Prayer for Freedom and Fullness

“O God, for another day, for another morning, for another hour, for another minute, for another chance to live and serve Thee, I am truly grateful.

Do Thou this day free me from
all fear of the future,
all anxiety about tomorrow,
all bitterness towards anyone,
all cowardice in the face of danger,
all laziness in the face of work,
all failure before opportunity,
all weakness when Thy power is at hand.

But fill me with
Love that knows no barriers,
Sympathy that reaches to all,
Courage that cannot be shaken,
Faith strong enough for the darkness,
Strength sufficient for my tasks,
Loyalty to Thy Kingdom’s goal,
Wisdom to meet life’s complexities,
Power to lift me to Thee.

Be Thou with me for another day, and use me as Thou wilt.
For Christ’s sake I pray.
Amen.”

(Wallace Friday)

Stepping Into the Light

My Friends,

I have been completely overwhelmed (in a good way) by the outpouring of concern and support from my last post. Thank you for caring so deeply and reaching out to ensure things are okay.

First of all, I am okay.
Yes, I was very sick.
Yes, it was a tough time.
I will be recovering for the next 3-6 months (according to the Endodontist) Every day brings improvement.

I think people were most surprised that I had not posted updates on social media about what was happening. That’s not how I do things that are as personal as this was.IMG_7549 I was in frequent contact with family and close friends who I knew would pray on my behalf.

I have received emails and comments from readers asking why I wouldn’t send a social media request for prayer and to let people know what was going on. The best way for me to answer this question and ones like it, is this…

It would have raised more questions had I posted in the middle of all that was going on, which is why I waited until I was feeling better and knew things were improving.
I’ve chosen to say, “No” to unnecessary drama. I love my online community. I appreciate everyone who reads my writings, but I will not participate in the kind of posts that alarm everyone for the sake of attention. That said, I feel like that is exactly how my last post was received by many.

Please hear me, I would not have posted anything about this most recent illness if I didn’t feel compelled to do so in order to help someone experiencing a similar struggle. Everything in me, that makes me human, was fighting the willingness to put my vulnerability and weakness on display.

Tulips from HarperGod is working in and around me in ways I have never experienced and while it’s incredibly exciting, it’s difficult to explain and often defies all logic, which is why I resist posting anything relating to my current spiritual state. Honestly, not everyone can process things of this nature and so for some of us, we keep quiet as to avoid appearing crazy. 

I let a little of my most recent “crazy” show through by documenting it for anyone to read. There was a time when I would have found it intimidating and terrifying to speak of the things that I believe and yet do not fully understand. I would have held back and resisted at all cost to avoid losing readers or being viewed as “strange.”

However, I have discovered that by stifling what is ready to be told, I am doing a grave injustice to my spiritual development. By silencing the obvious voice inside begging me to stop giving in to fear, I am removing all hope of going beyond a surface level relationship with Christ and moving into a deeply personal relationship with my Savior.

When I consciously remove the filter of skepticism, I am able to engage and be of the most use to others. And I have never been more sure that the purpose of my life and time here on earth is to be of the utmost use to others by directing them to Christ.

For me, that means admitting defeat. Exposing loneliness. Verbalizing doubt. It means claiming and living sold out to Jesus while recognizing my own humanity and shortcomings and being okay allowing others to see them as well.

I believe that the only way to walk into the light is to come through the dark. If I am always in light, I begin to see it as the norm and not as the blessing that it is. I stop sharing it with others, because I assume they already have it. There is no introspection or assessment and before long I am comfortable and complacent.

For me, for the life I have chosen to live, complacency is spiritual suicide.

My Darling Readers, I appreciate each and every one of you. I am so grateful that you would come here and spend a few moments of your life with me. I made a commitment from the very beginning to avoid any “small talk” and speak directly from my heart, no matter how raw. I will continue to. When you have questions or concerns, I welcome your comments and emails.

For those of you who I have not responded to personally about my last post, I hope this message will suffice. I never could have predicted the response from that particular piece. I’m grateful, if for no other reason, that it started a conversation.

I look ahead with great expectancy, believing that 2015 is a year for positive change and growth in ways we’ve not seen in recent times. I look forward to continuing this journey with you.

All Blessings,
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Why it’s not time to give up… yet.

Every time I sit down to write something, I stare at the blank page, with the cursor pulsing as if to say, “Well, what are you going to say?! Don’t just sit there!”

So I close the page and think to myself, “Maybe tomorrow?
And tomorrow comes and goes… without so much as a keystroke.

Today, while staring at the cursor, I began typing just to interrupt it’s rhythm.
I started writing to spite my cursor.

As the thoughts keep coming, it’s difficult to move my fingers quickly enough. Words are skipped and thoughts are gone before they can be noted, but there is always another one to take the last ones place.

FullSizeRender

looking back, I’m really glad Chris took this pic.

Last week, I gave up hope.
I was sicker than I have ever been in my life.

An infection that started in one area of my body quickly spread to my throat and sinus’, making it difficult to breathe and threatening to grow new abscess’, pushing on the two large arteries in the sides of my neck. My words were muffled and I couldn’t speak above a whisper. My mind hurt as my head throbbed and the sound of my heart beating in my ears was a constant companion.

My eyes cried tears of grief on and off for 7 days even though my body had given up.

I thought I was going to die.
I decided it was okay to die.
I processed everything that would happen to my children… the celebrations and milestones I would miss.
I would never again laugh with Chris or kiss his mouth…
My niece would grow up only hearing stories about me, never knowing me…

It was, by far, one of the deepest, darkest, pits I have ever fallen into and the more I lay with my face against the cold ground, the deeper I sank into the abyss.

As I type, the logical part of my brain (which is small and rarely speaks up) is telling me to shut up. The more I type, the louder it gets. This is deeply personal and one of you needs to read this today… in this moment. You are contemplating giving up hope and what you do not realize is that your miracle is only a few breaths away.

I began to understand and embrace the meaning of the phrase, “My soul aches.

It’s as if, with one long exhale, my desire to exist was extinguished and I released my children, my lover, my best friends, my family, my memories, my future plans… everything went dark and the world became still.

I didn’t beg God for life, bargain for more time, or recount any regrets.
I simply closed my eyes and went to sleep with the thought that if I didn’t wake up on that bed in the ER, that’s what was supposed to happen and I didn’t have the strength or desire to fight it.

For several months now, I have been praying this prayer,
“God, break my heart for what breaks yours. Stretch me far from my place of comfort and lead me to the cross… into the center of other people’s pain. Teach me how to trust you, sitting quietly in your presence, even when it’s uncomfortable..”

I want to know Christ in a deeply personal way. As I began asking God what exactly that meant, the prayer above is what came into my spirit as clear as if someone spoke it audibly to me in conversation. I don’t know why I thought intimacy with my Savior could ever be attained without suffering.

So to sum this up…
I had to sit in the moments of desolation.
I had to trust that God still held me closely in His will.
I had to believe that He wouldn’t leave me where He had led me.
I had to call out the hollow, hopeless feeling for what it was… a feeling, that no matter how “real” it felt, would eventually pass.
I had to claim life.

I receive the gifts that came from a season of dwelling in the darkness.
One might argue that a couple of weeks does not a season make. I would have to disagree.

My Friend, if you are learning how to walk in the dark, without fear of being swallowed up, keep going, the other side is well worth the journey.

The New Year Meditation

Most, if not all of us have read or heard the prayer for serenity.
It was years into recovery before I read the 2nd half of the prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.
It’s pretty fantastic.
Happy New Year 2015! May you encounter many, many blessings along your journey and don’t waste the lessons.

SerenityDownload a pdf version by clicking Serenity

When This Isn’t “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you were drawn in by the title, either because you are feeling bombarded with all the “cheer” while not feeling the happiness that others expect you to feel during this time of year, or because you are curious as to why anyone would not see this as the best month of all 12.

No matter which position I have found you in, I’m asking that you relinquish all expectation of what this post is about and be present as your eyes scroll the words and your brain processes the thoughts.
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It’s everywhere. The way we “should” be feeling. How we “should” be thinking. What we “should” be buying…

So what do we do when none of our feelings encompass all of the “should(s)” placed on us, and the last thing we feel is “cheerful“?

I have been given the gift of “burden bearing.” I haven’t always thought it a gift and at times tried to mask or ignore it all together. It has only been recently that I’m learning to embrace it and see it as a blessing rather than a curse.

The transformation started several years ago when Katie was 14 weeks pregnant with her 3rd child. Her baby was given the fatal diagnosis of Trisomy 13. On December 19, 2011, at 10:45 a.m., Hallie Lynn Green was born. Weighing in at 4 lbs.15 oz. and stretching 18.75 inches long.

On December 24, 2014, Hallie passed from her mama’s arms back into the arms of Jesus. Katie wrote on her blog that day, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to be Hallie’s mother. Although losing you, Hallie, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I would carry you and love you all over again in a heartbeat. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I love you.”

It is Hallie’s life and Katie’s willingness to learn how to walk in the dark that moved me from a place of empathy to action. In 2012 I began my journey, through my lens, into other people’s pain. That’s a strange way of wording it, I know, but it’s the only wording that makes sense to me.

I have been invited to document the sacred moments between life and death. There are days when I will experience the beauty of life and the gnawing sorrow of death, all within a matter of hours. I stand witness to a wide spectrum of emotions, at times, with people I’ve only just met.

The way to deal with painful emotions is not to get rid of them, it’s to sit with and in them, making the darkness conscious. Knowing that there will once again be light. Being able to experience emotion is key to paving a path to peace. To suppress it is toxic. The further we push it down, the more it festers until one day we can no longer bandage the gaping wound. Some cannot believe that the light will ever return. But it will. Healing is possible. I’ve watched it happen. However, to come to that place, one must be willing to wrestle the angel of darkness.

It is helpful to remember that grief is unpredictable. It shows up at the most inopportune times. It often comes without warning, when there are no Kleenex anywhere to be found and you didn’t apply waterproof mascara. It’s presence is often uncomfortable and frustrating. Even so, each time it appears there is something to be learned. Though the uninvited teacher, pain is not our enemy.

For those friends and family feeling helpless, may I offer some encouragement? There are 3 things you can do to help the one you love.
~ Be Present (Don’t avoid reaching out or taking something by and leaving it on their doorstep or in their mailbox)
~ Listen (I wish we could be more comfortable listening than speaking. It is a learned behavior. When wanting to make someone feel important, listen intently to them.)
~ Be okay with “uncomfortable silence.” (Silence is beautiful when we consciously befriend it.)

If you are currently learning to walk through the darkness, may I speak these truths into your heart?
~ You are not alone.
~ The Creator of the Universe knows you by name. He formed you, piece by piece and therefore sees you and hears your cries.
~ Jesus himself promises that those who mourn will be comforted. (Matthew 5:1-14)
~ You have permission to lower the bar.
If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, don’t go.
If you find your eyes welling with tears while walking down the grocery store isle, it’s okay to walk away from your cart and leave the store.

We must embrace the seasons of darkness just as we long for the seasons of light. To have one without the other leaves us lacking perspective and appreciation for either.

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Was this post helpful? Do you have anything to add about seasons of grief? How can we pray for you? How have you been encouraged through pain? Feel free to leave a comment and we will respond.

If you’re in need of encouragement, click here for a fantastic message from Joel Thomas.
To hear the song inspired by Hallie’s life, written by Casey Darnell, click here

Here’s the Church…Now Where’s the Steeple

Church on a hillThere was a rhyme my friends and I used to say in elementary school. I’m not sure where it came from or if children still clasp their hands together with interlaced fingers, making up the people. It went like this…

“Here’s the church (Hands with fingers intertwined, pointing down)
Here’s the steeple (Pointer fingers together and up)
Open the door (Thumbs come apart)
See all the people.” (Turn hands up and wiggle fingers still intertwined)

When we were a little bit older, we changed the verses to say,
“Here’s the church
Here’s the steeple
Open the door
Where are the people?
Across the street
in the bar
Open the door
There they are!”

We would all laugh, not realizing that one day we would be the very people, across the street, referring to the bar as our sanctuary.

Any time someone new visits my current church, they always say the same thing. “This doesn’t look like a church! Where’s the steeple?!”

“It doesn’t have one.” I reply. “I like it that way.”

The church I grew up in was what one imagines a southern church to look like. Beautiful. Big. Stained glass windows. Wooden pews. A tall pulpit where the preacher stands, adorned in a long black robe and satin collar. The organ plays while the choir prepares to sing hymn number 400 and something. The brass pipes stretch way into the ceiling releasing sounds both beautiful and intrusive. Not long into the service, my creative mind was far into a daydream of… singing on stage or writing my next bestseller from the back porch of my California home, looking out over the pacific ocean.

Things have changed a bit. I wear jeans and red lippy and when the band starts to play, sometimes I even close my eyes, embracing the goosebumps rising on my skin. The God I’ve been chasing my entire life is right here, so tangible I feel as if I could touch him. Praise pours from my lips more like a prayer than a monotonous canticle of which I had grown so accustomed.

When I least expect it, tears well up in my eyes, spilling over and down my cheeks. I cling to the promises spoken in the lyrics written by those who love Jesus and aren’t afraid to admit they struggle. People like me. Now when I’m in the service, I’m engrossed in the message. Sure, I tweet a quote or two, but for the most part I’m all in. I’m hearing stories that I’ve heard all my life, only now I get it. I’m there. I’m in Jerusalem when Jesus walked the road. I’m at the well when the woman unknowingly serves water to the Savior. I’m in line, waiting to be baptized by “John the Baptizer.” I’m in the crowd crying out in confusion as they nail the hope of the world to a cross.

I don’t think a church has to have a steeple to make it legit. Jesus didn’t wear a name tag that read, “Hello, my name is The Messiah.” And yet, people found him. They believed him. They followed him.

If anything, I’ve learned that sometimes the things with the most beautiful shell are rotten on the inside. Sometimes the things one might pass by at first glance are filled with life giving promise. Promise that we are all longing for.

So, I have a new rhyme. It goes like this…

buckhead-church“Here is my church
There is no steeple
You’re welcome inside
We’re all imperfect people.”

I Believe…Now to Receive

IMG_5468I finally realized that even though I “believed” something, didn’t mean I “received” it. It took me releasing clenched fists and raising open palms to Heaven in admittance of my utter dependence on the one who created me and calls me by name. Savior of the world…MessiahJesus. Only then was I able to exchange my rags of ruin for his cloak of grace.