Thursday, December 24, 2015

The End

My grandpa has been gone now for 9 months today. But I can still feel the sorrow as if it were yesterday. I can still smell the sterile air of the hospital room. I can still taste the salty tears. I have this wonderful, dreadful mind. I can recall things vividly & quickly. Even smells can trigger memories.  I hate it. After someone is gone, all you have are memories. I wish I didn't have them. Some find comfort in it, others are haunted by them. I can recall memories at the drop of a hat, and along with them, come the emotions & feelings. I have another wonderful, dreadful gift...I feel things very deeply. I hate it more than I like it. I wish I could turn them off. But when I do, I miss the good parts. It's a constant battle.

I love Christmastime. But I wish I could skip past it this year. I know there's joy wrapped up inside every sorrow but I'm just tired of looking for it. Lately, joy feels like a pretend world to me. I hurt on the inside, searching for joy, but there's nothing I can find. I know...I know...Jesus is our joy, be grateful & give thanks in every season. I know, I get that. Indulge for a minute though. I have found some joy in this last season. I have. But God...he's the only one who knows how painful & broken & heartbreaking this last year has been for me. And sometimes the more painful part is waiting for God to bring the redemption for all those things that have been dead and gone.

2015 was a year of dead things. Dead dreams, relationships, trust & people. And I have been desperately asking God to not let that follow me into the next year. His word says goodness & mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. It sure hasn't looked like it. Waiting for the redemption hurts. I barely made it into 2015 before things started falling apart. Seriously...nearly an entire year of brokenness, death, pain, loss. And my that it's all for nothing. My fear is that I'm actually waiting on nothing. I've never been in a season this long before. I've never been in a season where pretty much everything around me & in me was broken. I've never been in a season where it is rare to go an entire day without fresh tears falling on dry ground. Sometimes it's my tears that got me thru a day of grief that I didn't know how to release.
But somehow...I've made it. Somehow, I pushed thru. I feel this thing like 2016 is the beginning of the best days of my life.
Which is scary bc nothing is different...nothing has changed. I have the same dead end job, same church, same roles, same family, same broken friendships. And if my reality is supposed to be what God says even if it's not what I see...that's a painful place to live. It's where I've lived. Lonely and broken. Longing for dreams and promises to come...but I'm left wondering.
Crumbling under the weight of dashed expectations, delayed promises. It plain sucks. I've been reduced to begging God to just show up for me. Begging him to do something...anything. The silence is killing me. He tells me I'm walking on the ground of the miraculous...but it all looks ordinary...unchanged. It all looks the same. I wanna believe that I heard him...but it all just sounds too good to be true. Why would God want to restore something that means so much to me? Why? I desperately don't want to be wrong...not bc I want to be right...but bc I want to know that I've really heard him. Does it make sense that someone who can so clearly hear God for others also struggles with believing they actually are and can hear from him for themselves? Does that make sense?

It feels like this...sorrow upon sorrow.
And for an entire year almost...I've hid from my family, the tears that I've cried. I've buried my face in pillows, laundry piles and loud music to cover up my pain, my cries. I've gone on long drives alone to cry and pray so that no one at home knew that I was struggling. And the place where you should feel like the most comfortable, the most safe, the most able to let it all out...I couldn't. why? Because no one except God can understand the season I have narrowly made it thru. Only He could bring me thru. No one gets it but Him. Because sometimes, He is the only one who really knows how we feel.

So what's "The End"? It's moving on even though prayers have painfully been and remain unanswered. It's promises that will be left hanging in the balance. It's deciding to keep moving even though everything in me SCREAMS at me to give up, walk away, let go, call it quits. The End means there's a new beginning.  The End means I can expect something to start. I will kiss this year goodbye with a sloppy wet kiss, let it go with open palms, cry over it probably until 12:01am on January 1, 2016. But after that, it's over. 2015 will be done and gone. And I'm praying that a new slate, a fresh clean start awaits me and the ashes that haven't been made beautiful yet will be.  I'm hoping that the ruins that are still just rubble will be made glorious. And I'm believing, with all I feel I don't have left...that my God is a restoring God. Where 2015 was full of heartache, I'm prophesying before I even get into 2016 that it will be full of healing. Where 2015 was full of mess, I'm believing for 2016 to be full of a hope-filled message. And where 2015 was a year of things being lost, stolen and destroyed, I'm speaking in the language of miracles...that 2016 will be a year of things found, hope returned and life restored to all the areas that are still dead.

"And now to Him...who is able to do far more than we even ask or think or imagine..."

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

There's Nothing Magical About Christmas...

When i was younger, Christmas was magical.  When i was younger, gifts "suddenly" appeared under the tree and all i had to do was try really really hard to fall asleep the night before.  It was a MIRACLE!!! mostly everything i told this smelly dude at the mall wearing a red suit and fake beard that i wanted suddenly appeared.  But as i grew older and i found out the truth about Santa, who's handwriting "mysteriously" looked like my mom' became less and less about what i got for christmas.  sure there are things that i wanted when i was 15 years old.  but i knew then that the things i wanted came outa my mom's paycheck.  it didn't mean so much to me anymore.  In fact, i remember a Christmas about 10 years ago.  I opened my gifts and went to the bathroom to try on all the clothes that I helped my mom pick out for my christmas gifts.  I remember crying.  And it wasn't because it was the wrong sweater or i didn't get the things i was because i realized that christmas was so much more.  there were so many others that weren't in a home, or had gifts, or family or turkey or mashed potatoes.  i felt guilty that i had so much and others had so little...or nothing at all.

10 years later, and I'm 29.  and the stuff... doesn't really matter. in matters less and less every year.  there are things far more eternal and personal and emotional that matter to me now.  i care about putting the tree up, stringing lights and hanging decorations.  i care about being with people i love.  but you see, over the years, things die.  traditions, people, friendships, hopes, dreams, goals, expectations.  and christmas means hardly anything anymore at my house.  I'll be working christmas eve and christmas day.  I'll get time and a half pay...but that doesn't really mean a whole lot to me anymore.  money is nice...but it sure isn't everything.

This year, a tradition dies.  my grandpa has been gone now for 8 months.  gone unexpectedly.  We won't go to my grandparents house this christmas like every year for the past 30 years and sit around a large table and share food, memories, stories, and a tradition started 2 years ago, Bingo.  And i'm left in this lonely place of decision.  Do i choose to believe that the best is yet to come?  Even though things aren't the way i had hoped or planned or expected?  Or do i stoop into grief and stay there, "protected" during the holidays when family and friends and the miracle of Jesus are what is celebrated?  It's hard.  this life of hard.

Christmas is not magical, but it is supernatural.  A baby born of a virgin, whom through the Savior of the world would come.  Christmas is a miracle.  Not because we get what we want off of a list, not because of anything other than Jesus.  If I am to believe that "hope is here" because hope is anywhere I am, it certainly is a choice that i have to make.  Even though i look around my world and see that things are so not what they used to be, traditions are gone, people are gone, and other things gone...I can still choose to believe that hope lives because Christ in me is the hope of glory.  And because He is in me, Hope is in me.  and hope is not magical. but it is powerful.  hope fills my lungs and breathes onto my faith that sometimes looks just as dead and broken as some of the things around me.  I can have hope to its fullest capacity that the best really is yet to come.  And just because i can't see it ... doesn't mean it's not here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A tiny post about a big "F" word

It's not what you think. My "f" word is controversial, yes. Offensive, maybe. It might even pack a mean punch. In a world that lives and breathes off of negativity and fear, I have chosen to, somewhat fearfully, live a life of faith.  Living courageously doesn't mean we do it with the complete absence of fear. Sometimes, as Jocye Meyer has said, "you gotta do it afraid."  So here's a short word on the "f"

I wish I could accurately describe what the last 8 months of my life has been like. 
If ever I have experienced the truth of God's Word in a season, it has been this last one. The one that is over. But that tries to tell me it's not. The dust tries to hold on for dear life. And I keep trying to shake it off.

For the better part of my life, I chose to live in fear and to believe the lies that the devil suffocated me with. I made decisions based out of fear. I watched things die bc of my fear. And in the midst of fear and failure, I've chosen to spray out the stench of those two "f" words with unbridled, and absolute foolish faith. 

I invoked my right to remain silent as I allowed for the enemy to arrest my soul with his putrid lies. But Born in the dust of my failure, God had already manufactured a miracle. And my unbridled, foolish faith grew legs and started walking. Wobbly at first, and now learning to stand and believe for things that aren't as though they are staring me right in the face. Things that I cannot reach out and touch yet but believe with all my heart that I actually am touching them. 

On my journey thru life, I have hurt people. People I love so very much. I've come to see the truth of the cliche saying "hurt people hurt people." I allowed my hurt of what I needed and didn't get as a kid to dictate my selfish nature. I became a "taker" and found that I was actually more empty the more I took. 

So now, I am choosing to believe in faith, with faith and by faith...that God had a plan of restoration before any of my failures breathed their first breath. I am choosing to believe by faith...that on the ground of my greatest failures and mistakes, His grace will promote a story of redemption and restoration.  Something more precious than gold.  Something more special than anything materialistic. I'm believing by faith...that He's not done with me yet. I'm believing by faith...that my disappointments are setups for divine appointments.

Friday, October 16, 2015

#RelationshipGoals ... I Can't Love You

I know it's only 4 in the morning. But I'm on break at work and I just can't help but go bonkers in my soul. In gen real we started a series called #relationshipgoals and Pastor Sarah is talking about what it means to have healthy relationships and friendships for the next three weeks. We began the series last week. So one solid month of teaching and a God-perspective from a God-loving pastor about relationships. It's monumental and foundational. So. I've been praying as one of the leaders throughout this series and before it began for God to show me too. Because if the students are gonna go through it, the leaders will first. And holy crap. I subscribed to a blog from Pastor Steven Furtick lead pastor of Elevation Church. Every morning at 3am I get an email titled Waking Faith and there is a scripture and a short devo. Because I work overnight, I'm awake when y'all aren't. I have been praying continuously overnight every Wednesday Thursday and Friday for the past 6 months.  I pray during the day and I get to pray overnight. I just realized it yesterday how I have this rare opportunity to be in direct communication with the God of the universe for 8 hours straight while most of the world sleeps.  And if you think that's interesting, for the last month or so, I have been asking God, in those midnight hours while y'all are asleep, that He would give me opportunities to bless others and to love them with the overflow of love that is His love for me. It all sounds well and good and cute. But I cannot give what I do not have. If I strive to love others with my own love...ick. It's not gonna be that great. God doesn't require us to give what we do not have. He can't. Sooner than later you'll get burned out and frustrated and angry. I had to learn this the hard way. I desperately tried to give what I did not have. I desperately tried to be what I had not received from Him. I desperately tried to be a good friend...without being friends with my source, Jesus. The one who sticks closer than a brother. The one who has the greatest love, the kind of love that lays down his life for his friends. I was trying to love that way. Without having received it and believed it for myself from Him. It's impossible to do. I know...I tried it. And failed miserably.

So I've been on a journey of love. Learning how to allow myself to be loved by Him because He likes to love me.  And this blog from Pastor Steven has helped confirm things I was already praying and believing for. But then, I get this morning's blog post and guess what it's about? Receiving God's Love. Something I turned away from for years. Believing falsely that of course I was the exception to His love, sacrifice, Grace and mercy. But I've allowed Him access. And he has totally rights to my heart. Check out what the blog post says; "There is a principle that applies to every area of life — money, relationships, business. You can only give what you’ve first received. You can become spiritually anemic when you strive to love, give, and serve. You end up burnt out. Why? It’s because you’re operating out of order.
The first thing you have to learn about love is the source it comes from. Love comes from God because God is love. God is also just. He won’t ask you to give love you never received. You have to learn to be loved. If you don’t, you’ll act out of your frustration — which comes from a lack of received love — and you’ll end up damaging all of your relationships.
If you are going to be loved, then you’re going to have to believe the love. There’s no other way around this."

Dang. When I read it, I about fell out my chair.  God's thoughts have become my thoughts. And I'm not completely crazy. 
It's taken me 28 years to understand I am able to receive His love for me. Not bc I deserve it, but bc He just does. He loves me. And there was a sobering line from that post that I felt hit me like a ton of bricks.  Pastor Steven said, "You have to learn to be loved. If you don’t, you’ll act out of your frustration — which comes from a lack of received love — and you’ll end up damaging all of your relationships."  Dang. And seriously, it's true. I know. I've done it. So just get over the fact that you can't strong arm your way thru this. 

You have to receive His love for you first before your valiant efforts to love are even worth anything.  I am recalling even now many times where I said to myself, "it's ok, I don't need God's love. He can't love me, I'm too messed up, gross, unlovable. I'll just love people and it'll be fine." No! It's not fine!  This revelation of his love for me has been one of the most satisfying, mercy-filled and redemptive lessons of my life. We love because he first loved us. But he won't force his love on us. We must receive it.  I believe it's one of the most foundational truths that I skipped over when I entered into friendships. I learned it AFTER seeing things break and I wish I would've just surrendered to this great love sooner. But I can't change what I did. I can only allow Him to change me moving forward. And he's faithful, he who began a good work is faithful to compete it. So when I'm surrendered to Him, nothing is wasted. I'm believing that. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

I'm In Pieces...

But He is not.  I suppose this is a spin-off of a post I already made on facebook just a little bit ago.  I was doing mindless activity (watching television, something I rarely do), When all of a sudden, I realized that I was longing for something more than that.

I began my day in, what has become a routine.  The first words or thoughts out of my mouth are directed to God.  I wake up with a sense of anticipation, of expectation.  I usually begin my day with a conversation...the most important conversation of the day.  I talk with Jesus.  This morning was no different.  I woke up feeling different.  I woke up feeling older.  Not like, in my bones...but in my mind, in my heart and in my spirit.  Like God had done something in me overnight while i was asleep.  Like He had cleansed my heart, my brokenness, with the power of a fierce rainstorm.  That's how I began my day.  He left me wanting more.

So much more that I had to turn off the tv about 6 hours after that encounter to get something I desperately needed from Him.  When this song came to mind... Pieces.  It's a song that talks of the wholeness of God's love.  How it doesn't come to us in pieces.  He doesn't give us His love in pieces. It comes to us, it beckons us, from a place of wholeness.  When wholeness calls out to brokenness...there is a joyous reunion when one receives what the other is offering.

God, in His wholeness, called out to me, in my brokenness.  My fractured heart, my anxious heart.  My heart in pieces was beckoned by the wholeness and fullness of God's heart.

**At the end of this post, I encourage you to listen to this song I am talking about, "Pieces" by Amanda Cook and Bethel Music.

I just turned 29 on Friday.  And up until about a month before that, I was wondering how in the world God could love a broken, messed up person like me.  Someone who has hurt, been hurt, is hurting.  Someone who turned away from the most perfect love that anyone could ever know.  Jesus ran to the cross, I ran away from His love.  He turned toward me in my brokenness, I turned away in shame.  But this last season, I have turned toward Him, fully.

It's one thing to be sorry for what you have done, it's one thing to apologize.  But it is an entirely different thing when you have a repentant heart.  When you live with a repentant heart, the best is ALWAYS yet to come.

In a season where I felt completely left alone, in the silence, He met me.  In a season where I looked around and saw everything broken, He gave me His love in wholeness, not in pieces.  In a season where I was reduced to a relationship with only Him, He showed me how to love, when He was the only one I felt I could love.  When He felt like my only friend, He taught me how to be a friend.  When the darkness swallowed me up, His glory broke through my night.  When i felt abandoned, He redeemed my life from the pit.  He was everything I was trying so desperately to be on my own.

I was trying to love people from an empty tank.  I was trying to be a friend when I was ditching my best friend, Jesus.  Now, I know it might sound elementary to say, "yea! Jesus is my best friend!!"
I used to think that.  But it's true.  He gives me what I need, He's there ALL the time.  There's no one on earth, not even a best friend or spouse who is with us...everywhere, all the time, with all the attention we need.  And I can tell you (whoever "you" are) life gets messy and broken when you don't make Him first.  I wish I would have learned this a whole lot sooner.  It would have saved me some heartache.  And what's would have saved others some heartache too.  I wasn't giving them my best...I was giving them leftovers.  I was giving them leftover Jesus from a few days ago when I spent 15 minutes with Him.  I gave them leftovers...from the week before on Sunday morning.

I gave Jesus in pieces.  But He gives me Himself in wholeness.

---> "Pieces" by Bethel Music

Thursday, October 8, 2015

When I Blow Out My Candles On Friday...

It's the eve of my 29th birthday. The real 29th one...not like the ones you repeat after you hit 40.  It might just be my personality, or it might just be human reflect when you come to a milestone. But this birthday, just seems to be mundane. It's actually one I don't really want to celebrate. I kinda wish I could just sleep thru it, because I get to go to a wedding on the day after it. This birthday, as I reflect, I see things gained and things lost. Things broken and things restored. But mostly lost and broken.  Last year at my birthday, I was celebrating many things gained. This year, I feel like I've had on funeral clothes.

As fairytale-esque as it would be to paint a pretty picture of beautiful relationships, leaves changing color, football hoodies and hot chocolate in this, my most favorite season of the year, I have found myself shutting my eyes tighter and tighter, begging God to hurry up to the next season. Because maybe at least then...things around me would be different.

I began the summer season with a death, my grandpa. And since then, have seen death come to many facets of my life. Dreams, hopes, relationships, ideas, expectations. Just to name a few. And I wish I could say that after these last 6 months of being broken that things are finally looking up and not so broken, I have dared to open my eyes just enough to see...that things are still just as dead as they started.

I have cast hope and expectation onto the Lord. I have believed in the face of helplessness. I have hoped in the face of hopelessness. I have stayed in the wind and waves and rain, trusting that God was hearing me in the midst of pain & regret. And I know he has indeed heard me. He has brought me thru the most painful hell I have walked thru in my life and I am better for it. But when what you sense is not what you see...and you live in hope but your reality is defeat...what do you do?  I'm not really sure. The best answer I have is to just keep on believing.

"What do you want for your birthday?" I've been asked. Well, the things I want can't really be written down on paper. They have been etched on my heart, they can't be bought with any kind of currency.
They aren't material things, they are things that mean far more than jewelry, or something wrapped up pretty in a bow. They are soul things. They are things loved & hoped for.

On this birthday, I don't want things for me, I want things for others. The peace and restoration that God has brought back into my life with greater power and purpose are things I want for others. And if it were at all possible, I would rip them out of me and give them to the people I love the most in a second. But since that isn't possible, I will just continue to hope, believe, trust and love.

For my birthday, I just want Jesus to bring the dead things back to life. Oh. And a tattoo.

Friday, August 28, 2015

How I (Almost) Lost Myself

This might be "putting it out there" but I feel like I owe it to at least myself to live by what I believe.  To, "practice what I preach" so to speak.  I have been alive on this planet for nearly 29 years.  I have been told what to do, who I am and what to believe for most of those years.  And when I say that, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that I'm just one of those twenty-somethings about to rebel and get all crazy about having to follow rules and so now I'm going to just do whatever the heck I want.  I have been a product of my environment.

And when I say environment, I don't specifically and exclusively mean the physical environment.  Whether you believe it or not, whether you're Christian or believe in God or not, there is a spiritual environment that we walk in.  Every. Single. Moment.  It has power to change us, both negatively and positively.  But it is up to us.  We can choose.  The environment that I had become a product of is called F-E-A-R.  And the person telling me what to believe, what to think, and how to act was not my mom or my dad or pastors or teachers or coaches (though I've had all of those in my life).  The person, this thing...was the enemy of my soul.

I know we hear all the time about how it's better to think positively than negatively, to live like a survivor, not a victim, face your fears, etc etc.  But I just have to share, with whomever will see this, that I really did almost lose who I was.  And a whole host of other things.  And my hope is that someone reading this will realize that the enemy is a liar.  The a liar, he is the father of lies.  The Bible says that he has come only to steal, kill and destroy.  And please, hear me, the Bible is true.  The enemy stole my identity, killed relationships, and destroyed my heart.  Why?  Because he found someone (me) who would listen to his bull crap (I really wanted to say something else).  For nearly 29 years...I listened to him, I believed him, and I almost lost myself.

KidZone this morning (last Sunday) taught me a verse as I taught it to the kids.  And tonight, as I glanced up into the sky after youth group, my heart felt full again.  My spirit felt alive.  My hope, Jesus, became real again to me.  "I cried out to the Lord.  And He answered me.  He freed me from ALL my fears."  Psalm 34:4 (emphasis added by a really cute 4-year old, whom yes, does know the entire verse).

About 4 weeks ago, I was lead to believe that my thoughts were the culprit of my crumbling foundation beneath me.  And I gotta tell you, it is only by the grace of God that I have made it to this freedom.  It has not come all at once, because I believe God wants me to have the full experience of walking in this freedom, which has come little by little.  I believe that I would be absolutely overwhelmed if it all came at once.  I have seen that by submitting my entire life (physically, spiritually and mindfully) that it has become less of a burden to walk in the way God has called me to.  I have found that as I continue to do that, my feet are going naturally in the direction that God wants me to go.

On the other hand, I had to take inventory of the time that my feet went naturally the other way.  That other way, was my way.  I lived in constant fear.  I professed faith, but lived in fear.  I showed up physically, but was hardly ever present mindfully.  This is where I "let you in."  If you interacted with me in the last 6 months or so, I am so sorry.  I'm sorry because what you thought you were getting was the real me.  What you actually got was the counterfeit Erica.  Here is where I let you in more...if you interacted with me, chances are my mind was going in a million different directions.  And I really believe that I'm not exaggerating.  (A little more now) ... the sentences that were running through my mind sounded like this, "They don't REALLY love you" "If they REALLY knew you, they'd turn and run for their life" "You are way too messed up to be accepted" "You have WAY too many things wrong with you to be anyone's friend" "You don't have ANYTHING of value to offer" "You are too needy, you are too much, you are not smart..."

And on and on and on.  I should also point out here that the Bible also says that, while the devil is the father of lies, it also says that he is the accuser.  All of those statements, ahem, all of those lies up there, are accusations that shot fiery darts right through the center of my heart.  Then they eventually set up camp in my mind and that is how I lived my life for the past 6 months.  I lived life as a performance.  I had to do everything without flaw and since that is not even possible, I set myself for failure every single day.  Here's an example.  Today I'm going to run 5 miles in less than an hour.  I start running, only get to 2 miles and decide to walk the half mile back to my car.  Instead of looking at what I had accomplished, running 2 miles in less than a half hour for the first time in 9 months, I could only see my failure.  I didn't make it to 5 miles, only a measly 2 miles.  I was a loser in every single situation I walked into.  I had already decided my outcome before I even put shoes on to leave the house.  For every interaction, whether with friends, coworkers, family, whatever...I had decided that I was not good enough, that I lacked what it took to be who God wanted me to be.  And who I thought God wanted me to be was what I believed everyone else wanted me to be.  I showed up with no identity, I showed up a blank slate, just itching to have someone tell me who I was.  I was afraid to be who I am, I was afraid to be funny.  I was afraid to talk about Jesus.  I was afraid to share my heart.  I was afraid to be honest.  I was afraid to be passionate.  I was afraid I would fail.

And if I can save you some heartache, please hear this; the heartache and pain that you experience letting your walls down and letting safe people into your heart, into your life, into your darkness...doesn't hurt as deep or as long as when you choose to show up as the counterfeit you...when you choose to let your fear completely engulf the whole of your identity and then look back at what was lost.  Fear has robbed so many things from me, mostly of moments when God wanted to touch my life.  Moments of love, moments of blessing, moments of generosity, moments of relationship, moments of intimacy, laughter, opportunity, friendship.  I have lived in regret for the past 6 months as I have looked over and taken inventory of these last 180 days.  That is half of a year.  Half of a year where I knowingly spent my life "living" in fear.

One thing that I have been enlightened to is that most days, I wasn't sure which "me" was gonna do my living for me that day.  If it was the faith-filled Erica, negative things could happen all around me and I knew Who I could go to with my disappointments.  If it was the fear-filled Erica, my day was confusing, my thoughts ran amok, and I could never find a moment of clarity.  Simple tasks derailed my ability to accomplish them, things I enjoyed became chores, living every day became a task that I grew to hate.  Why?  Because at the end of the day, I could have spent the whole time in an environment that was life-giving and positive, but because I lived in my head of lies, I ended most every night feeling completely empty, unsatisfied, disappointed.  My day had been stolen.  The enemy came and did what God's Word says he does.  He stole, he killed and he destroyed.  And I let him.

As I look back over the devastation, a deep sense of grief wells up inside of me.  Relationships that were damaged, opportunities that were lost, freedom that was chained up, moments of clarity fogged up by my fear, endless breakthrough that was stopped up.  It all sounds quite depressing, and you'd be right.  How sad that I couldn't find it in me to look up at Him and say, "God, I'm afraid, but help me walk through this anyway."  It is sad.  It is quite depressing.  But here is what I know about my God (this is where it gets good...), He is my redeemer, He is my healer, He makes me whole, He brings health into all my situations, He came that I may have life, and have it to the fullest, He is the hope of glory, He lives in me, He uses my ashes and makes them beautiful, He takes the ruins and makes them glorious.  Whatever I have lacked, He is.  When I go to Him and say, "God, I'm not good at relationships left to myself."  He says, "I know, but I am."  "God, I can't do this thing on my own."  He says, "I know, but I will be with you."

I have found a new sense of desperation, of refuge, inside of His Word.  When I look at my Bible now, my heart thumps, my face does a happy dance because I want to see what I'll find in it.  And I believe His Word is true.  Just as much as I have experienced the truth of the negative things (the enemy comes to steal, kill, destroy. Whatever a man thinks in his heart, so he is.  There is a way that seems right to man, but it only leads to death.) I have come to find the infinite freedom His truth brings.  "What the enemy meant for evil, God will use for good, for the saving of many lives" Genesis 50:20.  "And we know that in all things, we are more than conquerers"  Romans 8.  "The Lord is my light and my salvation, what should I be afraid of?"  Psalm 27  "God works together all things for the good of those who love Him and are called by Him."  Romans 8  "Do not become weary while doing good, for in due time, in the right season, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up."  Galatians 6:9.  "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself RESTORE you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."  1 Peter 5:10.

And that's only a few.  I believe that in the seasons of our greatest failure, setbacks, disappointments, God is merely working out the kinks to show off His glory.  Why do I believe that?  It's not just some cute novelty saying, it's Scripture.  It's Genesis 50:20.  What the enemy meant for evil, God will use for good."  I believe that in our darkest moments, the God of the universe reaches down, plucks us out of the pit and draws us to Himself, when we are completely helpless.  When we let down our defenses in front of Him, He rejoices and laughs at our weaknesses.  It's a setup!  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weaknesses."  I believe that the seasons where we have experienced the most pain is where He is the most faithful.  I believe that at the end of those seasons, where we look back and take inventory of what we lost, that God takes what was lost, takes the scraps and uses what we call a loss and restores to us what was taken.  Nothing is wasted when we can present it to Him.  He takes our little and uses it for much.  He accepts our brokenness as worship when we surrender it to Him.  His motive is wholeness, healing, restoration, redemption, relationship.  "Come to Me, all you who are burdened and take my yoke, it is easy and light."

I almost lost myself to fear.  I almost forfeited who I was.  But God has redeemed me.
Now I have let myself get lost in His love, acceptance, grace, mercy, truth and freedom.
Amazing grace.  How sweet the sound.  That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost ... But thank God ... now I am found.

Please check out the song below and let the words pour over your soul as you consider its message of truth.  It has brought me continued peace, healing and freedom.

Elevation Worship -- Oh Come to the Altar

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

If You Think God is Random...He's Not.

if you've ever had doubts about what your life was purposed for...that's normal.  and it can feel like a terrible HELL while you're living in that storm of doubt.  hail clouds of accusation, looming clouds of failures, torrential down pours of horizontal rain, loud crashes of thunder and lightning strikes that blind you instantly.  the good news is that it doesn't last forever.  and for months, and i'd say even years, i was wrestling with who i actually was and what i was for real purposed for on this earth.  and it's still difficult, but when you know WHO has purposed you, then you know your purpose is not wasted.  I recently went back to school to go for my bachelor's degree for elementary education.  I am a teacher and volunteer in my church's children's ministry and finally, a youth leader in the church youth group.  And for the past 4 years, i was seriously doubting that God had actually purposed me to do those things.  Had he really gifted me to be in the lives of young generations?  was i just wasting time serving in those areas, was i just a warm body filling a spot?  all real questions that i have had to wrestle down.

and then this weekend happened.  and then i knew for sure.  Something keeps playing through my mind the week of the trip.  I was serving in the kidzone ministry like any regular every-other-sunday. A new VIP and her daughter were serving that same sunday.  I was kneeling behind a lemonade stand, stirring a pot of grilled cheese when the mom  serving that day asked me if i was going on the youth trip to North Carolina.  I told her yes and that i was so excited to go and get to know the students more.  She agreed and said "you guys are so brave."  And then i started to think as i walked to my car this morning to load back up my car to go back home.  I wasn't that brave...God had just called me to do it.

My heart has been forever and eternally changed by 8 students who decided to go on a 14 hour
road trip with other students they kind of knew and youth leaders they knew even less.  For 5 days, we were together.  Either in a van or walking around the city of Charlotte.  It was hot, muggy and we stood in a LOT of lines.  But they didn't complain.  We stood in line for a worship concert for 9 hours, in 90 degree heat.  we sat on blankets, played cards, took selfies, and sang songs.

Justin is the dude bottom left
but let me start from the beginning.  before the trip even started.  in the weeks leading up the to trip, i had been praying for God to show up in all of their lives.  And then i prayed that God would show up in mine.  I prayed a very specific prayer for about a week leading up until the day of the trip.  I prayed that God would give us the opportunity, even though we were going on a trip to be spiritually fed, that God would give us the opportunity to love on others, and pour out His love.  I prayed for divine opportunities for us to show God's love.  And when I was praying for that, i had in mind that only in our group of 15 that we would be able to do that for each other.  Then on Thursday night, close to 11:30 at night, we decided to take a walk to the arena just to check out where we would be standing the next day.  And that is when God decided to answer that week old prayer.  We walked up to the arena, and we could hear the thumping of the bass as the worship band practiced inside.  We stood outside chatting and checking to see if the doors were magically unlocked.  Then, 2 people walked out of the arena.  The guy had on an Elevation Worship t-shirt and the girl had an Elevation name tag.  They stopped to say hi...and then we just kept talking.  We found out that Justin was an Elevation staff member who ran tech and Taylor was an Elevation intern.  We shared the normal "we are from Michigan" speech and didn't expect anything else.  But they stayed and talked to us for about 30 minutes.  Then we asked if we could pray for them and the event.  Justin said he wanted to pray for us.  So we all gathered around, grabbed the hand of the person next to us and prayed together.  Justin said he would look for us the next day and encouraged us to go to the Saturday night service early so that he could come find us.  A divine connection.

We left, feeling especially blessed knowing that we got to meet a staff member from a church that we have followed for years...and when i say follow, I mean stalk.  The next day, we arrived around 9:30am and we were the first ones in line for about 3 hours.  We saw Justin a few times and he came out to chill with us for a little while.  Then we took a selfie that is far greater than the one that Ellen took.  Now if you're wondering if this is still a divine connection or just a really large coincidence, keep reading.

The arena the concert was in holds more than 16000 people.  And 16000 people showed up to this event.  As the doors opened, our group of 15 maybe ran to a predetermined section only to be turned away about 3 times before we finally found a section we were allowed to sit in.  Frustrated that we weren't as close as we had planned to be, we split into 3 rows and anxiously waited for the concert to begin.  Of course there were potty breaks needed and shirts to be purchased.  Keeping in mind,
15,985 other people had the same thing in mind.  Three of our students decided to go get food while we waited the rest of the 45 minutes.  They soon returned saying the food was expensive...and that security guards were not going to let them back down to their seats with us.  They "somehow" found Justin, our divine connection, and got back to us safely.  Then a group i was in decided to use the bathroom and buy our shirts.  we bought our shirts and went back to the section we came from to get our seats.  There was a security guard who would not let us go back down, told us the section was full.  I informed him that we had already gotten seats and that we just needed to use the restroom and bought a shirt.  he wanted to know how we had seats saved, i told him we were with a group of 15 and we were already sitting down.  He ignored me and just looked over me as if i wasn't standing there.  I was severely irritated, and felt my blood begin to boil at the thought of not being able to sit with our group. i turned around in disappointment to walk to another entrance with the others i was with and as i looked away, i caught a glimpse of a familiar was Justin.  I went up to him and told him security wasn't going to let us back in.  And of course, Justin had a fancy walkie talkie that wrapped around his back and clipped to the neck of his Elevation Worship obviously he could get us back in.  I told him the story and he said, "Of course i can get you back in! I just saw 3 other little dudes from your group running around and they came up to me."  So Justin walked up to the curtain, informed the guard that the 4 of us were with him and we walked back down to our seats. He didn't know which rows we were sitting in, but he got us behind the curtain.  Now if you're still skeptical, keep reading.

After the concert was over, we stayed and lingered for about 10 minutes to let the crowd clear from our section as we took in what just happened; 16000 people praising Jesus, with one voice.  It was overwhelming to say the least.  Many shed tears, all of us raised our hands, clapped on and off beat, whooped and hollered for Jesus while jumping and singing and now we needed to sit and let it all sink in.  as the rows cleared in front of us, we saw a familiar face.  It was Justin.  We all yelled, "Hey Justin!" He looked up, smiled and walked up to our youth pastor.  They were engaged in conversation long enough for the event staff to kick us out of the row, then out of the section, then out past the curtain, then out past the merch table, then finally herded us to the exit.  Justin exchanged numbers with our youth pastor and i could tell his eyes were red after talking with her.

The students were giddy as we walked through the crowded Friday night streets of Charlotte, NC.  We went to dinner and found out what the conversation was about between the youth pastor and this divine connection, Justin.  Justin felt the need to share his testimony with our youth pastor, which was why he was emotional.  He told her that he felt connected to our group, that he felt God had called him to invest into this crazy group from Michigan.  He wanted to meet up with us after the saturday night service and go to dinner and just chill with us.  We went to Blakeney, NC to the main Elevation Church campus, stood in line for an hour, found Justin! Then raced to our 6-rows-from-the-stage seats.  Justin came and found us again, told us to hang out after service and that we would all go to dinner afterward.  We walked the campus, looked through all the rooms, got our free shirt and finally, found Justin again.  We headed across the street to Chick-Fil-A, where Justin bought all 12 of our meals.  Him and Taylor sat down to dinner with us and talked to the leaders from 7:30 until about 10pm.  He shared his heart on some things that he has learned and Taylor did too.  Then our youth pastor had a brilliant idea.  She invited them to come to our next youth event, a 3-night worship event at the end of August.  As she was giving him details, he pulled out his phone to look for flights.

We went to be fed and we were abundantly blessed.  Justin told us that he wanted to be that one that the students could call or text at 2am if they were having a rough time, he wanted to be a connection in their lives.  He exchanged his snapchat with all 12 students and 5 leaders.  And so did Taylor.  We left Chick-Fil-A and he prayed one last time for us and we ended the night with them the only way we knew how; with a selfie.

Justin was an answer to my "divine opportunity" prayer.  I had no idea what that would look like, and as always, God blew my mind.  To know, that out of all the people we could have run into, and did run into, Justin stopped long enough to hear our story and stayed long enough to share his and let God speak to his heart.  I prayed for divine opportunity to show God's love, for divine opportunity to be Jesus to the ones on the trip.  And God delivered, big time.  A relationship connection that is so far beyond what i had ever expected.  I am still processing all that happened on this trip.  And i so look forward to the way God will use Justin in our lives and how God will use us in Justin's life.  A truly divine connection.

Friday, July 10, 2015

So Close

I wrote this awhile back, probably 6 months ago.  I never posted it.  But I came across it and decided I would now.  It's crazy that 6 months ago, this meant something entirely different to me, it spoke to me in a completely different way, in a completely different season of life.  But even now, it's applicable.  In this season of life, it means something entirely different, even though the words are exactly the same.

So Close.

You're so close I can feel your breath on my face. 
Your whispers land on my lips like rain. 
Splashing into my heart.

You're so close I can feel myself shrink back.
Your words land in my heart like bombs.
And I turn away.

You're so close I can feel my head on Your chest. 
Your touch harnesses my soul like a parachute of love. 
I'm safe.

You're so close I can't look in your eyes.
Your pursuit makes me want to run.
And so I do. 

You're so close I can't stand. 
Your pursuit makes me want to fall into your arms.
And so I do.

You're so close to setting me free. 
Your pursuit makes me want to hide.
And so I do. 

But you're so close, you'll always find me. 
I can hear your whispers, I can see your face, 
I can feel your heart, I can taste Your freedom. 
I'm in your hands.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Rawness of Death

In under 3 years, i’ve watched 2 people from my family die.  My mom’s mom died June 2012 and my dad’s dad died April 2015.  Both experiences, though centered around the same big idea (death) were different.  My grandma died after finding out she had cancer.  She lived 3 months after her diagnosis.  My grandpa died after 8 days in the hospital after suffering 2 heart attacks.  One death slowly becoming more imminent, the other one, teetering on the edge of hope…that he might pull through.  And my mind wanders.  It wanders through the treacherous valley of hope.  
It’s scary to hope.  Because in both situations, i hoped.  And in both situations, hope died.  It died as i raced to the hospital to hopefully see my grandma one last time that never came.  It died as i watched my grandpa fall asleep, surrounded by those who were hoping that he wouldn’t, for the last time.  The agony rushes back in droves.  The sorrow swallows my heart.  The depth of hurt scoops out like a broken, metal shovel scraping what is left of my broken heart.  My hope…feels shattered.  My heart feels unreachable.  My anger rages in silence as my heart continues to question His goodness.  Right now, I feel so alone.  I wonder where He is.  If His Word says that He is near to the broken hearted and the crushed in spirit, i wonder, where is He?  I get angry that I’m not seeing Him, or feeling His nearness.  Maybe I'm just missing it.  Maybe I'm just expecting it in a way that isn’t affordable.  I want some kind of comfort.  I want some kind of restoration to my hope.  But i feel like the valley that I'm in is far too tall.  That even though I know that the grass and the greenery is the most lush in the valley, i feel like I've only found desert.  I’ve lost a lot of hope over the years.  Because at the end of  my hope, there has been disappointment.  In my life, there have been things I have hoped for.  I have sown blood, sweat, tears, time, energy, etc and i have been disappointed.  And even though His Word promises He will never leave me nor forsake me, I am just having a hard time understanding how that can be true.  Truth isn’t a feeling.  No matter what i feel, it doesn't change who He is.  Walking through grief takes shape differently in each person’s life.  I don't remember feeling anything the week my grandpa was ill, because i had every hope…that he would be ok.  But then, he died.   I’m afraid to hope again.  I’m afraid to put my feelers out again.  because i have understood what disappointment feels like.  It’s atrocious.  it’s pain that words cannot reach to the depths of.  I want comfort.  I want reassurance.  i want so many things.  but they don’t come.  And i feel ashamed that I'm the Christian…im the one who should have the hope.  I'm the one who should have the answers. I'm the one who should be able to walk through grief the best.  i should have no problem pulling out of sadness.  but the truth is, i don't know how.  i don't know how to trust God in this season of life.  i don't know how to trust God for healing in this part of my life.  because I'm not even sure i experienced healing from the last time.  i don't know how to change my expectations.  maybe if i just “expected” for my grandparents to die, the pain would have been a little more manageable.  i understand that might sound a bit morbid, but you’re human too, I'm sure you understand.  its not difficult to know, that the least connected you are to something, the least amount of pain associated with it’s passing.  I don’t know my neighbor’s family.  If one of them died, i would not feel it.  Likewise, if i chose to not know anyone, it wouldn’t hurt as much when their time was done.  The more love that is deposited, the more time spent, the more memories created, the more hardships faced together, the harder it is at the end of it all.  I get that.  but for some reason, i keep putting my hope out there.  
i don’t have any pretty, flowery language to make it sound like i worked all of this out in one hour spent thinking about it, arguing with myself, yelling at God.  I don’t have anything worked out.  if anything, i feel that much further behind.  Someone at my work, a fellow co-worker, had found out that my grandpa had died.  Her first statement to me was this; “Was he expected to die?”  Almost as if that would make the sting a little more ‘handle-able’ on my part.  because if we had expected him to die, because grandpas are older, so we should just expect that they're on their last leg, my pain would be less.  I answered after i took a moment to swallow the fury i wanted to scream back at her and I said, “no actually.”  Then she asked the next question i wish i could beat all the way down to hell.  She asked, “oh im sorry, were you close to him?”  Almost as if she was trying to determine on a scale if i was exuding the right amount of sadness in that moment.  I again swallowed back my pain as i answered, “yea, actually.”  Then i walked out.  I got in my car and drove to the water and parked.  I sat in silence.  Alone with my questions, 4 days after watching my grandpa struggle his way into eternity, i felt numb.  
Now, 2 weeks later, i let myself cry.  I let myself feel the pain of losing.  Again.  With each gasp, my hope wants to believe it won’t hurt as deep the next time.  I wish I could reach into my chest and pull out my heart and put some padding around it for the next blow.  I wish i could lock it up and throw the key into the ocean.  SO that way, i couldn’t even open it.  Its hard to believe that right now, God has the key to my heart.  It’s hard to believe that right now, He is here and wants to heal my broken heart.  Its hard to believe that he feels what I'm feeling.  It’s hard.  Because what i feel is everything opposite of that.  Im looking at my closed bible sitting on the dash of my car, wondering if i’ll find the answer if i open it.  or if my hope will be dashed by my search.  because i know the truths in it, i could spout them off.  but for some reason, not even those bring me any comfort.  because what was here, is now gone.  death rips through ignorantly, takes what it wants, leaves its devastation, and then we try to resume life the way it was before.  which is impossible.  because something is different.  I dont know how to do this.  And any effort i have is feeble at best.  but i am going to do my best in this moment, and even if im wrong, im ok with that.  One more time, i'm hoping that in this season of grief for all of us, maybe this little bit of encouragement will help heal a little piece of your heart.      
If you’re reading this, and you’re part of my family, this next part is for you.  I don’t usually call people out in my blogs, but i am this time.  So if you’re reading this and you’re any of these people; Michael, Holli, Katie, Nicole, Alexa, Jaden and Angela, this is for you.  And if you’re not, that’s ok, you can still continue to read.  In moments like these, it’s hard to walk up in person and say what you want to say.  Because what can you say when words do not heal?  They only remind us of what was, what is and what will be.  
To Michael and Holli; You will be wonderful parents.  I’m so glad that Holli got to be part of our lives with grandma and grandpa.  When i heard you call them “grandma and grandpa” it wasn’t weird, it was right.  You were meant to be a Bailey.  No matter the journey set ahead of you both, I don’t have much faith in a whole lot right now, but what i do have, is for you guys to not just “make it” but to succeed in every way you were meant to.  NO matter what idea of success you have built up in your mind, whatever comes, commit to stay with each other, and for each other.  It won’t be easy, in fact, you will probably walk through more difficult things than easy ones.  But rememberer, iron sharpens iron, flowers start in the dirt and dark, and diamonds are made under pressure and heat.  You can do it. 
To Katie; whenever you feel like you’ve let everyone down, maybe even especially yourself, you made the best decision by choosing to walk out the hard stuff.  When you doubt who you are as a mom, a future wife, a daughter, a sister, etc, know this; you have people who are full of belief for you.  Not because of what you can do, but because of who you are.  And when you feel alone, don’t look down, look up.  You are the perfect mommy for Connor.  You were chosen to be his mom.  Keep doing it.  

To Nicole;  its ok to have limitations.  it makes you human.  you weren't meant to be a superhuman.  It’s ok to be weak.  Don't let your limitations, however, limit you.  Let them catapult you into what you were made to do.  Ask for help when you can’t do it.  its a much more noble thing to ask for help when you need it, than to turn it down and try to figure it out on your own.  even when it hurts, put your whole heart into everything you do.  You might get burned, it could happen.  But ask yourself this when you begin to doubt yourself, “what if i don’t?’  The reward is in the risk.   

To Alexa; This might sound crazy, but don’t always do what your heart tells you to do.  Our hearts make decisions based on our feelings in the moment, based on emotions and based on our circumstances.  Don’t make split decisions if you don’t have to.  it’s ok to take time to figure out who you are.  Don’t shy away from taking the road less traveled.  You never know how your life can impact and affect those around you.  

To Jaden; dont run from the hard things.  run from the shallow things.  don’t let disappointment steer your course.  Circumstances are tricky, circumstances fight for our attention.  Commit to stay the course, fight to the end.  Keep your focus.  Don’t do anything for the approval of others.  It’s a short high that ends in your own disappointment.  It’s more painful to disappoint yourself and try to gain the acceptance of others, than it is to disappoint them.  You have to live with you for the rest of your life. lol be the best version of yourself because you love you.  

To my sister; i know you are probably angry at yourself for leaving when you did.  i know it probably haunts you, and in the moment when you came back into grandpa’s room and you realized what had happened, i could almost feel the statement in your mind, saying, “you missed this one, too.”  You were probably blaming your stupid self for not being there when grandma passed away, and now you were doing it again for not being there when grandpa passed away.  But if i can encourage you, know this, even though you weren’t there when they both passed away, you were more than there when they were alive.  You live more days than you die.  You’re born once, you die once.  But the time in between is the time that matters.  That’s where memories are created, love is felt, life is shared, hurts are worked through.  Don’t live in the blame, don't live on the days that they died.  Live on the days they lived.  That’s where the good stuff is.  
To everyone else reading this; I’m not perfect, and i never will be.  i don’t have my life figured out, and i never will.  I struggle, i feel pain, i feel hopeless at times, i cry myself to sleep at night, i question God’s goodness in my life.  I wonder sometimes if He sees me, if He hears me.  This is one of those sometimes seasons in life.  I wonder sometimes if He can handle me, if He can handle my grief, anger, fickleness, weakness.  And even though i don’t feel anything right now, by faith, the little that i have, i can say, it is well with my soul.  Not because i can look at it and it looks bright and cheery and happy.  But because as best as i can, im letting Him have my soul.  Even if that’s the only reason that it is well with my soul, then ok.  And even if i don’t feel it right now, i know that my soul is in the best hands when i let it go to His.  And even if you don’t feel it either, it doesn't make it any less true.  Your soul is better in His hands.  Even if you’re angry, even if you don’t trust it in His hands, you got nothing else left to lose.  It’s one less thing you have to juggle.