Authentic

It’s January. Again. And while I don’t really enjoy resolutions, I do enjoy the aspect of picking my one word. It’s a thing I started a few years ago and something I actually look forward to doing in January. Picking one word feels like a big accomplishment when I actually get it done. It’s the one word I feel like focusing on for the year. It helps me to take a sort of singular focus on several aspects of life and run them through a fine filter. For a mind that functions with ADHD, a fine filter of focus feels like a gift. So picking a word of the year feels like a gift to myself.

I’m not always that great at the follow through on my one word. My first word was enough and I tattooed it on my right arm. It’s the word that started a lot of self-discovery and inside work for me. I didn’t commit quite so hard to the words I’ve chosen since, at least not in the tattoo sort of way. But I have learned from each word.

So how do I pick my one word? Well, to be honest, there isn’t a foolproof system. I start with prayer, asking God to reveal something He wants me to see or learn this year. I look at lists of words, browse dictionaries and thesauruses, and dig into definitions. But generally, I pick a word that feels right.

The word I landed on this year is authentic. I wrestled with the word authenticity for a day or two but finally ended up with the short version. Authentic felt a little more precise and the definition lined up more with my heart.

The word authentic could be defined as genuine. It’s when something is done in an original way or faithfully resembles the original, like when you eat Tex-Mex and it tastes delicious and reliably gives you honest delight. It can also mean that something or someone is trustworthy and honest.

But as I was searching up authentic, I learned that there is another lesser-known definition that has to do with music and it intrigued me a great deal. I wasn’t quite sure I understood it as it’s been nearly thirty years since I studied any form of music theory. I texted my daughter at school, feeling that my writing and studying felt, at the moment, worthy of interrupting her school day. But I also texted my friend, the worship leader, and another friend studying who is studying music at college. None of them knew the answer, which meant I had to dig deep into the web.

The best answer I came to is that an authentic note is the opposite of a grace note. A grace note is a note added into a line of music to give it beauty or feeling. It’s an embellishment to the original score. So the authentic note would be the one intended, by the writer of the piece, to be played. It’s the note being what it was created to be.

Listen, I’m sure there is a music theorist out there who would cringe at the simplicity of that definition. But for the sake of the post, it works. And for some reason, it feels like the definition that is most workable for my soul this year.

As I lean into the word authentic, I feel like it fits right into the path I have already suited up for this year. It’s a sort of continuation of last year and the year before, and also the year before that. Each word has been about asking God to help me see who He intends me to be and what He wants me to make of my life. There are lots of great things going on in my world that bring beauty and light and life; things that add depth and definition. But the question I have to ask is if these things are what God intends. Is my life song being played as He wrote it?

Today would have been my mom’s 71st birthday. One of the last conversations I had with her involved her telling me that I didn’t need her anymore. I can’t think of a statement that’s more false. I need her so much every day and I miss her incredibly. For a long time, I tried my best to be like her. I wanted to cook like her, make people laugh like she did, and be strong and independent like she was.

It turns out those things were already in me. I had already learned or they were just naturally ingrained. But I’ve also had to look at the things I learned from her that I should have left alone, and that is taking some deep soul-searching and pruning.

Pruning involves cutting back the unhealthy parts of the plant; the parts that have become diseased or died and are holding back the growth. But it also involves cutting back some of the healthy parts of the plant, trimming off beautiful blooms and strong growth. It means shaping up the plant to allow it to be it’s most beautiful self.

I think my authentic self is my most beautiful self. It’s the song God wrote and intends for me to play. It is trustworthy, reliable, and honest. And it’s who I long to be.

God Always Keeps His Promises

During Advent, every year, I do my very best to explain to a room full of children how the Israelites waited for nearly five hundred years between God’s last message of hope to the prophets and the actual fulfillment of the promise. And if that felt like a mouthful of words to read in an incredibly long run-on sentence, imagine trying to explain it to 5-year-olds.

I spend all of the first semester of the school year walking them through the old testament promises of God – from the initial sin of Adam and Eve and God’s promise of a plan for redemption to God promising Abraham more descendants than stars in the sky to Moses and the first Passover to King David to the Prophet Isaiah foretelling the birth of our Savior. Then we talk about the silence; the years and years of silence.

It’s hard for little ones to imagine silence for that long. They struggle to sit still in silence for more than a minute and struggle even more so at the idea of “hearing” God in the first place. I generally stick with the line, “God loves you so much and promises us that he will never, ever, ever leave our side. Even when we don’t feel like he is with us, he is. God always keeps his promises.”

This year has been extra hard for me to get that message across because my head knows it to be true but my heart sometimes hurts so much that it wonders. I keep saying the words to the kids, but sometimes I think I am saying them even more for me.

“God loves you so much and promises us that he will never, ever, ever leave our side. Even when we don’t feel like he is with us, he is. God always keeps his promises.”

I have prayed for so many miracles this year. So. Many. Miracles. And so far, God has been silent on so many of those miracles. For others, he has told me that the miracle I wanted so desperately for myself or for someone else, was not in the stars.

I have shed more tears this year than any year I can think of in the recent or distant history of years of tears. I have asked for clear path lights to light the way ahead. I have begged for answers. I have pleaded for healing for so many heartaches. I have thrown myself at his feet begging for him to save the lives of people so dear to me and so dear to people I love.

“God loves you so much and promises us that he will never, ever, ever leave our side. Even when we don’t feel like he is with us, he is. God always keeps his promises.”

God never promised that life in this world would be easy. In fact, Jesus promised us the exact opposite. In John 16:33, Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I am trying to take heart but my heart hurts. My heart hurts for the things I don’t understand, the answers I still don’t have, the lives lost, the diseases raging, the relationships broken, the politics that are hurting people I love, and the greed of companies taking away homes and security for friends.

I can say it’s been a rough year of waiting but thankfully, I don’t have to say it’s been a rough five hundred years of waiting. I’ve seen the Messiah; I know that God came through and fulfilled his promise. And it is with that faith and hope that I hold on to the promise that the Savior, MY SAVIOR, will return.

“God loves you so much and promises us that he will never, ever, ever leave our side. Even when we don’t feel like he is with us, he is. God always keeps his promises.”

God’s promises are good and his character never changes. That is where I place my hope this Advent as I can find no other place to let it rest. He loves me. He loves you. He’s coming back one day and the earth is groaning for that day – I feel the groaning from the depths of my soul. God always keeps his promises.

Still, Still, Still

I graduated from Marion High School in Marion, IL in May of 1995. The majority of the 213 classmates that walked the stage with me that night had been my classmates since we were in kindergarten. That’s part of the beauty of growing up in a small town – everyone knows everyone and few people leave.

I did not see that beauty in 1995. No, seventeen-year-old me thought it was painfully boring. But now, as my kids grow up in the city with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of classmates, I sometimes long for the quieter and simpler days of living in a small town. There is safety in knowing everyone. You know your friend’s parents and where everyone lives and build memories through relationships that last a lifetime.

When I was in kindergarten or maybe first grade, I became friends with Jennifer. She had the most gorgeous red hair that fell in long curls, was a dancer, and so, so smart. Jennifer was everything that seemed wonderful to me and we became fast friends. When I met Jennifer’s mom, Camille, I realized why Jennifer was the way she was. Camille also had amazing red hair, magical freckles, and was one of the kindest and gentlest human beings I had ever met.

My friend, Jennifer, and her mom, Camille.

Camille hosted slumber parties in their family basement every year for Jen’s birthday. I got sick and had to leave about four years in a row. Camille would stroke my hair and offer a wet washcloth in the middle of the night as we waited for my mom or dad to pick me up. She also volunteered to chaperone just about every choir contest or trip we ever went on, as well. I have so many memories of Camille as a steady and calming presence in my life.

One of my favorite memories of Camille is simply of her face watching us all sing. She loved to hear the choir sing. One year, I think we were in 8th grade, Jen and I sang with our friends Erica and Hillary, the Christmas song, “Still, Still, Still.” We sang acapella and our young voices were angelic in four-part-harmony. We ended up reprising that song numerous times over the years and I so wish I had a recording of it to play for you.

A couple of years ago, Alzheimer’s made its presence known in Camille. As her memories slipped away and pieces of her personality faltered, she never lost her sweet disposition. This unholy disease that strips people of their dignity and life has taken too many people I love. Camille fought hard though and she never lost her sweetness. She never stopped loving her daughter, who took such loving care.

Last week, as Camille began the swift decline into her final days and hours, a group text between Jennifer and a few of us who were so close through all the years picked up speed again. We shared memories of Camille, prayers for her body to be pain-free and at peace, and prayers for God to give Jen the strength she needed to face the last moments with her mom.

On Friday night, I attended a Christmas concert for my daughter’s Chamber Orchestra and when they played “Still, Still, Still,” I quickly raised my phone to record the music. My chest clenched up and my eyes glassed over as I remembered Camille’s doe-eyes watching us kids sing so many years ago. I could feel her sweet smile in my heart and I suddenly longed for her to meet Jesus, the one the song is about. I longed for her to dream, dream, dream of the joyous day to come when she would be enveloped into the arms of her Savior. After the concert, I sent the recording to Jen and asked her to play it for her mom.

Camille got to meet Jesus Monday night. It’s heartbreaking for those on Earth who have known and loved her for so long and yet it’s joyful knowing she is whole, healed, and complete in Heaven.

And that’s what makes this season so hard. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are ones to be filled with happiness. Or at least that’s what the commercials tell us. But life doesn’t stop and troubles don’t go away just because it’s December. Happiness fades and dwindles as schedules get crazy, as family is difficult, and heartaches continue to fall our way.

We can have joy in knowing that God loves us so much that he sent his one and only son for us. Jesus left the perfection of heaven and entered this world full of sin and brokenness. He came as a helpless baby to save us who are helpless if not for his saving grace.

My prayers for you, dear reader, are that you would be able to return to joy, even when happiness betrays you, that you would find gratitude, even when the world seems to take away all you hold dear, and that you, like Camille, can find time to smile and listen to the music of the season.

For the Benefit of All Mankind

If you are not obsessed with the Netflix series, The Crown, as I am, please forgive this opening. When Season 3 was released, I found myself a little agitated that my life and world needed to go on and I wasn’t able to snuggle in on the couch with a blanket to binge the entire season.

Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies are flawless in their portrayal of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.

During the opening segment of Episode 7, The Queen and her husband are talking about the fact that the Americans have requested Her Majesty to record a message to the astronauts headed to the moon. When he asked why this request was made, she explained that many world leaders had been asked to do so. She said it was an effort to bring the world together for the benefit of all mankind.

I started thinking about what actually benefits all mankind. During this week especially, a week when our country takes a break from regular life to focus on our blessings and what we are thankful for in our lives, I am reminded of how much I do that is really only a benefit to me.

I’d like to think that in my life of richness and abundance, I share much of what I have been given. And I do give…we give. My family gives our money and time to church and charity but whether or not it is for the benefit of all mankind, I sometimes wonder.

I was talking to children this weekend, as I do every weekend, at church about how God loves his children so much that he couldn’t stand the thought of being separated from them – from us. He knew we had made a choice to choose sin over a relationship and it broke his heart. So God sent his one and only son, Jesus, to be born, to live, and to die as a sacrifice for our sin. We no longer have a separation between God and ourselves because, God, for the benefit of all mankind, loved us so much.

God shared his love. As I evaluate my life, so full of blessings, the question isn’t about how much I give but how much I share. Giving is easy. Giving can be done anonymously and without heart. Sharing is personal. Sharing takes thought and purpose.

So as I enter this season of thanks, this season of holy waiting on the celebration of Jesus, I want to walk into each day with eyes open to the world around me. I want to open my ears what is said and what is left unsaid. I want to lean into the tears of friends, the laughter around tables, the silences in the corners of parties. I want to share my heart and my hand when love is what is really what would be the benefit of the moment.

When Friends Lift Each Other Up

A few weeks ago I was contacted by an editor of a local Houston magazine, Voyage Houston Magazine, and asked to participate in an interview. They told me they are talking to women around the city who are making positive moves and decisions and working on bringing love to the world around them. And someone gave them my name.

The idea of women being like fighting cats who hiss and scratch at each other is incredibly real, but only when it’s nurtured. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in middle school and experienced girls cat-fighting for popularity and status. When that behavior works for them, they keep it up.

But I’ve found the opposite to be true as well. Women (and girls) can be loving and kind and nurturing and not at all competitive. We can build long and sturdy tables with room for everyone.

Jesus never excluded anyone from his teachings and everyone is invited to experience his presence and love. It seems to me that, if we are to love others well, we should follow the example Jesus gave us.

When we hold on tight to our compliments, our sharing, our wealth, or life, then it shrivels up and dies. When we open our hands wide enough to welcome others and offer to hold their hands, everything we have is magnified and grows.

Love grows.

I am so thankful for women in my life who lift me up and cheer me on. And I am so thankful for the opportunity to lift those women up and cheer them on. And today, I am thankful to Voyage Houston for celebrating both.

What I Wouldn’t Give To Be 16…

There’s a song by Thomas Rhett called “Sixteen” and the lyrics tell the story of a young man always waiting and wanting to be older. In his mind, the next milestone will be the one where life is really sweet. I feel like it’s a fairly common longing for most kids as they are growing up; at least it was for me and my friends. “Sixteen will be great because I can drive!” or “Eighteen is where it’s at because I’m an adult!” and “When I’m twenty-one I can drink legally!” Yet, when we get there, we always find it to be a little less sparkly than we expected and that there’s always more road ahead, tempting us to believe that “ahead” is where life will really start.

My daughter is sixteen today. It feels big and small at the same time. It feels big because she will soon have her driver’s license and be out in the world taking roads that I’m not on with her. I feels big because I can remember her first day of kindergarten in bright and vivid detail but I realize that in a little over two years she will head off to college. And yet it feels small because she’s still my baby girl who will snuggle on the couch with me and talk to me about friend drama and bake cookies with me. And it feels small because sometimes I feel like sixteen was only a moment ago for me. I have memories so clear and wonderful that it seems strange to think they took place so long ago.

My girl and a few of her friends celebrated her birthday over the weekend.

I texted a few of my life-long-friends this morning, thanking them for the old memories, but also noted that I wouldn’t do it again for anything. Sixteen is wild and fun and fast and full but also, sixteen is hard. I fell in love and had my heart broken at sixteen. I was learning the value of friendship and people who stuck by their word. I learned all sorts of lessons at sixteen that were necessary for the life God was preparing for me. And that life has also been wild and fun and fast and full.

And then, as if the universe was rolling along with my morning of nostalgia, the radio played the Florida-Georgia Line and Tim McGraw song “May We All.” It’s one of my favorites.

Every time I hear that song I tell my kids that it’s basically the story of how I grew up. It’s the musical version of every teenager’s life who was raised in Southern Illinois in the 1980s and ’90s. And every time I tell them this fact, I get a little misty-eyed thinking of how it feels like yesterday and also a million years ago.

I’ve said thousands and thousands of prayers for my girl as she has been growing up. I think my hopes and dreams for her are, for the most part, the same as those most parents have for their children. I have simple prayers for her that are based on faith and love.

I hope she always knows the love of her Savior, Jesus Christ. I want her to live a life full of blessings and to be grateful for the joys He has given her. I want her to be honest, kind, and generous with her love. I pray for her to chase the dreams God has planted in her heart.

I pray that if God has a husband planned for her, that he would know and love Jesus and want to lead their family in truth and love. And I pray that he would be loyal to her forever and ever and never break her heart.

I hope she is surrounded by friends and family who love her and celebrate all the beauty God has placed inside of her. And I hope those people bake her cakes and make celebratory toasts to her.

We celebrated with indoor s’mores roasting and the most fabulous birthday cake via GUD Sugar Bakery in Kingwood, TX. Jennifer took time to figure out exactly what we wanted and she even put tiny hidden roses on the cake in honor of my mom.

I pray for her to always believe and trust that God’s plan for her is far better than anything this world would ever have to offer and that she always listens for the still, quiet voice of His Spirit to lead her where her imagination could never take her. And I hope she will know in the deepest places of her soul that there is nothing ahead or down the road any more exciting or thrilling than where God will lead.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl. May we all have the opportunity to celebrate you for many years to come!

Broken Hearts and Broken Bones

The radius bone is one of the two large bones of the forearm, the other being the ulna. It extends from the lateral side of the elbow to the thumb side of the wrist and runs parallel to the ulna. The radius is shorter and smaller than the ulna.

The radius is part of two joints: the elbow and the wrist. At the elbow, it joins with the capitulum of the humerus, and in a separate region, with the ulna at the radial notch. At the wrist, the radius forms a joint with the ulna bone.

It’s at that joint with the ulna bone, at the wrist, where my son broke his radius bone this morning while bouncing on an inflatable at a youth group retreat. The hubs brought him home for a quick x-ray, splint, and meds, and then they raced back to camp.

In fairness to you, dear reader, you should know that the majority of the above explanation was copied from the World Wide Web. I am not a nurse. I did memorize all the bones in the body twice in my life – once in tenth-grade biology and once again during cosmetology school. At this point in life, however, I am lucky to remember how old I am, let alone the name of the short bone in the arm that connects the wrist. And frankly, I’m okay with that. I know a little bit about a lot of things and I can be okay without knowing all the things about all the things. I’m certain my brain does a regular dump of information it believes to be no longer useful to me; data that is wasting space. This is why I can remember all the words to every Garth Brooks song but not my driver’s license number. My brain has set my priorities and I’m fine with its system for making space.

A broken bone feels appropriate this month. Not that anyone would ever wish that on their child, but it’s been a heller couple of weeks and so when I say a broken bone feels appropriate, I mean it as, “Of course. Of course, it would happen this month.”

When Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area a little more than two years ago, my city of Kingwood was devastated by flooding. It was in part, due to the enormous amount of rain that came in such a short amount of time. It was in part, due to the ground already being saturated by previous storms with rain. It was in most, due to Lake Conroe being too full from the enormous amount of rain and the “Powers the Be” releasing an enormous amount of water in our direction in the middle of the night with zero warning. A lot of people flooded. People who shouldn’t have flooded because they weren’t in a flood zone. People who have never flooded because they aren’t near the river. People. People I know and love.

We often see flooding on the news and we see the people crying and we see the mud and the buildings destroyed and we think how terrible it all is. But once the news stops covering it, we vaguely remember the pictures of the damaged buildings and we sometimes remember the people crying, but because it’s not happening to us or to people we know and love, our brain doesn’t hold onto that information or try to make sense of the devastation that could really be there. We have to move on to things that are happening to us in our everyday lives because that is what is at hand and that is where we need to focus our time, energy, and brainpower.

It was not until I had experienced Hurricane Harvey, until I saw the devastation with my own two eyes, smelled the hot, wet, mildew with my own nose, tasted the mold in the air, and felt the mud and dust on my skin that I got it. I don’t think there is any way to get flooding on that level; to have your brain open up and wrap around the severity unless you experience it first hand.

We got it when we helped our friends and neighbors cut out their sheetrock and pull everything in their house below water level out to the curb. We got it when we washed sewer water stains off of their grandmother’s china. We got it when we sifted through soggy paperwork in smelly desk drawers to help them find their social security cards and their kids birth certificates and their mom’s hand-written recipe for pie crust.

We prayed and prayed for those who flooded. We held their hands and fed them casseroles. We poured wine and laughed when we could and cried when needed. And we all hoped beyond hope that it would never happen to our community again.

So earlier this year, back in May, when a storm blew in with flash flooding, everyone held their breath. Trees came down and bayous rose. Water ran through the streets and rose into our yards. The rain was coming at record speed and the drains couldn’t keep up. Schools release early, people were told to get off the streets, and then, beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, neighborhoods began to flood. As the water rose, so did the anxiety. Groups texts checking in on friends flew through the digital air as fast as the cell towers could keep up.

Friends who had flooded during Harvey mostly remained dry. This time, a neighborhood recently surrounded by another neighborhood, had water seeping through their cracks and under their door frames. In the name of progress, in the name of making room for everyone, drainage had been shifted and homes were flooded. People were evacuated by boats and everyone in our town felt that sickening lump in our throat again; that wave of nausea knowing what was to come for these friends.

But as communities do, everyone jumped in to help. The water went down, the sheetrock was cut out, the studs were cleaned and dried. Kitchens were rebuilt, but until they were, casseroles were delivered. Advice and help were in plenty by those who have learned so much due to and during Harvey. Lots of friends stepped in to show loved ones how to handle this and how to negotiate that.

As the days and weeks went by through the hot summer, one of the hottest Houston has had in years, homes were rebuilt and lives were restored. Families were moving back into their homes as school started, looking ahead to Thanksgivings filled with enormous gratitude and Christmas’ filled with the humbleness and kindness of being safe and giving back to those in our world suffering from other heartaches.

So when Tropical Storm Imelda began her descent onto our land, the cries came from far and wide, “Dear Jesus, not again!”

The same neighborhood that flooded in May flooded again this week. Several of our schools took a few inches of water again. And new houses flooded; friends who didn’t flood in May or in Harvey were hit by Imelda.

The “experts” say it was one of the heaviest and fastest rainfalls in Houston’s history with over 43 inches in less than 12 hours. That’s a lot of rain. That’s a lot of water. And that’s a lot of heartaches.

My own living room took water and thankfully, my son was home with me to help me attack with fans and towels to keep damage to a minimum. My church has a rescue response team in place since Harvey and fortunately (?) has a lot of the necessary equipment needed to remediate. I have had a dehumidifier running for the last 24-hours and I imagine it will run for a couple more days. The word is still out on what we will be able to salvage.

Some friends weren’t so fortunate. There are people I love dearly who took anywhere from 2-inches to 4-feet of water. If you’ve never experienced this, you may not understand. But even 2-inches means you are ripping out flooring and baseboards and sheetrock. Living in one of the most humid places in the United States means mold and mildew grow faster than you can say mold and mildew. Mold and mildew lead to sicknesses of all kinds but primarily lung diseases. Lung diseases, like I was diagnosed with two weeks ago, that have no cure but only treatments to keep symptoms at bay.

So what is one to do when it feels like broken bones and broken hearts are all there is to see and hear? Lots of people may question why God allows this sort of thing to happen and lots of people have lots of answers; from ones gained through scripture reading and faith to ones only summized from life experience. My answer is a mixture of the two.

It’s unfortunate that we live in a world tainted by sin. One of the most beautiful gifts God gave his creation is the gift of choice. He didn’t want his people to worship him only because they had been created like robots, programmed to do and say what he willed them to do and say. He gifted us with a choice.

And so when Satan entered the perfection of The Garden and offered Adam and Eve a choice, they took it. They broke the ONLY rule God had given them. One rule. That’s all they had was the one rule and they made a choice to break it. So sin entered the world and spread like wildfire and it has touched every single thing. Bad things happen. Suffering happens. Hurting happens.

We walk through this life and experience it in all sorts of ways. Sometimes God reaches down, nudges us out of danger, and we are none the wiser. And sometimes God allows us to walk through the fires and the floods because we will be so much wiser on the other side. Sometimes we will be humbled, more empathetic, made softer, made gentler, made kinder. There are times when the fires and floods work like sandpaper, smoothing our rough edges. And sometimes, and this is the really hard part, we see no use in the situation. We see how no good could ever possibly come from the heartache and brokeness we’ve gone through. It’s in those times when our faith is what keeps us afloat and we trust that God is with us, holding our hand, even when we don’t understand the circumstances around us.

God is a loving Father and his intentions for us are only for good, not harm. His desire for us is to grow in grace as we walk through this life. The broken bones and broken hearts hurt him as much, if not more than they hurt us. But we can have hope in his promises that this world, sinful as it is, is not our final destination. When we believe in him and trust that he is who he says he is, his kingdom is open to us both now and forevermore. And we can trust that there will be a day when we will cry no more tears, suffer no more broken bones, and endure no more heartache.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” -Isaiah 43:2

(To read more about the recent flooding in Kingwood, TX. Click here.)

Stepping Out of Denial…Again

I am no stranger to recovery. I have done group therapy, journey groups, grace groups, multiple 12-Step programs, and individual therapy over the last twenty-two-ish years. One might think I would have it all together by now.

One might be wrong.

I imagine that on this side of heaven, I will always be working on my hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Hopefully, I won’t always be working on the same ones, but I might. The Apostle Paul and I have something in common in that I too, desire to do what is good, but often I cannot carry it out. (See Romans 7:18)

Denial often leaves us feeling lonely and ashamed and causes us to isolate ourselves from others.

I started my fifth 12-Step Study today through Celebrate Recovery. I am a leader with a co-leader and that is both scary and comforting at the same time. But I know that God has an amazing plan for healing in my heart and in the hearts of the women in our group. I am truly excited to see what layers He pulls back in me. It’s rarely what I expect.

I walked into my first Step Study with a plan for God to heal particular habits in my life and, God being God, He showed me that I had many layers to peel back before we could even talk about addressing my plan. It turned out that I was in denial of so much more than I ever thought or imagined. That was ten years ago and God is still peeling back layers in me.

I believe it is fair to say my level of denial is nowhere as deep as it used to be. I can safely say that I am fully aware that I am flawed in many ways and in many places. I know that there are temptations in my life I will always need to be on guard against because they are areas that once had vice-grip like strongholds in my life. I also know there are places so awful that God snatched me from in order to set me on higher ground. I have experienced so much freedom and relief from those dark places that I will never have even the slightest inkling of a desire to go back.

When we face our denial, we learn that we can not ever receive healing by ignoring a wound or pretending it isn’t there. Stuffing feelings and resentments doesn’t make them go away. Stuffing anything into a tight space hardly ever ends well. Over-stuffed containers have a tendency to explode. It’s just science.

Denial:

Disables Our Feelings. When we stuff away and attempt to numb one feeling, we end up numbing all feelings. We become slaves to hiding them away and attempting to protect ourself from future harm.

Energy Lost. When we deny our feelings and attempt to numb them, we end up spending a lot of time worrying about the future and running from the past. We seek ways to avoid thinking about our life and waste a lot of energy worrying about future pain.

Negates Growth. There is a popular phrase in recovery that says, “We are as sick as our secrets.” When we try to keep our habits and our hurts hidden from the world we spend a lot of time doing a dance of denial. We wear ourselves out keeping our secrets hidden instead of living fully in grace and truth.

Isolates from God. 1 John 1: 5-7 reminds us, “God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Alienates Us From Our Relationships. When we live in denial we think no one knows our secrets. We don’t open ourselves fully to those we love and we keep our true self locked away. Our life becomes a lie we live, thinking that others don’t see our pain.

Lengthens the Pain. We start to believe that stuffing our hurts away and not talking about our wounds is protecting us from pain. In reality, it only causes our wounds to fester. Just as you wouldn’t slap a bandage on a physical wound without cleaning it and treating it with medication, you can’t hide your emotional wounds without allowing God’s cleansing and healing love to wash them clean.

I know from experience that time does not heal all wounds. It is only when I am truthful about my life – my hurts, habits, and hang-ups – and work the steps of recovery, that I experience true peace. I have been longing for true peace my entire life! I have tried to find it on my own in so many ways. I have tried to shop my way there, eat my way there, drink my way there, sleep my way there. I’ve even tried to rely on the love of others to get me there. It’s all been a messy lie. When I work the steps of recovery and allow Jesus to take the wheel of my life, I don’t have to rely on my dysfunction, my compulsive behaviors, or my addictions to act as a temporary fix for my pain. When I allow Jesus to be in charge of my life, he covers me with healing peace.

If you would like to know more about Celebrate Recovery or would like to find a Christ-centered 12-Step program near you, I encourage you to visit the Celebrate Recovery website. If you are near me, know me, and would like to be a part of our Monday group, we are accepting new members. Contact me today and I’ll see about getting you connected.

No one gets through this life unscathed by sin. Jesus never promised us that following Him would be easy. In fact, he promised the opposite. But he does promise that we never have to walk the journey alone. He will hold our hand and light our path the entire way and all we have to do is follow. And he will bring people along side us to walk with us so we never, ever, ever have to feel alone.

(This post was written with information found in A Purpose Driven Recovery Resource- Stepping Out of Denial into God’s Grace, Participant’s Guide 1 by John Baker. It is a Celebrate Recovery Curriculum.)

Put Down the Phone and Let Steve Take the Picture

Monday morning, as I was driving my girl to school, the DJ’s on the radio were talking about a young woman named Holly , who recently died of cancer. She was a vibrant twenty-six-year-old and had so much life ahead of her.

The day after Holly died, her parents found a list she wrote of Facebook in the days before she passed. In the list, she ticks off things that won’t matter to you anymore when death comes knocking, and she suggests letting those things go long before then. She suggests ideas such as not letting traffic ruin your day, taking as much care of your mental and spiritual health as you do your physical health, and learning to be grateful. Her list isn’t that long but it’s chocked full of meaningful ideas, things she wishes she had done differently and moments she’s thankful for having.

As the DJ’s talked about the list, they began adding ideas of their own. The first one was to put the phone down and be present in every precious moment. One of them said we all need to stop trying to capture the best picture to post on social media so that the whole world knows how fabulous our life is and how much fun we have every day.

I started to cry.

This summer, I took a hiatus from all social media because I knew that pressure and was feeling it. I watched games and concerts from behind my phone screen so I could have a record of every moment. Taking a break allowed me to realize how much I was missing emotionally by viewing it through the lens of my camera.

But my tears were also for another reason. I knew that at that very moment, my dear friend Melise was sitting by her dad’s side as he nears the final moments of his life. Melise’s dad, Steve Smith, was THE photographer in my hometown. He owned a studio, and he had the contract on every school picture that went in every yearbook. He took every football team photo, every baseball team photo, every marching band photo. After I sat and thought about it, Steve most likely took every single professional photo of me between 1982 and 1995.

Steve Smith creating art behind the camera.

There isn’t a dance photo, prom photo, color guard photo, or school photo that can’t be traced back to Steve or his studio. In those days, we didn’t have smartphones. There was no such thing as a selfie. And film for snap and shoot cameras was a little pricey, so you didn’t waste it. If you wanted to remember an event, you needed to make sure it was memorable. If you wanted to look back at what you looked like your senior year, you looked at the portfolio Steve created for you.

Rabbit fur was an acceptable option in 1995.

Steve was hilarious when he did a photoshoot. He had a knack for bringing out the best smiles, the best smolders, the best of you. He would tell you how gorgeous you were and how your eyes sparkled and he would reach out to tilt your chin so his camera would actually catch that sparkle.

When my senior photo proofs came in my dad bought almost every shot because “I may never look this good again.”

He was probably right.

Homecoming Dance October 1992

I appear to be laughing in so many of my homecoming and prom photos and that’s because I probably was. Steve was at every dance, and he saw the way we all passed around dates from year to year. He would always joke about who we brought this time.

I don’t have many pictures from these events, other than a handful my uncle would come to take with his “good camera.” My memories come from the ones I created and what Steve Smith recorded on film.

I hope that in the coming days when Steve meets Jesus face to face, that someone in heaven takes their picture. I don’t know if they do that in heaven, but I’d like to think so. And I hope we can all take a snapshot from Steve’s life and learn to put down our phones and be in the moment. Let the professionals take photos because it’s their job. Our job is to hold the hand of our spouse, run and chase our kids, listen to the music at the concert, and snuggle on the couch with your family. I promise you that I won’t complain if you don’t post a picture of all the moments and I’m betting you won’t miss all the postings about mine. Give your loved ones a kiss, hold on to the hug, and make memories with them while you are able.

Monday Musings on a Tuesday

I had an idea. It was really a plan of sorts. I decided to start a thing on Mondays called “Monday Musings.” The idea was that I would share some mild musings. You know, funny things from my weekend, dreams, goals, or ideas for the week ahead, and, on occasion, makeup tutorials. It would live on Instagram and push through to my Facebook Page.

Yesterday, however, I woke up with a terrible stomach bug that altered all my plans. I was so disappointed because it was the first day of school, the first day back to regular schedules for everyone. I wanted to be the mom, dressed and ready, and I wanted to drive them to school to take pictures as they walked in. I wanted to jump into work with writing and planning and cleaning and bright and shiny offerings to the world.

The stomach bug knocked me out, and I was incredibly frustrated. But the frustration wasn’t only because my plans for the day were altered. And frankly, not just because no one likes to spend a day vomiting. My disappointment was because I have been battling my body all year. I’ve been fighting for years. This year has been extra rough, though. I have had a cough and wheeze for months that won’t go away. And in the last week, I’ve felt stronger. I’ve had more energy. I’ve been sleeping well and felt like the supplements I’m taking are making a difference. I was excited for the first day of school for my kids but also me. I spent the day sick but also throwing myself a pity party.

Today is a new day, though. I am resting, still afraid to eat, but mending. And I started thinking about how sometimes, our expectations can be so far from our reality, that we tumble into the chasm between the two. And sometimes, God slows us down for reasons we don’t understand.

I’m not saying God caused my stomach bug or my cough. But what I am saying is that God is capable and willing to work in my life regardless of what is going on. And he often uses the downtime, the time when my plans go awry, to remind me that his plan is always best.

This morning I read a devotion by Henri Nouwen and was reminded of the split between divinity and humanity inside my soul. The Holy Spirit lives within me; God is with me forever. And yet while I am on this earth, present in this human body affected by sin and darkness, I will always be torn. I will still be split between chasing my plans and my desires and in resting peacefully in the arms of Jesus, who says I never have to chase anything.

So maybe next Monday I’ll get around to Monday Musings and maybe not. But what I know for sure is that God’s will and God’s way are always filled with the utmost love for me. And I know his plans for me are good.