Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Notebook, some Letters and a Small Used Book Store

Our souls were one, if you must know
And never shall they be apart;
With splendid dawn, your face aglow
I reach for you and find my heart.

-Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

In 2004, I sat in a theater with a friend and watched as the story of The Notebook played out before me. I watched as a choice was made, a choice which would bring pain in one form or another. As the credits rolled, I sobbed. My friend sobbed. We left in tears both laughing at ourselves for being so corny. So silly.

Love like that doesn't exist. That kind of magic, that spark of romance, that kind of passion and love can only be found in the imaginations of truly great writers....

After seeing The Notebook, I set out to read every book ever written by Nicholas Sparks. As I read each book, unable to put them down, I was continuously overwhelmed by his stories. Each story oozing with love but dripping with some form of heartache. Each story left me baffled. How could such stories be written if this type of love didn't exist.

As I finished each book, I couldn't muster the courage to read The Notebook. I had fallen in love with the movie, that story, and I forever wanted it to stay the way I held it in my memory.

Fast forward twelve years....just four days ago I walked into a small used book store just minutes from home in search of a few books to read over my vacation. As I searched the shelves, there still in it's book jacket looking brand new, was the book I spent twelve years avoiding. As I pulled the book from the shelf, I knew it was time to read the words of the story I loved so much.
It took less than a day for me to finish. The story, the one I knew so well, drew me in and revealed itself in a whole new way. The story had new meaning. My perspective has changed.

As I read each word, I recognized my own story. I recognized the love described on every page. I understood the passion, the friendship, the commitment, and love that existed between two people so beautifully described.

As I read the words found in that story, I recognized the love of my husband for me. The familiar resemblance of his devotion, affection, commitment and selflessness. I couldn't restrain my tears but this time the sobs came from a different place. This time the tears that poured surfaced from a place of understanding and gratefulness as I realized that though Hollywood romance doesn't exist, God's love is most definitely real and it is amazing.

I went through hell for many years. I experienced hurt in a way that I'm not ever sure I've experienced before but I have now been given a gift.

I have been given a gift, a love that I never truly believe existed. I am the wife of a man who loves me well. I am his priority. I am his best friend. I am his confidant. I am his lover and, in his words, his soul mate.

For many years I believed the lie that this kind of love didn't exist. I was cynical and bought into the hype that love fades or becomes "more like a friendship" but now I know differently.

This week I've been away from my love, my other half 😉 Something that rarely happens because truthfully there is nothing I hate more than being away from him. But he loves me well. He left letters with one of his secret agents (I assume one of my children but no one will confess) which have been delivered to me each day reminding me of his love. I'm constantly overwhelmed by this gift I've been given.

My mom pointed out to me that he is setting the bar awfully high for my girls. I agree. And thankfully so. For me, my hope and my prayer for my daughters (and my sons) is that they see how well their mom is loved and never settle for anything less. I often remind them that if they are willing to wait for a man (or woman) who loves Jesus more than themselves....this kind of love does exist.

Love is patient; love is kind. Love isn’t envious, doesn’t boast, brag, or strut about. There’s no arrogance in love;  it’s never rude, crude, or indecent—it’s not self-absorbed. Love isn’t easily upset. Love doesn’t tally wrongs  or celebrate injustice; but truth—yes, truth—is love’s delight!  Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes, and endures no matter what. 

- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends.

-John 15:13

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bingo, the Senior Center and an attitude change....

Tomorrow is the fourth Saturday of the month.  To you, that might not mean anything, to me it means Saturday morning at the Senior Center playing Bingo. 

Every month, we head on over to the little downtown close by and play several, many, games of Bingo with a group of people who have a hard time seeing, hearing and oftentimes communicating.  It is sometimes exhausting and other times frustrating, but I know it is where I am supposed to be.

I am not going to sit here and lie by pretending that on the fourth Saturday of every month, I jump from my bed when the alarm sounds, with a huge smile on my face because...I don't. I typically let out a frustrated sigh as truthfully, I just want to stay snuggled up to my husband and sleep a little longer.  I want my morning to be mine. 

Last month was a bit of a game changer though.  Last month, we went alone.  There was no one to join in this time and we were left to handle the game and the dozen seniors waiting to play.  I woke up frustrated and annoyed that we had to go and were having to go alone.  

But then my attitude began to change.  My husband and I walked through the doors and were greeted with so many smiles.  So many happy to see us.  Thankful we were there. And suddenly, I felt small. Selfish. Frustrated with myself for only thinking of myself.

As we began to play, I looked around the room at the dozen or so people intently listening for the next number to be called and wondered, who shows them love?  Who visits them? What is their story?  I wanted to know. Then I looked over at my husband as he sat beside one of the older women and watched as he talked with her.  My heart exploded with love.  

I realized that morning that there is nothing greater than loving on those who need to be loved. I also realized that walking along side of my husband in ministry is one of the greatest blessings I have ever known in my life.  It isn't always easy but the way it allows our relationship to grow and blossom is worth more than any Saturday morning spent in bed.

This past Sunday, our pastor talked about service and worship. One of the things he said was this, "Worship should always precede the work, not the other way around."

Those words were powerful.  I have such a strong desire to love on people. I want those around me to experience the love and presence of Jesus the way I have.  I want those around me to know Him the way I do and desire to sit at His feet and worship. 

However, the people I want to love on are those who are hurting the way in which I once hurt. Women and children who have suffered at the hands of abuse or those trudging through the throes of divorce wounded and scared. I want to show them the hope and love that comes from walking with Jesus and allowing Him to lead through the dark times.  That kind of worship, that kind of love comes easy for me.

Sitting there playing Bingo last month I was overcome by the question: "How could God allow me the privilege of serving and ministering to those women and children hurting if I couldn't do something as simple as playing Bingo once a month with those who are lonely?"

Then a passage from Luke jumped out at me....

"If you are faithful in small-scale matters, you'll be faithful with far bigger responsibilities.  If you're crooked in small responsibilities, you'll be no different in bigger things."

I have great plans for myself but I recognize that the plans God has for me are so much greater than anything I could put together on my own.  So for now, I will continue to linger at His feet, allowing His love to consume me so that His love will flow through my life and into the lives of those who need love.  And with that, I will choose to love on those He places in my path because there is truly nothing greater than loving those who need to be loved and being loved by the ONE who loves without condition. 

So worshiping at His feet, I choose to stay. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Defeat of the Monster

The darkness weighs heavy.  The silence, almost deafening. You step out into the sunlight only to find that the world you once knew, gone. Darkness distorts the landscape and faces encircling you. You begin walking, looking for something familiar only to find that you have stumbled into a world far from the one you once lived.

Familiarity and safety have evaporated into lingering moments of fear and isolation. Before you drifted off to sleep the night before, the world appeared normal. However, during the night, while you slept, something happened.  Everything changed.

While you slept, he slithered from under your bed and began to gnaw away at any semblance of normalcy you once knew.  The hiss of his lies filled the ears of the eagerly awaiting crowds as they devoured away at the gossip that allowed them to forget their own troubles for the moment. Suspicion and judgement crept into their minds as darkness began to make its way into the world you once lived.

And now, here you stand, alone and unable to recognize the landscape where you once found safety.  Everything has changed. The monster surfaced while you slept and succeeded with his plan to kill and destroy anything daring to step into his path.

This is your life. As you stand in horror and watch it begin to crumble you hear their shouts of betrayal.  “Adulterer, Slanderer, Unfit Mother, Drug Addict, Alcoholic!” Their chant rings through the streets as you stand in silence and disbelief.

While you were sleeping, sides were taken.  You never even stood a chance.  Defeat was determined the moment the monster spoke.

Standing alone, the cold trickle of betrayal makes its presence known. You part your lips to speak only to realize no one is listening. The hour of escape has passed.  Your moment of being heard, long gone.

But then, you hear a sound.  A faint whisper. You turn, searching for the object of its origin. But nothing. The words barely audible. You close your eyes and focus. You stand and wait.

The noise of the crowd is maddening. The chaos is crippling. If the noise would only stop if even for just a moment. And then, it happens. That voice, you hear it again.  It is as if you have been picked up and placed miles away from the crowd. The silence is beautiful as the melodic words fill the air.  Warmth invades your heart as you hear, “You are Mine. I have you!”

The voice is undeniable. You recognize the love, the peace as the words linger over you. You know the voice.  The familiar words offer hope to the anxious feelings of your heart as you realize, He is here!

The monster will not win.  Victory does not belong to those who seek evil. Yes, the monster will create chaos and leave a wake of destruction in his path, but he cannot destroy you. 

You my darling sister are a daughter of the King.  He holds you in His mighty hand and covers you with the feathers of His faithfulness and love.  The darkness that surrounds you is only temporary.  Yes it is dark and cold but it has a purpose.  God has a plan.  He is going to use you.  He is going to raise you up.  He is going to take every broken piece that the monster has destroyed and restore it. But not just restore it.  He is going to redeem your story and give you wings that will allow you to soar above the chaos and see His hand at work. 

My darling sister, it will take time.  It will be difficult. This kind of transformation is never easy but the reward will be great.  You will witness the power of God work in a way that you never thought possible.  You might not witness the demise of your monster but you will be in the hands of the most High and you will experience His love, His grace and His faithfulness in  way that will change you forever. 

Hold on tight my beloved sister. Your journey has just begun.  The road will be rocky and the storms will rage but when the sun appears, you will know, you have been rescued!

Who will back me up when evildoers come against me?
    Who is willing to take my side against the wicked?
 If the Eternal had not come to my rescue,
    my soul would have descended to the land where death silences every voice.
When I said, “My foot is slipping!”
    Your unfailing love, O Eternal One, held me up.
When anxiety overtakes me and worries are many,
    Your comfort lightens my soul.
But the Eternal has been my citadel;
    my God, a sure safe haven.
Psalm 94:16-19, 22

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What I wish my friends knew....

I wasn’t always this person. The one full of doubts constantly wondering if you’ll truly stick around.  I wasn’t always the person who cried so easily at the smallest of things. And I wasn’t the person who kept people at arm’s length but instead the one who greeted everyone I met, even the strangers, with a hug. 

Walking away from abuse does not mean you get to walk away from the scars that have formed.  It doesn’t mean an instant healing of the heart. Sadly, instead, life goes from constant chaos to learning how to live again in a world that can be insensitive to those who have spent years enslaved in emotional bondage.

Life has become a struggle.  A constant battle to find the good in those around us. To trust that those we meet have pure intentions not looking to take something from us through control or manipulation.

We live with the obstacles of continuing triggers that shake us to the core when we are reminded of the past, the trauma we experienced. Nightmares that wake us in the middle of the night leaving us exhausted when sleep can’t be found.  The moments of fear that creep into our mind followed by the sudden fits of panic that steal our breath away often fill the hours of our days more frequently than we like.

The constant need to explain ourselves as the flood of emotions we often face leave us overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. The moments of turning inward as the waves of self-doubt still creep into our minds and leave us with feelings of emptiness. The embarrassment that arises from crying yet again from something as simple as a glass of spilled milk sends us scrambling for a safe place to hide.

If we could only make those around us understand what we’ve been through, those events that changed us from the fun loving, friendly and outgoing person we once were to the guarded and anxious person we are today, then life would get a little easier.

If only our friends could accept the person we are today.  To not question our every reaction or moment of silence.  To understand that our thought processes are nothing like their own as we no longer see the world through the rose colored glasses we once did. But instead, every situation meticulously dissected.

If only our friends understood the constant struggle our minds face as we attempt to navigate the relationships that surround us. If only they could see the ongoing battle with the thoughts that still linger from years living surrounded by lies then things might be a little easier.

Oh the things I wish my friends knew….but truly, more than anything, I wish they could know that girl…the one back then who always had a smile on her face and saw the good in everyone.  She might have been a bit naïve and trusted people more than she should but she was full of life and radiated joy.  Maybe one day, these friends will get a glimpse of that girl as their friendship and patience begins to restore the crushed and broken pieces of me. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Reflecting on the ruins....

Reflection...I often find myself reflecting as I drive. This past Tuesday was no exception.

I was driving, my daughter in the passenger seat, Glorious Ruins blaring on the radio, us singing at the top of our lungs, tears flowing as we worshiped together. It was amazing. It was therapeutic. But shouldn't have been?

For the past few days, I've felt like I was floundering. Like I'd jumped too high out of that amazing stream of tranquil water that typically leaves me full of peace but this time, I'm left gasping for air.

I had become my own worst enemy as my thoughts and emotions took over leading me to believe I was doomed. I was going to fail. I was going to die.

I felt totally alone and in fact, I thought I was. I was without hope and with no one to rescue me. I really had myself believing that life as I knew it was over.  Certainty of my impending doom left me stranded and believing I would never make my way back into the flow of His peace and blessing.

And then these words grabbed my heart...(click to hear Glorious Ruins: Hillsong)

Let the ruins come to life
In the beauty of Your name
Rising up from the ashes
God forever You reign

And my soul will find refuge
In the shadow of Your wings
I will love You forever
And forever I'll sing

Glorious Ruins: Hillsong

With those words, God once again began to breath life into my floundering, exhausted soul. Suddenly the fight, the feelings of wanting to give up, quickly subsided as He reminded me of the refuge found in Him. The safety and comfort that comes from resting in the peace of His mighty wings.

I have walked through fire before and His story of love and grace carried me through that fire but I had forgotten. I had lost sight of Him, of His truth.

Though daily, the enemy relentlessly tries to beat me down through an extensive list of avenues hoping I'll forget God's goodness while attempting to destroy my faith, leaving me to doubt the significant and unfailing love of my Daddy.  But each of those moments left doubting His love while questioning my worth are just wasted moments. He is always patiently waiting, wanting, longing for me to step into His glorious presence.

But in the end, He always brings the ruins back to life. And because of Him, I can hold my head high. Because of Him, each and every failure is lost because of that day when Jesus took His place upon the cross. And in that moment, that selfless sacrifice He made upon the cross is perfect example of the unconditional and amazing love of Jesus. And on those days, when I've waited too long to spend time with Him, He picks me up, wipes away the tears and He not only places me back in the streams of His mercy and grace but He breaths life back into my weary soul once again.

How enduring is God's loyal love;
the Eternal has inexhaustible compassion.
Here they are, every morning, new!
Your faithfulness, God, is as broad as the new day.