Friday, January 15, 2016

The Loss Months

In the past, I've made jokes about myself being an "overachiever" and how I don't do anything half-way.

I laugh just re-reading that statement.  It takes me back to the 2 months leading up to my wedding almost 16 years ago.  In that small span of time, I quit one job, started another {with all the training it required}, wrapped up all the loose ends of wedding planning, and then got married and went on a honeymoon. To say that I had an identity crisis a month or so down the road is the biggest of understatements!

Sometimes these things - the pile-ups of life - "just happen" and we could've chosen differently and prevented some of the stress.  Sometimes we could just choose to react differently to these things when they happen. And often, we don't have any control over them, which is what I've experienced over the last few months.  

A while back,  I made mention of a big decision I'd made, but that I had to wait to announce.  As hard as it was, after nearly 12 years, God told me to give up my Pampered Chef business.  
This was something I'd put my blood, sweat, and tears into for a long time.  I'd built it from the ground up.  I had over 2000 customers in my data base.  I constantly got compliments from hostesses and customers and I truly felt that I was good at that business.
In fact, one host said to me, "but you're so good!" when I told her that I was going to be resigning.

Many of my conversations have gone like that one these past few months.
Explaining to people over and over again why I made the decision I made and why there was NO other decision I could make.

How do you explain that to someone else? How do you explain that conviction? How do you explain that something you were once so passionate about, you are now passionate about releasing?

That ONE thing would've been hard enough.  It would have been a loss and would have required a period of mourning.

Just DAYS after I made this decision, I had only told my husband and kids, my parents, and my in-laws.  DAYS, not weeks or a month; just DAYS.  We were told that my Father-in-law had cancer.  Again.  The same cancer he'd had about 12 years ago.

It took a month or so of doctors appointments and second-opinions before chemo started.
He told his doctor that his grandkids - my kids - are what kept him going. 

But less than four short months after getting this diagnosis, my Father-in-law entered Heaven's gates.  A week and a half after Thanksgiving and two and half weeks before Christmas.
My husband and Mother-in-law were dealing with funeral plots and caskets. 

To say that the whole situation seems surreal is, again, an understatement.

I recently heard a prayer of praise shared at church.  A miracle healing of a young cancer patient. An answer to many prayers.
And I'm ashamed to admit it, but my first thought was, 

Why? Why, God? Why couldn't that be us?
Did we not pray hard enough? 
Why did my husband have to say goodbye to his Dad at such a young age?
Why did my kids lose their Papa so soon? Too soon?
Why did my Mother-in-law have to lose her husband?
Why did this happen to us?

And then the shock of "why am I questioning this?!"

I guess it's because I'm human and I can't help but wonder "WHY?"  If you ask some members of my family I've been asking that BIG little word since I could talk.  


Do I believe that God's plan and His timing are perfect? 
Do I believe that He has a purpose for all things?
Do I believe that He will help us all get through this?


I still wonder why.  Not just why he died.  Not just why now? But so many "Whys," really...

I've prayed, questioned, searched, and struggled to figure out why things had to happen this way.  

Why all at once, God?
Why me?

What is this supposed to teach me? 
What do I do with this? How can I use this pain and this mourning to glorify you? 
Is that even what I'm supposed to do? 

I'm not sure unsettling is a strong enough word for what I'm trying to describe but it's the only one that comes.  
The only one that comes to mind to depict the paradox between knowing so strongly that I was supposed to surrender my Pampered Chef business and now feeling like I don't know anything.  I felt so strong in my faith during my prayers and decision to resign.  
Now I feel so shaky in my faith.
Not because I believe any less.  Maybe it's because I fear what's coming next? Maybe I'm afraid of what else He may ask me to give up?  
After the big losses of these last few months, I am just spent.  I feel as if I don't have anything else to give up and I am certainly feeling that identity crisis I felt as a newly-wed all over again.

I read another blog today that was very helpful; the post was titled When God Says No. Not only was the content spot on for my life situation right now, but she references Daniel and his three friends thrown into the fiery furnace.  I'm currently leading a small group Bible Study on the book of Daniel.

I think not.

And though it doesn't tie things up in pretty little bows for me and answer all my questions, it reminds me that questioning God isn't bad.  It doesn't have to be irreverent or disrespectful.

God desires to have a relationship with us.  A relationship between a loving Father and a child.  A Father who doesn't want us to hurt but knows sometimes it's for our greater good when we do.  A Father who loves us no less when we question than when we lift our hands and praise Him.

Here's my favorite line from "When God Says No:"

We dared pray the scariest prayer, that His will would be done, and it has been. While He may not have answered every prayer in the way we asked, our faith is not dependent upon how God works or responds to our requests. Our faith is in Who God is.

My faith is not dependent on my current situation.  It's not dependent on my asking "WHY?" one more time.  

My Faith - My Trust - are in the One who knows the number of hairs on my head.  The One who knew me while I was still in my mother's womb.
The One who's love can withstand my "Why's" for as long as they come.  

And I feel they may continue to come for awhile.
But I trust the journey will not be in vain and in spite of me, He will be glorified. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Truth and Consequences

High school, my sophomore year, I was accepted into Honor's Chorus.
I was over-the-moon!
I never expected to be selected and I. COULD. NOT. WAIT!

There was just one teeny, weensy little problem...

I was also in rifle line {color guard} of the marching band. We had a big competition coming up in Disney World on - you guessed it - the same weekend as Honor's Chorus.

What to do? 
Obviously, I couldn't do both.
Being in Orlando, Florida and NC for Honor's Chorus at the same time was completely impossible.

The story is complicated but here's the short version:
the other girls of the rifle line didn't like me much and were anything BUT kind.  No matter how hard I worked and how much I practiced, I was never good enough - in their eyes, or in reality.  The reality was, I auditioned as a first-timer and did so well I got placed in rifle line rather than flag-line (that was unusual).
In the beginning, I was thrilled with the opportunity of a challenge. 

In most cases, I rise to a challenge quite well.

In this case, after months of verbal and emotional beat-down from my "team-mates," I was just spent.  I didn't want to try anymore because I was convinced no matter what I did, it would never, ever be enough and I was just drained from all my efforts.

So I told the instructor I wasn't going on the band trip.

Ha! He knew just how to take the wind out of my sails! Even though band was an elective for me, he told me that the trip wasn't optional.
That if I didn't go I'd likely fail the class; at best, I'd wind up with a C.

That was academic suicide for me and I just couldn't do it.

I turned down Honor's Chorus, never getting the chance to audition or attend again.

It was a hard lesson to learn but one that we all must.  When you make a commitment to something and/or other people, you can't just bail when the going gets tough.  
No matter how much YOU or sometimes, THEY,  want you to.

As a Mom, I'm hoping some of my own experience can help my pre-teen daughter navigate adolescence.  I've found myself telling her things that I never thought I would.  Things I don't like talking to anyone about.  Things that are embarrassing, hurtful, and disappointing even all these years later.

But things that I think could help her avoid heartache.  
Because isn't that what we all want as Moms? To keep our kids from feeling the hurts we felt?

Sometimes, though, we veer off too far in the opposite direction.  We set limits and rules to try to avoid the temptation of wrong altogether.  We might even distract our kids with activities and extracurriculars that keep them too busy to get into trouble - or so we think.

*Now, I have absolutely no problem with the way my parents raised me; this is not a criticism of them, specifically. *

There were times, though, when I remember just wanting my Mom to talk to me like "I were a real person." As if we were on the same level.  As if she really, truly remembered what it was like to be my age. To want so badly to do something the older girls were doing just because "all the other girls were doing it."  To feel the rejection and judgement that was going to come when I said I wasn't allowed to ___________ {go to the mall and walk around with my friends all Friday night when I was 13; talk on the phone as long as I wanted, to whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted; start dating when I was just 15 even though "the other girls were doing it."} You can fill in the blank with any of those and many other choices.

I'm already having these conversations with Sweetpea and she's only 11.  
I hear her saying, "but why? So-and-so's Mom let's her do it!"
To which I reply, "I'm not so-and-so's Mom!" Sometimes adding the "and if I were, she wouldn't be going either!"
Or, the lovely, "if so-and-so jumped off a bridge because it was 'cool' would you do it too?"

It's both horrifying and humbling to hear my mother's words come out of my mouth!

In my journey to live more authentically, especially these past few years,  I've embraced the hard truth even in parenting.  Not that I think my parent's lied to me - not at all.  What I mean is, some times - MOST times - the hard truth, with all its emotions-  can be it's own powerful lesson.

When my daughter hears my voice, sees my face, senses my fear/disappointment/hurt/embarrassment, I think she feels those consequences too. We're alike in that way.

I'm not foolish enough to think this will keep her from making her share of teenage mistakes, but if I protect her heart from just one hurt, it will be worth it.

The bottom line is CHOICES.  Life is full of them.   We ALL have to make them.
Sometimes the options before us don't SEEM like choices at all.  Neither is appealing or neither is the direction you thought your life would go.  Even as an adult, there will be backlash from others.

There will be criticism - 
"I'm sorry, what? You didn't go because your husband said 'no'? Can't you make your own decisions?"

There will be judgement - 
"Her business wasn't doing very well, so she came up with an excuse to get out and she abandoned her team in the process."

There will be rejection - 
"She didn't say much last time, let's not invite her this time."

If there's one thing I've learned about choices, specifically, mine, there is only ONE whose opinion really counts.
His mercy and His grace cover a multitude of mistakes, and for that I'm very grateful.
But I'd rather seek His will first, before making my choices and spare myself and Him the disappointment.

That's what I'm hoping to accomplish by sharing my ugly truths with my daughter.

We all know mistakes from the past help forge us into the person we become, but who said we had to make them all ourselves to learn from them?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Confidence and Conviction

No one likes conflict, but I wanted to get it over with.
The time had come.  
I'd made my plans, planned carefully, and resolved to do this the right way.

I wrote an appropriate and respectful correspondence and fully anticipated getting a respectful reply.
Except that I didn't.

What I got was someone who, instead of being professional, uttered insults thinly veiled in sugary sweet flattery - the kind you know right away don't contain an ounce of sincerity.

What I got, was someone well versed in twisting words, twisting MY words into complete fallacies.

What I did in response was nothing.

I decided not to argue so I sat there and I took it.  I acknowledged that I heard what she was saying.  I even thanked her for her time and advice (though of course, I hadn't solicited it).

You see, I believe in life, you have to pick your battles.  This wasn't a competition, after all -  not a win/lose situation.  So I thought...until I walked away feeling like a loser. 

A conversation that I walked into with confidence, despite my dread, had just taken a turn for the worse.  I'd let someone else steal that confidence. 
I was doubting my decision.

My resolve to do things the right way - the way I felt convicted to carry them out - had been completely overridden.  This decision that was best for me, my family, and everyone involved had just been stomped all over.

A person who had never taken the time to get to know me, had just conquered my words with hers.  She chose to use flowery words and sort-of-compliments to disguise the message that really intended to demoralize me and any plans I thought I'd made.

In a recent Bible Study, I'd been reading and studying about "The Best Yes; Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands."  The goal being to determine the difference between saying yes to everyone and saying yes to God.  I loved this study for so many reasons! I dog-eared almost every other page as I was reading it...underlined some words in pencil...highlighted others in yellow.  

One section that spoke volumes to me, was this:

*How do I learn not to let the awkward disappointments of others keep me from my Best Yes appointments with God?
     "It's not a matter of gaining more confidence.  It's a matter of being more certain of our convictions.  Confidence is being more certain of our abilities.  Conviction is being more certain of God's instructions.
     I'm not talking about the way we sometimes use the word conviction as a verb - I'm convicted to wear longer shorts or I'm convicted to have more consistent quiet times. The kind of conviction I'm referring to is a noun - a firm, foundational belief."

And shortly after, she references Joshua 1:7-9, NIV
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

You see,  I'd come to that conversation both confident and convicted.  The conviction came first, actually.  A firm, foundational belief that God had intended for me to make this change for myself and my family.  And though I was confident in that conviction and my abilities to convey that conviction, I almost lost them both.

Because I chose not to speak up {in my mind, I asked, what was it going to prove anyway?}, I almost let her words dismantle both my confidence and my conviction in a few short minutes.
Not only that, I heard her speak down to me and say things about me that simply weren't true.  And I almost believed her.

I had to spend some time that afternoon with a dear friend who told me, honestly, what I already knew - that this person was wrong about me and she had no right to say those things to me.
I had to spend some time reminding myself who I was and whose I was.

I reminded myself over and over that I am a child of God.  That I know the truth about myself and my reasons and that her words were not the truth.  I reminded myself of the process I used to arrive at my convictions and then my confidence about my convictions.  

I found these verses helpful and I hope you will too:

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 54:17 (NIV) 
no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
    and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)  
The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

The next time you find yourself feeling like a loser, beat up, or stomped on, remind yourself WHO you are and WHOSE you are.  

HE will strengthen
 you, help you, and uphold you with His righteous hand.  

YOUR heritage is that no weapon formed against you will prevail and that you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
HE, the Lord, a mighty warrior, is with YOU. He takes great delight in YOU and rejoices over YOU with singing!

Let those words sink in, friends! 
HE rejoices over you with singing!

Isn't that an amazing love? 
In Christ, you and I are victors, champions, and raised up despite what anyone else says about us.
Be convicted of that and be confident in it.

{*paraphrased and excerpted from Lysa TerKeurst's "The Best Yes," page 147-148}

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Voice of Truth {and keeping my mouth shut}

I am struggling so much right now with feeling like the biggest fraud that's ever walked the face of the earth.

In this season that I'm in, I am constantly overwhelmed with the need to talk to someone - anyone - who will listen about some upcoming changes that are coming to my life.  By default, these changes will be also be bringing changes to a lot of people in my life.  I think know some of them aren't going to like change very much.

The hardest part of my current journey with God is that I have to keep my mouth shut.
During the summer of hard prayer, He asked me to make a tough decision.
Few times in my life, have I had to make such a decision.  One that it so incredibly hard, so incredibly painful, and so full of letting go of something I just don't want to let go of.
Yet, at the same time, I have a peace about this decision that I've never known before.

He asked me to give up - let go - of something I love.  I am grappling with the disappointment to myself and the disappointment I anticipate from others.

He asked me to trust Him - His timing, His way, that this would work for my good and His glory.

He asked me to be patient.

AND he asked me to keep it to myself for now.  I even thought I had a timeline figured out and He said, "wait a little longer."

Sometimes I wonder if there is anything else He can ask of me, and then I quickly remind myself there certainly is! 

And somewhere within me, there is the ability to carry out His plan for my life and this situation, because I firmly believe He wouldn't ask me if I wasn't able.

I know that I can do it, but some days it just feels impossible.

Especially in light of my quest the past few years to become more transparent, open, and real with the people in my life.  Hiding anything or keeping anything secret just feels like 3 steps backwards.
I know it's necessary, but that doesn't make it easy.

I've been in a rather appropriate bible study this Fall - Lysa Terkeurst's "The Best Yes." It has been really helpful throughout this process and so I keep going back to certain passages and quotes.
If you've never read the book, check it out.  It's an easy read and her writing style makes you want to not put it down until you finish.

As difficult as this time in my life is, it reminds me why I need grace so much and that I should readily give grace to others for the same reasons.  It also helps me remember to give myself grace.

I have to say, I can't see the BIG picture yet.  I do have confidence, however, that what He's going to do in my life is working for my good.  If you've never had the opportunity to experience this journey, I really hope you do.  
I'll warn you that it's hard, but even along the way, I can already see it's worth it. 

Nothing  - no problem, person, or period of struggle  - is bigger than my God.