Thursday, December 28, 2017

Two Years of Believing God for More

This morning marks two years since we left our home in the Midwest we had lived in for sixteen years.  This morning marks, for some, the day we left everything and everyone we knew and just left them behind.  This morning marks for me, the day we dared to believe God for more.  Today marks the day we believed that as long as we were together and God was with us there wasn't anything we couldn't do, any place we couldn't go, any new experience we couldn't go through.  Sometimes leaving isn't about walking away but about walking toward something....more.  It's not about a place or a people not being enough but about a place or a people needing you more even if you don't realize it or know it at the time.  You see to me today doesn't mark the day we got into the cars and drove over a thousand miles away from our friends and family because we took all of them with us in our hearts.  No today marks the day when we got into the cars and drove the thousand miles or so to the place that God had set for us, to the place that God had things for us to do, the place God had people who needed to be part of our lives we never would have met if we had stayed.

Here's the thing I know about God, He doesn't need our permission to do the works He is going to do.  He isn't going to take a poll.  He isn't going to ask around to see if He has a good idea because his ideas are always for our good.  He doesn't even have to ask you, when you are the one being sent.  God will accomplish what He wants one way or another and you, having the gift or the curse (depending on how you choose to look at it) of free will, can get on board and head to the blessing or not.  I've been here for two years and I'm still not sure of the plan here.  You see, he didn't come to me and say, "OK Heather, here is what we're going to do.  You are going to go to this promised land in the south and you are going to get a job HERE, and you are going to meet THESE people, and you are going to do THESE things, and you are going to go to church HERE, and your kids are going to be blessed by this here."  No, I didn't have that kind of conversation.  He didn't come to me with charts and grafts and pictures.

In fact, when we arrived there was a moment as I stood inside my empty house and as I realized we were actually not going to automatically have friends and people we could count on that I thought, "Uh Oh what did we do?"  As we tried to find a Walmart and find an air mattress and a toaster and something to eat and we didn't know what road led where and how to get from point a to point b and everything was so foreign and unfamiliar that maybe this was a mistake, and I questioned what we were doing here, and I thought maybe I heard God wrong or maybe it wasn't even God who sent us or put the desire in our hearts to come here, especially as my son walked around and said, "Nope.  This is not going to work." Are you with me?  Have you ever had those thoughts about anything in your life?

Fear and confusion and isolation are not our story though.  If you were to take a snap shot at any point in our first year here you would find that picture, but that picture is not the story.  Our stress and our confusion is not our story it is a byproduct of our lack of belief in things we cannot see.  Our crying and our fear over things that we feel may not come are not our story, they are a byproduct of incapacity to believe God for who he says he is.  It is a byproduct of our lack of believing God for what he can do. Stay with me here because you need to hear this.  Someone needs to know this...even if I'm just reminding myself here.  If I gave up every time I had doubts, every time I couldn't see where things were leading, when I was sure that God had picked the wrong girl, that I knew I was unworthy, God should have killed me and taken me away when I was a teenager.  If he didn't want to do it then, He should have definitely taken me when my mother died and after I felt his presence at the foot of her bed and know he took her home himself and I fell into the pit after they lowered her into the ground anyway.  When I went from being surrounded by people to never feeling so alone and isolated in my life.  He should have taken me then. I'm not exactly sure of how much proof of God's existence you need when you've actually experienced feeling his presence in your own home but I did and I fell anyway. But that is a picture of my life it isn't the whole story.

Two years later my daughters have met people and made friends through school.  My son is making friends with the entire varsity basketball team and talks to more girls than guys on his phone.  I don't know whether to be scared or not by that.  Two years later and my husband comes home and talks about one of the guys at work and laughs.  Two years later and I am just as busy as I've ever been and I have adopted some of the kids I work with and have decided I don't care if they like it or not they are just our extra kids.  One gal at work calls me mom and shows me pictures of her son who she calls my grandson.  I've only ever seen him in pictures but he is so stinking cute I can hardly stand it.
Two years later a house is a house and anywhere we are together is home.  This place where we were lost and couldn't find the airport, where we went to a random Walmart and didn't know our way home in those first two days, we now drive all over.  We know our way around and if we leave to go somewhere to visit we know when we are getting close to home because this too has now become familiar.

Let me tell you something, this writing thing isn't familiar.  Some of you may or may not know that in school I didn't do a lot of reading.  In junior high and high school it was my best friend who read a lot of books and did some writing.  I preferred English to literature.  It was faster. I didn't have time to read books I was too busy reading people.  I was too busy looking at boys.  I was too busy trying to find anywhere I could go to get away from my home life because home was not where I wanted to be and if I had just picked up a book I could have escaped from the safety of my room with my door locked so the horrors of my house couldn't come and get me.  I didn't read in school aside from what I had to read.  I didn't go to college and study English and literature.  I didn't major in creative writing.  I didn't major in anything I've ever used.  My degrees are in Medical Assisting and Marketing and I couldn't market anything over and above a garage sale to save my life.  I didn't intend to write, I just talk a lot and found I had things to share that couldn't possibly be from me because I was a stay at home mom and I'm not exactly Chaucer over here.

My mom died and while I was in the pit God started talking to me and I found things to write about to find my blessings in the middle of my heartache.  I found humor in my daily life.  I found God had a message he wanted to share and I had to write it down because while I can talk to you one on one all day long whether I know you or you are just trying to check out my groceries I can't talk to a group of people and share what God is telling me.  I'm not even qualified to share it anyway.  I'm just a girl who has jumped from one pit to another and stayed at home and raised kids and doesn't hold the degrees or the education to share it anyway.  I didn't intend to become a writer (I'm not even sure if you could call me a writer except that I keep typing things out and here you are reading it.) but when I started writing I couldn't stop writing.  I couldn't not share what I felt needed to be shared.  I have two books and only about a thousand people read them and I only really thought that my best friend and my grandma were going to read them anyway.  They were a 'what if' experiment that I didn't know where God was going to go with it and I am still unsure where God is taking me on this journey anyway.  I don't have to know because if I know then I can see and then I can take credit and I can't take credit because I don't know what I'm doing to begin with.  I don't need to know the plan because if I know the plan I can say no and stay on my couch where it's safe, where it's home, and I never learn anything new.  If I know the plan then do I really have faith?  I have to have faith because I don't know why I started this writing thing to begin with.  I wanted to be a fashion designer.  I wanted to be a fashion buyer.  I wanted to do something in fashion because clothes and shoes I understand (or at least I did before the world went crazy), don't ask me to explain the ways of God to you, don't ask me to explain poetry to you, don't ask me to explain why Nicholas Sparks books always have a death or a sadness in them because I don't know.

Listen, we drove away two years ago and I may live a thousand miles away from everyone I ever knew but I know what is happening.  I know how God is working in our lives and in the lives of my friends.  I pray and I see God at work.  My best friend's mom just moved away from the home she lived in for well over forty years and yesterday I was told about how God showed her mom how this was the right place for her to be, closer to her daughter.  One of my other dear friends has a daughter who is battling a brain tumor and yesterday I was told that the doctor was pretty sure he got it all with the second surgery.  She still has a long road ahead but God is showing that this is only part of her story and I'm believing God that there is more for her.  I have other friends that have had a hard year.  Some things have worked out and some haven't but I'm praying for all of them.  My own daughters have had some struggles this year but sometimes we have to walk through the fire to get to the promise.  God doesn't leave you when things get hard, he gets to work and we have to get to work too.  I don't know what that looks like for you.  I don't know your story.  I just want to remind you that whatever you are going through isn't and doesn't have to be your story.  It's just a snapshot, a picture that is going into a larger picture.  Don't get stuck.  Put on your armor of faith and get to believing God has more.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Collateral Beauty

There is an ongoing battle that rages within.  Thirteen years after the loss of my mother and the battle continues.  The war between truth and lies.  The inner voice that tells me that I didn't do all I could have done for her and yet I know there was nothing else I could have done.  There is a movie with Will Smith called Collateral Beauty that we have watched recently and repeatedly actually that really shows the grief process.  He lost a child and I lost a parent.  He shuts down and closes himself up in his grief for two years and I did the same.  In the beginning of the movie which starts three years prior he is on top of the world and he is giving a speech in front of his employees and he says that life can be summed up in three abstractions;  "We long for love,"  "We wish we had more time," and "We fear death." I've thought some about these things and while I didn't write letters to Love, Time, and Death, I did spend a bit of time trying to figure it all out.

Anyone who knows the story of my beginnings knows that I spent the better part of my formative years longing for love from my dad.  A love that he was incapable of fully giving.  Likely because he was never shown the love of a father himself.  While he did provide for me, he didn't come around and show me how to ride a bike or how to throw a ball or how to throw a punch to protect myself if ever needed.  It wouldn't be until much later that I would come to know that I had the love of a father from the beginning, it just wasn't coming from my earthly father.  My heavenly father loves me and knows me and I wouldn't know that until later.  He, knowing this also would send a young man into my life when I was seventeen to help me navigate life and to try to help mend some fences or rather break down some barriers that I had built to protect myself when it came to a relationship with my dad.  He would help me to know love and help me to grow in my faith.  So yes, I do believe we do long for love, whether we admit to it or not.

I wish every day that I had had more time with my mom. I wish she could have seen my son with hair.  I wish she could have taken the girls shopping and they would have heard her say, "What do you want to do now, Kong?"  I wish I could have made her jewelry.  I wish she could have read my books.  I wish she could be here in the southern state with us enjoying the palm trees and laying on the beach with us.  I wish she had more than fifty two short years.  I wish she could be here to tell me about life and menopause and talk me down from the ledge when I get overwhelmed.  I wish she were here to fight with me when one of us needs an attitude adjustment.  I wish my kids were younger longer.  I wish we could turn back time and I knew then what I know now about how fast it goes.  I wish I hadn't wished any of it away.  I wish I hadn't checked out for two years of their lives and been more present even though I was crumbling inside.  I wish for many things and more time is near the top of the list.

I don't fear death.  I think that's where the difference occurs.  In a family that has endured it's fair share of deaths over the years I think it is hard to fear it.  I don't long for it, but I think when the time comes I will not fear it because I know so many people on the other side.  My mother, my grandparents, my aunts, and some of my cousins have all gone before me.  There was a time when we had so many funerals on my mom's side of the family the funeral home was starting to know us all by name. I don't fear death for myself.  I'm not sure that anyone who knows God fears death for themselves.  I think rather I fear life without people I love.  It always felt so weird and uncomfortable to me that someone I loved could be gone and life continued without them.  The earth continued it's path in the solar system.  The sun rose and set.  Businesses continued to open and close at the end of the day.  Life moved on.  How can that be?  How can life just....continue to move on when my heart is shattered and I feel so battered by grief and loss?

Those are questions that I continually asked myself and sometimes still do.  When holidays come and go and my loved ones aren't here.  When I'm cooking dinner and I'm not able to talk to my mom while I cook and she can't come to dinner.  When a birthday comes and goes and the void of her not being presence permeates within my soul, I ask God how can life go on, how can I possibly go on.  The answer is...because you just do.  You get up in the morning and you put one foot in front of the other and you move.  My falling into a pit for two years did nothing to honor my mother.  Perhaps it was my outward sign of my grief but two years is a lot to miss.

In the movie Howard (Will Smith) missed quite a bit but he also observed quite a bit.  He checked out of his own life, divorced his wife, almost lost his entire business, and yet...he still knew what was happening in his friend's lives.  His wife told him as their daughter was dying a woman told her not to miss the Collateral Beauty.  He didn't get it, but she did.  As I sit here thirteen years later I can see it too.

My mother found Jesus as she was given her diagnosis.  She went to church and the number of people that came to her visitation and funeral was amazing.  I didn't know some of the people that came to pay their respects and yet they all told me of the beautiful, funny, kind woman my mother was.  My mother who worked and worked to make a life for us made an impact on this world.  She wasn't famous, she didn't make any great discoveries to help with furthering mankind.  She worked in a factory for thirty years and also as a realtor for a few years before she died and she was beloved by many. 

To be honest when I started writing this I wasn't sure where God was taking me on this.  I often don't.  I'm not trained in writing.  I hold no degrees that I have ever used.  I was a stay at home mom for eleven years.  I often try and figure out what my purpose is and feel I have fallen short.  I don't contribute to society as a whole the way I probably should....and yet....perhaps my view is too small...or too large depending on your perspective.  I may never know of the impact I have had on this world this side of heaven.  I may question whether or not I am doing enough for my family and others every day of my life but maybe I can use that as a drive to do more.  Maybe by sharing my journey someone else can see themselves in it and find something to focus on outside of the pain.  If you are looking for it, I promise you that it is there.  Jesus can take the ashes and make diamonds.  He can take your pain and use it for good.  Jesus is love and he is in all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. He is the giver of time and he conquered death. And maybe none of this is what that movie was about and this is just my translation of it.  Maybe it isn't about anything at all and it is just a movie but aren't movies a form of art?  Isn't art open to interpretation?  I think God has the power to speak to us in ways that help us to understand what he is trying to get through to us.  Whether it be a movie, or a book, or a song, or a blog from a wannabe writer, sitting on a college campus, writing in a cubicle, trying to blend in with the students while she waits for her daughter to get out of class.  My hope is that instead of shutting down in your pain like I did, you will look to the light that is Jesus and let him turn your pain into a promise.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Somewhere In Between There's Me

Somewhere between a grandmother who loves having people over and feeding them and caring for them and a teenager who really just can't deal with that much peopling there is me. Does that make me an extroverted introvert or an introverted extrovert?  Or does that just make me weird?  I love people.  I dare say I'm a people person.  A person who entertains, I am not.  I admire people who have the confidence in their cleaning and cooking abilities to invite people into their home and feed them and entertain them without wanting to throw up at the thought of it.  I love those people.  I wish I were those people.  Don't get me wrong here I have had many a birthday party for my kids.  I've done all the things.  I don't so much worry about what my family thinks of my ability to provide food and entertainment because they are not there to see me.   They are there to see my children and they are cute and wonderful and a good distraction from the bit of dust that permanently resides on my white furniture because dusting is last on my list of things that must be accomplished when cleaning.  Also I don't cook for them, I order food in.  We have had pizza or a foot long sub from the local sub shop every time we've had a birthday party.  The only time I have cooked or prepared anything was for fourth of July parties and the years we had a grill I didn't do the cooking on the grill, my husband did.  I only did the side dishes.

I keep looking for the adultier adult here.  Unfortunately I keep coming up short.  We are about to have our second Thanksgiving here and there is a possibility that we have guests coming. We did have guests last year but it was my best friend and her family.  My best friend exudes grace.  I'm not sure that I could come up with more than five people who have the patience and love for me to extend the amount of grace she does for me.  She's closer to Jesus than a lot of people, I'm telling you people in stores go up to her to tell her their stories.  She's that kind of person.  I don't have to worry about what the state of my home is in or how high on the culinary chart the meal I serve is.  She is going to love me either way.  I can't scare her off (Like Jesus, she just keeps loving me through all of my flaws.)

My children are growing up.  We no longer have birthday parties with more than just the five of us.  The time is drawing near that I am going to be the one who has the dinners for holidays and there are more than just the five of us here and the people involved won't be my best friend and her family.  This year we may have some friends over.  Plus there is the boy my daughter is dating that will likely come by for a little while.  He comes from a large family and from what I understand they all cook.  I just can't with this.  Here's another problem, apparently the people who live down here (or basically anyone from anywhere other than the Midwest) do not eat like we do.  You may want to sit down for this....there are people in this world who have never had a meal that consists of chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, green beans, and rolls.  They can't even conceive of it.  HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?  That is what I want to know?  It is the standard for all comfort food.  You can't not have it.

My menu for Thanksgiving is: Turkey, ham, chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, apple salad, green beans, salad, deviled eggs, and rolls.  I don't even know if that's the correct menu for Thanksgiving.  I probably have too many meats, too many starches, and not enough of something else.  I even forgot to add pie to the list because I don't actually even like pumpkin pie, I like apple pie so I with have to buy frozen pies to have because don't ask me to bake from scratch...just don't.  It's for everyone that I ask this.  Truly. To be fair they do need to be baked. As I look over the list I don't even know if I have enough burners on the stove for that many dishes.

How can I be here already?  I remember going to my grandmother's house as a kid for every holiday and every Sunday for that matter.  Green bean casserole was a staple for holiday gatherings.  My aunt would bring rolls and everyone thought she made them from scratch and later in years it came out that they were frozen.  My mother baked at Christmas and made more cookies and candies than I can remember to count.  She filled shirt boxes with cookies and candies and gave them to family and friends.  EVERYONE looked forward to it.  She was the best and I did not inherit her gift.  I was always just the taste tester.  Eating I excel at, cooking and baking, not so much. I don't know how to be the one who does all the things.  I'm still coming to terms with the fact that my people need to eat more than once a day.  I'm still trying to accept that my face is really my face and not my mother's face.  I still phone a friend with cooking questions and life questions.

Now I'm busy googling what a typical Thanksgiving in a southern state looks like, trying to figure out if the food is going to be good or at least edible.  Trying to figure out seating and how to entertain people and come to terms with the idea that I can't just sit and read a book while my husband watches football all while still being excited that there might actually be people coming to hang out with us.  Tell me if you have some ideas food wise or otherwise.  I would appreciate the input.  I would also appreciate having my house cleaned for this impending event and losing ten pounds beforehand as well.