Ask This in 2017

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I’ve sat down to type so many times lately. I stare at a blank screen, cursor flashing, trying to think thoughts….but nothing.

It’s a new year. What should I proclaim as the first post of 2017?

Can you hear and feel all that pressure? Ugh.

 
Then, on a run today, I told Him that I was stuck. I was drowning.  I needed His help. “What do YOU want me to do, God?”

Yes, He smiled. Exactly.

 
Each year brings new joys and new sorrows, new experiences and the end of experiences. We are turning new directions this year. We are going to be doing new things this year,

meeting new people,

starting new jobs,

and wearing new hats

as we play new roles.

 

God does not lead our lives the way I like to decorate: set it all up and leave it that way for years.

No, He creates new scenes for us, scenes of beauty and laughter, tears and growth — just like a good movie.

For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?   ( Isaiah 43:19)

 

New things scare the heck out of me. Even new paint colors sometimes. What if what’s coming is not something I will like? What if I will absolutely hate this new thing?

I’ve already begun it, He said.

But if I’ve learned anything in 2016 – through an unwanted divorce, an unwanted move, more unwanted loss – it’s that I don’t have to be scared. In the joys and the sorrows, the unknowns and the expectations, our God is so good.  I see now that in the midst of the painful, shredding experiences of my heart in recent years, He was simultaneously weaving parts of even those pieces together for what I’m doing now in my joy.

He says:

You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—
there never has been, and there never will be.

I, yes I, am the Lord,
and there is no other Savior.

First I predicted your rescue,
then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.
No foreign god has ever done this.
You are witnesses that I am the only God,”
says the Lord.

“From eternity to eternity I am God.
No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.
No one can undo what I have done.”    (Isaiah 43:10-13)

Do you hear how safe you are with Him? How unlike any other He is? How nothing surprises Him? Do you hear the love in His voice when He talks about rescuing us and saving us and how He chooses us?

Completely loving. All-powerful. There is no safer combination.

 

So despite the unknowns in our lives — where will I be this year, what will I do, who will come in or out of my life — we can rest. He’s good, and He’s got 2017 in His pocket.

New is not scary if He’s in it.

I can securely unclench my fist and simply ask, “God, what do YOU want me to do in 2017?”

And when you ask that question, you know it will be a good year.

Carriers of the Light

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She showed up Christmas morning, alone.  Her eyes were heavy, carrying the weight of a thousand burdens unspoken.  She wasn’t dressed in her usual, festive way, and she hadn’t brought anything to contribute to the meal.  She hadn’t even bothered to put on a dab of makeup.

As the crowd began to gather around the sizzling bacon and the gooey cinnamon rolls, she stayed in the other room until everyone was called to eat.  She slowly walked into the kitchen and did her best to plaster a smile on her face, but no one was fooled.

Her dad looked up and said to the family, “Could we actually gather in the living room for a second?”

Once everyone had found a spot, he said, “Molly, before we begin our Christmas breakfast, I want to take a minute to let you know that we are so glad you are here.  It breaks our heart that __ is not here with you this morning.  I’m sure this Christmas must feel so awkward and sad.  We are so sad with you, Honey.”

As I looked around with immediate tear-filled eyes, I saw all the heads of my family members nodding in agreement, some wiping their own eyes.  I took a deep breath and slowly relaxed my shoulders. One sister, scooted over and tucked her arm around my back.  “I’m really glad you’re here, Molly,” she said.

Then, Dad asked if he could pray for me and for my estranged marriage.  We all closed our eyes and bowed our heads, and enormous drops poured down my face while he spoke, my heart emptying of the grief and filling up with the Hope of what Jesus came to Earth to do in the first place: save us, heal us.

 

 

There may be some grieving family members under a roof with you this season. Yes, they will be there in body, but perhaps not in spirit, or emotion, or thought. Their mind will race with all the emotions of who is not there and why, of the cancer that has returned, or of That Thing that awaits when they fly home. They won’t be able to think about anything else.

Until you take the time to name it.

There’s healing in saying The Thing out loud. We can take power away from their unraveling thoughts, which loom larger in their mind the more they think. You, my friend, have the ability to flip on the light of truth and make the darkness flee.

 

 

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”   John 8:32

Even as hard as it is sometimes, speaking the truth sets us free. Once my dad took time to acknowledge my grief, I was able to enjoy the cinnamon rolls and the silly party games — but I couldn’t have until he said the words out loud.

This is an action of sacrifice. It is stepping down into someone’s pain rather than remaining only where the Christmas lights twinkle, the mistletoe winks at you from the doorway, and everyone has lip-glossy smiles across their face.

It means not making our feelings the most important thing. Grief doesn’t feel good, so it is an act of love to willingly have a conversation that doesn’t feel good.

But I am so grateful Christ didn’t do only what felt good to Him, and if I want to be like Him, I want to step into the hurt of the people around my Christmas table.

Here’s one route you can choose to love the grieving at your table this year:

1. Take time to SAY you’re thinking of the grief, too. Say the specific name of the person who is missing. Say the word Cancer. Say what makes you sad for them, and how this isn’t what you wanted for them, too.

2. Give them a gift: LISTEN to them talk about it for a little bit. Ask questions like, What do you miss the most? What has been the hardest part of this Christmas season for you? What are you afraid of moving forward?  Do not try to top their story with your own. Just listen. Nod your head. Cry. Put a hand on their leg or an arm around their shoulder. Bring them in close to you.

3. Offer simple ENCOURAGEMENT. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s okay to say that you don’t have the answers. But what DO you know? Perhaps you know that God is doing something in their life in the midst of this pain, perhaps you can attest to that in your own life, or perhaps you know that you will be texting them to check-in over the next few months, and you are so glad they are here with you. Perhaps you offer to pray for them. And when you hug them, squeeze them tight and for longer than one second.

4. Then, you can ENJOY the rest of the day!  Once intentional time is given to the grief, you don’t have to wallow in it. This is the surprising part. We may think that if we open the lid on The Thing, it will never close. So we just don’t open it. But instead, once you address The Thing, it quits pounding on the lid and will simmer down for a while. You turned the light on, so darkness has to flee.

 

“And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”   Matthew 4:16b

That line sounds like a final line in a Christmas movie to me — can’t you just hear the narrator’s deep, soothing voice saying it at the end of the movie?

Because Jesus came, those of us who live in the land of darkness, surrounded by shadows, and death, and divorce, and disease, we have Hope.

One year ago, I was in the shadowed valley of the death of my marriage. One year ago, my family members bravely and lovingly took time to take the lid off The Thing in my life for twenty minutes and shine some light into it. One year ago, even with The Thing not resolved in any fashion yet, I felt loved. I felt hope.

I felt the Light.

“You are the light of the world — like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light…” —Jesus to us (Mathew 5:14)

This year, I get to shine the Light for others.

Yes, we are in the land where death casts its shadow, but let us not forget – especially at Christmas – that the Light of the World has come!

And we are the carriers of The Light.

Get Ready

Perhaps you need to hear this: a lot can happen in a year.

Like, a whole, whole lot.

 

A year ago last month, my ex-husband stood in our bedroom doorway with a duffel bag slung across his shoulder as he told me he was going to sleep somewhere else that night.

I remember the anxiety, the fear of what this meant for my future, the wracking of my brain to think whether there was just one more thing I could do that might make him stay.

After a few very difficult years with too many tragedies, I was sure this final blow would be my collapse.

I wrote a post a year ago titled “A Weary World Rejoices.” That line in O Holy Night was my anthem. Gosh, I was so weary.

 

Shortly after he left, I started making a plan. Planning is my (false) security. I started going to a counselor, I read whatever she told me to read, I took care of myself, I made time for friends and made time to be alone. Then, when it was clear the divorce was happening, I met with a lawyer, met with a realtor, met with a financial planner.

All the plans.

Tucked in the back of my mind was that I might, someday, plan to go on a date, with someone, somewhere, just for fun. But I was certain that that wouldn’t be until at least a year after the divorce.

That was the plan, anyway.

 

During the early part of summer, I can remember exactly where I was sitting on my couch when I began to hear God so clearly as I was reading and praying. “I know this isn’t part of your plan, Molly, but could you trust Me even if I moved you out of state?” (He and I both knew this meant away from my friends and family which seemed like quite a bold move on His part considering all He had put me through.)

A few days later, I wrote a post about the redemption of my relationship with my step-mom, Jackie, and to my shock, He said, “What about you as a step-mom? Could you trust Me with that?”

Two enormous seeds He planted in my mind and heart that week. I wrote about those two seeds in my journal. I resolved that as long as the Lord would go with me — and I knew He would — I could do whatever He asked me to do. It was a big day.

 
Then, in July, a friend of mine asked if I was ready to date yet. This came as a shock, because I assumed I wouldn’t be crossing that bridge for a while still. “He lives out of state, is divorced, and has two kids,” she said.

Umm, nope, no thank you, and no, I thought.

But then she started to tell me about him. He didn’t sound like the average guy, and he wasn’t. We started slowly, chatting via Facebook Messenger. I delayed giving him my number at first, because I still wasn’t sure I was ready for this. But then he told me about making ballet buns on the heads of his two little ballerinas, and I was a goner!

Over many hours of phone conversation and eventually face-to-face adventures, I quickly became captivated by and grateful for the intentional, wise, lavishingly thoughtful, and ridiculously funny man God brought into my life.

And I just have to share this crazy thing with you: in a hilarious twist that only God could spin, my sweet dog’s name is Marty. His real name is Marten (after the trucking company because I was obsessed with those trucks when I was little) but everyone calls him Marty. Then, because I think everything has to have a middle name, I’ve ended up calling him Marty Guy. All the people closest to me call him that: Marty Guy.

Well, this guy I’ve been dating, his first name actually is Guy! And his middle name is Martin! Marty (Marten) Guy and Guy Martin…are you kidding me?! Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!

And so, we’ve been doing this thing, carefully and intentionally, ever since.

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He is a gift to me. I am in awe of the way he treats people, the depth of his friendships, and the thoughtful ways he’s cared for me. I love hearing him talk (with a hint of a Southern accent) about the day’s crop from his garden, sitting next to him in church, and raising my eye brows at him when he feeds Marty people-food to which he replies, “I guess I just like to feed a dawg.” It feels SO good to smile and giggle again! Truly, I have never felt this loved.

A whole, whole lot has changed in a year.
Last Christmas, I remember sitting alone in front of my fireplace and reading this verse:

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
Do not reject your servant in anger.
You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
O God of my salvation!
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord will hold me close.
Teach me how to live, O Lord.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
Psalm 27:7-12

There was a lot going on last year. So much fear, anxiety, grief, and loneliness. At times, I could barely function. Yet, I resonated with those verses. I felt like I was not alone, because I could relate to those feelings. I wondered if I would feel this despair forever.

And right after those words, I found this promise:

Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.
Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.
Psalm 27:7:13-14

In the midst of darkness, we need to remember this hope! I needed to know that GOOD would come here in the land of the living and not only when I got to Heaven. I needed to cling to the hope that it would not always be this unbearable, that there would be some goodness eventually.

And right there, I found it. The goodness will come. All it said I had to do was wait: be brave and courageous and wait.

Or I like how my friend, Star, puts it. Star has beautiful, white hair on her head, so she knows a thing to two. This summer, only a couple weeks before Guy entered the scene, I was having breakfast with her and two other friends. Star told me about her own love story — a second marriage which has brought her love, joy, and a redemption that she never expected, and it came in the form of Gordon, one of the most tender and funny men I know. She said, “Molly, I know God is not done with you yet. I don’t know what He’s doing, but right now as you wait, you just need to get ready for it. Work on yourself, have some fun, seek Jesus. Something’s coming, Honey, so get ready!”

And I say the same thing to you, weary friend: get ready!

When we bring our negative conditions to the Lord, He will do something in His timing. So, we keep praying and waiting for the teenager to return, for the money to arrive, for the weight of grief to be lifted just a little. We have no idea what it will look like, but we wait with expectation. We bravely continue to do each day — set a morning alarm, go to work, buy groceries, fold laundry and pay bills — because we are clinging to the hope that we will see His goodness.

When we bring our negative conditions to the Lord, He will do something in His timing. So, we wait.

“I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:6

I love this picture of a watchman. I picture a man in a lighthouse in the midst of a terrible night storm. This is not a passive waiting. It’s a waiting up on our tiptoes with our face pressed against the window looking as far out onto the horizon as we can. It’s a Hope, bubbling with expectation and daring to believe that even in darkness, we still have a reason to sing because we know the night won’t last forever: the morning always comes.

Isaiah 61:3 tells us the Lord desires to reverse the grief in our lives:

To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Our God is the master of reversals. Total and complete one-eighties. He wants to show you what He can do with that thing in your life, and He wants you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was HIS doing. Please don’t call it a coincidence when it happens!

And when the goodness comes, celebrate it! Because God is not only glorified in our suffering, but He’s also glorified in our celebrating. Circumstances worth celebrating are meant to be celebrated! Let’s not short ourselves in the celebrating. On Monday morning at the copy machine, my dear friend and co-worker, Liz, asked, “So how was the weekend with Guy?” The enormity of my smile was almost embarrassing — but I’m not going to stop celebrating the goodness.

 
I don’t know where you are today. Perhaps you are feeling the weight of a weary world as I was last year. But even still, in my moments of despair, He knew the good that was coming. Every so often, I could hear Him whisper to me, “Just hang on, Molly. The morning is coming, and it’s going to be beautiful. I’ve got something up My sleeve.”

And boy, did He. The anxiety, fear, loneliness, and grief of last year, He has turned to peace, hope, love, and joy. And I know He’s not done.

He can do the same in your life. Wait. Be brave and courageous. And get ready!

Last year, my shattered soul shouted “a weary world rejoices,” but this year my heart proclaims the joy felt through “a thrill of hope.”

A lot can happen in a year.

Get ready.

Permission to Grieve: a humble how-to

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It has been two years this week since I last saw his little face. Somedays it feels like a decade, and other days it feels like I just saw him yesterday.

I remember the days when I was certain the weight of grief and anxiety would never be lifted. I was convinced the pain would never end.

I remember the months following his death, the struggle of just trying to function. I was a window pane that had completely crackled from a hit and one small touch would send all the bits crumbling to the ground. I knew I was fragile — about losing Tage and about what this meant for the future — and I knew it was a tender place in my heart because when someone touched it, the tears came.  Push harder, more tears, like the bursting squeeze of a water balloon.

But I wanted someone to touch it. Because most people were afraid to touch it. They were afraid of the crumbling and the squeezing and the tears. But I wanted to get some of them out.

Perhaps you find yourself in this season of grief right now, too. I wish I could be the one to sit with you as you cry. We’d be tucked away in some back corner of a coffee shop, and you could sit facing the wall so the people wouldn’t see your weeping face. You’d talk about the pain, the things you didn’t get to do with them, the final questions you wish you’d asked, and how you don’t want to walk down an aisle if they aren’t going to be there. You’d ask, “When will it not feel like this anymore?”

The best analogy I ever heard was that grief is a river. You can walk around it, but it will take a long time. Or you can just jump in, and swim to the other side. Yes, it’s messy at times, but it will take a lot less time if you aren’t afraid to just dive in. It seems scarier, but it’s really not, and you will come out faster and healthier if you do it.

I know you are struggling to do the daily tasks, and you wonder how you might grieve with all that you have to do. So, maybe you just need someone to give you permission to do it.

Grief takes work. That means you have to say no to other things in order to take time to grieve well. I am not an expert, but I am quite experienced. So, friend, I want to give you permission to grieve well.

Here is what you are free to do:

You have permission to get the tears out. You may feel that if you let the tears come, they will never stop. But they will. Some days you may cry for hours, others you may cry for minutes, or you may start and stop ten times. But you need to get them out. You will feel better, despite the puffy eyes. You’re just cleansing your heart.

In order to do that, you have permission to say no. It won’t be forever, but for as long as it needs to be, you get to be selfish with your time. Grieving takes a lot of energy. A lot. You are wise to push some things off your plate, and people will understand. It doesn’t have to be forever, but be intentional about how you will spend your time for this season. They can find someone else for the committee, or the little league coaching spot, or the ministry at church, or the whatever. You have permission to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t right now.”

Which leads us to this: you have permission to carve out time to be alone. If you don’t carve out time to grieve, you will grieve when you don’t want to — like in the middle of a nice dinner at The Cheesecake Factory (which will really freak your young waiter out) or in the middle of a party for a friend who is in town (and no one wants to kill a party). Trust me on this one — make time to cry at home, or in your car, or while you’re out walking with your sunglasses on. It’s much better than crying when you don’t want to.

You have permission in your time alone, to read the Bible and talk to God out loud.
If you want this pain to have purpose, this is where you will find meaning. If you’ve read the Psalms before and thought they were boring, they won’t be now. You will find words for your soul, you will see you’re not alone, you will see you are not forgotten. God will meet you in places you’ve never seen Him before. He will not waste this pain as you seek Him in it.

Friend, you have permission to get yourself a massage. Grief makes knots. If you find yourself struggling to take a deep breath, or taking more deep breaths than normal, you are stressed, and of course you are. A massage will do wonders. Trust me. There is no limit on massages during this time.

Let’s talk about your health for a minute. I did both extremes. During one season of grief, I ate every comfort food and as much of it as I could. During another, I ran like it was my job and could barely eat. The former was a lot harder to recover from, but it definitely tasted better. So, for this grief season, you have permission to not eat “normally” — maybe more, maybe less. Either you’ll get in the best shape of your life, or eventually you’ll realize your pants don’t fit and be ready to make a change. This is not a big deal.

That being said, I must also mention this: you have permission to get outside and move. Maybe it’s taking the dog for a walk, maybe it’s a bike ride, maybe it’s a run or playing an organized sport, but you will be glad when you get out and get moving. Don’t short yourself by not making time for these moments. Some of my best cries were during a jog, and getting good exercise will help you sleep, which may be difficult anyway when you’re grieving.

So, you also have permission to sleep. Did I mention grief is exhausting? You may not be a nap person and suddenly find yourself napping. Do it. You may need to take a sleep aid so that you can sleep at night. Do it. You need sleep.

You may also need an anti-depressant. You have permission to get an anti-depressant. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, and it doesn’t mean you will be on it for the rest of your life. But if you find yourself struggling to function every day, it might be time to talk with your doctor.

Talking to a counselor also helps, so you have permission to find a counselor. The first one may not be the right fit (I saw three before I found one I really connected with). But a great counselor is a gift. They will ask you things your friends and family won’t think to ask, and they are comfortable with your tears. You won’t regret it.

Finally, friend, please don’t isolate yourself all the time. You have permission to spend time with friends and family and LAUGH. An hour after my mom died, we all stood in the living room around her body with our puffy eyes as we waited for her body to be taken away. She had requested that some of her hair be spread at our cabin, so my dear dad took the kitchen shears and cut a large piece of hair right in the front and center of her hairline. My sisters and I yelled, “Dad, what did you do?!” And then we all had a much needed belly laugh. She would have killed him for making her look like that!
Life is a mixture of good and bad, and when we grieve, we really need to laugh, too. The evening after my son’s funeral, laughing with my girlfriends at my kitchen table was healing, just as much as the tears were. It prevented despair. Find the people who know you and who will help you laugh. It’s a must.

Seasons of grief are bitter, but they can also be so sweet. I cherish the memories of sitting around my kitchen table eating pizza from two different places with friends because I couldn’t make a decision, the moments I spent crying as tears streamed down my face while I expressed anger but felt God’s deep love for me, the pan of creamy chicken cordon bleu baked by a friend that I singlehandedly ate because it was just that good, and the star lit runs in my neighborhood when I didn’t know what else to do. The pain is severe, but eventually we are able to turn around and look back at it, and we’ll see it is surrounded by such treasured moments. Don’t miss them. Slow down. Take time. It won’t feel like this forever, so be intentional with what you do and don’t do.

If you do the good work of grief, the grief won’t last as long.

Grief takes time, just like all noble things.

You have permission to take time to grieve well as you honor the one you love.

I promise, it won’t always feel like this. You’re gonna like the version of you after grief.

I did it, and you are doing it, too. Just take one more step.

God: Unmoved

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I walk my dog, Marty, every morning. And afternoon. And evening. We take a lap around the apartment complex, and he smells the grass and tries to uncover the ground squirrels who are just below the surface barely beyond the tip of his nose. He does his business, though never as quickly as I’d like him to, and he stalls like a two-year-old when we turn back toward home.

It’s completely dark now in these early fall mornings as we do this, which is a gift to me with my damp hair, no makeup, an over-sized fleece, and the lime green Crocs I thought were the best idea back in 2001.

As much as I completely detest having to take this stroll every morning, especially now in the cold, these mandatory walks force me to slow down and be quiet.

 

No matter where I live, no matter in daylight or in darkness, the sky silently shouts to me.

Sometimes through glowing sunrises, sometimes in crisp, blue, autumn hues, and sometimes as its thick rain drops splash on the carpet of yellow leaves below me.

This morning, I could see more stars than I have ever been able to see on our morning walk. They glittered from their positions millions of miles away from little me.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4

God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.
He directs the snow to fall on the earth
and tells the rain to pour down.
Job 37:5-6

There is something bigger, they whisper.

SomeOne bigger, they wink.

He is in charge of the stars; He directs the leaves when to change and when to fall; He orchestrates the weather; He designed the workings of each cell; He loves His creation, and He loves us.

There He sits, overlooking all of the movement and chaos, and yet He is unmoved. He is calm.

He is not surprised by an election, and He is not anxious about what may or may not come. He’s not shocked by a diagnosis or startled when a spouse leaves. His eyes don’t open wide when our shame and sin get dragged into the light. He is not scratching His head about where our lives should go from here.

He doesn’t need to make a Plan B.

He knows that our human systems will never be perfect. All of us are frail. All of us are a mixture of good and bad.

It’s been this way for all of humanity.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Ephesians 1:19

We don’t need to panic. He’s not.

We just need to acknowledge how much we need Him. Do we truly grasp how little we know compared to Him? How much we need His wisdom and perspective which will produce His peace?

Can we shift our focus from what we think should happen in whatever situation is currently capturing our attention and seek to discover what He’s up to when the plans aren’t going our way? Can I simply be quiet and listen?

He will surprise us when we slow down.  And we will discover more of who He is.

 

When Peter realized for the first time that Jesus was God (recorded in Luke 5:8-10), he fell on his knees before Him, and do you know what Jesus’ very first words to him were as a new follower? “Do not be afraid.”

What kind of “Welcome to the Club” speech is that??

But as followers of Jesus, with our very lives entrusted to Him, we have nothing of which to be afraid. He promises it. He commands it.

Do not be afraid. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart: I have overcome the world.

There. Is. Nothing. To. Fear.

Not one thing.

He’s in charge. He’s bigger than anything I fear. I am reminded of that when I look at the sky.

So what do we do in the midst of fear, anxiety, and chaos? We choose the next good action.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

In other words: focus on anyone but yourself.

I love that He has shown us how to do these things, by His example in Jesus.  If we study Jesus, we will see what to do.

Here’s how The Message puts this same verse:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.

We don’t have time to fear and freeze up, friends. Kings and kingdoms come and go on earth, and our time here is limited, but as I tell my fifth graders: you can only control yourself.

These are our marching orders. And the King of the World says, “Now, go…”

(Even in your lime green Crocs.)

 

 

 

Photo Cred: Guy Huffman

Living with Loose Ends

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Some of my family members are cooler than me. They like artsy movies.

I want to like artsy movies, because I know that’s the hipster thing to like these days. But I’ve got to be honest: I just don’t like artsy movies.

The cinematography might be incredible and the score might move me to tears, but it seems to me that artsy movies never wrap up with a bow the way a perfect Rom-Com does.

A while back, my sister, Ellie, told me that she and her fiancé, Jared, went to a movie, and he leaned over and said, “Molly would love this movie.” I was so excited to hear what movie Cool Jared went to see that he thought I would like too, signifying that I was (somewhat) cool (occasionally) in his eyes.

With my eyebrows raised and my face lit with anticipation, I prepared to hear her answer.

“The Good Dinosaur,” she replied with sincerity. My shoulders dropped. An animated child’s movie? That’s what Jared thinks of me?

But he’s right. It’s a fact: I like when things wrap up with a bow. I don’t like loose ends.

 

Unfortunately, God uses loose ends more than He uses neatly wrapped packages.

 

I’ve been living in this apartment for six whole months now. It’s been a season of many loose ends. But I’m thankful that the Lord doesn’t allow all the ends to be loose at once – I am so grateful for the consistency of my job as a fifth-grade teacher and my lovely co-workers who have become dear friends, for my church family and the ways they love me, for stepping back into serving at my church after a two-year sabbatical, for some new life-giving relationships, and for the continued cultivation of relationships with the friends and family who have been such constants and encouragers to me. And, I’m grateful for you, dear Reader, who cares enough to read this post, to willingly follow my crazy life story, to pray for me on occasion, and to reach out to me with encouragement when you feel led. Truly, not all my ends are loose.

But there’s a new normal now, ya know? There’s a calmness. It’s a quietness I haven’t experienced since before two years ago on that September day when we received Tage’s diagnosis, and it all unraveled from there.

Now, there is no major drama, nothing that causes my heart to race, no thoughts that prevent sleep or fears that wake me up in the middle of the night.

Dare I say that it feels weird? That sometimes I almost miss the drama? There was purpose in the drama. There was a sense of unraveling anticipation, even if it was negative.

 

Now, it’s just…calm.

 

Adjusting to the quiet, slower pace has taken effort. I find that I no longer inhale the Bible the way my dog, Marty, inhales his ¾ cup of kibble every morning as if he can’t get it in him fast enough. I miss that feeling.

Or the way I would literally talk out loud to God all day long. He was never far from my thoughts. I miss that, too.

My counselor told me back in January and February, when I was in the darkest place, that even in old age I would look back on those winter months as some of the most precious moments with God in my lifetime. I knew it then when she said it, and I really know it now. Last winter and spring, I could say as David did when he was in the desert:

“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.”          Psalm 63:1

But I’m no longer parched or weary. Don’t get me wrong – I am thankful to be out of the desert, and I praise the Lord for restoring me and for all He has brought me through! I am in a good, full, joyful place! In a word, I would describe this past summer as rejuvenating, and I’m on the other side of the pain now, a place I didn’t know existed last winter.

And now, as I turn around and look at the path I just walked, I can see the gifts that it brought. I see the closeness with the Lord I had in a way that only one who is parched and weary can experience. The Lord was so good to me.

And I see that that is behind me now.

I know I’m no longer in that desperate place, and there is a whisper, much like what Moses heard from the Lord as he wandered and struggled in the desert:

“You have circled this mountain long enough. Now, turn northward…” (Deuteronomy 2:3).

 

Eventually, it’s time to stop ruminating in the sad stuff.

That’s not to say we don’t forget it. No, we’ll never forget it. It has changed us. We will still think about it occasionally, but it doesn’t require our constant attention anymore, and that’s a good thing.

Yet, I find myself a little sad to move on. Despite all the grief, pain, and loss, the past two years brought me so much growth and faith and hope. This season feels like a good friend who saw me at my worst and made me better, and I don’t want to say goodbye.

But if I think about it, it wasn’t the season that impacted me so. It was my God. Jesus is whom I met more intimately in these years. It was He who sat with me as I cried, who pointed me to Hope found in the Bible, and who strengthened my heart with His wisdom and love as He gently pruned the parts of me that needed pruning. HE did that, not the season and the circumstances.

And as I’ve learned so intensely in these years: He’s never leaving me.

He just doesn’t have to carry me anymore.

We can just walk beside each other for a while now. He’s still right here, and His Spirit is still in me. As I look to the future beyond this pain, I am still not alone, no matter what’s next.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and will be in you.” –Jesus   (John 14:16-17)

 

Have you been circling the same pain over and over? Do you sense it might be time to move on from the past, that memory, that emotion, that pain?

There is no reason to fear moving on. The Lord did good work there, and He will continue to work as we seek Him in prayer and in Scripture.

 

But why did God tell them to move northward? Why not east or west, or why not let them choose where He wanted them to go?

I wonder if it’s because He had a specific plan for Moses and the people even still. God is not willy-nilly in His plans for us. When He tells us it’s time to quit circling the past and the sad stuff, it’s because there’s something specific He wants us to do with what we just went through. He has a specific plan and direction in mind. The ends are not loose to Him.

 

I invite you to take time, as I am today, to honor what was, how we changed and grew, and then to make the choice to take a step northward.

 We don’t know exactly where northward will take us (so there may yet be some loose ends from our perspective), but we know the Lord will go with us, and He already knows the plans He is weaving together with our perceived loose ends, and they are plans to prosper us and not to harm us. They are plans to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

So, I’m working on being okay with loose ends. With waiting. With wondering what’s next and not having the answer right now, today.

But in the meantime, if life seems like a bunch of loose ends and you just need something small (like a movie) to wrap up with a bow, Jared was right: The Good Dinosaur will not disappoint. Not only that, but the Pixar landscapes and “cinematography” will delight your senses, and your emotions will be stirred by a beautifully moving score.

 

So there, Jared.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Personal Note: Congratulations to Jared and Ellie who will tie the knot in 8 days!  I love you both so much!  Thanks for letting me be your buddy and third wheel. xo

Jackie: A Redemption Story

I wish Netflix had a genre called “Redemption Stories.” The suggestions would be filled with movies where all seems lost and then suddenly – BOOM – a change of events and hope is restored. Prisoners are freed. Debts are paid. Slaves become kings. In every story, the underdog would win.

I think we need more stories like this these days. These are the stories God likes, too, and the Bible is full of them.

I want to share a redemption story God has been writing in my life for the past six years.

 

The doorbell rang, and my heart raced. “Here we go,” I coaxed myself as I walked to answer the door.

Instantly, I hated it. Seeing my dad with another woman felt as gross as I thought it would. He held the door as she stepped in. He took her black leather coat as they both beamed like giddy school girls.

“Hi, my name’s Molly,” I said as I plastered a smile on my face and shook her hand.

“Hi, Molly. It’s so nice to finally meet you! I’m Jackie,” she said warmly.   My dad put his arm around her as they looked at each other. It was offensive seeing this. Did he ever put his arm around Mom for no reason? I suddenly couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember him taking Mom’s coat off for her either, and I felt a twinge of anger turn up the heat in my soul.

I led them inside, showing Jackie the dining room, office, and living room as we made our way toward the kitchen. Another twinge, this time of sadness, as I recounted the fact that I never got to show Mom and Dad my new house or serve them a meal at my kitchen table or recline with them in the living room sipping coffee.

Let’s just say the night could have gone better. I was wound so tightly that every ounce of fun they seemed to have together added gasoline to my anger. Quite frankly, their flirting like two teenagers made me want to vomit and tell them to grow up. I was seeing a side of my dad that I had never seen, and I didn’t like it with someone who wasn’t Mom.

Over dinner, Jackie pulled out her portfolio containing all of her professional artwork and talked endlessly about it. Why did she bring the portfolio with her the first night she met me? At that time, I didn’t care a lick about art, and she kept going on and on and on about it. I was very put-off by it. And then she kept reminiscing about the dates she and Dad had been on. Didn’t she know I didn’t want to hear this from her? I just wanted my mom back!

The evening was awful. The moment they closed the front door, I went straight to my room and bawled like a four-year-old.

This just wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

 

The next five years, were a very slow crawl in a forced direction. As much as I didn’t like what was happening, I knew she was here to stay, so I needed to get a grip. I prayed that God would help me with my anger, but even after that first surrender, there were many ups and downs along the way. Graphs of difficult relationships often look less linear and more like a heart beat with only occasional high points. And so it was with my feelings toward Jackie.

 

When I found out I was pregnant, I prepared to feel the strongest dislike yet. All my life, I had looked forward to the time when Mom and I would excitedly prepare for my first child together, but I feared Jackie’s presence would instead remind me of all that would not be. I didn’t want her to get to take part in any of the baby festivities. I determined she could come, but that I didn’t have to spend time with her. I wanted Mom there, not her.

 

A couple months before Tage arrived, Jackie asked if she could give me a gift by painting the nursery for me.   All of my initial thoughts were steeped in selfishness: no I don’t want you doing anything for this baby, but I hate painting and you’re really good at it, and maybe this will be the one thing you can do so I don’t have to feel guilty that I didn’t let you do anything else, and you’ll be painting while I’m at work, so we won’t even have to talk. Ugh. They were evil, ugly thoughts.

But all I said aloud was, “Sure. That’d be great!”

And while I was at work, Jackie painted alone, praying over the baby that was on its way into our lives and for me as I prepared to become a mama.

When she told me this as she showed me her progress one afternoon, I knew my attitude toward her had turned sour again, and so I prayed God would once again give me an attitude adjustment. I just didn’t realize that He would shape me with such an unlikely tool: Jackie herself.

 

When I saw Jackie next, she excitedly handed me some cute shoes and toys she had picked up for the baby. I pictured her thinking of my baby while she was out shopping and grinning over the things she’d found. All the while, knowing my inner chill toward her. Ahhh, dagger to my cold, hard heart.

            The following week, I was over at Dad and Jackie’s house when I was approached by Chewy, the little dog she had brought to live in my childhood home. I looked down and refused to pet him, annoyed by his presence. A few minutes later, I watched her bend down and pet my childhood dog tenderly as if she were her own. She looked into Macey’s eyes and spoke gently as she rubbed a hand over the top of her head. She didn’t know I was watching her. I smiled to myself, and then remembered my behavior a few minutes prior toward her dog. Another dagger.

In Romans 12:20, Jesus quotes Proverbs 25 when He says,

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.

Proverbs 25:21-22

In my mind, Jackie was the enemy. She didn’t do anything to deserve that title, but I was hostile toward her. She didn’t know we were enemies, so she wasn’t trying to manipulate me by being nice, and she didn’t even know half of the selfless things I’d watched her do. Plain and simple: she loves Jesus, so she actively loves and serves the people around her.

But each of her kindnesses heaped burning coals of shame on my head because she was treating me far better than I knew I deserved.

 

            When Tage was born, I watched her love him with her whole heart. She was always willing to watch him if I needed to run out, and it was clear he enjoyed being with her, too. My emotions were bittersweet – I still wished my mom were there, but I was so thankful my boy was the recipient of so much love from his Nana.

Six months later, we learned of his terminal diagnosis. During the week we spent in the hospital with him, I was a ball of stress. But every day, Jackie would ask me if she could rub my back and shoulders. I hate rubbing peoples’ backs, so her willingness to serve me in that way was something I knew I wouldn’t do for someone who didn’t actively love me back. Her touch was so gentle and her love broke down the grief-knots in my shoulders…and the bitter knots in my heart. More daggers.

            For months that year, I also watched her go with my dad to my grandpa’s house every night after work to help him pack up and prepare to move into assisted living. She painted all the walls with a fresh coat of paint so it would look updated among many other things. Then, once he was in assisted living, she went with my dad to visit him every night as he adjusted to the change, taking his laundry home to wash and bringing it back the next day, doing grocery shopping for him, and making him smile with her teasing. This was a man she had recently met who was not even her own biological father. I knew she was tired at the end of each day and had plenty of other things to do, but she chose to love my grandpa and help my dad over and over and over. Ten tiny daggers!

            And then the daggers broke right through the hard, crusted shell around my heart.

            As I drove home from their house one night after watching Jackie clean and fold Grandpa’s laundry, I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew I had a heart problem! God refers to it as sin – where I know what God desires that I do, but I do what I want instead. I knew all along He wanted me to show love to her, but I just. didn’t. want. to…until now.

Jesus says:

            “If you love Me, obey my commands.” –John 14:15

“Those who obey My commands are the ones who love Me.” –John 14:21

“Remain in My love. When you obey Me, you remain in My love…I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! I command you to love each other the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. You are my friends if you obey me…I command you to love each other.” –John 15:9-16

In other words: Obey me. And what I want you to do is love each other by serving each other. And you will be filled with joy when you do.

 

I love the historical account in John 5 where Jesus meets a man who had been unable to move for thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years of lying still and helpless! When Jesus meets him, He asks the man, “Do you want to get well?”

At first, I want to say to Jesus, “Well, what do you think, Jesus? What kind of question is that? Of course he wants to get well! He’s been paralyzed and pitied for thirty-eight years!” But as always, Jesus’ questions are meant to get past the top layer and straight to the heart. Perhaps Jesus is showing the man (and us) that He does not force anything upon us, so even in our healing, we have a choice to make. Perhaps He is letting us know that He wants us to actually ask Him for healing, lest we think we have healed ourselves. Or, even more severe, perhaps He knows there were beneficial parts of the paralyzed life that would be difficult for the man to let go – the pity from others that gave him attention, the built-in excuses for why he couldn’t work or why he couldn’t address other issues in his life, the ability to hide in the midst of a crowd because no one saw the real him.

And Jesus asks us the same thing. Molly, do you want to get well? Do you really want to love Jackie? Do you really want to let go of the bitterness that gives you a sense of power? Are you really ready to do the work this will require? Are you ready to lay down your own life and let Me fix your heart which may hurt at first but will make you more like Me?

These are not questions to take lightly. They are life-transforming questions. And when we finally say we are ready, He will do the healing.

The process started when I asked God to change my heart toward her, but then I had to walk toward her.

The Lord invited me to start looking for reasons I was thankful for her, and as I was genuinely looking, I discovered gratitude. By the time her birthday rolled around, I gave her a letter titled, “The Top 10 Reasons I’m Grateful To You, Jackie.” And I meant every one.

Truly, the Lord has changed my heart. HE has done it.

 

Jackie and I stood in her kitchen a few weeks ago, and I told her the Lord was leading me to write what He has done in me toward her. We spoke openly with one another about the last few years of our rocky relationship (made that way by me). When I asked her what she would have done differently, she chuckled and said, “I would not have brought over my portfolio the first time I met you.”

I was stunned. That encounter had always stuck out in my mind, and I had never really understood it. I was shocked to hear she remembered it, too, all these years later.

She went on to explain that she now realized bringing her portfolio gave the impression she was full of herself and that she didn’t care about getting to know others, and then she said, “but Molly, I felt like that was the one good part of me I could offer. I didn’t have money, and I had baggage as we all do. So in my mind I had very little to bring to this family, but I knew my art was good. I knew it was what I had to offer.”

In that moment, I saw her as a product of this broken world like the rest of us who want to feel validated, loved, and accepted. She was just like me. And suddenly her portfolio wasn’t annoying. It was beautiful. She wanted to give the best of herself to us.

And unexpectedly, the final shard of my heart of stone toward her fell off.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

 

The Lord has used Jackie’s kindness to me to bust through my heart of stone, and He continues to soften my heart toward her even now as my love for her grows. Do I still wish my mom were here? Yes. Absolutely. But God has done a miracle in my heart toward a woman I thought I could never love. I can say now that not only do I love her, I enjoy her. GOD did that in ME.

And He wants to do that in you, friend. Do you want to get well?

 

A few months ago, Dad came over to hang something for me, and Jackie came with him. We chatted casually about life over the sound of Dad’s drill. As Dad was wrapping up, Jackie asked me pointedly, “How are you sleeping?”

I was surprised by the question, because the previous two nights had been miserable.

“Not well, actually,” I said, trying to keep it casual.

“Why not?” she asked warmly.

“Honestly, I’m waking up all night long and battling my thoughts.” I waved my hand and said, “But I know they are lies from the enemy.” I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to go here right now, but then she said, “What is he saying to you?”

With that question, my eyes filled with tears. I hadn’t spoken these things out loud before, and they were waging war in my head and heart.

“That I’m unloved….That I’m alone…That I’m unwanted,” I responded as large tears rolled down my cheeks.

“Oh, Honey,” she said, as tears filled her eyes. She grabbed my shoulders and looked into my face and said, “You’re right, Molly. Those are lies. You are so loved and wanted. And you are not alone. The Lord is always beside you, and we are always here for you.” She looked over at my dad who was watching. “Will you come pray with us?” she asked him.

And there in my bedroom, as the three of us stood with our arms around each other and our foreheads pressed together, Jackie prayed for me.

I have slept soundly every night since.

 

Never could I have pictured that scene back in 2010. But God did. I am so thankful His plans are greater than mine. He is never in a hurry, but His plans are good. His redemption stories are always the best.

Ask Him to write yours.

 

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I can rejoice like David and say, “The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23).