To Boldly Go …

Every journey begins with taking the first step, right?

I disagree; I believe that every journey begins with someone choosing to take the first step.  Bilbo’s journey didn’t begin until he had the courage to sign the dwarf’s contract and leave the comfort of Bag End. And so it is with every journey we take.

But the journey I speak of is not one of wandering foot, but of the state of the heart.

Forgiveness.

But how is this a journey? Because in order to walk in true, God-like forgiveness, you must make some very tough choices and you must see yourself for what you really are when you choose not to forgive.

This week, as part of a Bible study my husband and I are doing with friends, I read an excerpt from John chapter 8.  This is the story of the woman who was caught in adultery and thrown at Jesus’ feet for His judgement.  Often we remark the pride of the accusers and the graciousness of Jesus.  Both are true.  Normally, I identify with the woman in this story (it’s easy for us to side with the victim, isn’t it?).  But this time, I saw myself as the accusers.  What?!?

The whole story is about forgiveness.  Jesus’ forgiveness of a woman who had indeed sinned.  He was in fact the only person in this situation who was willing to forgive.  By Jewish the law the woman (and the man) should have been stoned to death. But Jesus chose to forgive; that’s who He is, it’s His nature.

But wait!  Hold the phone!  How could you possibly see yourself as the accusers, the ones about to hurl the stones?

Easy, I was refusing to show grace and forgive someone.

By refusing to forgive this person, I was taking the side the accusers and not of Jesus.  As I began to let that sink in, God began to remind me of several Bible verses.

Ephesians 4:32, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

I asked myself a few questions:   Am I being kind and tenderhearted towards this person?  Have I really forgiven them; I mean the kind of forgiveness that completely let’s them go free?

That’s what Jesus did for the woman caught in adultery.  After the accusers were convicted (as I was), they dropped their stones, one by one, and turned and walked away.  Why?  What would cause these men who were so passionate in their judgement to just walk away?

John 8:7, “They kept demanding an answer, so [Jesus] stood up again and said, ‘All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!’” 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t fit in the “never sinned” category.  Back to Ephesians 4:32, the writer tells us that we need to forgive each other the way God, through Christ, has forgiven us.  When God forgives, He forgets, He restores, and He comforts (Psalm 103:12, Psalm 51:7, 2 Corinthians 1:5).

To forgive as the world forgives is like a criminal record being expunged.  Someone who has committed a crime can seek to have the records of their crime sealed and hidden so that they can live their life free of that conviction.  The crime is concealed and the person can live as if it never happened.  The problem with this type of “forgiveness” is that there is still a record of it somewhere Courts of law and law enforcement officers still have access to this information.  It may be hidden, but it is not erased. 

Back to the story of the woman and her accusers.  After they had all left Jesus said just five words that completely altered her future, “…Go and sin no more,” John 8:11.

That is the example we must follow when forgiving others who have hurt us or offended us.  We must not only tell them we forgive them, but we must live out that forgiveness with our actions.

An easy mission?  Absolutely not!  A journey worth taking?  A resounding, YES! 

And it is a journey.  A journey by definition will take time, commitment and energy. We must choose to forgive each and every time we are offended (Matthew 18:22), keep no record of the event (that means don’t bring it back up; 1 Corinthians 13, Proverbs 10:12) and begin treating the person with kindness, love, mercy and compassion (Ephesians 4:32). That is, after all, what God has done for us, is it not?

Can you muster the courage to boldly go on this journey called true forgiveness?  

 

Living a Different Dream

Living a Different Dream.  That’s what happens when you’ve spent 9 months expecting and dreaming of your child who will become all that YOU have dreamed they will do with their lives.  Then, they are born, and the dreams you have are shattered and temporarily replaced fear, sorrow, and despair.  Over time, those feelings give way to hope, accomplishment, struggle, fatigue, joy and so many others as milestones are met, or missed. You watch as your child struggles to master simple tasks that other children their age learn with ease and minimal assistance.  It’s a journey that many parents know and live everyday of their lives.  All the days we are granted with our children are good days.  Some are simply better than others. And then one day, you begin to see life through their eyes.  And you begin to realize that they have NO concept of the expectations you set for them before they were born.  They don’t really pay attention to the fact that they are “different.”  They have an innocence that cannot be compared. They dream in their own way and in ways their parents and siblings could never imagine. They live life with a freedom and conviction that it, life, should be enjoyed to the fullest. The small details of life that consume yours and my everyday are not even a blimp on their radars.  They love with a deeper compassion and sincerity than I have ever witnessed.  There is a light in their eyes that burns bright as long as they are assured of the love of those closest to them.

And their parents?  They learn from their Different Dream Children on a daily basis.  They learn what matters, and what is insignificant.  They learn to love unconditionally, because after all to their child’s condition demands it.  They wake up early and go to bed late.  They labor in prayer over the future of their special child’s life; a life not granted to all children with disabilities or disorders.  They are a Mama Bear in defense mode 24/7 to ensure that no one hurts their innocent cub. They sit through IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings and talk extensively about which life skills we need to work on next and which field trip will teach their preteen what money is and how it should be used; some are never able to learn this skill. These Different Dream Parents still have hopes and dreams for their children, but now, they are different.  Now, their dream is to do anything and everything they can to make sure their child is successful.  A lot of times that success is as simple as a child learning how to turn a door knob and then throwing a celebration that would rival that of an Olympic Gold Medalist. 

Are you a Different Dream Family?  Perhaps you know a child or a parent that fits into the description above, though it fails to capture the fullness, is a fair glimpse.

I am one of those parents.  And today I was reminded that we are a Different Dream Family.  And I love this.  Some days are better than others, but my sweet girl always makes sure to remind me that what matters, matters; and what doesn’t matter, well … doesn’t!  Sometimes we miss it as parents and our kids remind us!

My challenge to Different Dream Parents is this:  take time today to see the world through your Different Dream Child.  What do they see?  What is their perspective?  And once you know, enter into their world and just be with them, on their level, in that moment. 

For those of you that know of a family living a different dream, you can get involved, too!  Did you know that a good deal of the feedback Different Dream Parents receive is negative?  That encouragement does not have many faces?  Most of the praise and attention is spent on the child and their accomplishments and I believe this to be wonderful and essential.  You can help though.  Offer a “Good job,” or “Way to go,” the next time you see that parent.  Let them know that you see their struggle and that it’s not in vain and that despite the less than better days, they are appreciated!  I would not be surprised if you saw those parent’s eyes well up with tears.

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Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

When Dorothy needed to find the answer to an impossible problem, how do I get home from somewhere that isn’t even on a map, she followed the yellow brick road.  Wouldn’t that make life so much easier?

I have been on a similar quest with this blog and wondering when I’ll find my yellow brick road.

I began writing during a very dark season of my life.  My husband and I had just lost our second pregnancy in two years and were mourning the loss of our Riley.  During that dark time, God began to show me that my struggles are not my own.  Meaning that everything I walk through in my life is a story meant to be shared with others.  My small, everyday steps of courage over the course of my life are meant to be shared so that others will know that they aren’t alone and there is hope.

But I have struggled with what to write next.  I began with the story of my now 14 year old daughter’s birth and diagnosis and a few of the struggles we faced in those early days.  Today she is a vibrant young lady who daily surprises me with what she is learning and overcoming.  God’s healing in her life has been progressive, yet consistent, and she astounds me with all that she has accomplished.  Should I continue her story and focus only on that aspect?  After all, it took great courage to get where we are today!

But since then, I have walked through many other battles and challenges in life that have required courage to overcome.  Shouldn’t I tell those stories, too?  Won’t those stories encourage others?

Perhaps the answer is that we all have stories of everyday courage that have caused us to triumph over a difficult and seemingly impossible situation.  Even as I type these words event after event rolls through my mind and I don’t know where to begin.

And then, I don’t want the focus to be on me, but on the God who brought me through each and every trial.  How do I share my story and make sure that I’m not neglecting the fact that without God none of this would have been possible?

But then I realize that God doesn’t give us a yellow brick road, does he?  Or maybe he does and I’m just not seeing it because there are things in my day-to-day life distracting me and skewing what is right in front of me.

But, like Dorothy, I realize that the first step to finding the answer to a difficult, even impossible, question is to begin.  Start.  Comienzo.  Iniciar. Starten.  Avviare.

But even that takes courage, doesn’t it?

So I am taking my own advice I gave to a friend-like-sister recently, “Just shut up and write  … the article!”

So, like God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning …” and Paul on his first missionary journey in Acts 13, “The two of them … went down …”, I will begin!

Where do you need to begin?  What big, or small, thing has God given you a directive on that you haven’t begun?  Sometimes, the biggest act of courage is a small step of obedience.  Where’s your starting point?

Zen-on-the-Yellow-Brick-Road

 

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=genesis%201:1&version=NLT

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%2013&version=NLT

Go with the strength you have!

Have you ever been in a place where you needed to accomplish something, but didn’t feel like you even had the strength to get out of bed?  I have been there many times in the past few years, but the most overwhelming time was more recently, just a short seven months ago.

Let me open the door for you to darkest days of my life in the hopes that you find courage, even a small amount, to continue moving forward in whatever you are facing in your life.

The day after my husband was released from the hospital for reconstructive arm surgery (due to the combination of a box cutter, a water heater, and a really bad decision) we both arrived at the OB/GYN’s office full of excitement and anticipation.  It was a short 30 minutes later, after an ultrasound, that we sat in the waiting room, joking around and already planning how we were going to announce our second pregnancy together.  Our first, some 2 years prior, had ended as abruptly as it had started with the loss of Avery, Our Small One.  I was diagnosed shortly thereafter of a condition, which untreated, makes getting and sustaining pregnancy impossible and dangerous.  But we had overcome that and were excited to go into the New Year with great anticipation of our newest family member.

That anticipation gave way to disappointment and great sadness as the doctor walked in the room and said, “I wish I had better news for you.”  My heart sank, my face fell, and my hopes were shattered.  Our baby had no heartbeat.  At 8 weeks into our pregnancy, our baby had never progressed past 6 weeks of gestational age.  I was stunned and in disbelief.  We had fought and worked for two years to get my body healthy enough to even think about conceiving.  We were successful and now this? Why this? 

The days and weeks that followed included many tears, a lot of waiting, an eventual dilation and curettage (D&C), a memorial service, and months of passing what should have been milestones such as gender reveal, nursery planning, baby showers, and lots of pounds gained on my part.

There was a period where I didn’t leave my house for 10 days.  I showered daily but barely got dressed in anything but pajamas.  I watched a lot of movies and I was simply stuck in my despair.  I was mad at God.  I was angry because he allowed us to get pregnant but didn’t spare the life of our child and He let us go through this … again.

But I knew that I could not stay there.  So one day, I got up, showered, got dressed for work, left the house, went to work, returned home and went to bed.  It wasn’t much, but it was a small step towards healing.  The next day, I did the same thing.  For weeks, my routine was the exact same from day to day, with no variations in schedule.  Then one day, I began to feel life coming back into my heart.  I began to miss being around people.  I began to miss hanging out with friends and church members.  And as the months passed, my heart began to heal.

And that healing continues even though I miss what could have been with Riley.  The excitement.  The anticipation.  They joy.  But from this loss I have found hope.  Hope because I am in deeper relationship with God and family and friends than I have ever found myself.  Hope because I know that this is not the end of our story.

But every story of healing has to have a beginning.  And the beginning of my healing is found in a Bible verse that I stumbled upon one day. 

“Go with the strength you have” (Judges 6:14). Those are the words God spoke to Gideon as he tried to coax him out of his hiding place to become the next Judge who would free Israel from the grips of their oppressors (see Judges 6). 

Now what you have to understand is that Gideon was not a warrior.  He was not even a solider.  He was found hiding in a wine press, threshing wheat so that he could eat.  On top of that, he was from the smallest family in all of Israel.  And yet God still called him mighty warrior.  Before he ever picked up a weapon, or fought a battle, God saw that if Gideon would just start his journey, that would be all the strength he needed.

And that is what I needed.  I just needed enough strength to start my journey.  Just enough to get up day to day.  Just enough strength to go to work.  Just enough strength to be social and start hanging out with friends again. 

That “just enough” strength is often times all that you need to start a great journey!  Like Gideon, and like me, no matter what impossibilities you are facing, all you need is this …

“Go with the strength you have!”  Nothing more.  You do not need to sit around and wait for this season to pass, or wait for something to change.  You need only to begin with what little strength you have and you will begin to see that God can take your small offering of courage and turn it into a great and might work.

What impossibilities are you facing today? More importantly, what strength do you have that you can use today to begin moving forward again?

 

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Where the story begins …

Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears.  ~Arthur Koestler

My story begins with a song of joy.  “A song of joy,” you ask?  Why, yes!  On August 6, 1999, A Song of Joy was born in a small hospital in Zachary, Louisiana.  She weighed a mere 5 pounds, 9 ounces but was by far the biggest event of my life, up to that point.  We call her Carie!  Today she is a vibrant young lady who brings joy and encouragement to everyone she encounters.  But her beginning was not a a time of celebration, as most births are.  Her beginning was filled with fear and uncertainty.

I had a smooth and uncomplicated pregnancy so when Carie was born we were surprised to find that she was three pounds below her expected weight and that I had been carrying thirty-five pounds of excess amniotic fluid.  Her first thirty-six hours were filled with tests, stomach pumps and IVs as doctors and nurses tried to learn why she was unable to keep down any of her feedings.  Since I was recovering from an intense, 72-hour labor and delivery, she spent much of her first day in the newborn nursery.

Around 4:00 am the morning after she was born, I woke up very suddenly and then made my way down to the nursery, scrubbed in, and went to Carie’s crib.  I learned that the nurse had just pumped her stomach for the second time and started her on a IV for nutrition.  They were not going to attempt any more feedings until after they did x-rays the next morning.  I just sat by my tiny newborn’s bedside and cried.

The following morning, the on-call pediatrician met with me and let me know that Carie’s upper bowel had not connected to her stomach and as a result she was unable to digest food.  At just 36 hours old, she would require surgery. The hospital in my home town was small and unequipped so Carie was scheduled to be transported to a hospital that had a level three NICU for newborns. So I signed the necessary papers and waited.

Scared.  Alone.  Waiting.

As new as my precious girl, was I to the life and experiences of a single mom. I had family nearby but they had all left for the night so we could rest. During the early morning nursery visit and the pediatric consult, I learned just how hard it was going to be walking through our experiences, just the two of us, Carie and me.  I remember calling my mom around 11 that morning, but what I remember the most is the weight of fear that settled on me after I hung up the phone.  I sat on the edge of the bed, in that cold, empty hospital room and cried.

As I look back on this moment in my family’s history, I wonder what it was inside of me, an 18-year old single mother, that got me through that day.  I was expecting to be snuggling my perfect baby girl and instead was facing an unknown outcome in the days to come.  I can only think of one answer.

Courage …

Not the kind of courage you see in movies where the army heads out to face the enemy and a few hours later the battle is over, and a victor declared – boom, history is made.

No, it’s the kind of courage that you need when the only option you have is to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.  It’s the courage that must override the fear in order to do what needs to be done when the question is, “How do I get through this?”

I wonder today what situation you are facing in your life that is requiring this kind of courage?  What impossible situation, uncertainty, or fear is dominating your life?  What mountains are in front of you that seem to difficult to overcome?  Everyone’s story is different and everyone’s experiences are unique.  What is not unique is that we all posses within us the ability to keep pressing forward by taking single, small steps that are filled with courage.

Whatever you are facing, don’t let your fear dictate your actions. Keep taking those forward steps of progress and eventually they will lead you to victory.

“I waited patiently for the Lord  to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:1-3).

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