still seem to have this innate sense of reflection when a new year is about to begin, but why?  There is something so refreshing about newness in life.  It is why so many people love the season of spring so much, there is new life blooming all around us.   New life is exciting and reminds us that even when the ground is dark and cold, there is life beneath it just waiting to explode into view.  I guess it’s much the same sensation as we approach a new year.  Winter is raging, but it feels as though a newness of life is growing, waiting to burst forth into view.  New life represents a replenishment of hope.  It’s a burst of energy.  It’s a new focus or new commitment.  But mostly it is a new perspective or a new vision of what lies ahead.

For those who live by faith, we know that God promises us new life not just at the dawning of a new year, but in every moment and every breath.  We know we can start again and make positive changes in life, and if we fail, we can still get back up and keep going.  What I find interesting is how often we make our plans and then ask for God’s help in executing those plans.  We use our reasoning to determine the best course of action in our lives.  We reflect, refocus and set goals we believe will bring the positive changes we so desire.  It all seems so godly until we step back and look at things more objectively in the light of truth.  Things start to shift when we get out of religion and into Christ.  Suddenly our plans get shaken up, and, if we aren’t careful, we can start thinking that everything is going wrong when maybe it’s finally going right.  And as I say that, I just keep thinking about the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.”

shutterstock_134516501Sometimes God replenishes us and refreshes us through the difficult processes of letting go.  I recently took several months off from my official responsibilities at church, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I prayed about it over and over, as it is not my nature to take a break of any kind.  I always scheduled vacations and business trips around being able to be in my place of service, so to know God was leading me to take a break from what I’ve felt I needed to do really rattled my brain!  The key phrase to that last sentence is “what I’ve felt.”  When we insist on operating under what we feel instead of what God is asking of us, it creates the most challenging disjoints.  For one thing, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  If God wants us to walk by faith and not in what we can see with our own eyes, I’m certain He doesn’t want us walking by what we feel either!  Our emotions can wreak havoc on the direction God is leading us in any situation, because we want to feel like what we are doing makes sense.  I’ll speak for myself here:  I don’t want to feel like what I’m doing is stupid or that others may see me as making decisions that appear to be rash or thoughtless.  I don’t want to appear irresponsible or flaky.  I don’t want to follow God’s leading only to have others judging me to be things I am not.  Since it is the holiday season, it reminds me of how Joseph probably had many of those same thoughts when he realized that none of his friends or family were going to believe (or be privy to) all the details of his pregnant fiancee or why he didn’t “put her away.”  He knew how people would look at him or talk about him, but he walked the path God laid out for him and let God take care of the details.

So where is this going?  It is going to the heart of how you or I want to start this new year or live the rest of our lives.  Do we want to constantly be striving for all the things we think will make our lives better, or do we really want to walk where God is leading us?   Are we willing to lay back into His arms and (His will) and let Him refresh and replenish us, or are we determined to spin our wheels attempting to replenish ourselves through the execution of our well-thought out goals and plans?

shutterstock_699640600.jpgWe really need to remember that each new year doesn’t just begin on January 1st.  Every breath is the beginning of a new year.  Every heartbeat is the beginning of what our lives will become.  Living with that kind of refreshed perspective brings hope for a better future, but whether or not anything changes depends on how we view ourselves in comparison to our Savior.  Do I really think I’m smarter than Him or have more resources?  Do I really think I’m more enlightened or understand more?  He knows and sees what I am unable to, and He has already planned ways around or through the maze of my life.  I need to remember He is working things for my ultimate good.  I need to stop trying to cut openings in the dead ends just because I think I’m smart enough to see a better way and strong enough to create it.  I need to remember that I am replenished when I step back, breathe, and follow wherever He leads no matter how it appears to others.  I need to remember the depth of my Father’s love for me, and that everything He does or allows is is bathed in that pure and perfect love.

I read a great meme the other day that said, “Sometimes faith will make you look stupid until it starts to rain.  – Noah.”   New life most often springs from the most challenging circumstances IF we are willing to follow where our Father leads.  It may not always coincide with the way we would do things, and it may even look to some as though we have lost all sense of reasoning, but that’s the point!  If God is leading you to do (or not do) something, then follow that leading no matter how it looks to the rest of the world.  We tell each other things like, “Don’t let anyone distract you from your goals,” but the greatest danger or true distraction to achieving our goals is the manner in which we set them in the first place.

shutterstock_670208887If you are like me, we need to let go of what we think is best for us, or the worry and fear that comes with what others might think of us, and trust what our Father says to us in His word:  “For I know the plans I have for you,”says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)   His plans for our successes far exceed our ability to create our own, and His replenishment trumps our “resolutions.” Every. Single. Time.

Blessings!