Sunday, July 21, 2013

You wanna know a secret??

So, every once in a while, you meet a group of women who just change your world in small little ways.  While this group of people differs slightly from season to season, come consignment time, they are there none the less.  You laugh, you cry, you hang tens of thousands of pieces of clothing, and you laugh some more.  Never have I been to a sale with such happy, loving people! 

This year, I do not have the ability to work Hooked On Consignment's amazing sale, but I do know this, it is going to be absolutely amazing.  My sister introduced me to consignment sale shopping when my oldest daughter was almost 3 and I have been hooked ever since.  And while I could go on and on and on about the benefits of this sale, pictures speak much louder than words.  So... 

Tons of Baby Gear!

This is the boys section, and there are still 3 days of drop-off!

Have a little girl who loves shoes??  Oh yes, this sale is amazing!!

 
This sale opens to the public on July 27th, but trust me, you really want to volunteer to sign up and shop early!  When you volunteer to work early, you not only get to skip the wait to shop, you also get to shop with fewer people than the first few days of the sale, not to mention some of the other worker perks include snacks while you work, worker credit for the sale, and kid-free pre-sale shopping.  It is SO worth it, and Natalie is one of the best people you could work for.  In the past, I have shopped the fall sale for Christmas presents, Halloween costumes, as well as backpacks, birthday presents, and back-to-school clothes.  And, when I say back to school clothes, I mean brands like Justice, Matilda Jane, Gymboree, Children's Place, and so much more.  Natalie is meticulous (in a really really good way for us) about what she takes in, too.  You won't spend your time weeding through stained, outdated clothes.  We are talking quality clothes for almost nothing!  If you have never done a consignment sale, please take an hour and go to hers this weekend and next week!  I promise, it will be well worth your time!

My (totally selfish) favorite part this season is the fact I don't need to drive to Murfreesboro anymore!  The sale will be in the Bed, Bath & Beyond parking lot in Rivergate!  I have a feeling I will be making several trips down, as the deals are too good to pass up.  I am telling you, I have followed this lady from Encores North in Madison to Encores n More Murfreesboro, and now locally, to Hooked on Consignment.  I have been to other sales, and they just don't compare. 

And, did I mention all the amazing stuff??

American Girl dolls and Accessories!

Toys, Kitchens, Power Wheels, and so much more!

Matilda Jane at incredible prices!

Even something for the teens and Mom's - Vera Bradley bags!
 
 

With about 450 consignors, this sale promises something for everyone.  And, if you follow Hooked On Consignment on Facebook, she does giveaways and teasers as new amazing items come in.  So, if you find yourself ready to start back to school shopping, Halloween costume shopping, or even just a little bit of kid spoiling, head on down this coming weekend (July 27th) or any of next week (sale ends August 3rd).  You will not be sorry! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Out of focus

So, have you ever had one of those seasons when everything just seems like too much?  I feel like I am just drifting from one spot to another, just waiting for God to show up and do something.  This last week, I had the amazing experience of going to kids camp with the church's 3-5 graders.  It left me with a realization that I don't have to wait for God to show up.  He's already here.

I'm gonna rewind, and then fast forward.  I have felt incredibly overwhelmed over the last several months.  Life has gotten crazy and a little out of control.  A very kind woman gently reminded me a month ago to be careful what I choose to put in my box.  She explained with such sincerity that when I allow something in my life, I get to carry it around in this invisible box with me.  Obviously, my kids need to be in that box.  School (until the beginning of November!!) has to be in that box, as does work.  But, what else is in that box? 

In my do it all mindset, I have allowed things that should have been left out of my box inside my box.  I carry the weight of too many things pulling me in too many directions, stress and worry over things I have no control over, as well as the normal single momma junk.  My focus became incredibly blurred.  The last six weeks, I have been trying to determine what needs to stay in my box, and what I need to push out of my box.  My box is becoming lighter, though worry and doubt that I am keeping the right priorities keep trying to jump back in. 

So this last week, our Children's ministry at church took it to the mountain.  Literally.  We spent several days in the Smokies, running around, worshiping God, and learning more about who He is, and what He so longs to do for us.  Watching those kids hunger after Christ really made me evaluate where I am in life.  I realize I give my all when I feel like I need to.  Do I give my all when I am having a great day, feeling on top of it all?  Nope.  I give my all only after I've tried everything in my power to fix things.  And that is not what God wants.  He doesn't want my leftovers.  He wants it all.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  I want to know I can do it on my own.  I want to know I don't need someone to handle my problems.  I want to know I can handle the life I've been given, without help. 

So many times in life we are let down.  So many times, we ask or we want or we need something from another person, only to be completely disappointed and let down.  In those times, we learn to do it on our own.  I can't even count how many times I have said, with pride even, "I don't need       (fill in your blank here)       I can do it all on my own."  As parents, we want our children to do things for themselves.  We want them to succeed without our help.  God just isn't that way.  He wants us to realize we aren't weak or cowardly when we need His help or His intervention.  He just wants our all. 

Ok, so fast forward.  I had the fun job of driving three kids halfway back to their house last Saturday (about a 15 hour round trip).  I was completely lost in my thoughts and worries, allowing my focus to be on how enormous all of the struggles were, instead of the fact that God is so much bigger than all of those.  I felt overloaded and ready to give up.  Even remembering the things God has helped me from didn't feel enough.  Driving along I-40, I was pretty much surrounded by trucks.  I was just following along, driving with my head in the clouds.  There is no telling how long I was behind this guy, because for the longest time, this is what I saw:


*This photo has been edited...

Just a truck.  One of hundreds.  And, upon further speculation, I realized something.  Sitting in that car, trying to get myself focused enough on all of the issues in my life long enough to get them fixed and acceptable was just not going to work.  The more I focused on my life, and the silly things that add up to feel  like so much, I realized I was getting frustrated, sad, and overwhelmed.  My heart wanted to fix so many things that I have no control over.  And I just kept driving thinking. 

I wasn't concentrating on the road.  I wasn't concentrating on the fighting in the backseat.  I wasn't concentrating on the music on the radio.  I was concentrating on all of my frustrations.  I started praying that God would give me the peace and calmness I experienced at camp.  I thought about all of the kids who were giving their all, without question or doubt.  I started to quiet those crazy thoughts.  When I really started to focus on the fact that God's got it all, I realized the answer had been there all the time.  This is what I saw:

 
 
The answer had been there all along.  I was so oblivious to everything around me, I missed it completely.  This simple reminder has been in my mind all weekend.  When we are focusing on how crazy our lives are, we tend to miss the simple answer: Jesus.  Cause, really, He is all we need.  He knows our yesterdays.  He knows our todays.  And, what I find so encouraging, He knows our tomorrows.  He has the answers to all of it, even if the answer feels blurry or out of our grasp.  When our focus is on Him, all we have to do is just follow Him.  He will guide us to where we need to be.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

When God Doesn't Feel Like Enough

There are times in your life that you know God is just right there, walking beside you, holding your hand.  Life is good.  Life is calm.  Life is easy.  It is in those times that it is so simple to say, "God is enough."  I have a little reminder on a neon green index card.  It says, "Note to self: I am enough."  I have learned that regardless of what I am going through, God is still with me, and because He is with me, I can be enough.  When I am not enough, He will cover me, and whatever the situation holds, what I can do mixed with what He can do will always be enough.

Lately, I have found myself asking God, "God, are you seriously enough?  Do you seriously hear me?  Are you doing anything at all about this?"  The crazy part is, I am asking Him that question with just about every circumstance in my life.  I graduate in October (thank God!!!!), but the pressures of the last five classes are weighing on me.  I have some school related issues I can't see through to the other side.  I have three little girls needing Momma for the summer, and I just don't hardly have it in me.  I have family and friends in the midst of insane battles.  I am in the midst of an insane battle.  I doubt, I worry, I wonder if maybe I didn't hear God after all.  And, in the midst of it all, I find myself doubting that God is enough. 

This last weekend has been difficult.  I have been watching more than one person in my life walk through intense struggles, one of which is an abusive situation.  Last night, I lay in my warm bed, wondering what the girls were up to, where they were, and again, praying safety and happiness over them.  My heart was heavy, and sad, I'm not even going to lie.  And that silly question reared its head again.  "God, are you enough for me?  Can you take each of these difficulties and really make good come from them?"  

It was then that I remembered nights as a young girl, distanced from my family, too afraid to even pray to God, because of the hurt I had caused so many.  Knowing that God probably didn't love me, I would never be good enough, and the only out was alcohol and a really wild life.  Seventeen years old, partying, drunk and scared.  I didn't know it then, but God was enough.  He never left me, and no harm came to me. 

It was then that I remembered those nights as a pregnant Momma, overwhelmed with the fact that I was going to bring a little girl into the world, not even knowing whether or not I was really safe.  Could he really do the things he says he is going to was a question I asked myself a few times each day.  Terrified to have this baby, terrified to leave her father, terrified about everything and knowing I was hopeless.  God covered me even when I couldn't think to ask Him to.  He was enough.

It was then that I remembered a night where I thought I was going to lose my life, wondering how my little girl would make it without her Momma.  It was that long night that I remember praying God would just let me live, so I could get out.  And, somehow, God was enough. 

It was then that I remember the nights wondering where this man that told me I was dead to him was, what he was planning, and if he really would come back and kill me like he promised.  Too afraid to ask for God to protect me, knowing it was easier to just go back to that place, so that I didn't have to worry about it anymore.  You see, even in our stupidity, God is enough.

It was then that I started to remember the nights as a young Momma of two little girls, trying to attend church, volunteer when I could, and still cope with a colicky infant who cried all the time.  It was in those nights that I didn't think I could do it.  It was those nights that I wished he had killed me.  And even then, God was enough.

Then, those days and nights that I realized I had three little mouths to feed and not a single penny to feed them with.  Pride didn't allow me to ask for help.  Finding food when I knew there was none, knowing without a doubt that God filled our bellies those nights.  God was still enough.

It was then that I started to remember nights that I was afraid of the drunken monster in the bed next to me.  I remembered rolling over and praying over him, that his demons would just leave him alone.  God was enough in those nights.  As a matter of fact, God was all I had. 

I remember that night God spoke to me, opening my heart more fully to Him, giving me strength for the battle that was coming.  God was enough.

Then those first nights after I was released from my marriage, knowing the lies poured over me were all I had.  Wondering how in the world God was going to be enough for me, yet somehow proving to me He was more than able, more than enough. 

I remember those nights, not so long ago, wondering if I could really be a single parent to these three girls, full time college student, and working Momma all at the same time.  I remember those times God placed people specifically in my path, just so that I could do all of these things.  Time after time, God has shown me he is enough.  Why is it so hard to believe He will be enough even now?

Last night, in the midst of frustration, pain, questioning and remembering all those times, God spoke a little something to me.  You see, when I asked if He was enough, He replied," Yes, Cil, I am.  I am enough because I am the I am." 

It hit me like a million bricks.  He not only is enough, He has enough.  He has enough power.  He has enough victory.  He has enough redemption.  He has enough provision.  He has enough protection.  He has enough future.  He has enough of every single thing I need to get through all of what I am fighting today.  I know the walk isn't easy.  I am not going to say I am not a little frustrated my timing isn't His.  I am not about to say that I have it all together, or that I am not going to complain.  But, I am going to remind myself, He was enough all those other times.  How could He not be enough now?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dependence Does Not Equal Weakness

This post has been on my heart for a little over a month now.  I keep coming back to it, tweaking it, adding to it, and praying about what I am supposed to say.  Very rarely do things get deleted, but things just seem to keep being added.  I am hopeful an encouraging message will finally be posted today.

For most of my life I have been described as strong-willed, independent, hard-headed, and just a tad bit stubborn.  In my teenage years, I loved a good "debate."  I viewed people that needed things as weak, or soft, definitely not something I viewed as positive.  I never thought about circumstances causing a person to feel weak on the inside, but look incredibly strong to everyone else. 

The last ten years of my life have worn me down, caused me pain, and broken me from the inside out.  I have learned that the life you planned isn't guaranteed, happiness is not determined by what others do for you, and that independence is wildly overrated.  I have learned that to be strong doesn't mean winning, nor does being dependent mean you aren't strong. 

Although I married altogether way too young, I learned some of my most important lessons and beliefs during that marriage that was too long in some ways and not nearly long enough in other ways.  I depended upon another person for so long that I began to view dependence as the ultimate sign of "loser status."  I felt helpless, hopeless and completely broken.  I felt weak, exhausted and tired of feeling worthless and lost in my situation. I longed to feel independent and on top of my life again.  So, when I separated and finally divorced, independence was what I craved most.

Dependence is defined (www.dictionary.com) first as the state of relying on or needing someone or something for aid, support or the like.  The second definition is reliance; confidence; trust.  When I read this a few days ago (this post has been going around and around in my head for a few days), I was kinda stunned.  You see, the first definition makes a person sound weak, needy, unable to function without said object or person.  The second definition is what I have grown to realize is an underlying source of strength. 

My road over the last 5 years has had more downs than ups.  In the last 5 years, I have experienced unimaginable stresses that ate at my heart, mind and soul.  Aside from taking care of the girls, money was always my biggest worry.  First, there was never enough.  Second, what there was, was typically spent on another's alcohol problem.  One night clearly stands out in my mind.  One of the girls (I am pretty sure it was Cassie) was sick, and had a high fever.   Not only did I have a newborn to take care of, but two other kids who needed my attention,  one of which was sick.  To top that off, my homework load at that point was overwhelming (oh, how I wish I had homework like those days now!).  I was stressed, I was anxious, I was so tired.  All I wanted to do was give up.  I asked my then husband to pick up Motrin on the way back home.  He said he had no money.  Frustrated, I believed him, but had to pick up the phone to call family and see if someone could bring me the medicine.  I had to depend on someone who had no responsibility to me or my child, and pay for medicine because we just didn't have it.  When my husband walked in with a case of beer under his arm, I remember losing it.  I look back at that night and know I said things I didn't mean.  Looking back, I remember knowing what would happen after I lost it, knowing I would probably be "at fault" for the beer he so desperately needed.  And absolutely hating myself for 1) not being able to provide for my child what she needed, 2) not being able to give my husband what he needed, and 3) not being strong enough to stop the drinking and verbal attacks from happening inside my home, especially three sets of little eyes around witnessing some of it.  This night was a turning point in my walk with God.  I didn't know it then, but I know it without a doubt then.  Even then, in the midst of chaos and confusion and such incredible sadness and frustration, He truly was working all things for my good. 

I realized then that sometimes you have to depend on someone other than yourself to give you the things you most desperately need.  That night, it was a bottle of ibuprofen.  Several months ago, it was a bag of clothes.  Not big things, but necessary things.  I remember I felt so utterly weak in the situation, and remember calling upon His name to deliver me from the hurt, from the fear, from the absolute frustration that my life was.  Not but a few weeks later came a promise of deliverance.  I learned how to closely depend upon God for my happiness and joy.  And, most days, I failed miserably.  When I wasn't focusing on how to make the promise happen as soon as possible, I was focusing on how to change the person causing my pain and frustration, rather than focusing on God to change me.  Fast forward about a year, and I had finally been given release from my marriage.  I was angry.  Let me be clear, I was angry not only with myself for failing and being so weak and needy, but also my ex-husband, but honestly, I was mostly angry with God.  Because, I had learned to depend on Him for the promise to be fulfilled.   I waited.  I prayed.  I believed.  I trusted.  One night, shortly after the separation took place, I remember crying out to God.  Anger and despair completely consumed me.  I had been hurt by the man I married.  I had been hurt by the God I served. 

That night, God spoke to my hurt, to my heart, speaking life over the situation.  He told me my promise was going to be fulfilled, but that my miracle had already happened, that it had never been for my ex-husband, but instead, for me.  I look back to that time, so many years ago.  I feel sadness, that the miracle I wanted to happen (healing in my marriage) never happened, and never will.  I do not miss or regret the abuse or the overwhelming chaos.  I miss the hope of what was to come. 

Funny enough, I am in the middle of the "Believing God" Bible study by Beth Moore.  I have never felt more challenged to believe God for the rest of His promise over me to be fulfilled.  Lol, and this presents new challenges I didn't even know I would encounter.  This week, I have come face to face with the reality that I have accepted defeat.  I have accepted that God promised me something, but that I don't believe I am worth enough for the promise to actually happen.  I believe He can do what He says He can do, but have a hard time knowing I am worth enough for Him to do it for me.  I want to take control of the situation and be independent, not needing to rely on Him for anything.  Some days, it feels easier to just do it on my own than without Him.  To just do it my way and have it happen already.  But, you know, on second thought, I think I already did that once. And, it didn't really work out all that well...

My problem lies within that.  God wants me to rely only on Him.  Not on my friends, not on my kids, not on my church.  He wants me.  He wants me to pursue Him, not because of what He can do, but for who He is - my Savior, my Redeemer, the Restorer of my soul.  He knows my struggles, He knows my failures, because He already planned the way out of them.  But, without trusting in Him and looking to Him for the answer, I am lost.  My "plan B" was His "plan A" all along.  He knew it would take me being broken and battered so that I would hit the place in my life I would be okay with being dependent upon Him.  He doesn't see that as weakness at all, but strength of the best kind. 

I don't know why I had to wait until now to remember these things.  I don't know when all of my promises will be revealed.  But, I do know until then, I can sit back and wait for Him to move.  I do know that when I am weak, He makes me strong.  My independence is such incredible weakness in His sight, and that He just wants me to sit back and rest against Him.  I will be strong.  I will be dependent.  And it will all be okay.  I am finally beginning to realize my failures are only in my head.  My failures might just be the beginning of the success in His plan for me.  So, if you read with me earlier in the week, thanks for the encouragement.  The sun is finally coming out...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Failure is an Option

I really want to write.  You know, complain, vent, cry, and just let it all get ugly and out.  I am a strong-willed, hard-headed person.  And, those are my good qualities.  I am also a wannabe perfectionist, and a do-gooder by instinct.  And tonight, there are a few things that pretty much slapped me upside the head. 

First revelation of the night: I want life to go according to my plans.  While I want to be in God's will, and do what He wants me to do, I really just want Him to go alongside of my plans, and agree that I want what He wants and he wants what I want and that we are both on the same page and its all gonna be just perfect.  Except, I am not God.  Nor do I want to be God.  So, yeah, this whole according to my plans thing isn't really working well for me, because while I seriously want His will for my life, I struggle letting go of my plans for my life so I can let His plans take over.  He ordained these days, but am I walking them the way He first planned?  And, if I am not walking in the ways He planned, do I really want to?  Talk about scary.  Freeing, yes, but scary too. 

Second revelation: I have a hard time accepting defeat.  I have a hard time allowing failure to even be an option.  My motto has always been failure (or imperfections or a slight change in plans or ... and the list sadly keeps going) is not ever an option.  It isn't something I like to think about, it isn't something I do well.  Failure is weakness.  Weakness is not something I like to think about, because I like to feel strong, with a nothing-can-stop-me sort of attitude.  On top of that, if there is the risk of failing, I just don't start.  Failure is just not an option.

And, oh yeah, revelation three: God's sense of humor is just not funny sometimes.  I see His hand over me, showing my insanely multiplying flaws.  The last three days, I have done nothing but beat the crap out of myself.  I failed with this, I failed with that.  I don't even want to try that, because, honestly, I will fail it too.  I have never wanted to just quit everything so bad as how I feel right now.  And yet, I sat in the midst of frustration and despair and had women tell me I was good.  That I was doing things right.  And, the only thought that kept going through my mind was, "Are you serious?  Do you see who you are talking to???"  I mean, thank God they don't read some of the prayers in my book lately.  Talk about doubt and fear and insecurity.  It is all written out on those pages.  But for some crazy reason, I keep going.  Because, deep down, I really want to believe them.  I want to quiet that voice that keeps telling me I am a failure that isn't worthy of anyone's love.  I want to believe that God really has a purpose and a plan for all of the craziness I am walking through right now. 

To be totally transparent, I have really been struggling spiritually over the last few weeks.  I pray.  But do I really hear Him?  I seek, but only for what I want to find.  And, my Bible study, I can't seem to get into it.  I feel like crap.  I am miserable.  I am failing at every single thing I am doing.  And I hate it.  I stood in church, and was pretty much spanked.  I prayed, and crazy enough, heard from God almost immediately.  I simply prayed that I would wait as long as it took.  That I was waiting, in the middle of praise and worship.  His reply was painful.  Cause, you know, He let me know He is waiting for me, too.  He is waiting for me to desperately need Him, above anything else.  He is waiting for me to seek Him first, instead of under my breath muttering or calling anyone who will listen.  He is waiting for me to just sit back and talk to Him, about the good, the bad, this nasty ugly cry thing that keeps happening,  to communicate about my silly doubts and fears and worries and exhaustion.  He wants me to fully pursue Him.  And, then clears my schedule so I have plenty of time to do so.  No excuses, right?  Except, that one...

Reality hit me square in the face tonight.  I don't fully seek God because I am terrified of what His plans might lead me into.  That failure is possible, and that my course might go the complete opposite direction from what I want.  I step out, and the challenges seem so incredibly huge.  He gives me strength for this challenge, or those kind words, but when will He decide I am not worth the effort anymore?  My Bible study hit home tonight.  What if I fail God?  What do I do then?  What if I screw up so bad that He decides I am not worth it, just like almost every other man  in my life has?  What happens then? 

I could not get out of that building with all those smiling happy faces fast enough tonight.  And, if you are reading this and you were there, sorry.  This big ugly cry thing was getting ready to go down, and well, I don't let most people see me break down.  So, I am sorry.  Anyway, Beth Moore hit it.  I may fail.  I may screw up.  I mean, I could really, totally, completely fail God.  Big time.  Or worse, do something that makes someone else fail God.  But does that change the way He feels for me?  And, if it does, what do I do, then?

My head and mind say, "Of course not, Cil!  His love for you is NOT performance based."  But, my heart is a little shattered.  My ego is a little bruised and battered.  I am not where I was.  And no man or woman can take me back there.  But, my heart still wonders whether or not I am fully capable of being truly loved by a man, including God.  I know I will put this out there tonight, the sun will come out tomorrow, and I will regret it.  I will feel embarrassed that I am allowing thoughts of doubt and negativity to creep in.  I will feel shame.  But, at some point, I am going to have to choose and stand behind one of a few things.

Option A: I can choose to believe that I am a worthless woman, who will never deserve love, will never be worth loving, and will fail at every relationship she will ever have.  This cycle could go on forever and ever, with this woman sinking deeper and deeper into negativity.  And, truly, who wants to be around this girl? 

Option B: I can choose to believe that I am worth something , but only when I am succeeding, not failing, when I am everything to everyone, and everyone loves me because of what I can do for them.  This cycle will cause this girl to be used and abused time and time again, because she will never realize how unconditional God's love is.

or, Option C:  This girl can embrace the promise she received tonight.  The one that said God will not fail me, regardless of how often I fail Him.  And, oh, that is a hard one to believe.  I see my faults.  I see my hurts, my longings, my doubts.  I look at myself and do not feel worth it.  I don't see what He or anyone else sees.  But when He looks at my face, He sees a different creation, washed clean by the blood of Christ.  One that struggles often, but refuses to quit.  One that puts forth her best effort, and sometimes just goes about it the wrong way.  And, when I choose to not believe all of that, I am choosing to believe Christ's sacrifice for me just wasn't quite good enough. 

You see, I have heard it all before.  I sang, "Jesus Loves Me," more than once (or a hundred times, probably) as a child.  I tell myself all the time that He loves me just the same as He always has, and that it will never run out.  I remind myself that no actions of my own are going to make Him love me more.  Even when I fail.  Even when I cry.  Even when I bolt because the thought of losing it in front of a room full of women feels like the worst predicament of my life. 

Honestly, I know that I am not alone in my battles.  I know that in order for me to fully believe, I need help.  I need God's Word moving through my heart all day long.  And I know that when it is, I don't doubt for a second how much He loves or cares for me, or that His promise is made good in His time, and He knows when it will be perfect for me.  I have to stop trying to fulfill this God-given promise in my ways and remember He doesn't need my help.  He just needs me to seek Him.  I am going to challenge myself this week to speak life-giving words over myself.  Praying this hits someone else, as it did me.  Really, for two reasons: 1) Because I don't want to be alone; and 2) Because if you are struggling, too, you probably need to know you are just as loved as I am. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Captain of the Storm

I have not been in an Easter sort of mood today.  Nothing seems to sit right with me, I am tired, I am weary, waaa-waaa-waaa-waaa-waaa... So, I celebrated.  I praised.  I went to church.  Did the things I was "supposed" to do.  And, because I had this brilliant idea to put devotionals and new Bibles in Easter baskets instead of tons of candy or cheap toys that I will throw away next week, I had three little girls anxious for bed because I promised we would read together before bed.  One on one.   God has a hysterical sense of humor, just saying'...

Sara and I snuggled down, she looked up the verses in her devotional and read them at the appointed time, I read the devotional part, and we prayed together.  With her, this is our routine anyway.  She was having horrible nightmares, trouble sleeping, and worrisome thoughts keeping her awake.  About a month ago, we decided we were going to find her one scripture to think about while she was falling asleep, would pray for God's hands to comfort her mind, and she would sleep on her Bible.  Well, it worked so well we haven't stopped.  And, she totally reminds me when I am in a rush.  Not one single nightmare, either, thank God!  Anyway, one down, two to go.  I turned off the lights and just longed for my own bed, with my own thoughts and alone-ness

I get to Cassie, who lost hers already, which is out of character for her.  She read it and just couldn't remember where she left it.  She was upset, I was tired.  We compromised, piled in the same bed and read out of Jessie's new Bible**.  It is really impressive by the way.  Detailed stories, vivid pictures and tonight, it spoke straight to this hurting Momma's heart.  I let Jessie pick, started reading, thinking it was the same old story, and was so teary eyed by the end I wasn't sure I was gonna get to finish.  And I knew I had to write.  So, here goes...

I have mentioned more than once or twice (or five or ten or a thousand) times that I am weary.  I am tired of waiting.  I am tired of feeling battered around, drifting at sea.  I am in the final months of school, the workload is insane.  I am juggling two different jobs (thank God for the money, but...), and realized recently every night of the week has something going on.  I refuse to give up my ministry or my church life.  I can't quit work, and God knows, I can't quit school.  And my kids don't even do sports that I could cut out.  Busy is no longer an adjective that describes me.  It is just the state of being that has taken over me.  I rush from this to that to that to this, then to this other and back again.  I feel like a chaotic, exhausted, sorry, crazy mess.  I want this.  I need that, and it just keeps repeating.  Or worse, the kids need this, then that and multiplied times three adorable girls.  Insanity.  Absolute insanity.

My life right now feels like a massive storm.  Winter feels unending, no sunshine, gray skies everywhere.  Both mentally and literally.  My heart is heavy and dark, with so little hope inside.  I see no end to the mental season in sight.  School won't end until October, which feels like a decade away.  This single period of life remains unchanged.  No fun dates, no flirtations, nothing.  I hate admitting it, because I feel entirely weak and useless.  I feel unattractive and old, then mad because I shouldn't allow myself to be discouraged by human men's view of me.  And yet, all the feelings remain, just the same.  I see these situations looming over me like dark thunderheads rolling in, just waiting for my destruction.  I feel like I am one wave away from losing it all.  Crazy thing is, life is really good.  I have nothing to complain about.  I have a relationship, a dependency upon God that I never could have imagined was possible.   I have girls who love God and trust in Him for far more than I can.  I have financial security. I have a very reliable car and more than enough food in my pantry.  I have clothes on my back and the girls, and cute ones at that.  I am blessed.  But the storm within rages all the more. 

Anyway, back to my total God moment.  Jessie flips through her Bible, and decides she wants the story with all those stars.  In my head, I thought "Yes!  I know this, I can do this.  God's promise to Abraham is easy, and the star illustrations were incredible!"  And then I look at the page she is pointing to.  It says Mark 4 and Matthew 8.  Yup, wrong already.  So, it is instead the story of the disciples crossing the sea when an unexpected storm comes up.  "The storm blew the water into towering waves that hurled the little boat up, up, up -- then sent it hurling, CRASHING back down, down, down!"  That was the moment I knew this story was not gonna be easy for me to finish.  I was reading and talking to God all at the same time, trying to not think about how that boat really symbolized me.  It went on to say. "Jesus' friends had been fishermen all their lives, but in all their years fishing on this lake they had never once seen a storm like this one.  No matter how hard they struggled with their rope and sails, they couldn't control their boat.  This storm was too big for them."  And, I had to admit, in all my years, I have never felt as hopeless as I do tonight.  And for no reason beyond the fact my human mind just doesn't understand.

You know, my storm is, simply put, too big for me.  I am out here, spinning around, thankful to not be sinking, but not feeling like I am getting anywhere else either.  This storm overhead is making me lose control of my boat, and there is only one big enough to get it back on course.  We turn the page to see the storm still raging.  And the words, oh how they speak to me.  Even now, tears flow.  "But the storm wasn't too big for Jesus.  'Help," they screamed...Jesus stood up and spoke to the storm.  'Hush!' he said, and that was all."  And then sweet Jessie's stars came out.  The storm quieted.  The power held in one four letter word.  And He spoke to my heart. "Be still.  Just be still."

Here is the part that still kills me.  "Then Jesus turned to his wind-torn friends.  'Why were you scared?' he asked. 'Did you forget who I Am?  Did you believe your fears, instead of me?" Why is it when the storm is at its worse we forget who made that storm?  Why is it that it is so simple to simply believe it is our job to just keep our little boat in control, instead of just asking God to remind the storm who the boss really is?  This is the same God that sent His son to die for me, only to raise Him again.  If He can be brought into the world without, well, what makes a baby, heal the sick, make wine from water, raise the dead, and then overcome it himself, really, what I am I so stinking worried about?

"Jesus' friends had been so afraid, they had only seen the big waves.  They had forgotten that if Jesus was with them, they had nothing to be afraid of, no matter how small their boat or how big the storm."  And there it is.  The problem is, I see too much.  I see the decisions, the weight of one wrong choice and the consequences that could be mine.  I see three little girls who trust me completely to do what is best for us.  I see me, making decisions that really take two minds.  And I start thinking how small my faith is, and whether or not my promise was really God given.  I see the circumstances, instead of telling my circumstances to meet my God. 

Today in church, I struggled not to think too much.  Not to let my mind or my heart or my anything get too far away from the words on the screen.  And my heart just screamed, "Lord, do you hear me?  Do you even know I am here?  Where are You and why aren't you listening to me?"  Let me just say, when Pastor said something almost exactly the same, I didn't think it was God speaking to me.  I just thought, "At least I'm not the only one."  I am so stinking hard-headed.  He hasn't left me.  He hasn't walked away.  He isn't sitting up there, laughing, ridiculing or making fun of me.  He just wants me to learn that regardless of how big or long this storm is, He is still bigger, and He wants to know that He is still my captain. 

The question I have to ask you (while asking myself too) is this:  Do you trust Him, believe Him enough to let him direct your boat, however small it may be, or do you see the huge waves crashing and know it's all up to you?  He will speak to your waves, just like He's speaking to mine.  Unfortunately for us, we gotta let go of the helm for Him to take us where we need to be, gotta listen to Him speak over our wind and waves and allow His peace to wash over us and our situations. 


**Jessie's Bible is the Jesus Storybook Bible and can be bought here.  Lol, and I am not being compensated in any way to write a review, tell this story, and this is also not an affiliate link.  This is just a really awesome Bible!!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Life Just Happens Sometimes

Sitting here, watching the girlies dance to Taylor Swift, watching it rain with a steaming cup of coffee in hand.  Not much could be better.  The last six weeks have been an insane rush from one thing to another, and today, this is exactly what I needed.  Peace.  And noise.  And giggling girls. 

My Grandma passed away at the beginning of March.  We knew it was coming, and were waiting for it, but the reality of it was this: I wasn't exactly ready.  She taught me so much about life, love and who I am.  She was an incredibly spunky lady, who knew what it meant to love and live life to the fullest.  She taught me how to play cards with dignity, and how to lose with grace.  She also taught me how talk smack and win with an air of cockiness.  She taught me how not to have a poker face, and that it is okay to show excitement over a good hand, because it really isn't all about winning anyway.  She taught me that games (card, domino or board) are an amazing way of creating a family bond and some of the sweetest memories of my life.  She taught me that it is okay to let things go, but that some hurts may take a lifetime to get over.  She taught me how to make a mean egg salad sandwich, and that sometimes, the easiest way to show someone you love them is through their belly.  She loved baseball as much as any girl could, and while I know she loved the sport, mainly she just loved all those men in ball uniforms, cause those uniforms totally gave her a better view of their backsides.  Apparently, some things really are genetic... 

I was so incredibly blessed with inexpensive airfare to get there for her service, which was beautiful.  The pastor that spoke emphasized the way Christians will wait for each other to arrive.  And I know she is waiting, encouraging and smiling at me from up there.  I was blessed to be her granddaughter.  She was a strong woman with an amazing zeal for life that I can only hope people will remember me for.

While I was there, I was so blessed to be able to spend some time on the beach.  I love the beach.  Maybe not so much in a bathing suit, but walking, listening, just being still, I love that.  I love that as I walk life out, knowing exactly who I am, the beach is one of the most spiritual places ever.  Watching the waves roll in and out reminded me of the season I am in.  Waves come, waves go.  Days come in, bring their struggles, their frustrations, the happy moments, and growth, and then get washed away to start again.  Reminding me that God will wash away the stuff that needs to be taken back out to sea, while still leaving the stuff that needs to be there. 

A thought occurred to me while watching huge waves crash the shore right before I came home.  God washes so much away, but still leaves the sand.  Moves it around a little, but leaves it.  This verse resonated within me: "How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.  They cannot be numbered!  I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!"  And I realized, He is never going to leave me empty or disheartened.  He leaves the good.  He washes away the bad.  Feeling the sand shift underneath me just helped me realize His thoughts may change about me.  But they are all good, and so many they cannot be counted, far more than the sand.  And, let me just say, that is a lot of goodness! 

Upon coming home, I took the girls to visit my sister and her family in Texas.  We had an amazing trip.  Lots of cousins racing through the house, laughing, playing, scheming.  I am so glad all of the kids are actually old enough to just go play without needing help from the grownups.  It was nice to sit and talk with grown-ups, to laugh and plan and just carry on.  A much needed break from reality was great! 

And, now, I find myself in the midst of figuring out how to just keep going.  I am not sad about my Grandma like I was, especially because I know where she is, that she is waiting for me, and that she isn't hurting or confused anymore.  But, I find myself wondering what people will say about me when the time comes.  I so long to be the woman of God that has it all together and all figured out.  But, really, does any woman of God really fit that description?  We all have flaws, and God knows all about them, because He put them there.  But how do we depend on God to get us through those weak spots? 

You know, this spot I am in completely feels weak.  I am so incredibly tired.  I have less than 7 months left of school.  I have less than 7 classes.  I have an amazing GPA.  I have worked hard.  But how do I stay strong enough to finish this thing?  Then, I look at the obvious.  I am a 28-year-old woman waiting on God to provide me with someone to spend the rest of my days with.  Obviously, I don't need this man to complete me, provide for me, or make me someone I know I'm not, but I so long for something more than I have.  I try to be content.  I try to wait.  I try to not take matters into my own hands.  And then, that stupid voice in the back of my brain nags at me: What is wrong with you that no one is interested?  You will never ever measure up.  And, in those moments, I am learning what it feels like to fully rely on God to make me who I am going to be.  I am learning that I have to shut those voices up and walk with Him, even when I'd much rather do it the only other way I know how, which didn't involve Him the first time.  I have the most amazing little girls on the face of the planet.  But, there are days, I just need help.  Not even so much for them, but for me.  I know they need a present and positive male role model.  I get that.  But, I also get that I need someone to give me another perspective on what they need and what they don't.  So, I wait. I pray.  I thank God for the miracle underway.  And it is hard.

I want this to be encouraging.  I want someone to read this and say, "Wow.  That is just what I needed."  Except, I have used this to complain about my plight instead of focus on how amazing it is to be free from abusive situations, to be able to make Godly choices for my kids and myself, and to be able to be self-sufficient, more or less.  To think about all of the ways God has helped me make it through this wilderness.  To think of the blessings that I have, and not because life was easy, but because I have learned to lean a little harder on God.  He is the God of the impossible.  Thinking back over some of the miracles Jesus performed in his time on Earth can only prove my miracle will happen.  School will eventually end.  I will have the strength to maintain my grades and walk tall across the stage at graduation.  There is an incredibly special man out there looking for us, allowing God to lead him here.  It will happen.  After all, Jesus not only healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and walked across water, He conquered the grave.  Writing my happily ever after will be easy-peasy after that! 

I hope this post finds all of you out there preparing for an incredible Easter weekend.  I know we are ready for at least 2 egg hunts, if not a third.  The girls are happy, and I am happy they know why we celebrate.  Jesus is risen and alive in my heart.  Nothing better than that!  I am gonna get to ironing Easter dresses and getting ready for a fun-filled celebration weekend.  Happy Easter!!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Scars

Ok, so before I write this post, I am just gonna say it.  Most of the thoughts that have been going around in my head all started yesterday afternoon.  You see, I spent most of yesterday afternoon priming and painting the bathroom the little girls and I share a new color.  So, the thoughts that randomly popped into my head either could have been Spirit-led or totally just paint fumes.  I will let you decide, but if you feel like the paint may have gone to my head, maybe just this once, don't mention it to me...  ;)

After thoroughly re-organizing the garage yesterday morning, I decided it was time to tackle my bathroom.  I dearly love my little sister.  However, I seriously question her love for all things green.  She and her husband stayed in the basement I call mine for a few months after her oldest daughter was born.  Not joking, every room was a different shade green.  At one point, six spaces in this house were green of some sort.  We used to tease her, because we could all see exactly which rooms were hers at one point.  If it was green, chances were really good it was hers when it was painted.  Thinking about it, I don't think a single room is green in her house now.  Wonder why...  I really do love her.  She is an awesome little sister.  Anyway, before I totally get distracted, I will keep moving.  So, this split pea soup green bathroom that I have lived with for way too long was finally going to see its last day.  I gathered up spackle, tape, rollers, brushes, paint, primer, a ladder, paint trays and cups, and a few other items needed to get the job going.  I prepped the bathroom, sanded some rough places on the walls, repaired some small nail holes, and taped around about a million fixtures.  It looked a lot like this:

This really did not do the green color justice.  It was not a muted color.

It was around this point that I began to either be totally impressed upon by God or be trapped with paint fumes for a little too long.  I started to think about how my heart is so like those walls.  (Em, if you are reading this, please don't be offended.  I just really don't like green walls, not that there is anything wrong with them, they just aren't me...)  The walls of my heart used to be this nasty disgusting shade of pea soup green, with little holes every now and again, a few gash marks here and there, some funky flaking going on around the edges.  Not really thinking I could be anything more than ugly.  Worn out.  In need of some repairs and fresh paint. 

As much as I hate to think about it, a lot of the ugliness I put there myself.  I can't even begin to express how often I heard I was worthless, stupid, unimportant and without ability to be beautiful.  Eventually, I didn't need to hear it to just know it.  Something I learned early in school was the difference between common knowledge and knowledge you had to back with proof.  Common knowledge was basic; something everyone knew.  Anything else needed a citation, proof that it was fact, evidence going for the statement.  Well, me being lower than scum was pretty much common knowledge.  If you don't believe me, well, let's be nice and just say it was accepted as common knowledge.  I knew I would never be a good enough wife, mother, housekeeper, fix-it man, cook, or anything else.  The harder I tried, the worse I felt, the worse I became.  Eventually, I would just walk around doing my normal day-to-day stuff and bad mouth myself.  I knew it was going to happen anyway, so I may as well get part of it over with.  The worst part, you ask?  The thought that I would never get any better.  Nothing I would ever do would change any of this common knowledge.  It was fact, believed completely, unchangeable.  I began to really tear myself down so I didn't have so far to fall when other people in my world did, because in that part of my life, it was only a matter of time.

Filling in the holes, sanding down the rough spots, I started thinking about how God will soften our hearts to things around us.  He will start gently taking care of the blemishes, the ugly spots, long before we allow him to finish the work.  For me, this started last year with the book You're Already Amazing by Holley Gerth.  This book taught me to replace ugly words and lies with God's truth about me - straight from the word of God.  God just started filling in hole by hole, gouge by gouge, until all I had left were the little white patches, all I had were the scars.  Every once in a while, one of those scars would burst open, a fresh wound would appear.  Little by little, I started learning where to turn when I experienced "ugly" moments.  Replace the yuck with truth, ask for help and encouragement, and walk forward knowing I was only ugly or worthless or unimportant or stupid if I allowed myself to be that way.  I made the choice to refuse to believe it. 

Then came the fun part of priming it.  In all honesty, I am just going to say I hope I never, ever, ever have to paint the bathroom ever again.  In my best Taylor Swift voice, like ever.  Seriously.  Anyway, it was at this point that I was frustrated, a little lonely, a little more than sore (more from lifting and moving boxes all morning than painting), and starting to throw myself a mini pity party.  I decided I was done complaining.  I was going to just be thankful for a new coat of paint.  Literally, not symbolically.  So, I began thinking and praising for what I did have.  It made me really start thinking about how God must feel when we finally let go.  We aren't quite finished, but we get to be healed and washed clean.  Priming that bathroom did not mean I was anywhere near done, but it did mean I had a workable canvas.  It made me really think about whether or not I was letting the heavenly artist do his work, or if I was going to keep undoing what was already done.  Keep gouging those weak areas that weren't completely dry and ready for the next step, or if I was going to allow God to sand them down and make them usable.  He had my battered, bruised, hardened heart.  He made some repairs, but I wasn't his finished creation just yet.  What was I going to allow him to do? 



By the time I finally got to put on some soft, romantic pale lavender paint on those primered walls, I thought I was gonna do some happy dancing.  I just started to think about the ugly that those walls were, but how amazingly beautiful they were gonna be when I was finished.  I am not God, nor do I want anyone to think that I think I am.  But, I did start to think about the way God must feel when he sees one of his daughters walking forth in renewed beauty.  When we finally let his mighty hands cover up all of those ugly, battered places and make them fresh, renewed, beautiful.  I felt so happy, so relieved to be done.  I just wanted to sit in there and soak it all in.  Yeah, I know this sounds ridiculously silly, because I really sound crazy, but He does this awesome thing in us, and just wants to sit back and enjoy it with us. 

I guess my questions tonight are these:  Can you praise him while he's filling in your holes?  What about when he's wiping the canvas clean?  Do you praise him when the work is nearing completion or just run to the next thing?  He has a plan.  He has a vision and a dream for you.  To take you from ugly pea soup to peaceful, soothing pale lavender.  Just wait for him.  It is a process.  Praise him.  Thank him.  Let it go.  Quit destroying the work he is doing, and let him be the artist.  Just as I had a purpose and a plan with that sandpaper, those rough times are just softening you, getting you ready for something bigger and better.  Are you ready?  Cause He's waiting with exactly what you need to be healed and whole, refreshed and renewed, beautiful. 




Friday, February 15, 2013

Shameless Persistence

I am almost to the halfway mark of my senior year.  Not quite, but almost there.  For the last 4 weeks, I have struggled with a class that has kicked my behind, in more ways than one.  It has taught me to endure through more than the first week, it has taught me to open my mind and accept things that are not in agreement with me, and that I can do this.  It is so funny, because today, this is school.  Two weeks ago, this was being a single mom.  Two years ago, this was a divorce.  Six years ago, this was a miracle baby I couldn't imagine having.  Whatever this is for you, I am sure you can relate.

This class has been a hard one, probably more so in my head than actually in the classroom.  I was struggling with it once, and dropped it within the first week.  It just was so overwhelming.  The syllabus was beyond my understanding, and I just couldn't wrap my mind around it.  The instructor was difficult to work with.  Then, Jess got sick in the second week of this same class when I was forced to drop it a second time.  My kids are my first priority, but I also don't want my grades to suffer because of them, so over the last few years, a few courses have been dropped in the first few days to help ease stress.  I took another class instead, and was confronted with this one again at the beginning of the year.   I have never wanted to quit so bad in my life.  But, I didn't.  I refused defeat.  I refused to quit.  I refused a lot, actually, but I have three more days of this class.  I can make it, I think.  ;)

But, really, isn't that what life is typically like?  There is always some battle we have to fight.  There is always that person that rubs us the wrong way.  There is always that situation we desperately want different.  There is always something preventing us from having happiness or complete peace within our homes.  We all say, "If I can just make it through __(fill in your blank here)___, then I will be joyful again."  Our focus becomes making it out alive, instead of being happy right where you are and finding joy within the craziness. 

Since the beginning of the year, I am more than guilty of making that statement several times a day, most often to myself, underneath my breath, but still.  It recently hit me that instead of being content where I am, I keep allowing myself to postpone contentment until the circumstances are right for it.  I find myself struggling to keep my head above water, because I am completely missing the boat.  I love the story of Peter walking on the water.  For the last six months or so, it has just spoken so many life lessons over my life.  Being bold, asking for what you want, trusting that it can happen, what faith can do, and stepping out.  Also, learning mistakes happen, and that Jesus is so incredibly quick to forgive and move on, even in our human inability to fully trust and believe.  I recently heard another add-on to this story.  The storm was still raging around Peter when Peter stepped out of the boat.  The waves and storm did not ease until after Jesus saved Peter from sinking and they were both back inside the boat.  Peter prayed, and his miracle happened while the storm was raging, but his faith, his lack of trust and communication stopped it from happening in the way I think Jesus intended it to happen. 

My pastor has been doing a series on prayer for the last several weeks.  It has been amazing, but I have felt so discouraged upon leaving.  I am not an awesome prayer warrior.  But, I pray often throughout my day.  The pastor has said more than once to use shameless persistence.  Keep praying until you get it.  So, let me tell you.  I have been shamelessly persisting.  I was shamelessly persisting that one same prayer again this week, when I felt God stir something up in me.  And, I was slapped.  Hard.  Straight across the face. 

You see, when we are going through whatever "this" may be, we probably pray about it all the time. It is that one need, dream, hope, desire, longing, or promise that most often comes to mind.  We pray until we are blue in the face from praying about it.  We know if we do this or we do that, God will see our need and grant us our desire.  So, we pray.  We serve.  We worship.  We persist that one thing.  And, that one thing, I persisted.  Let me tell you, so much so, that I realized I was finding it hard to pray about anything else.  So, during this prayer time, I felt God ask me, "Cil, if I gave you this one thing, you would have nothing else to pray about, because this is ALL you pray about."  Talk about a revelation.  My communication with God had become consumed by what I want.  And, as usual, He was totally right.  It wasn't about what I was doing.  He will not answer because I prayed solidly for "x" amount of time.  He will answer because I believe He will do it.  Shameless persistence is great, but are you truly believing He will do what you are shamelessly persisting Him for?  Is your shameless persistence because it could be the "magic formula" that forces God to answer you?  Or are  you persisting the communication that is so vital to the relationship between yourself and God?

I spend a few minutes each day praying for the needs of those around me.  I am ashamed to admit that after I do this, I don't think much about their needs or their concerns.  I feel (or felt) as though I had placed a bright, red check mark next to their name and could move on.  Granted, sometimes a person comes to mind throughout my day, and changes that, but for the most part, the above is true.  Instead, I focus on myself, my girls, our wants, our needs, and praise God for the things I know He is doing.  And that one thing.  Prior to last weekend, it had become all consuming.  You know, I really thought it was okay to be consumed by it, because after all, I was praying about it so often.  I wasn't taking control of the situation and running with it.  I was praying and waiting and waiting and praying.  But, the lack of answered prayer began to cause discouragement, unhappiness and honestly, it was a joy stealer.  I was looking for the answer, for the specific formula, so that I could pray, have my prayers heard, and be done, moving on to that next thing on my list of needs or wants.  And, wow, does that sound so incredibly selfish. 

This week, I have tried to maintain the prayer, but focus more on those around me and the things He is doing that I see right now. I feel renewed hope, more joy and contentment in the things I have, instead of just wanting or needing more.  It is so funny, how a year or two ago, I would have taken the reprimand with shame and guilt and allowed it to stand between me and God.  I am so incredibly blessed to realize He can love me and correct me without me needing to be ashamed and it has allowed me to feel more connected with this amazing God I serve.  I realize that it is okay to shamelessly persist something, but only when you are communicating with God about every aspect of your life, not just that one thing.  I guess my thought for the day is this:  Are you talking to God about every aspect of your life, or just that one thing you so desperately want?  Are you telling Him all about you, or just a tiny part about you?  He wants us to seek Him with all our heart, to be thankful for what He has done and is doing, and He wants us.  More than He wants to do good things for us, He wants to know us, to talk with us and love us.  We are His prized possessions.  So, yes, by all means, shamelessly persist.  But don't forget about everything else. 

As I re-read this, I realize I need to clarify something on my heart.  I am in no way thinking my Pastor's words were wrong.  They were so incredibly not.  My understanding was biased to my particular situation and I only heard the parts that I wanted to hear, causing me to misinterpret what his meaning really was.  God wants our shameless persistence, with our entire lives resting in His capable hands, not just a part.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Strength is SO Overrated...

I am totally going on a massive lack of sleep, so I am pretty punchy.  Cassie had some issues that kept her up throughout last night, then when I finally got her to stay asleep around 3 this morning, Jessie woke up and was up until after 4.  I didn't fall back asleep until after 5.  This Momma is tired.  And punchy.  And in seriously rare form.  Might even be wise to just not read this post.  Or it might be pretty comical and full of craziness.  Who knows.

You see, yesterday, I prayed that God would help me wake up so that I could spend some extra prayer time with Him.  Next time I pray that prayer, I will absolutely be more specific.  I need to actually get some sleep before I get woken up.  However, I haven't prayed over my girls like I did last night in a long time.  Okay, well, really, ever.  It was pretty cool.  And irritating that they had to be awake all night.  And exhausting.  And I wish I had a magic pill that would take my crankiness away tonight.  And, on top of that, I am just about out of coffee.  And I can't concentrate on schoolwork, not at all.  Okay, my complaining is done.  Well, I hope it is done. 

Have you ever been given a compliment that was genuine and kindhearted and totally awesome, only to realize you wish you didn't have that quality?  I was given some encouragement tonight, and I so needed it.  I experienced a total weak moment in the midst of tired and school and schedules and just one more thing, and lashed out.  I shouldn't have, and will probably find myself apologizing again because my mouth just spouts off at just the right second.  I am seriously going to have to watch work on that.  Or maybe just staple my mouth shut and cancel texting privileges on my phone.  I started my morning this morning with an apology for something my mouth got me in trouble for.  Hey, at least I know I am good at something, right??  If only I could just have a surgeon put my foot in my mouth and keep it there.  Would probably be way easier...

Anyway, it made me sort of think about how the grass always seems greener.  When we see that amazing Mom at Kroger, using a quiet, kind voice that just screams Proverbs 31 woman, we envy her patience.  Or we envy her compassionate spirit.  Or we long for an extra helping of organizational skills we lack.  Maybe it is the Mom on the PTO board whose makeup is always perfect, clothes impeccable, and seemingly has never known what it is like to have single mom struggles.  And we sit there and wonder what they did that was so right, that they got the perfect life.  Or the perfect patience.  Or the perfect hair.  Or the perfect husband.  And the list just goes on.  We immediately start to compare.  Okay, I immediately start to compare. 

Have you ever stopped to wonder how that woman got the patience to not be frustrated by two squirming toddlers fighting over who has the bigger cookie?  Or that single mom who the strength to just keep it all together?  Or that parent at the school who just has the perfect life?  Over the last few years, I have realized I am strong.  I can endure many challenges.  I can overcome worry and doubt and hating myself.  But, how do we get to that place of knowing we are capable? 

Oh yeah, by walking it out.  By living it, one day at a time.  And, it's tough.  I hate that in order to gain more of something, we have to work harder to achieve it.  It is like training for that next big run, or acing the final, or making your marriage work.  It doesn't happen overnight.  We are each given circumstances to help us train for the bigger goal.  For me, my strength came from experiences I don't really like to think about, and God knows, I sure didn't want to experience them.  However, during those tough times, I realized how capable I really am, because He never leaves my side, never quits fighting for me.  I have been given the tools I need for this season of my life.  And, when this season is over for me, I will possess tools that will be valuable to someone I can help later.  I might wish I had more patience or compassion or most definitely a quiet spirit.  What I don't realize is that in order to gain those things, God is absolutely going to put me in situations that will require those actions to be practiced and proven. 

It is so simple to look backwards and compare myself to others, to my old self, to my closest friends, to my greatest enemies.  To wish I had their lives instead of mine, to wish this or wish that.  And I think of one of my favorite verses, "Forget all that - it is nothing compared to what I am going to do (Isaiah 43:18)."  Forget about it all.  Don't waste time comparing where you were to where you are now.  Don't worry or wish or fret over what is or isn't happening right this second.  I'm just gonna be honest, the compliment was a hard one for me.  I am tired of being strong.  I am not strong because I want to be, but because I have no other choice.  It was one of things, I immediately started comparing myself to others around me.  I want their life, their patience, their house, whatever.  I want to be better at ________...  I had a much needed meltdown tonight.  I was tired.  It was necessary.  It has been a WAY emotional weekend, leaving me high and low and all over the place.  I'm pretty sure I was described as a roller coaster yesterday.  Side note: you know who you are, and let me know if credit is required...  ;-)  Focusing back, I know comparing myself is only going to lead to failure.  I can't be anyone except myself.  Anything less than me is failure.  I have strength.  I have the ability to keep going when I don't really want to.  And the most awesome thing is that I have the ability to look up when I don't feel able to do anything else.  Tonight, I feel weak.  I feel tired.  I feel unfocused and incapable.  And then I remember, I know who holds my tomorrow.  I know who gives me my strength, and who is in charge of laying it all out for me.  Philippians 3:8 says it perfect.  "Everything else is worthless, when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."  Tonight, I feel weak and unable to take anything else, but I know strength comes when I hit my knees.  I'm tired, but He gives rest to the weary.  I feel incapable, but know that I am capable of anything with God on my side.  Yup, it sounds cheesy and just so easy when I read it.  It seems so simple, like magically all my problems just vanish into thin air.  Doesn't work quite like that, but I can sleep knowing my peace, my strength, my hopes are in Someone who only wants His best for me.  And how can I not feel strong and capable and ready to fight these stupid battles with that going for me?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

From Victim to Victorious

Whew.  My heart is hammering inside of my chest and I feel like I am going to throw up.  The thought keeps going around in my head.  "I AM GOD.  Do this thing.  Get it out.  Do this for my glory."

Obedience is a really difficult choice.  It requires a sacrifice, an action and a continuous walking it out.  It requires confidence that God will see you through, and boldness to finish it.  You see, we can choose to obey, make the sacrifice and allow God to move in it.  Or, we can run.  Most of my life I have chosen run.  Get out.  Get away.  Don't worry about it, just get away from it.  Mom says no, I say yes.  I was a very very rebellious teenager.  Funny as it is seems now, my rebellion turned criminal through a simple act of disobedience.  That simple act of disobedience took me away from God, my family, and the possibility of a life with way less pain and struggles. 

That one simple act of disobedience and disregard turned into one massively huge redemption story.  It amazes me today how God can take something so ignorant, rebellious and unwise and turn it into the most amazing story of love and grace that I have ever heard.  It is my story.  It is hard to think about.  Hard to accept.  And even harder to understand how His love for me surpasses it all.  Though my heart pounds, healing and glory occurs when I open my mouth (lol, or swipe my fingers over the keyboard) and give God the praise He fully deserves.   That another life will be redeemed because of the testimony He has allowed me to speak out. 

When I sixteen years old, I disregarded the religion and church that I was raised in.  I hated the rules, the regulations, the chains that the church placed upon my life, and decided if that was God, I wanted nothing to do with Him.  I denied there was a God, and that He was just some big, cruel, coldhearted joke.  The words pain me to now to realize how reckless I was.  How easily I walked outside of his protection and love all for the sake of me.  I was involved with a boy that none of my family, friends or church approved.  I ran away to be with him, and am incredibly thankful God's protective hand followed me.  Even after I denied Him, offended Him, walked away from Him, He danced all over me.  I don't feel the need to go into specific details, but His hand covered drunkenness, sexual immorality, a very unplanned pregnancy and the horrifying miscarriage that ended it.  This thought rages within me, that God used for good what the enemy intended to take me down with.  When I think back about things my 17-18 year old body was walking through, I have no doubt in my mind that God was there, even in my disobedience and refusal to accept Him. 

I got married at the very young age of 18.  I knew then, deep down, that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing, but really thought love could fix it all.  You know, that fairy tale we all think marriage and happily ever after is.  At that point in my life, I had suffered a miscarriage at 14 weeks gestation, physical and emotional abuse, and the reality that there was nothing I could do to fix it but get married.  I did love him.  And, deep down, I know he loved me the best way he knew how to. 

By the time I was 21, the marriage had created an amazing daughter, but with the struggles of parenthood came escalating abuse.  In addition to the abuse, I was dealing with the trauma of another 3 miscarriages.  I left my husband for a brief period when I saw that he was capable of killing me. The night before I left, he tried to strangle me.  I realized surviving that night meant things had to be different.  I tried to find comfort and solace in the church of my childhood, but was only offered the pain of going back into a violent, terrifying marriage.  I loved God, I wanted His protection and His love, and was told the only way to keep all of that was to not break my marital bonds.  So, I went back.  Human promises were made to me.  Promises of hope, a new marriage, and a fresh start.  Within 3 months, the honeymoon was over.  The emotional abuse, verbal attacks and alcohol was a new burden for me.  A very unexpected burden.  In my naivety, I expected butterflies and rainbows and unicorns.  I realize now that I wish the physical abuse hadn't stopped so that the mental abuse might not have happened or been as severe.  Those wounds are far more difficult for me to handle and deal with than the bruises that have been gone for years.   And, I begain to completely give up on God loving me.  I began the process of convincing myself I was too broken and screwed up for Him to even look twice at me.  He wouldn't asnwer my prayers, nor would he fix me, because I disobeyed and I just wasn't worth the time or effort.

Years passed, and my hopelessness turned into desperate despair.  Through the grace of God, I found Northridge Church.  I was able to recommit my life, and realize that a personal relationship with God was not only possible, but was mine for the taking.  I went to a women's retreat while in the early stages of my last pregnancy.  A personal relationship between God and I happened.  Shortly after the event, He spoke precious, sacred promises over my life and the lives of my daughters.  He began to lead and guide my paths, though I was afraid to wade into deeper waters with Him.  I wasn't sure what He was going to ask or want from me, so I kept Him at arms length.  I wanted love and acceptance and forgiveness and a prosperous marriage, but felt lost and hopeless.  I fought with feelings of unworthiness and knowing that I really wasn't worth it. 

During the final months of my pregnancy, I sank into the depths of depression.  I despised the situation I was in, and felt like God didn't hear my cries or care about the promises He spoke over me.  I was frustrated, discouraged and felt completely alone.  During this period of time, I was made aware of how out of control my life had become, and started focusing on becoming dependent upon God and trying to be who He wanted me to be.  This lasted for almost 18 months.  Fighting to maintain a relationship with God, knowing it was destroying my hopes for a solid marriage.  Knowing that I couldn't leave, or I would lose my salvation, the personal relationship I had with God.  And then, knowing my relationship with God was the most secure thing I had going for me, so I must just have to tough it out.  Through months of prayer, fasting and waiting on God, I discovered who He was.  That He did love me, and didn't want me to stay somewhere so harmful to the health and safety of my daughters and myself.  In this period of my life, I was given release from my marriage.  I was frustrated, as I was a Christian woman, and this divorce contradicted everything in my Bible.  I made a commitment to my marriage in front of God, and felt so confused as to how and why I could possibly be being freed from it.  I felt like I would surely be rejected at church, that people would call me a hypocrite and make me go back.  And I was wrong.  So wrong. 

During the months the divorce was being processed and finalized, my life was a living hell.  I was scared.  I was alone.  I was afraid of my own shadow.  Everything my ex-husband had threatened, spoken over me, and promised me would happen was happening.  The emotional scars were beyond what I thought could be fixed.  I thought I was going to be broken for the rest of my life.  I started seeing a Christian counselor, and was quickly diagnosed with PTSD.  I would sleep for maybe 2-3 hours each night, only to be woken intermittently with nightmares and panic attacks so severe I literally wanted God to let me die.  Fear reigned over my life.  I tried to cling to the promises I had been given, cling to the faith that had told me to move.  Almost a year into the depression/PTSD/hell I was in, God snapped His fingers and everything just stopped.  The nightmares quit happening, the panic attacks slowed down. 

You see, I had started speaking life over me.  I had started speaking the promises of God over me, over my anxiety, over my stress.  I had women surrounding me with love, support and prayers.  I started focusing on relieving stress with exercise, conquering anxiety with the Word of God, and eventually started sleeping soundly through the night.  I proved the lies of my ex-husband wrong with scriptures I still carry with me daily.  I had to be fully broken before God could really begin fixing me, restoring me, redeeming me. 

Which leads me to right now.  God is amazing.  There are no words to describe who He is to me, or how much I know He loves me.  I had the amazing experience of serving on a team for an Encounter weekend this last weekend.  In preparing for it, I was asked a very simple question.  What has God redeemed for you?  What have you been redeemed from, Cil?  And, wow.  I sat there, in complete and utter denial that this question would be posed towards me.  I wanted to run.  I wanted to get out.  I could feel panic bubbling up in my chest.  You see, the question wasn't only what I'd been redeemed from, but also stepping out in faith and obedience and telling 90 women what I had been redeemed from, too.  I felt God stirring in me, telling me it was time.  Let it out.  Finally, I stepped out.  I told the director that I hated my word, I hated the ugliness.  I hated the shame and the guilt that I had allowed another person so much control over me, who I was, and the pain that I allowed that person to cause me.  I told her my word.  Actually, she told me the proper term for my word, but I stepped out.  Within 10 minutes, I had received confirmation from God.  My devotion that morning read:


God uses life experiences to mold, train and equip us.  Sometimes what we want to hide - those horrible trials we want to forget - are the very things He wants to use the most.  We all suffer trials.  When we surrender and lean on God, we come out the other side and He is glorified.  Nothing is worthless.  Everything has value.  God uses it all to shape us for our calling.*
 
At that moment, I knew I had done right by God.  I knew that He was going to be my strength, cover my shame, and be glorified.  Let me just say this, I underestimated God.  I seriously underestimated God.  I carried my sign almost a week later.  At first, I was ashamed.  I was disappointed in myself.  And, I was so gently reminded the only reason I would have had to carry the shame was if I hadn't followed God in what He wanted put out.  He redeemed me.  There is no shame in redemption.  There is no guilt, fear or judgement in redemption.  I was freed from captivity, and it opened me and prepared me for the most intensely emotional amazing weekend of my life.  Over the course of 46 hours, I was reminded exactly who He is and exactly the price He paid so I could live a life of redemption.  I am redeemed.  I am loved.  I am unworthy, but His sacrifice paid my debt. I realized being redeemed had a greater message.  I am no longer a victim, but instead victorious. 

 
 
****Devotion written by Wendy Blight.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ruby Red Slippers



 
Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted ruby red slippers.  Just like Dorothy.  I also wanted Toto, but that is a whole different story...  Anyway, I chased around a spunky, daring, little blonde wearing red sparkly shoes through the park yesterday.  These slippers ran through mushy mud puddles, squealed to go higher on the swings, and even swung herself across the monkey bars (yeah, ok, so she had a LOT of help with that one...).   The entire time I watched her tackle the scary "swinging" bridge, the super duper twisty slide, and go around the big sisters who kept telling her what to do, I thought about the hopes and dreams I had for her, really for each of her sisters, but she was the one wearing the shoes I envy, so...

Anyway, as a Mom, I find myself hoping and praying for blessings over my girls.  I pray they know enough challenges to make them strong, and still lose enough battles they understand how to savor victory.  I pray for good grades and college scholarships.  I pray for love and adventure.  But, most often, I find myself praying they know God better than I do.  I long for them to know Him so well that they don't make silly mistakes like I have.  I long for them to experience a life under His protection and His calling for them.  Not walking in disobedience, but knowing how to have the abundance and prosperity that comes from living a life of obedience. 
 
I don't typically have spiritual moments at the park, but stranger things have definitely happened.  As I was running after Jess yesterday, I realized how many hopes and dreams I have lost or changed.  As crazy as it is, it really did all start with the silly shoes and how much I wanted shoes just like that when I was little.  After many years, that dream sort of changed, and it helps to know that my kids have sparkly shoes.  I kept thinking about how to best shield and protect her from the mean girl cliques at school, bullies who steal ice cream money, or best friends who will inevitably stab her in the back.  I thought about all of the mistakes I have made, and the lessons I learned through them. 
 
I kept thinking about the goals I have for her as a parent, those things I so desperately want to give to her.  I kept thinking about the ways I cradle her, protect her, wipe away her tears.  And then realized again (in a wow moment) just exactly how much God feels towards us.  I know the Bible tells us in several different places that we as earthly parent give good gifts to our kids, and that God gives even greater things to those that really seek His heart.  I began to really think about the things I do for the girls, and the love that goes into those things.  Except, the reality part didn't hit me until later. 
 
Pushing her on the swing, Jessie kept crying out, "Mommy, push me higher!  I want to go higher!"  And, seriously, I felt God just speak over me, "Cil, I want you to go higher." I realized as I was laughing at her adamant squeals, I wanted nothing more than to go to that next level with God.  I want to be able to just know where I am with Him and exactly who I am with Him.  The last few weeks, I have spent more time praying, praising and reading than I have in quite some time.  My prayer life has grown, and I realize I just need to go a little higher, experience just a little more. 
 
I feel such an urgency this morning to just fully depend on God for those promises I am waiting for.  To just release my desires and dreams fully to His completely capable hands.  As I was laying in bed last night, I just felt so close.  I just felt that still small voice remind me His promises are never broken.  Waiting has always felt like doing nothing.  I hate that part of life.  I like to know I am doing all that I can to complete a task.  And, waiting feels like sitting around, doing nothing.  But this morning, waiting feels like I am doing something.  I am relying on Someone way bigger than myself to complete His promises to me.  I am releasing control of my situation to the Creator of my days.  And those two things most definitely do not feel I am doing nothing. 

Throughout this season of my life, I have often looked back and allowed myself to be discouraged, frustrated, just wanting something or someone to let me I am important, that I have value, even when all evidence points to the contrary.  For so many years, nothing I did could ever equal worth.  Nothing I did earned respect or an uplifting word.  As I read my devotion this morning, I got the most awesome reminder of who I am.  I am Cil, the one who Jesus loves.  I realized human words are just words.  They can be spoken.  They can be written.  They can be thought or even implied.  But, in all reality, people use them with such wreckless abandon that they often mean nothing to the person speaking them, but everything to the person receiving them.  We allow our tongue to just move all the time, without thinking about the real meaning.  But, when I think about what God says about me, I know they aren't just words.  They are promises, they are true, they are meaningful.  And, I am loved.  I am a marvelously made masterpiece, you know, the one that Jesus loves.  So, this morning, I sit back and complete the action of waiting.  Depending.  Relying.  Knowing that God's promises are eternal.  He won't take it back or change His mind.  He's got this, so I don't have to worry.  And, the awesome thing?  You don't have to either, cause you, too, are the one Jesus loves.