Sunday, November 9, 2014

I Shall Not be Moved - Part 1

 “On these things, I shall not be moved.”

I spoke these words to my children one Sunday afternoon after Michael died. They gathered on my king size bed and comfortably sat in their own spots waiting for some kind of encouragement to come forth from my mouth as I attempted to help steady their world. In spite of the circumstances, the moment, and the raw grief that filled the air, the room felt peaceful and safe as we tuned out the world while the afternoon light softly glowed and reflected off of the white wooden floors, the white linens,  and then filled the space up to the vaulted ceiling. Our home had been filled with people and nonstop activity since the news of their father’s death. Three weeks had quickly passed and yet the four of us had not been able to slip away alone together to absorb the trauma as a family unit, which had left us feeling as if we were drifting in a vast sea without an anchor after a destructive storm.  

The kids were feeling as if their firm foundation had been yanked right out from under them.  I could see the uncertainty and insecurity in their eyes as they sat motionless and speechless on my king size bed.   I wanted them to know that, in spite of losing their father, there were certain foundational aspects to our lives that would not be moved; some things would remain constant. Our faith would remain constant.  Our priorities would remain constant.  Our family unit would remain constant.  Our values would remain constant.  

I felt as if everyone’s opinions and suggestions for our lives were trying to chip away at the rock on which Michael and I had built our lives 24 years before.  Every decision we had made was in relation to the rock on which we stood. Well meaning friends and family continually gave me advice of things to change in different areas of my life, preceding their statements with, “You need to….”, but the last thing I or my children needed was another change in our lives those first several months after having lost their father.  With so many opinions coming at me, I needed this time with my kids to shut off the noise and slightly recalibrate our new family unit. 

I desired (and needed) to verbalize to the kids that the rock was still there and we could not let all of the well-intended advice confuse where we stood. We needed time to steady ourselves in a world that was still rocking us like a small boat in a big storm but they also needed to know that in reality, and in spite of how bad the storm was raging around us, we were securely anchored to something bigger… and are still anchored.

I began to keep a detailed prayer journal around 1992.  It is not simply a list of what and whom I pray for each day.  I record scriptures or guidance I feel God is showing me at the moment, dreams, visions, and specific prayers for other people, prayers for the children, and prayers for me.  In the early years of writing in my prayer journal, I began to notice that often times a pattern of scriptures or thoughts will arise over and over again…as if God is trying to get something through to me. This usually means that I am struggling in a particular area and God is reaffirming me with His truth or I am affirming my faith with the scriptures.

In October of 1997, the words “I shall not be moved” from different scriptures kept resurfacing weekly for about a month.  I cannot recall what was going on in my life at the time for those words to resonate with me but now, looking back; maybe they were firmly planted in my heart for such a time as this. 

Psalm 62:1&2, 5-7 and Psalm 16:8 are written in my journal with big circles around the words “rock” and “I shall not be moved.”

“Truly my soul silently waits for God; from Him comes my salvation.  He only is my rock and my salvation.  He is my defense (strong tower).  I shall not be greatly moved. (shaken)…. My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation (hope)is from Him. He is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation & my glory, the rock of my salvation and my glory, the rock of my strength and my refuge is in God. “ 

“I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.

These verses spoke to me 17 years ago. Their roots have deepened inside of me.  They have been engraved on my heart.   Now, almost 4 years after my husband’s death, I still cling to that rock like never before.  I live and move and survive daily because of the rock on which I stand. My God is my rock.  He is my strong tower.  He defends me in the storms that try to take me off course.   My world may still rage all around me, but I keep my eyes straight ahead and remind myself as the boldness rises up in my spirit…I shall not be moved.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fellowship of the Unashamed

I posted this quote of an unknown author three years ago on my first blog.  It hung in my dad's office most of my adult life. He read it for me at my husband Michael's funeral because it was something the two of them often talked about and they both agreed they were members of the "Fellowship of the Unashamed."

I have read it several times this past week and my soul is stirred.  It empowers me every time.

I am a member of this fellowship.

I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.”  I have Holy Spirit power.  The die has been cast.  I’ve stepped over the line.  The decision has been made.  I am a disciple of His.  I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.  My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure.  I am finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals!  I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity.  I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded.  I now lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.  My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear.  I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed.  I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.  I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up ‘til I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.  I am a disciple of Jesus.  I must go ‘til He comes, give ‘til I drop, preach ‘til all know, and work ‘til He stops.  And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me.  My colors will be clear.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Inescapable Death

It’s part of the natural life cycle, it’s at the end of the road for every living being…we live and then we die…and yet every time it appears, we feel stunned, dumbfounded, that it arrived at our doorstep. 

Why do we arrogantly and instinctively hold on to the thought that it will never come near to us, that it’s only something other people have to experience?

Death…it’s inescapable.

Two days ago I learned of the sudden death of the father of a friend of my daughter’s.  It is unclear to me the specific cause but is something in line with an aneurysm, stroke, or seizure that took his life. He had just remarried one week prior to his death with all of his children participating in the wedding.  The exuberant, newlywed bride is now instantaneously a widow.  A week of life renewed and joy restored immediately followed by an unannounced journey down a road of utter darkness, grief, and pain with an unknown distance to travel before the sun begins to rise again.  The oppression on this road will at times cause her to crawl while gasping for air instead of walking upright with each unknown step towards living again.

This morning I learned that the college son of a woman who is the assistant to a friend of mine was killed instantly in a car accident last night on his way home. I have an image in my mind of him rising a little late yesterday morning, eating a leisurely breakfast, discussing his day and plans with his parents, enjoying his summer day, and then heading out last night with his friends and, as he walks out the door, he turns to his mom to say, “I’ll text you when I’m heading home.”… but instead of a text from her fully alive son, she probably received a phone call or a personal visit from the authorities.  So begins her journey of survival down the shadowy, incomprehensible road of grief.

… In an instant.  Full life, then death, then darkness.

After hearing of the death of this young boy early this morning, I sat in my bed and wept. My stomach began to convulse. I am still weeping.  I weep for this mother.  I weep for the newlywed bride.  I weep for the other children involved.  I want to hold them or sit silently next to them and allow them to cry, moan, scream, writhe, or whatever they need to do in order to let the initial pain escape.  I hurt deeply as I see them in my imagination taking their first steps into the valley of the shadow of death.  I can see the fear on their faces as they anticipate the steps and the days to come on a road they have never traveled and have no road map because one does not must only keep moving forward.   I yearn to help them carry the load.  I yearn to open the skies above them so that the suffocating air can be released.  I yearn to go before them with a shield and blaze the trail for them…but it is something they must, we all must, experience alone.  It is a singular journey. We can silently hold their hand, bring them provisions, and listen to their tales of the journey, but in the end, it’s their journey.

We all inevitably embark on this path at some point in our lives.  No amount of mental preparation can equip us for the onslaught of the pain, the memories, and the dark hours experienced on the journey.  My only mental preparation I had going into it after my husband was killed in a car accident was my faith in God.  It was the place from which I drew my strength and protection while traversing this path of sheer darkness.  It was my source of hope, my source of healing, and my source of peace when everything about me raged.  

Today I glance back into the dark valley out of which I have finally emerged and can barely make out the silhouettes in the distance of these broken people as they drag themselves slowly and warily into the other end of this devastating valley.  Lord, be with them. Hold them. Rescue them. Protect them. Cast a light for them.

"I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd.  And my tongue clings to my jaws; You have brought me to the dust of death.... But you, O lord, do not be far from me; O my strength, hasten to help me!"… Psalm 22:14, 15, 19 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Thoughts, Plans & Purposes

Today is the outset of a three-day personal writing retreat.  As is my tradition, I began with committing my time away to the Lord…my thoughts, my work, my rest, my physical time, and any time that may be spent recreationally to refresh my mind and body while away.  

This morning I was stirred, once again, as I read my daily chapter in Proverbs.  I slammed on the breaks as I came across this verse.  This verse that is heavily underlined and has brackets around it. This verse that has been read on the 16th day of every month for twenty years.  This verse that has been a foundational building block to every day that I have lived during those twenty years.  This verse that I memorized long ago, have scribbled on notes, and have woven into my daily prayers for as long as I can remember.  This verse….still speaks to me.

Proverbs 16:3 (in multiple versions)…

Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.  NKJV
Commit your actions to the Lord and your plans will succeed.  NLT
Roll your works upon the Lord (commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and) so shall your plans be established and succeed.  AMP
Put God in charge of your work, then what you've planned will take place.  MSG

The word “commit” used here means to roll, roll down, roll away, and remove.  It is like a camel that kneels down and rolls to one side so that the burden they have carried can be rolled off of their back.  As we commit our work and actions to the Lord, we are in essence getting on our knees before God and saying, “Take if off of my back.  I want you to have it.  Take all of it.  Do what you want with it.”  After rolling it onto His to do plate, then our thoughts and our plans will succeed because He has been given permission to put His hand in it and on it.

I have always loved the wording, “your thoughts will be established.” The more I carry around my works and my actions with my own strength, the more muddled my thoughts can get, thus causing confusion and indecision to settle into my mind…. So I have mainly prayed this scripture for clear thinking in all that I do and the clear thinking then produces successful work, plans, and actions.  

…But today I discovered a new angle.

I frequently write and speak about our purpose for living.  The idea of purpose, and purpose itself, is a magnet out in front of me, like a dangling carrot in front of horse, drawing me forward and in the specific direction God is leading me.  I had never connected this verse directly to purpose until I read this end note in my Bible today…even though it had been read countless times before, today the epiphany, the sudden perception of its essential nature, took place.

If one turns over to the Lord what he plans to do, his life purposes will come to fruition.

Wow…. every time I had rolled my day, my plans, my work, my actions over onto God’s to do list, instead of carrying it on my own, I was allowing my life purposes to come into being each and every day. We must daily commit our work, daily get on our knees and roll our load, our works, our actions, over at the feet of our Lord.  Rolling and committing our works produces established purpose and established thoughts.

I go into this writing retreat renewed.  Expectations are high.  Faith is soaring.  Thoughts are established.  And I know that it is not all about writing.  It is about all that God has for me.  Personal life, spiritual life, mental life, physical life, and work life.  My purposes will come to fruition.

…With eyes straight ahead

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Boomerang Truth

Boomerang emotions – emotions that have seemingly been dealt with and cast away only to return to the thrower to deal with again

Boomerang truths – life truths seemingly learned only to present themselves back to the thrower to learn again and again

I wrote about boomerang emotions in the months following my husband’s death when speaking about emotions that kept resurfacing, no matter how many times I faced them, wrote about them, cried about them, or talked about them, they kept coming back to me like a boomerang.   I was able to work through some emotions successfully, lay them aside and then walk away from them with the wisdom, insight, and healing that came from facing them… but others would come back to strike me out of nowhere and I would have to deal with them all over again…and would often times hit me harder the second time.

I am now experiencing boomerang truths…Truths about life and living to which my eyes have been opened and yet they continue to come back to me in order to take me deeper, impress themselves upon me in more profound ways than before.  Each time they come back, it hits me closer and closer to the heart.

At times I feel like looking up towards heaven to say, “Okay...I get it!”

…But truly loving others, accepting others, showing compassion towards others, without boundaries, without judgments, the way Christ did when he walked this earth, is a never-ending lesson. Does our love and compassion look like his?  If not, that boomerang will continue to circle back until the love we cast onto others reflects him more and more so that every time we reach to someone, every time we touch someone, every time we serve someone, every time we listen to someone, or forgive someone, embrace someone, love someone, and accept someone…we reflect him, his glory, and his love.

Galatians 5:13-15   MSG “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life.  Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.  Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.  For everything we know about God’s word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.  That’s an act of true freedom.  If you bite and ravage each other, watch out-in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

I have written about it in several other blog posts…everything boils down to love. The gospel of Jesus Christ is summed up in one word – Love.   Love extravagantly.  Love the unlovable.  Love because He first loved us.  Love no matter what someone’s life looks like.  Love no matter how different they look from you.  

We have been set free to love.  If we are not walking in love, have a lifestyle of loving others, and are seeing others through the lens of love, are we truly set free?  What are we doing with our freedom anyway??

Are we instead using our freedom to judge others?  Judge their mistakes, judge their failures, judge their past, judge their decisions, and judge the lives they live?  Can they see that love, which we have been set free to freely give, through our judgments?

.... Most likely not.

Romans 14:13-16 MSG  “Forget about deciding what’s right for each other.  Here’s what you need to be concerned about:  that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is.  I’m convinced – Jesus convinced me! – that everything as it is in itself is holy.  We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it can contaminate it… Remember these are also people Christ died for …not just for those who appear to be living right.”  

To put judgment even more firmly in its place, verse 21 goes on to say, 
Don’t say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

Judging interferes with love. Love is the bottom line… Are we speaking, acting or responding in ways that are interfering with the free exchange of love?

This boomerang truth keeps circling back because it is the only truth that matters.

Love, love, and when you think you have loved enough…love some more.

Jesus lived it and said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this, all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34,35)   The word used for “new” here means unused, fresh, novel…new in regard to form or quality. He was, in essence, saying, “Loving others is going to look different now.  It’s a fresh, new way. It is going to look like the way I treated you and what I did for you.”   If we are to love as Jesus loved, we need to know what his love looked like.  His love was sacrificial.  His love was unconditional.  His love was constant.  His love was self-sustaining…it ran on “auto pilot”.  It was the foundation of all that He did.  Everything He did was motivated by love.

I want to keep my eyes straight ahead, always recognizing opportunities to love like Jesus as well as recognize when I don’t.  To exercise my freedom in the purpose for which I was set free. To love without borders.  To see others through His lens…to see and love others for the people that they are…someone for which Christ died.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

One Shall Become Two Reprise

Yesterday was Michael Anthony’s 16th birthday…a milestone,,,and not just for him.

As I began to wrap his presents the day before his birthday, an onslaught of emotions came over me as I was reminded again of the mystery and reality of how “One Shall Become Two”…a topic on which I wrote a couple of months after Michael died. One person, trying to fill the needs that before took two people to do successfully. I think the transition is nothing short of a miracle.  Miraculous that it can be done at all, and done somewhat successfully.

Parenting presents new challenges after losing your mate.  It is incredibly difficult at first to meet the needs of your children because where there once were two people meeting their different needs, there is now only one.   Genesis 2:24 says, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall become united and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  Ironically, this can reverse into “one shall become two”.

One shall become two…. One person doing what once took two.   Where it once took two to run a household now must be done by one.  Picking up the children, attending their events, taking them places.... one shall do the work of two.  Recognizing and meeting the emotional needs of our children took two sets of eyes and hearts before, must now be discerned by one. 

The hardest part is being a female and trying to recognize the needs of a son without any input from a man.   It was an overwhelming responsibility at the beginning but I have learned how to parent more from both sides.  I shared this with my friend Barri yesterday while I was at the gym exercising. She said she saw me as both mother and father, transferring seamlessly between both roles automatically.  She said she could tell that it had become instinctive, like I was now on autopilot. Some days it truly does feel like I am on autopilot, while other days, like the day I began to wrap his presents, I feel like I have nothing to offer this young man.

A few weeks after Michael died, I gathered my children into my bedroom to help them understand that I was one person trying with all of my heart to do what had always taken two…and to be patient with me.  I apologized in advance for failing.  I told them that there would be times that I fail as a parent.  I will not always recognize a need when they have it or I may recognize it but not know how to meet it.   I told them not to always wait for me to come to them to meet a need.  I may miss it sometimes.  I told them to come to me and I will also come to them.  I told them their father parented and met their needs in ways that were slightly different than my ways.  We filled in the gaps for one other.  I was the only one now. I prayed then and continue to pray for God to show me how one shall parent as two did before. 

The truth that one shall become two is also one of enlightening realization that two really did become one flesh.  Because we were one flesh, I learned from Michael how he met the needs of our children in his way, he learned from me, and we were able to parent with a holistic approach of loving our children as a team.  I learned from him to recognize certain needs that I would not have seen without him.  I am parenting now, as one, because we became as one flesh.  Because we spent 24 years watching each other and learning from each other, I am now able to also see as if through his eyes.  I now have character qualities and abilities because two became one.  That union is now allowing me, one, to do, what in the beginning, took two.

Back to wrapping birthday presents…

My husband had attended some Wild at Heart Boot Camps, men’s retreats in the mountains of Colorado sponsored by John Eldredge and Ransomed Heart Ministries. While attending one of these, he purchased a William Wallace replica sword. His intention was to give it to Michael Anthony at the perfect time to signify him crossing over from boyhood to manhood.   He was 10 years old when his father bought the sword.  It had remained in the box until the moment I began to wrap presents for his 16th birthday.  

I knew this birthday would be the perfect time to present the sword.  Anticipating this, I had John Edlredge autograph a copy of his book Wild at Heart for him when I had the opportunity to meet him last fall.  It said, "Happy 16th Birthday!  You are this young man!"  Realizing that he would receive both of these gifts representing his masculine journey and the bridge from boyhood to manhood,  the moment overwhelmed me. I suddenly felt completely unqualified as a parent for him. 

I was overwhelmed that he is and has become a young man without his father.... overwhelmed that I have and am raising a boy to become a mighty man of God.... overwhelmed that I have and am encouraging him to be the man that God created him to be.... overwhelmed that this precious young boy, who was 12 when his dad died and a whole foot shorter than he is now, has shown courage that I did not know was possible…overwhelmed that he is doing it without his father.... overwhelmed that he and I have navigated this together...overwhelmed with sadness that he won't get to share his manhood with his father....overwhelmed with pride at his hope for the future.

With much care, I delicately pulled the sword out of the box and began to remove the bubble wrap that had protected it all these years.  The air in the room began to feel heavy and breathing was difficult.  When all the plastic was cleared, the blade glistened in the afternoon light peering in through the blinds. The moment felt almost magical. That is when I saw the inscription, “Wild at Heart” on the blade.  It was at this moment that the gravity of this gift weighted on my heart.  I stood up and let my eyes gaze over the hilt that was partially encased in leather and then examined the extremely long blade.  I grabbed the hilt with both hands and extended the sword out in front of me.  It was as if that moment was empowering me to empower Michael Anthony to chase after his journey into manhood, his masculine spirit that God placed in him, with every bit of courage and strength that is in him.  

…But then the feeling of inadequacy set it in my thoughts, "What words do I have that I can say to him as he receives the gift?  What can I, as a woman, say that would speak to his manhood and encourage him in the way of God?  To encourage him to keep his heart wild for God and live with all of his glory unleashed?"    I had to fight despair that there was not a man who could speak into his life.  After experiencing all of this, I collapsed on the couch with the sword in my lap and cried like I have not cried since my father passed away a year and a half ago.  Once I cried out all of the tears, I pulled up my bootstraps when I realized that this was a journey for my son and I to do alone.  God's grace has carried me to this day and would continue to carry me…One became two.

I felt commissioned to affirm him with the same words that John Eldredge wrote in the book, “You are this man!”…  This man God created you to be.  You are this man who has a purpose uniquely designed for you alone.  You are this man that we had prayed since birth that you would become.  You are this man…a mighty warrior. You are this man…valiant, strong, and masculine in heart.   You are this man that your father saw in you. You are this man…wild at heart…just as God wants you to be.

Eyes straight ahead, embracing all the roles that God has me performing in this season of the journey.  One became two

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Post Script...Lose the Weight

It is clear that “Lose the Weight” resonated with countless readers.  I am continually surprised how God’s timing for what He is teaching me in my life lines up with what other people are struggling to understand at the same time... then He uses my written word to speak about the issue at hand.  His bigness is overwhelming.

More thoughts on weight loss…

As I wrote before, the extra weight, be it emotional weight, belongings weight, or relationship weight, causes multiple distractions in our lives.  All of these different distractions either slow us down or keep us from moving forward at all.

I did not go into relationship weight previously, but wrong relationships, such as relationships that hold you back or keep you looking back, or relationships that keep you from moving forward in any way, shape, or form, are weighted relationships.  They are not only a distraction keeping you from moving forward in your purpose, but they are a huge stumbling block and hindrance.  Sometimes these relationships are more than just extra weight; they can be like a boulder tied to your ankle and prevent you from making ANY progress.  In other words, you are stuck.  You need to either deal with the issues in that relationship that are causing the hindrance, or if the relationship is like a boulder strapped to your body causing you to be gridlocked, you may need to cut the cord.  Relationship weight can be the hardest weight to lose but is often necessary.

The purposes for losing the weight are many. The distractions that come from the extra weight not only keep us from going forward to live out our God given purpose, but the weight can also keep us from ever discovering our purpose at all.  We do not have to know or understand our purpose before we can start to lose the weight.  Sometimes we need to begin to lose all the weight in order for our eyes to see and discover the purpose that God has had out in front of us all along.

Losing any of the weight...emotional, relational, or belongings...does not necessarily mean you are preparing for a physical move but it always prepares you for a move forward, the next step, or a change of direction in your life toward your God given purpose…a preparation for your life journey.  Think of it like a military boot camp or basic training.  They keep their belongings weight to a minimal, they keep an orderly environment, and they prepare their bodies and mind for lies ahead…not knowing when or where, but when the time comes, they can move forward quickly, their load is light and they are ready to fulfill their purpose.

It is all about staying in a state of readiness so that when it is time to take the next step, a curve ball is thrown your way, circumstances change, or the door of opportunity opens, your weight is light, you are emotionally and relationally strong,  and you can move forward with ease.   Don’t let the extra weight in your life sabotage you from fulfilling your purpose.

Eyes straight ahead.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lose the Weight

Have you ever tried to walk forward while dragging extra weight behind you? Sometimes you may even need to turn around to put more strength into it and walk backwards while pulling the extra weight along with you.  How can you see where you are going when you are walking backwards or trying to look over your shoulder at the extra weight while simultaneously walking forward?  It is difficult, labor intensive, slows down the forward motion and is extremely frustrating.

This is how I see how I see my life.  I have been dragging some extra weight around with me while trying to move forward…and its time to lose the weight.

Since January, I have intently sought God in prayer concerning how to prepare for my future, this new life He has prepared for me.  As I have written before in my post entitled “Resurrected Desires”, my desires for my future and my purpose have been resurrected but as I see it, the timing has not quite yet arrived to move forward with any great speed.  So I have asked God questions like, How can I prepare for the forward journey into my purpose? Where do You need to see progress?  What can I do in the physical to get ready for the road ahead? Is there anything you are waiting on me to step forward and do before You can move me forward?

His consistent and resounding answer has been, “Lose weight.”

We see this truth of losing weight in Hebrews 12:1.

Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance(unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, looking away from all that will distract to Jesus, who is the leader and the source of our faith, giving the first incentive for our belief, and is also its finisher, brining it to maturity and perfection.”

The message translation calls the weight “spiritual fat”.  The New Living Translation says, “let us strip off every weight that slows us down.

Kim Wolinski, a well-known speaker, life coach, and author even goes so far as to say that, “Clutter (weight) will sabotage your spiritual life.”  That is a strong connection!

I cannot go forward with any speed until I lose the weight…that is, lose the emotional weight and lose the weight of my physical belongings.  How can He propel me into my purpose if I am still carrying weight from my past?

The emotional weight of grief, regrets, past wounds, fears, insecurities…these are weights I have been dragging behind me.  Yes, the load has gotten much lighter, but there is still some remaining weight to lose.

Recent research even proves how clutter (weight) in your life affects the brain.  Researchers at Yale have actually found that two areas in the brain associated with pain respond when you let go of things you own or things you feel a connection towards.  In other words, there is pain associated with letting go of the emotional weight to which I feel a connection and it has begun to clutter my life and slow me down. It drags behind me with each step I take like a ball and chain.  The longer I have held onto the weight, the more painful it is to let it go…but I choose to let it go. I choose to cast off the weight.  I don’t want to carry this weight around any longer.  I want to run the appointed course of my race that is set before me with total freedom.

In the same respect, I need to help my house lose weight. Having too much weight in the house can also hold us back like emotional weight because it becomes a distraction, a time stealer, and can often times be painful to lose the weight just like losing emotional weight.  Think of how much time you spend simply maintaining the weight in your house?  The weight competes for your attention…and all of the weight is temporal. In order to move forward in our purpose with our eyes straight ahead, we must strive to be more spiritually mindful in all that we do…and for me to be freed up to be more spiritually minded and purpose focused, my house must lose some weight.  I would never want the extra weight to sabotage my spiritual life.

I have put my house on a weight management program.  I want and need my house and emotional space free of all weight so that creativity can flow, my attention will not be divided, my eyes can focus straight ahead, and my steps will be unhindered, moving forward with purpose and freedom.

I was texting with someone today who is struggling with wanting answers from God of what to do with the rest of his life, direction, and purpose.  With his best efforts, he is trying to be still and listen to God’s lead but, as we all know, being still is extremely difficult when we are searching for answers about the journey ahead of us…and we typically want the answer now!  He said he felt like “steel being forged in the fire. I know I am lovingly being formed but when is this done?”  I have asked this same question of God….Okay God…mercy!  Lord have mercy!  Is it time to run yet?  How much longer must I feel like I am training in boot camp before I can cut loose and run the race that is set before me?

In spite of these questions, I also told him that being still and listening is the best thing you can do.  You learn much about yourself, your natural urges and tendencies, and gain a more clear perspective when you are able to force yourself into the self discipline of being silent and waiting on God…but the art is to know when it’s time to wait on God and when its time take action, lose some weight, and move forward in faith.

Because I love to garden, I often think of spiritual matters in terms of gardening.  Losing the weight is much like a hard pruning on a rose bush.  The more severe the pruning, the more fullness of life there will be, the stronger the new growth will be, and the greater the number of blooms.  This is what our life, our journey, our purpose can look like when we lose the weight and prune out everything that is pulling strength from the main limbs…in gardening terms we call them suckers.  Emotional weight and physical weight in our surroundings can suck the strength, the stamina, and future growth right out of us by silently distracting us from our purpose.

Even though the weight loss can be painful, I choose to lose the weight so that I can run the appointed course of my race that is set before me with total freedom and, because there is no more weight dragging behind me, I can run with my eyes straight ahead.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Like a a new life

Who knew that Sting and Paul Simon could bring on a spiritual awakening right in the middle of Madison Square Garden?

While standing in a recent concert with Sting and Paul Simon, I became overwhelmed with the fact that, with God’s grace and by His mercy, I had created a new life for myself.  In 2011, I wrote in a blog post called “Creating Life”,God is the great Creator of life.  I am made in His image.  He is showing me how to create life and beauty in this fallen world.”  At the concert, I had the realization that I am creating life, a new life.

I have been a Sting fan since I was in college when he was with The Police and I grew up in the 70’s listening to the classic “vinyl” by Simon and Garfunkel.  Seeing Sting and Paul Simon on stage in Madison Square Garden was magical for me. I occasionally had tears, very cleverly hidden from those around me, sitting in the rims of my eyes. Not tears because of who was on stage, but tears of joy over my life, the life God and I had created together…by His grace,  the courage and strength He had given me, and my willingness to move forward with life.  Isn’t it miraculous that I could have tears of joy over my life after all the pain I have had to experience? 

I always wanted to do things that made me happy but held back while telling myself that my happiness was not important. While listening to Sting sing the lead of “Like a Bridge”, I suddenly realized I was doing at that moment what I wanted to do simply because it was fun and it made me happy.  It confirmed that with the grace of God, I did, I can, and I do create my life.  I have been creating life ever since my husband died but had not felt like I had the right to create life in all areas of my life.  I learned immediately after his death that I had to be proactive in creating life again, new and fresh, a life that I wanted for my children and me, and not to be afraid to go after it.  A life where I would go after all I have dreamed of doing and be the whole person I was created to be, “unleashed in all my glory”.  All of this does not just happen; it takes a decision to keep moving forward with intention.

Good things come to those who wait” is an old proverb, a slogan made popular by a Heinz ketchup advertising campaign.  Good things don’t always come to those who wait; sometimes the best things come to those who do, or make it happen… like creating life.  You can dream about your goals and your desires all you want but you won’t ever reach them if you don’t do anything to move towards them. During the concert I recognized the fact that I had moved toward my new life with intention.  It had been one small step at a time causing me to not recognize how far I had come into my newly created life…until I heard Sting sing it.

As Sting belted out the chorus of  “Like a Bridge”, I felt like I was in a worship service and wanted to raise my hands and praise God because he had been my bridge. He had bridged my life from pain and grief over to joy and dancing. He had been my bridge from death and darkness over to new life and great light on my path.  I stood in awe that I was actually standing there, in New York City, listening to Sting, and yet feeling as if God was confirming, “I was your bridge.  We did it!  You are here.  You are alive and well!  You are living!  This is the other side.  A new life has been created for you.  A life for you to enjoy.  A life to bring you happiness.  I carried you over the bridge.  What is behind you is behind you.  What lies ahead of you is all new…a newly created life. “  I could have listened to them sing that song over and over as I relished in the epiphany of the moment.

While at the beach last weekend for a wedding, I took some long walks along the edge of the water and  let my thoughts drift freely as my gaze scanned the tide in the setting of the afternoon sun.  I watched the tide roll back and forth on the path ahead of me as it pulled sand back with it creating a perfectly new path for me to place my feet as I walked forward.  It occurred to me that this was similar to the bridge over which God had carried me.  We walk and leave our footprints, our past, behind us, but as the tide comes up, it not only washes away our past steps but it also gives us a clean canvas upon which to place each new forward step…. what is behind you is behind you…what lies ahead of you is all new…a newly created life.

Keep looking forward, toward your new life, with your eyes straight ahead. Trust that God  will carry you and lay down for you like a bridge.   Before you know it, you will be walking in that new life.

"Like a Bridge"

When you're weary 
Feeling small 
When tears are in your eyes 
I will dry them all 

I'm on your side 
When times get rough 
And friends just can't be found 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 

When you're down and out 
When you're on the street 
When evening falls so hard 
I will comfort you 

I'll take your part 
When darkness comes 
And pain is all around 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 

Sail on Silver Girl, 
Sail on by 
Your time has come to shine 
All your dreams are on their way 

See how they shine 
If you need a friend 
I'm sailing right behind 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will ease your mind 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will ease your mind

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Switching Sides

I finally switched to the other side.

…Sleeping on the other side of the bed, that is.

This was a first for me since my husband died over three years ago.  In fact, this blog post could be more appropriately placed within my first blog that follows my grief journey but I stopped posting there after the first 15 months following his death.  But then again, I have found that switching sides of the bed is actually connected to moving on, keeping my eyes straight ahead, looking to the future, keeping my heart and mind purpose minded in the here and now…which ultimately means, this post truly does belong here, on EyesStr8Ahead.

I did some research online to read about what other people have to say about switching sides of the bed after losing a loved one who once slept on the “other” side.  Many spoke of the difficulty, some tried it unsuccessfully and went back to their same old side while others simply made the switch, but I could not find any true insight on the side benefits of switching.  The only benefit I found was that it is easier to handle the night and sleep better if your own side is empty, instead of theirs.  I have found a much bigger meaning to switching sides, but first I had to examine why I did not switch sides before now.

I felt safe on my side.  His big, empty side was between the door and me, and the space gave me some sense of a false security.  I was essentially hiding, emotionally and physically.  Physically, because I would stack up all of the extra pillows on his side, which made me feel like I had a barrier and it also kept the bed from looking so empty as I would gaze that direction in the dark of the night.  The long stack of pillows also brought me extra warmth, which is comforting when you are use to the extra body heat that comes from sharing the bed with someone.  I felt like I had my own little safe haven in my corner with my enormous stack of books on my nightstand, almost like I was in a different room all together by staying tightly on my side. Switching sides for the purpose of sleeping well was not motivating because I have been sleeping well ever since I moved to New York…and if it ain’t broke…

I did not go to bed one night and suddenly switch sides…no, I eased my way over there.  I spent about a week sleeping in the middle of the bed and I slept great. Small step, big victory.  I found that I would slowly migrate to one side or the other and felt freedom and ownership of the new found space.  When putting my reading book on the nightstand or getting a drink of water became a problem (because sleeping in the middle of a king size bed creates much space between you and the night stand), I decided to take the plunge and go completely to his side. That first night, even before I fell asleep, I felt like I had conquered scaling a wall and was taking the deep breath of victory while enjoying the beautiful view from the top.

The feelings produced by switching sides were very similar to what it must feel like to actually climb a mountain like Annapurna.  I felt empowered, strong, in control, courageous and confident. The bed felt completely mine.  It was like stepping into a role of new leadership.  It caused me to discover new parts of myself.  I realized I am a risk taker.  I am not afraid of new and different situations.  I can walk into the unknown and not let fear hold me back.  I am much more spontaneous than I have ever given myself credit.  I like the clear mind and clear thinking that comes from less clutter in one’s life, physical and mental and emotional clutter.  His nightstand was empty of books and sparsely decorated, which I like, where as mine was full of books with just enough room for a coffee cup or a glass of water…. I was hiding in my books in my corner. I feel like I am no longer hiding, behind anything in my life.

I have been hiding by not answering my phone, not returning voicemail messages, not reading emails, not replying to emails, not reading Facebook private messages (because then I would have to reply), not wanting to smile and be myself in pictures, hiding behind sunglasses, not making eye contact…and I am sure I could think of more ways that I have hidden over the past 3 years.  Switching sides of the bed and seeing my little corner where I had been hiding since Michael died gave me a fresh new perspective and I am tired of hiding.

The first morning after I switched sides, my daughter walked into my bedroom and twisted up her brow and said, “Why are sleeping over here?”  I replied, “I have been wanting to try it out.”  I then added, “Besides it’s supposed to be healthy.”  To this she giggled and said, “And how can that be healthy?” She was thinking healthy like green drinks and taking vitamin C everyday are healthy.  I tried to explain to her that it was emotional and mental health and a good and necessary step for someone who has lost a spouse.  I could see the light go on in her mind.

While in the process of switching sides, I simultaneously bought new organic sheets, Italian hotel bedding, new pillows, and a new headboard.  Everything is white, except the headboard, which is covered in natural linen.  It all feels pure, new, fresh, simple, uncomplicated and beautiful. I feel like I am indulging myself every night when I get to climb into my new bed, which feels like another step towards a new life.  I look at the bed now when I walk into my room and, instead of my gaze skipping over his side and focusing on my side tucked in the corner, I “see” the whole bed and I think, “What a beautiful bed!

Switching sides…such a seemingly simple act but with huge implications.  I feel as if I have cast off ankle weights.  I am moving onward a little bit further down this new and unchartered road.  I am keeping my eyes straight ahead. This small step of moving on also causes me to keep my eyes looking to the future, because I do have a future and God has good things planned…in this I am confident.  Switching sides shows that I am keeping my heart and mind purpose minded in the here and now.  

Why did I wait so long?  It was a season. It’s a new season now…on the other side.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Resurrected Desire

I read this quote today and it could not have arrived in my inbox at any better time than this.  My thoughts have been consumed for the last week with this very idea of awakened souls and resurrected desires.

"Desire often feels like an enemy, because it wakes longings that cannot be fulfilled in the moment...Spring awakens a desire for the summer that is not yet.  Awakened souls are often disappointed, but our disappointment can lead us onward, actually increasing our desire and lifting it toward its true passion." The Sacred Romance - John Eldredge

I prayed for several months starting last October for God’s resurrection power to rise up in my life.  My heart, my dreams, my desires, and my passion for life have all been lying dead in the “tomb” since my husband Michael died.  I needed that same power that raised Jesus from the dead to rise up and bring life to my heart, life to my dreams, life to my desires and my passions.  I needed the stone to roll away so that I could emerge among the living again.   I wanted to be fully alive again.  I wanted my children to be fully alive again.  I wanted God to stir up all of these things inside of us.  I petitioned to Him daily, on behalf of my children and me.

…Then it happened… After three months (interesting the correlation to the three days Jesus was in the tomb), He answered my prayers.

Everything has been resurrected and this is great news!  He heard me.  He responded.  He loves me.  He brought me back among the living…but now what?

I feel like a racehorse in the gate before a big race, full of energy, strength, desire and purpose, but still held back by the gate.  I can see the race before me, but it is not yet the moment…and still there are all of these desires resurrected and ready and I am recognizing purpose again.  Like John Eldredge said, “Desire often feels like an enemy, because it wakes longings that cannot be fulfilled in the moment.”  I fight feeling frustrated now at my resurrected desire for life, as if it is the enemy, because it is not the moment and yet I feel so ready for life.   It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally.  Harry says to Sally near the end of the movie, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."  This thought goes for anything, not just relationships…when you realize how you want to spend the rest of your life, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible.

What encourages me is the knowing that God would not have resurrected all of these things if it were not close to the time to “open the gate”. 

Romans 8:15-21 explains this quandary in which I find myself…this joyful anticipation for the road that lay ahead of me.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.  It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.  We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.  And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us – an unbelievable inheritance! …That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.  The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next.  Everything in creation is being more or less held back.  God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready to be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead…. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.”  

After 3 years in the tomb, I feel adventurously expectant asking God, “What’s next, Papa?”…. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens as I wait to be released for the glorious times ahead.

Eyes Straight Ahead….

Friday, April 4, 2014

What Do You Do for Fun? Part 2

Tomorrow I am taking an all day cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America for the first time….this made me think of my blog post with the  lists of “What makes me happy” and “What do I do for fun”.  Tomorrow is the beginning, and yet a continuation, of pursuing my passion to be a great cook and baker.  I don’t want to be a chef or own a restaurant.  I simply want to prepare great food for my friends and family in my home…. this makes me happy!

These two lists seem to be ever present in my thoughts since originally writing the first blog post about it.  I am continually practicing, and giving myself permission, to allow joy to pervade into my everyday life, in as many ways as possible. I now see and feel joy in my life throughout most of my days.   Sometimes it is just a matter of recognizing it and making a mental note…”Oh, that made me happy!” or “Well that was fun!” Music has been one of those, “Wow, this really makes me happy!”

Because of my hip hop dance background, listening to music once moved me in a way that nothing else could.  I felt incredibly alive while I was dancing, choreographing, or even teaching a dance. My face would light up with expressions to match the mood of the dance. I loved expressing myself through dance, using my face and body, whether it was choreographed or free styling on the dance floor. I could dance while sitting on the floor, standing up, or could even find a groove while sitting in a chair! (I always loved the way Janet Jackson incorporated the use of chairs in one of her numbers in her Rhythm Nation tour!)

I lost all of this life and joy that came to me through dance and music, even before my husband died. I stopped all dancing.  I could not have danced even if I had wanted to move.   It had been my life for about 20 years from high school through my professional years.  I stopped listening to music all together…but again, it was a necessary season. I would drive in complete silence for all day road trips.  I would even cook in silence.  The silence nourished me and allowed my thoughts to process life. Those were years that I needed silence…now the tide has turned.

I have grown tired of the silence. Music creates life wherever it is played, and my surroundings, my mind, and my body have been craving the new life and energy that music brings to the room.  My body feels like it is coming out of a long slumber.  A new season is upon me and God is bringing music and dance back into my life for me to enjoy… and it makes me happy! As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a season for mourning and a season for dancing.  I think the dancing season is finally in bloom! It came on me gradually like fruit grows on a tree…first the bud, then a flower, and finally the fruit.

I now listen to great music in the car and I can dance my body while in the driver’s seat, with or without my kids in the car!  While waiting on my friend last week as she shopped in a luggage store, a great dance song was playing over their speakers.  Without even thinking about it, or realizing it, my body was dancing to the beat right by the front door to the store on 6th avenue in New York City.  When I realized what I was doing I began to giggle.  No one saw me, but the great thing was that I did not care if they had!

It makes me happy that I can feel music again.  Music, and lyrics, are stirring me once again and it feels like a deserted fire has been rekindled inside of me and is burning once again…and its plain old fun!

I love that God thought through all of these seasons and gave us these promises in His word to back up this new season where I now find myself.

Happy are those who trust in the Lord and made the Lord their hope and confidence.” Jeremiah 17:7

And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again, dear virgin Israel.  You’ll resume your singing, grabbing tambourines and joining the dance.”…”You will again be happy and dance merrily…” Jeremiah 31:4

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.  You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.” Psalms 30:11

In the Message translation it says it this way,  ”You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers.  I’m about to burst with song; I can’t keep quiet about you.  God, my God, I can’t thank you enough.”

God, I can’t thank you enough.  You kept my eyes straight ahead through the season of mourning and now my eyes get to behold the season of dance….this makes me happy!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Seasons Change

I am clearly stuck on the concept, the reality, and the need for the seasons of life. This will be the third time I have spent time dwelling on seasons in my writing but it is ever present in my thoughts.  The whole idea intrigues me.  Not only our seasons of life, but also how they relate to the seasons in nature and why we, as humans, complicate our seasons instead of simply flowing with them the way they flow in nature.  Before sunrise one morning last week, I spent some time in deep thought about this contrast between the two and how we each approach the seasons differently.

I thought about the multitude of animals and how they handle the different seasons.  In the spring, they naturally come out of hiding to enjoy the warmth and the buffet of new things to eat.  They run, stand in the sunshine, chase one another, have babies, and get plenty of exercise.  In the summer months, they seem to simply enjoy the art of living.  In the fall, they begin to plan ahead for the winter months.  Some animals may prepare their winter homes, some build up food stores, and others become more timid for their own protection, because the leaves are not hiding them as well as they did in the spring and summer.  In the winter, their lives slow down to a snails pace.  They eat to survive instead of enjoyment of the lush options to fill their bellies.  They spend much quality time with their families.  They rest more than any other season but yet they stay on guard to protect themselves and their families from any predator that may see them because there are fewer places to hide.  

Animals instinctively know what to do in each season.  No one has to tell them, prod them, console them, prepare them, or help them to move from one season to the next.  They instinctively know how to prepare for each oncoming season.  They instinctively know the behavioral patterns that are necessary for survival in each season.  They instinctively know when to change their lifestyles to match the season.  What would happen if a deer decided to be stubborn and chose not to make the lifestyle change needed in winter? He would most likely quickly lose his life!  He would be an easy target for a hunter or would not have the stores and strength to make it through the winter if he kept looking for grass or other green plants, instead of relying on what is available for his winter diet.  

The long winter season I went through after my husband died looked very much like that of the animals.  My life slowed down to a snail's pace.  Most days, I ate only to survive…not because I wanted to eat but simply to give me enough strength to make it through the winter.  I spent large amounts of quality time with my family and it was the longest season of rest I have ever experienced. (We are still in need of the extra rest, almost like a mother bear needs a long period of hibernation in the winter.) Interestingly, I also kept myself on guard to protect my children from any harm during this season. I felt as if we were exposed just as the deer are exposed in an open field in the dead of winter.  I wanted to protect their hearts at all cost.  I feel like I did all of these things instinctively but I recognize that many people, while in “their winter”, ignore the season and try to pretend it is still spring or summer.

Why is it that humans do not move quite as instinctively or as willingly through the seasons of life as do the animals?  Are we so busy and out of touch that we miss the cues or do we love a particular season so deeply that we deny the truth that it must and will come to an end?  Why are we so surprised when a season ends and a different one begins? Why do we deny that certain seasons will or should ever come?  Unlike the animals, we have a heart and emotions…this complicates things and can get in the way of our ability to accept the seasons and their purpose.  

Everything in creation has a proper time and a cycle…and yet we think we can beat the odds and so we attempt to make certain seasons last longer because we don’t want them to end or, conversely, make them end sooner than they should because we grow impatient.

In the Old Testament, the book of Ecclesiastes has a profound teaching on seasons.  In chapter 3 verse 1, it tells us not only is there a season for every matter, but also a season for every purpose!  This can be the hardest season to put behind us…the close of a purpose…especially when we have loved that particular purpose, been invigorated by it, felt secure while enveloped by it, learned great things from it, grew through it, taken to new heights by it, or our souls were stirred by it…but purposes are seasonal.  We often forget the good news that there will be another season with a new purpose that will do these things again for us but in a fresh new way. The seasons and purposes build on one another.

In Ecclesiastes 3:2-8, all of the seasons are listed corresponding with their opposite season.  They all exist and they all must take place.  We must then learn to recognize their beginning and their end and embrace them…no matter the season or the purpose.  There is take away value in each.

…break down/build up
…cast away stones/gather stones
…make love/abstain
…keep/throw away

I love that, by God’s grace and mercy, weeping and mourning are followed by laughing and dancing!  Laughing and dancing represent freedom and pure joy!  God knew our physical bodies could only handle the weight that comes with grief, mourning, and crying so long and then we must break free. We must cast off… What better way to break free than to laugh and dance!  The freedom that comes from dancing and laughing lifts away the weight and brings joy back to life.  This is a season I am willing to step into and embrace.

I want to keep my eyes straight ahead and be completely present in every season and every purpose that God brings my way.  I want to receive all that He has for me in each season.  I want to recognize purpose in all things and I pray that I will have the wisdom to discern when a matter has served its purpose…and another change of season and a new purpose begins. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Idols of the Heart

While sitting in a women’s conference at our church this weekend, I was brought face to face with the stark reality of the difference between my past and my present…. and it arrived in the most unexpected vehicle.

The recognition of idols of the heart…my heart.

The theme teaching was “Idols of the Heart”.  When we hear the word “idols”, we usually think of a gold calf or some other being in the form of a statue or a carving made in wood, or even just a picture.  Idols of the heart are something completely different but are just as dangerous because we do not recognize them, even though they exist in our very own hearts. They do not have a physical form upon which to rest our gaze so we can deceive ourselves into thinking that these are not really idols at all.  We lie to ourselves and make excuses for our behavior, our habits, our idols, by saying, This is simply my personality.  This is just the way I do things.  This is just how I like things done.  This is just how I parent.  This is just because I love my husband/wife more than other people love their spouses.  This is just because I like to make people happy.  What’s wrong with that?  We cannot accept that we may have taken it a bit too far. Instead, we simply look at our idols of the heart and say,  “Yep, there’s my idol. We work so well together!” 

Idols of the heart are subtle and deceptive because it is something intended for good but has gone into overdrive, excess, and now receives more of our attention, passion, and desires and control over our lives than it should. Idols of the heart are tricky because they are speaking to a real need in our lives.  There are countless idols of the heart but some of them can be money, the need for control, the need for perfection, ourselves, food, health, achievement, friendships, people pleaser, children, spouses, and plenty more.  Many of these idols fool us into thinking that our identity and acceptance comes from them.... which we know it does not, but how quickly we listen to the lie!

Webster’s dictionary defines “idol” as “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship; a false god.”  The synonyms are pretender or imposter. Whoa!  So our children can become an object of worship, our spouses can become an object of worship, perfection can be an object of worship.  Controlling people and manipulating situations to meet our satisfaction can be a form of idol worship because if you are not in control you get angry, impatient, irrational, feelings of no self worth or purpose…all symptoms of what people feel when their idol is taken away. If that does not give you a “selah” moment, I don’t know what will!  (Selah is an Old Testament word that means to pause and think about it.)

In the Old Testament, it says, ”Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” Jonah 2:8 NIV  Every time we are turning to one of these idols of the heart to fill a void or to place them in a place of prideful prominence, which they do not deserve, we are turning away from God’s love.  Ouch!

As I listened to different women speak about a particular idol of the heart which they battle personally, I was doing some self evaluation, my typical introspection to discern how this all applies to me and what I can take away from it.  I realized that before Michael died, I had several idols of the heart but, of course, they were all unknown to me at the time….but it has all changed since his death.

I was always striving.  I awoke everyday overwhelmed with my self-imposed insane list of things to accomplish because of the idols in my heart, the imposters, and the pretenders.  They made me think that my life was not worth anything, that I was not worth anything, if I did not give them the proper attention they deserved.  Achieve achieve achieve…perform perform perfom...excel excel excel… My days were consumed with trying to keep up with these idols.  I would often feel like a failure if I did not feed one of them on any given day. At the conference, it was said that we all need to make choices that will starve our idols.  We either feed them or we starve them.  For years I fed them and fed them daily well-balanced meals.   If we keep feeding them, we unknowingly starve ourselves and we begin to suffer.

About three years before Michael died, I came down with a severe case of pneumonia in July. That year started with a bang. Keep in mind as you are reading that I also was homeschooling my three children through this entire time.  In January, I was told that I was not able to have more children (which I found out years later was not the case.) In February, at the beginning of the month, I was a keynote motivational speaker at a women’s conference speaking on how to live your life “out loud”. At the end of February, I ended up going to a cardiologist because I was suddenly having spikes in my blood pressure (I was told it was from my performance driven lifestyle.) In March, I did the choreography for a musical at a local high school.  In May, I had a lumpectomy on one of my breasts, which was benign. In June, one week after the lumpectomy, I drank an herbal tea that caused an internal hemorrhoid to rupture and I bled profusely and ended up in the emergency room. In July, I cooked a 7 course classic French meal as a private chef for a group of 14 people from France and some local hosts…and cooked and served it in my home…with all the different wines I chose with each course.

The night of the French meal, I began to feel like I was coming down with something but I pushed through the next day to watch Julia compete in a swim meet, even though I could barely stand.  Within two days, it was pneumonia.  Seventy percent of one lung had fluid. It was discovered two weeks into it that I was carrying two strains of pneumonia, and I had not been taking the correct meds. I was bed ridden for one month, with a fever most of that time, and it came close to taking me out completely. I had already been too weak to walk, but when I became too weak to talk I became afraid.  Michael had to lean down and place his ear right next to my mouth to be able to hear what I needed to say. I asked him to have the elders of the church come pray over me and anoint me with oil, as the scriptures say to do.  The fever ceased and I slowly began to move around the house again.  It took me about three more  months to regain my strength.

I tell you this because it was after my bout with pneumonia that I realized my self- imposed pressure to achieve, perform, and excel had taken its toll on my life. While feeding the idols of the heart, I was starving my body.  Did any of that achievement mean anything while I was lying in my bed too weak to talk? Too weak to eat?  Too weak to drink? My life never went back to the pace where it once was after I recovered.  Most of the idols of the heart were destroyed as a result.  I cautiously did life for a couple years following, looking skeptically at anything that tried to push me to perform, excel, lead, or achieve.

Fast forward to the conference this weekend…. I realized that when Michael died, any remaining idols had been crushed and utterly destroyed.  I had been stripped naked before God and was forced to come to terms that I was in control of absolutely nothing. Who am I now without these idols? Who am I without my achievements?  Who am I if I am not performing either by dancing, cooking, entertaining, or leading? I realized that I had once identified myself with these idols and others identified me with them, and, ironically, the world makes us think we should be proud that we are associated with these idols.  It’s all a lie… a veil over something incredibly ugly and repulsive.

Now I feel as if I am in a numb place with God. I sit here alone, in a quiet little room, or I walk quietly around the house while asking Him, “So what now?  Who am I without these characteristics that I had turned into idols?  How can I still use these unique qualities You created and put in me from the beginning to benefit You, and not allow myself to get derailed with them by following the direction that the world would have me to go with them?” The interesting thing is that God put in each one of us that very thing that makes us uniquely different from everyone else. Only God knows how we can use these unique characteristics or hearts desires for His ultimate glory. We need to take these natural giftings to Him and have Him show us how to share them with the world. We see our strengths and assume we know what to do with them so we take off running without asking for directions first.

Our pastor’s wife said, “The same gifts God gives us can also be used to lure us away from Him.”  The very thing God gave us for good can become an idol if we use it for the wrong purposes and try to please anyone other than Him.  My dad put it a different way.  He taught me once, when I was much younger, that one’s strength can also become one’s weakness.  We must always keep our strengths in check so as to not give them too much prominence or unknowingly allow pride to sneak into our hearts.

Now I have found that I have swung like a pendulum in the opposite direction.  I fled from those idols as far I could run but I find that in their place, fear has tried to slip in the door…fear of my own gifts, my own glory, fear of the glory God placed in me, the way that He chose for me to exemplify His glory… and so I shy away from using the gift to excel, the gift to lead, the gift to do things with the spirit of excellence, the gift to cook, the gift to entertain, the gift to make a difference.

I came home from the conference and cried out to God in my writing room as I looked up at a beautiful oil painting of Jesus and Third Station of the Cross.  Tears were running down my face. I repented before God for allowing those idols into my heart years ago and repented for trying to hide my glory, my unique self that He made me to be.

Forgive me for being afraid of my glory.  Afraid to have the switch flipped back on again. Forgive me for having tainted your glory within me by using it to fit the world’s ways instead of seeking your ways.  Forgive me for striving and thinking that I could do it all in my own strength.  I want to take those unique characteristics you gave me and, in my own striving, caused me to turn them into idols, and I want to hand them back to You. Show me how to balance them in my life and use them for Your glory. I know this will enable me to live unleashed in my glory…total freedom to be me.  The whole me that you created and were pleased upon creating…because I was created in Your image. If I am made in your image, then achievement, performance, leading, and doing things with spirit of excellence can all be good when they are not used for prideful purposes. Here I am Lord…let me be Your hands and Your feet... again.

Not only keep your eyes straight ahead, but also keep your eyes looking up to Him, take all of your questions to Him, take all of your strengths to Him.  Let Him be the keeper of your heart.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring, Life Renewed

With today marking the first day of spring, it has made me step back and consider the seasons of change again in my life.  Right now, it is officially spring, but snow is all around me here in the country and now I see in the forecast a prediction for snow on my birthday next week….at the end of March!  People in my community tell me that this is the coldest, longest, and hardest winter they have experienced here in a long time. I experienced a winter like this once before....

I went through a season of prolonged winter after my husband died.  During those days of extreme harsh winter, I had to keep my eyes straight ahead and believe that one day, some day, spring would return.  I must be honest here and say that many days I felt as though it would never come and I might be stuck in an endless winter for the rest of the days of my life.  Thankfully, last year, slowly and gradually, spring began to emerge into my life again.  It is still emerging...a long spring is easier to handle than a long winter.  I experience pure enjoyment as I see new hope, new joy, new happiness, and new life springing up all around me.

I went back and read something I had written last year on seasons and it resonated with me all over again.  What a long winter we have had!  Can you imagine if it truly was always winter, as it was in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia?  Remember how dreary  and fearful the inhabitants of Narnia had become because of the endless winter?  Remember how free and joyful they were once the season changed and new life was restored?  My life is being restored as perennials are restored back to life and beauty after a season of dormancy.  My life is being renewed like the new growth on a rose bush after a hard prune that takes off every limb of the lovely plant and somehow, miraculously, the plant comes back more beautiful than before.

Thank God for the seasons.  It may feel like winter, but spring is coming!  In my life and in nature, a new and beautiful life is emerging. 

Here is the link to my blog post on seasons...Enjoy the Season

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I Choose

Morning coffee time earlier today brought me confirmation of the importance to keep my thoughts and heart on things that make me happy. I don’t ever want to go back to focusing on my afflictions, my situation, or the cards I have been dealt, but rather I want to focus on what makes my heart glad.  How life changing our thoughts can be!  

I am going to paraphrase from several translations and add my interpretation of Proverbs 15:15.

If we are not careful about where we keep our thoughts when we are experiencing affliction, hard times, and dark circumstances, we will only bring trouble to ourselves if we keep our minds on those miserable circumstances. It can appear to us in our hearts and minds that nothing good is ever going to happen to us and more bad things are probably waiting just around the corner.  Our hearts are miserable and a miserable heart means a miserable life.   Our days can even feel evil in our minds because of all of our anxious and foreboding thoughts.  We keep thinking that something bad is going to happen….again…if something so terrible can happen once, it can happen again – “so I might as well stay ready and looking for it this time.”  Every day will bring trouble when we approach life in this manner. 

This kind of person not only feels despondent, but their bodies show despondency.  They show discouragement, dejection, or depression. They walk with their low spirits, willingly embracing them, from loss of hope and courage.  They feel a deep dejection because they think that any effort or resistance is useless on their part…. so they simply live with an acceptance and resignation that this is the way life is going to be for them.  Why fight it?

I choose to fight it.

I choose not to dwell on my circumstances.  I choose to cast off my afflictions.  I choose to see only good in my future. I choose living in the present and looking to the future.  I choose courage.  I choose hope.  I choose to fight the good fight.  I choose the happy heart. I choose the glad heart. I choose the cheerful heart.  If I can have this kind of heart each day, in spite of and regardless of my circumstances, I will have a continual feast.  I will have a life that gives me an unusual and abundant amount of enjoyment.  An elaborate and abundant life.  A life that is filled with songs, a melody of happiness in my heart.  Why would I not choose my life to be like a continual feast?

Life is a choice. How you are going to live it each day is your choice.

I choose to keep my eyes straight ahead, not even looking down at where I am presently standing, but looking ahead. Simply one or two steps ahead are all it takes to keep moving forward and to see the potential life there is to be lived.  There is a purpose to my past, my present, and my future, and God has a plan on how it is all going to work together for my good.  I choose life with abundant enjoyment.  I choose to trust in that plan and believe for the best.  I choose a happy heart.