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My Saturday Morning Heart

Saturday morning, cup of coffee in hand, is a weekly ritual when I “take stock” of what occurred in my life the past week. 

Unfortunately, this beautiful Saturday morning finds me steeped in regret. Words I spoke, actions I chose, thoughts I let percolate in my head until they became nearly poisonous. Why? I know better, so why don’t I “do better?” These words from the Apostle Paul at least tell me I am in good company:  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Romans 7:15
I really do have a desire to speak uplifting words, choose wise actions, and think positive thoughts. Unfortunately I also (almost simultaneously) don’t want to make those better choices and all too often I choose to speak/live/think in destructive ways. Strong word that–destructive–but completely appropriate. When I choose to not live in the freedom of Christ, it negatively affects not only me but those I talked about and also those who share in the consequences of the poor choices I made.

Enter this week where I have to face what has developed out of some some really bone-headed decisions. I know better. I mean, I really know better. But something about those moments drew me to the point of no return. Where I almost couldn’t help but push myself over the lines of good judgment. Truth is though, I could help myself and simply chose not to. Repeatedly.

I continue to look for what my new best friend Paul has to say so that I might find hope to cling to. Throughout Romans 7, he references the internal war we all face:  I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out . . . who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

There is, as always, a way out. Jesus. And when I look back through the telephoto lens of my week, the truth is that I didn’t want to reach out to him. I could have. Oh the avalanche of self-destructive habits I could have stopped with even one silent plea. 

The good news is it is absolutely never too late to turn my heart, thoughts, words, and decisions over to my savior. That’s Paul’s point. On our own, we aren’t wired toward goodness and unconditional love of others. That comes only through our belief in Christ and our continuing surrender of our lives to him. 

This morning, I am not going to hang onto the mess I put in motion. I’m handing it to him, telling him I’m sorry, and asking for mercy to help get it right next time. And he says, “Yes.”

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. -Romans 8:2

That’s me! And Saturday is looking up!!

Undone

I’m simply undone. The church I attend semi-regularly has a first Sunday of the month evening worship service that I say I really love but haven’t made a priority in several months. Tonight I pulled myself together 20 minutes before the start and headed out.

I asked God for an answer to a specific prayer on the 5-minute drive. It’s a prayer I’ve been asking off and on (more off than on) for the past 5+ years. I haven’t really been serious about receiving a response from Him because to get one requires something of me. And I’ve been really reluctant to know the outcome of this one. Anyway, question asked on the drive and kind of forgotten as I took my seat.

Sunday night typically has really good worship music. Tonight was no exception, but none of the music was really impacting me. In fact, I had to mentally remind myself several times about where my focus belongs. At some point during the service, I mentioned to God that if He were looking to get a hold of me tonight, the music was going to have to be something really meaningful to me. And I suggested in my heart that it should be something I really like and probably as moving as The Agnus Dei.

The night proceeded. I was touched by the readings, the prayers, the fellowship, and by the music (a little). At the close, the attendees were reminded this was the last Sunday evening service ever. And the worship team closed. With . . . The Agnus Dei.

Total heart silence on my part. Barely able to sing the words. And then I realized God was answering my 5+ year prayer. With the last song. Likely chosen by the worship team days before. On a night when I didn’t even anticipate going to church. Bam. That’s just how God is. I am not random. You are not random. We are forever in His thoughts and He loves us through words and songs and every individual way imaginable.

The answer He shared with me tonight is not one I am thrilled with. In fact, I wrestled with Him a little on the way home, lightly arguing that I meant I wanted better music and that part really wasn’t about answering my prayer. I gave up pretty quickly though. It’s not remotely arguable. He reached out and touched me without a doubt.

What’s next? A whole lot of trust. Because this step isn’t going down without my leaning on him for every footfall. It requires mental, physical, and spiritual commitment of more than I can put forth on my own. Good thing He’s God and I belong to Him. He told me so on a quiet Sunday night in a small town church during their last Sunday evening service.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zTgUVugjcWI

 

 

The P Word (and its evil twin)

Perfectionism. I am not a fan. The first 7 letters are enough to cause me instant angst. Perfect. Nobody has managed that in over 2,000 years. And yet, we strive and reach and make ourselves crazy. I have a friend who is very pleased to call herself a perfectionist. I’m quite worried about her actually. You can’t possibly be a perfectionist and enjoy the little things in life at the same time. So as I ponder how to share with her that I think her attitude is akin to walking the plank, I’m jolted by a realization of my own.

I may not welcome perfectionism into my heart, but I am surely well-acquainted with her sister, “Performance-based Worth.” Ah. The dagger strikes. I can feel as smug as I like over disdaining perfectionism, but my performance meter is drumming up a party beat.

It’s been an extensive battle. And battle is really the only word to describe it. For the first four decades of my life, I felt like a failure unless I was the very best at whatever was the flavor of the day. Academics, athletics, best friending, work, etc. The problem with this, of course, is that no one can be the best at absolutely everything. So I felt pretty rotten a lot of the time.

In my forties, I started to realize I had really wasted a ton of time measuring myself not only by what I was doing but also by how well I was doing it. Safe to say God had been trying to get my attention for a really long time but I was just too deep into weighing, measuring, and groaning to expand my view to match His. As I began to open myself to the thought that I maybe had some personal thought processes messed up, God showed me quite clearly that nobody thinks about me nearly as much as I think about myself and certainly no one else is assessing my every move to figure out if I’m worthy of their time and attention. This concept was freeing.

 A couple of years ago, I lost track of God’s wise teaching  and ended up not really liking much of anything and finding every day really hard to get through. Life was good all around in general, but I was only counting the failures. God clearly spoke to me that it was time for a serious change. No more worth based on performance.

What is a girl to do when the framework she has spent nearly 50 years developing needs dismantling? Get on her knees, that’s what. And as always, God came through. Wholely and completely. He led me to His own words over and over again of how much He loves me and finds me worthy simply because I Am His. So simple; so amazing and awesome.

I wouldn’t say I’m 100% cured, but I surely am aware of when I find myself trying to earn, rather than accept, my place. And I know to let go and surrender the “I can do everything myself” attitude before it gets entirely out of hand.

There is more than one reward to living this way. Peace. The supernatural kind that only Christ can give to any of us who stop flailing around long enough to receive it. I have a new P word in my life and it’s the best reward I’ve experienced yet.

Victory and (Momentary) Defeat

I’ve spent the last several weeks in Joshua and Judges, courtesy of the fanastic first5 ministry. Today was the video wrap up of both chapters from the historic old testament.

 

Joshua is a book bursting with the 12 tribes of Israel claiming victory after victory against the immoral people who occupied the land God had promised to his chosen people. Again and again, Joshua leads the Israeli soldiers as they slay armies and capture cities. Inheriting the promised land is less about sitting down to receive a gift promised and more about downright bloody work.

Unfortunately, God’s people make the poor choice of not entirely cleaning up the land. They allow some of their enemies to live counter to God’s directive. It isn’t long before Israel begins to engage in the corrupt practices of the people who held the land before them. Many of them turn their backs on God entirely, ultimately serving false gods they have created with their own hands.

While God opens His own hands again and again for us, many times without us having to do anything, the stories of Israel’s conquests portrayed in Joshua is a reminder that obedience toward God leads us into claiming and living in his promises. Not long after, Judges reminds us that disobedience can lead to disaster.

Krista Williams themed this weekend’s first5 message on being a woman of conquest rather than a woman of compromise. I too desire conquest over compromise and can see the relevance of Israel’s victorious conquering of nations and then sliding into complacency and compromise as a parallel to my own life.

Following God means being fully obedient and when I am not, understanding there are consequences. That doesn’t mean God isn’t still good and, in particular, good to me–just that I have some unpleasantness to live through based on my own deliberate poor choices. I am unfortunately in a season of repercussion at this moment and feeling the pain of the people of Israel who sat on their laurels a little too long after victory.

The good news for me is the Word of God clearly shows the hope that exists for me, not just in the future but also today, this very moment, as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. God sees my restored heart, rather than the messy outside visible to the rest of the world.  And He clearly shows me through Joshua and Judges when it is necessary for me to pick up my sword and when I need to be still.

Joshua 1 9.jpg

To My Oldest Son

What a ride we’ve had so far. Your recent high school graduation prompts me to look back on what we’ve shared so far and it can only be called amazing. You have taught me far more than you know and it is my turn to say thank you.

You won’t remember the winter and spring of 1997 when I had the first ultrasound of my pregnancy with you and a black spot on your brain was discovered. You won’t remember the tissue test the two of us underwent and the doctor’s resulting recommendation to abort you. I’ver never told you that I regret that test every day of my life. Your dad and I are convinced something we were told was so simple and necessary was actually invasive and traumatizing to both of us. And completely unnecessary.

You do know, of course, that thankfully and prayerfully we ignored that doctor’s advice. As a result, you stand before us today a man of health and integrity and your body houses the largest heart that anyone could ever imagine.

Early years with you were tough. You rarely slept. And I mean that literally. The first 3 1/2 years of your life, while precious, are somewhat of a fog to all of us. And you struggled with some health issues that I again can’t help but wonder if they tied into that damned tissue test! (Seriously, I’m getting over that . . . )

I remember the first day you went to “Moose School.” You stood in the living room with your backpack strapped to your back on your 4th birthday, watching the planes fly into the World Trade Center. You were devastated by what was unfolding on TV but so excited about your first day of school and celebrating your birthday. You have lived every day of your life since that fateful day in the same way–caring beyond measure what is happening to others while looking forward to what every day brings.

You had some struggles in school, academically and socially. And I worried. A little. Until your wise fifth grade teacher told me how much you were liked by everyone and that the heart you show every day makes you “golden.” She was right then and she is right now. And as I learned to let go of you (and you are the hardest one for me to release my grip), you began to flourish, to find your own way, and eventually to establish close friendships with people I couldn’t be happier to call your best friends.

You’re ready to take your next steps. College. And we’ve had lots of talks about what you are most comfortable with and what makes the most sense. Just remember, life doesn’t always make sense. The hard, early days you spent in the womb and adjusting to life after birth and the health issues you experienced off and on in your first decade of life were not a foreshadowing of your future. Rather they provided with you with development of strength, resilience, and love to grow into the man you are today.

And I could not be more proud of you. You love like no one else I know. You give of your time, talents, and money like no other. Your thoughtfulness and compassion are rare commodities in this “me first” world. You, son, are my treasure.

 

Connor Prom 2016

Kissing Anxiety Goodbye

Gratitude is the antidote to anxiety – Alli Worthington

Yes. That.

A-n-x-i-e-t-y: An abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear over an impending or anticipated ill.

Who wants to have that? Not me. And yet I did. Do. A couple of weeks ago I realized I have been living in an ongoing state of anxiety for months. Some of it I can trace back to a heavy workload and a few twists in the road of life that have taken me by surprise. But the state of extreme anxiety in which I found myself clearly has a lot more buried beneath the surface. Basically, I’ve been wrapped in a chokehold of ever-increasing destructive thought patterns. A self-imposed prison of sorts.

One thing I had immediate conrol over is recognizing that a medication I have been on for several months could be the culprit inducing some of these false feelings. For better or worse and without consulting a medical professional (something I don’t advocate), I went off the pills cold turkey. I felt relief within a couple of days. But not complete relief. And that was a total downer because it meant I needed to face myself. Again. That’s when I went searching for the rest of the problem.

Notice the tail end of the anxiety definition above: “impending or anticipated ill.” I have no such things. I have no reason to believe there is impending or anticipated trouble of any kind and yet I have been living as though I am one tiptoe away from disaster. As I examined these tentacles of dread, I discovered they aren’t carrying truth. Just anxiety. For the sake of anxiety. And to keep me mentally and emotionally tangled up so as not to live in peace.

How to reset myself? I wrestled with that for a little bit. Then I came face to face with the same truth I’ve encountered many times. The truth I don’t like to admit. I have a problem trusting God. I know and believe His words and promises, but I continue to have trouble flat out trusting Him. Even though He has seen us through some real disasters. Time and again. Faithfully. Do I really think that one more misstep on my part is going to put me so far out of His reach that He won’t save me again? I really don’t. Yet I have been living like that is exactly what I believe. Sad. Simply sad. And unnecessary. I know better.

Enter Alli Worthington’s wise words above: Gratitude is the antidote to anxiety. So true. Again, so simple. When I look back over the last several years, there are times of crisis where I have absolutely thrived and seasons of plenty where I have choked on fear. The difference is in the approach. When my eyes are off myself and I am giving thanks and praise to the one who deserves every bit of it, life is navigable and joyful. Hopeful and peaceful.

After months of unfounded fear and a few tears, I am again choosing gratitude. It’s only been a day but that nasty elephant on my chest is gone. And my soul is quietly trusting.

Peace I leave with you.

My peace I give to you.

I do not give to you as the world gives [thank God, emphasis mine].

Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. John 14:27 (HCSB)

Sheep pasture.jpg

 

 

 

 

I Think I Love You

Cold, sick, tired of spring not having sprung. Been a tough couple of weeks for me.

The entire family has been down and out sick, sick, sick. Couple that with the cold winds and the brown ground that shows through when the snow stops for enough days in a row, and you have a recipe for immediate depression.

I am a personality that falls easily into complaint, irritation, frustration, and the blahs. When illness and bleakness carry on for days on end, it gets pretty hard for a girl like me to show any spunk.

Sometimes the only way to get better, to look forward, is to fall back. Back to the ’70s. I am fortunate and blessed that my childhood years were wonderful. Fun, safe, and free spirited. I won’t pretend there weren’t difficult family moments, anger and and occasional brokenheartedness, but that’s a blog for another day (maybe).

When I turn back the clock of time in my head, the memories are always accompanied by a musical soundtrack. Fun ’70s music. Music that I listened to on the transistor radio both at the beach and by my beside, blasting from the car stereo (well, AM only) while my dad or brother did the backyard car repair stuff, and on the living room stereo while my sister and I played games and chatted endlessly.

Songs that run through my head without any prompting include Dreamweaver, Silly Love Longs, Oh What a Night, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, If You Leave Me Now, Beach Baby, Benny and the Jets, and Chevy Van. You get the picture I’m sure. Although I’d be remiss not to share that sometimes even the Captain and Tenille and Tony Orlando and Dawn creep into the reminiscing. And, of course, the ’70s musical repertoire would not be complete without selections by the Partridge Family. Not only are the songs nostalgically uplifting, but they remind me of some pretty great ’70s TV shows–Happy Days, Brady Bunch, and Welcome Back, Kotter leading the pack.

I know better than to think the past is the only good time of my life. It’s all been good in its own way with more. But sometimes I need that little boost to remember. After I take even 5 minutes to think back to these happy days of my own, I’m smiling. And now I have the vision to see that big, fat robin in the front yard. A sure sign of spring and better days to come.220px-The_Partridge_Family_Album

 

“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 (NIV)

 

 

 

Blogging, An Unexpected Spiritual Art

I started blogging in August of 2013 as a response to a difficult life situation. The point was not to dwell or get lost in the difficulty but rather to remember to be grateful for life and all the marvelous things that still held true.

I blogged almost every day for the remainder of that year, using my words to count my blessings. Counting blessings sounds so cliche, yet is so true when one considers the many things for which to be thankful and so important to a truly healthy life and perspective.

The tough season and the catharsis of public writing changed me in ways I did not foresee. In some ways, I am quieter, more thoughtful, and definitely more careful. Not bad qualities. Just different. And sometimes they don’t feel like they fit my skin. But skin adapts to the shape of the body eventually and I am more comfortable with myself today.

The greatest good of that season and today is the spiritual shaping that is taking place. Some days the change happens through a gentle rub. Other days have felt like a chisel against hard clay. But the beauty that comes forth is worth the touch, no matter the depth of the pressure applied.

The truth is, Christ has changed me. Graciously and mercifully he has changed me into someone who looks for the good. Some days I don’t feel like looking. Other days it’s harder to find things for which to give thanks. Those are often the best days because they require some extra effort. And that is the difference. I am making the effort.

Some of you shake your head about what I believe or my words make you uncomfortable. Or you misunderstand what I’ve written and I have to work through my own discomfort of sorting out what I could have said better or wondering if writing is worth my time, even when I know it is.

As I close out 2015, what I know for sure is that I am meant to write. Whether my blog gets forty or zero views in a day. Whether anybody believes in what I have to say. Whether or not you find yourself nodding along quietly. My words have been my stepping stone from darkness to light and a reminder to trust in Jesus every single day.

May you find your hope in 2016-Cindy

  
PS: To all of you out there who have continually encouraged me – Thank you!

A New Thankfulness

You are 15. This is the first hunting season you have been allowed in the woods by yourself. You know this is because you have shown your parents you are responsible, careful, resourceful, and have a respect for firearms. You are pleased that you are one step closer to manhood.

For the past 3 weeks, your buddies at school have either shot a deer or talked about the many, many deer they have seen. You have seen none. Except after dark when hunting is over. You believe the animals are taunting you.

It is the last day of hunting season. Your mom drops you off at your grandparents and you begin the walk out to “the big stand.” It’s cold, but you are prepared in your military long underwear, extra layers of warmth and, of course, blaze orange outerwear. You like walking in the woods. You enjoy the silence that you hope will be interrupted by the sound of a buck snorting or a doe tiptoeing her way through the dry leaves.

You think nothing of it when you come to the creek with the beaver dam. You have crossed dozens of uneventful times before. You can see the first stepping stone just below the water and you hop onto it. You can’t see the second or third or additional rocks, but you know they are there because you have done this before. So you take your next step. And that’s when you discover there either is no second stone or you have misjudged its location and you are in t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

Your feet swipe out from under you toward the sky, but like any good hunter you have the presence of mind to throw your rifle on the creek bank before the lower two-thirds of your body goes underwater. You freeze. Not quite literally, but the cold water sucks the possibility of moving out of you. But you have to move, so you make yourself. You slowly pull yourself out of the water.

Suddenly, 26 degrees doesn’t feel very temperate any more. Your feet feel like a thousand knives are stabbing up through their soles all the way to your armpits. You know you have to move, but you aren’t sure you can. You fire 3 shots into the air–a known signal for help. Then you remember no one you know is in the woods with you, but you hope someone else notices or that your mom and grandparents can hear the 3 shots in the house. After a few  minutes you realize that no one is coming. You get up, shoulder your gun (of course), and try to start walking. But you can’t. Your boots are too heavy.

Somehow your frozen fingers manage to untie your cold, heavy boots, and you pull your sopping wet feet out of them. You have no choice but to start running. And so you do. In wet socks, pants, and jacket you run toward the house. Without the boot protection, the thousand knives in your feet are increasing. Every step drives another stick, another rock, or simply another piece of lumpy ground into your cold, cold feet.

Just as you wonder if you can make it all the way, you finally see the house. It’s been only 1/2 a mile or more but feels like you have run a nightmare marathon. You fling open the door, sit down on the bench, and unwanted tears drop from your eyes. Your mom asks what is wrong, but you can’t answer because you don’t have any breath or feeling left in your body. You can tell by her eyes that she thinks you have shot someone or that you yourself have been shot. You answer only, “I can’t feel my feet or legs.” This time when she asks if something happened with the gun, you are able to speak and say, “No I fell into the creek.” You can see she is relieved and she immediately enters into “mom mode” by turning on grandma’s shower and telling you to take off your wet things.

Later when you are warm and dry, she can see you are not yourself. When she asks you what is wrong, you tell her that you are only 15, you don’t even  have your permit yet, and you could have died if things had turned out differently.

This is what happened at our house today. Cherished Middle Son went routinely into the woods and struggled to come out. We talked about how when bad things happen we have an opportunity to go deeper into our thankfulness. I could see the wheels ticking behind his eyeballs as he counted his blessings. Which I’m sure today includes dry socks. I’m pretty certain he has never had reason to be thankful for socks before.

He is also thankful he ran Cross Country this year. At the time, it was a hard decision to decide to run long distance instead of playing football. Today he is glad he did and credits his ability to make his freezing run in wet socks to his cross country training. He says he will thank his coach tomorrow.

As for me, I am so grateful that he knew what to do. I could not care less if his weapon hadn’t made it home today, although it did–safe and dry in fact. I don’t care that his soggy boots are still out by the beaver dam and I don’t care if they never come home. I wonder whether the removal of them was in fact the best course of action, but since he made it back to safety, I’m going with his decision to take them off as the right thing.

I share this story with you because I for one take the people in my life way too much for granted. Had Middle Son not made it back to the house at full dark, I am confident he would have been found, but I am not certain he wouldn’t have suffered frostbite or possibly worse.

You could question why a good God lets bad things happen, but I’d rather focus on the fact that Middle Son was in God’s hands today as he is every day and that provision for his well-being and safety was made ahead of time. Because he was prepared and protected, we have a happy ending.

Every Thanksgiving I reflect on my gratefulness for people, things, and circumstances. This year, the depth of feeling for the people in  my life definitely goes deeper.

buck

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