learning to trust

rappel

It’s that time again – the end of one year and the beginning of another.

In some ways it feels surreal. Nothing very grandiose actually happens during the night of December 31, other than a big party in New York and a small family party with fireworks, games, and too much food. Nothing super special. The sun goes down, I sleep – albeit not many hours – in the same bed, and I wake up to the same house, with the same family, friends, work and life that I had when I when the day before ended.

On the other hand, a new year is a big deal. A calendar milestone. A chronological capstone. A time for reflection, evaluation, and a fresh start with new goals, focus, and intentionality. 

I do not stop to review my life very often, so I am grateful for the reminders at this time of year. And I am grateful for the opportunity to refresh my perspective and consider how I want to live my 2016.

In the years past, I have chosen one word for each year – an attempt to encourage myself to think, speak, and act with a particular heart attitude. I have chosen words like empower, fulfill, courage, and authentic, but this year I am choosing TRUST.

There are a lot of big challenges and struggles bombarding my family and friends. I can tend to worry, and get frustrated or tense or discouraged. Sometimes I feel helpless and without hope.

I want to choose to believe in God’s goodness and His love and His power to resolve, restore, and redeem these difficult consequences instead.

I want to TRUST Him.

I may be choosing my most faith-stretching word so far. It goes against my natural desires to fix the problem myself… and fix it fast. It goes against my anger and fear and impatience when the problems drag on or get worse before they get better.

Most of my natural tendencies do not help the situation or the person I care about. I can bring a lot more power to a situation with prayer and a peaceful attitude. So that is my One Word for 2016 – TRUST.

Feel free to ask me how I am doing with it as the days and weeks go by. 🙂 I’ll need your encouragement.

What word are you choosing for 2016? 

the gifts of Christmas

Christmas gifts Kris Mouser_Brown Foter.com CC BY_ND

There are good years when everyone is home, getting along well, happy with their gifts, and focused on the “reason” for the season. But there are also difficult years when what we hoped for or what we envisioned does not come anywhere close to happening. Both are very normal in life. The problem is not the difficulties. The problem is our expectations. Our expectations that Christmas will be perfectly wrapped, shiny-bowed, and glitter-dusted like a beautiful Christmas gift.

Our reality doesn’t match our hopes and expectations.

Maybe you have a “special” person in your family or group of friends. The one who no matter how many advent candles you burn or how many advent calendar dates you turn, you just don’t feel filled with Christmas spirit when you’re with that person. They push your buttons, triggering your feelings and emotions so that you are angry or frustrated or discouraged, or you feel judged and criticized no matter what you do.

Perhaps you have experienced a loss this year that’s going to affect your Christmas. There will be a gap, someone missing in the pictures, in the activities, at the table. Maybe you didn’t lose them this year. Maybe it was sometime in the past, but their loss still impacts you, especially in times like this. This is the first year my mom won’t be with us. I get blindsided by missing her when I least expect it.

It might be that you have done your shopping, your decorating and your baking, and you think you’re doing great… until you happen to spend time on Facebook or Pinterest or visit a friend’s home, and all of a sudden your work feels a little inadequate, a little sub-par, not quite how you would like it. Comparison gets to your head and heart, and makes you feel “less than” or incompetent compared to others around you.

If comparison does not make Christmas hard for you; it might be that your financial situation is more difficult than you had hoped. Maybe that promotion didn’t come through or maybe the new business hasn’t taken off or maybe you are out of work, and you don’t have the money to buy what is on the wish list. You’re worried about seeing disappointment in some young, sweet eyes looking up at you on Christmas morning.

You might be sick or care-giving for someone. Holidays with those realities makes celebrating more challenging. I will spend Christmas with my Dad. He has Parkinson’s, dementia, and alcoholism that are affecting his days and therefore they are going to affect our Christmas. He may or may not remember what day it is.

Maybe your difficulty is not the ones that you care for. Maybe it is more the lack of someone to care for… maybe you feel alone and lonely during these days.

These are real Christmas challenges for many of us.

It could be that none of these issues affect you this year. Last year was close to perfect for me. My biggest challenge was dealing with a form of survivor’s guilt – I call it “blessing guilt” – because I had all my children at home and we had a great time enjoying every minute of it, while at the same time close friends and family were dealing with all kinds of pain – the realities I just mentioned. I struggled to fully enjoy the gifts that God had given me without overlooking or underestimating the realities of others.

Whatever your reality this year, I hope you know that Jesus is not only “the reason for the season”, but Jesus is also the “answer” for the season and for all your needs. He is not distracted by preparations or decorations or gift buying or baking. He has plenty of time and energy and limitless power to take interest in what’s difficult for you, to come along beside you and help you.

Jesus had relatives who sometimes made life difficult for Him; Jesus experienced loss and wept; Jesus went through many difficulties and would have traded some of His experiences for another if He could. And His birth we are celebrating this season? A cross-country journey by a very pregnant teenage mom on the back of a donkey, an unsanitary birth with only a first-time father to help, and His first days surrounded by smelly livestock and shepherds?

Jesus understands a reality that is different from the ideal. 

I invite you to see this Christmas not simply as an opportunity to bake and decorate and buy and wrap, but also a time to reflect and lean into Jesus to find understanding and hope in a way that maybe you’ve never done before. Let go of your expectations of what Christmas will or should be like and embrace your reality – even your difficulties – this year. Struggles are often some of the sweetest times in our faith journey.

May God build your faith stronger
as He heightens your awareness of His presence always.

May He deepen your appreciation for people,
as you recognize that life is so very fragile.

May your contentment grow greater – with yourself – and your circumstances.

And may you become a more gracious person – grateful for what you have received and compassionate and empathetic with others in need.

Those are the best gifts.

power in forgiveness

IMGP8357 (2)
What is it about forgiveness? 

What is it that makes forgiveness so hard to ask for, so hard to give, and so life-changing when it happens authentically?

In my memories, my parents fought through all of my childhood. Different personalities, life and work pressures, insecurities and immaturities all added to the fire, and alcoholism added fuel. Eventually, they divorced after 25 years of marriage. It was not pretty. It was not amicable.

For almost 30 years they have lived in the same city, but never saw each other. At first, we could not even mention my mom’s name in front of my dad. We arranged every holiday and every family event around which parent we would visit when, or which one of them would be invited to attend. It could never be both of them at the same time. They will never know how many hours of planning, debate, maneuvering, and heart anguish accompanied each special occasion through the years.

This Thanksgiving, something amazing happened. My parents agreed – for the first time in almost 30 years – to give thanks…. together. The death of a spouse, terminal cancer, and many years passing finally cleared the way for reconciliation, acceptance, forgiveness, and peace.

There were a few uncertain and awkward moments (mostly by the siblings who were orchestrating the event), but all in all, it was one of the most significant and inspiring holidays that I can remember.

It was a powerful, healing moment for everyone – even the grandchildren – to watch my parents greet each other at the front door… both very frail, very tired, and finally… very at peace.

Neither could eat very much, but the meal was sacred. They did not talk of anything substantial – dementia has stolen that opportunity – but their interaction was deeply meaningful to all who were there.

My parents’ reunion after all these years does not change much at this point in time… and it changes everything.

Their willing hearts were a testimony to hope.

My family watched the life-end desire for peace overcome long-guarded anger and separation. We experienced genuine humility vanquish pride, regret, and deep pain. stubbornness lost to prayer, patience, and perseverance over time.

There is a new freedom in our lives – and in our children’s lives. A freedom won by broken lives restored and divided families reunited. A freedom earned by barriers torn down and destroyed. A freedom gained by letting go of bitterness and grabbing on to forgiveness. A freedom that carries a belief in the impossible, because we saw it happen with our own eyes.

Forgiveness is powerful.

Is there someone you need to forgive today? You don’t have to wait.

redemption and transformation

photo (1)The other day, my daughter gave me a priceless gift.

It is a calendar made from her incredibly amazing photographs. (You can see her gorgeous work in film at http://www.sarahjoellephotography.com/) The fine-art printed cards are clipped to a handcrafted wood board redeemed from deadfall beetle-destroyed pine trees¹. The unusual blue color is evidence of the damage done by the insects, but death has been transformed into a work of art – a powerful redemption.

I received the gift while we were helping our daughter and her husband move in to their new home in Tennessee. They are in an old (1920’s), quaint, character-filled home, and we worked long hard hours painting, remodeling, and furnishing to make it “theirs”. In a few days, it had undergone a loving transformation.

The redeemed gift and transformed home give me special hope during hard days.

This past week, a teammate died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was only 51 and left behind a very ill wife and three children. He had been providing special care for his wife; now she will have to do many things he did for her… while missing him terribly. When something painful like this happens, I long for an answer to the incomprehensible question, “why?”, and I wait trusting for the certain redemption and transformation that will come with time.

…because redemption and transformation will come.

I have seen it so many times. Where there is faith, good and grace are found even in tragedy. Kindness and generosity and peace and strength come from the most unexpected people and places.

Hope returns while grieving hearts find comfort in the promised heavenly home and aching arms wait for eternal reunions.

Easter is also a season of redemption and transformation. I am grateful today for a faith that sustains and for a promise of eternal life… and for a special gift that reminds me of the power of redemption and the hope of transformation.

When have you seen redemption or transformation in your life? What gives you hope?

________

¹ The great company that makes the wood boards is Artifact Uprising. Check out their site!

finding your voice

find your voice

“Cover bands don’t change the world –
you need to find your unique voice if you want to thrive.”
~ Accidental Creative

I am part of an exciting process at work that is looking for ways to help leaders find their voice and make a significant contribution through their lives. This is one of my heart passions and a fitting application for my 2014 word – fulfill. I believe that we are each created with incredible value, opportunity and responsibility to make a positive contribution in our world.

We can only do this if we are at peace with who we are – not constantly comparing with others or imitating someone else – and when we courageously speak out and step up for what we believe.

“Learn what taps your talents and fuels your passion
– that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience to meet – therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code.”
~ Steven Covey

Finding your voice is about more than mere words. Steven Covey explains that Voice is the overlapping of the four parts of our nature: our body, mind, heart, and spirit.

Accidental Creative put together a great list of questions to help each person discover their Voice. I’ve changed them just a bit. I’ve been thinking about these:

1. What kinds of situations “fire you up” or make you “pound the table”? What evokes compassionate anger in you or makes you want to intervene to correct a wrong?

2. What makes you cry?

3. What have you mastered? What can you do well, without effort, without thinking? What skills and abilities would you like to use more?

4. What gives you hope? What vision do you have for your future and the future of others?

5. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What did you dream of doing?

6. If you had all the time and money in the world – no limitations – what would you do?

7. What do you love doing? What makes you come alive? What makes you excited and motivated? 

8. Where can you start today? What platform do you already have? 

9.  What need can you serve? What change would you like to see in the world?

10. If you had one day left, how would you spend it?

You are important. You are needed. Your contribution is valuable. Find your voice… and then help someone else find theirs!

What have you been created to do? What is your Voice?

____________

Great resources!

Steven Covey’s post on Four Steps to Finding your Voice

Accidental Creative’s post on Ten Questions that will Help You Find Your Voice

What’s my $1 million wish?

money
This is the question posted on the TED blog today: What’s your $1 Million Wish for the World? They are taking nominations for their 2015 TED Prize, a $1 million award to a visionary with a great big idea for creating change in the world.

Before March 31st you can nominate a mentor, a hero, a co-worker, even yourself. TED wants to give $1 million to someone who has a great wish and the track record that suggests they could accomplish it. It will be very interesting to find out who they pick.

I tried to think about a great wish today, but honestly my heart and head is full now with sad and painful emotions. My mom’s husband of the last 30 years (not my dad, but a very special man) has been in the hospital for weeks and has only deteriorated. They will move him by ambulance back to his home tomorrow. This is very difficult for my mom who is already fighting stage-four cancer. It is very hard for my family who live close by and do the daily care.

My great wish today is for no more sickness, death, and suffering.

I pray faithfully for a lot of people who are sick and dying… some days I get very discouraged and frustrated because I don’t get the answers I want. I would rather take it on myself to protect the ones I love from pain. I want to make the hurt and illness and tears and fear all go away… but I can’t do that.

$1 million won’t get me my wish.

We live in a broken world. Disease and death are not the only hardships. There are so many more. Some injustices make me mad. Some hurtful actions break my heart. Sadness will never end here on earth. The only place without pain is our eternal home.

I can offer hope.

It would be easy for me to settle for resignation and depression since I can not cure the ills of this world. I am often tempted to give up. However, there is much I can do. Like the TED nominees, I can create change in the world. It may be a very small change… a hug, a word of encouragement, a prayer, an offer to help…  What I do may not win me a $1 million prize, but it may earn me a smile. Maybe I can’t take away the heavy burden, but I can help to lighten the load.

While I am here, I can give. Maybe that”s why I am still here for now.

What is your $1 million wish? Where would you create change in the world?

(Do you know someone to nominate for the TED prize?)

I am not doing enough

woman silhouetteThe pictures haunt my dreams. The stories tear at my heart.

Acid attacks in India. Sexual violence in Syria. Human trafficking in Nicaragua…

…not to mention the nightly local news.

Beauty robbed. Life scarred forever. Families anguished.

Pain. Hatred. Fear. Injustice. Shame. Evil.

Report after report of misogyny, disrespect, violation, and cruelty. Attacked because of a commitment to go to school or a refusal to marry at puberty. Coerced because of lust and greed. Abused by strangers, lovers, family members.

I cannot comprehend these things. They shake me to the core. They disrupt my thoughts; they upset my stomach; they burden my heart.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil
is for good men to do nothing.”

credited to Edmund Burke

What can I do? What do you do?

I live in comfort and safety, surrounded by love. I have freedom, choices, protection. My everyday life is not threatened as are the lives of so many women.

I have education, influence, money, discretionary time…

I have responsibility. I have hope.

I know I can pray more. I am asking God to show me what else I can do…

What injustice are you passionate about changing? What are you doing?

(**If you have helpful information, sites, or organizations that you help, please leave the links in your comment, so we can learn from each other!)

appreciating (real) family

family real compfight
I spoke twice this week about my heritage and my family. I am also enjoying a great visit from my sister with her husband and daughter. These two experiences have caused me to reflect on the many ways that my family has formed my identity.

PAST

My family was not and is not perfect. There are difficult aspects of the past that left emotional and relational scars, over-compensating behaviors, and “hot buttons” that ignite in some expected and some not-so-expected circumstances. Thankfully, I have learned to remember the positive and character building moments… and to leave the negative and hurtful memories behind. I am so grateful for faith, friends, an awesome husband, and a few great counselors, who have helped me to move forward, acknowledging the past’s influence but freeing me from its potential limitations on my future.

PRESENT

These days I am gaining a greater appreciation for my sisters and my brother as we enter the new stage of caring for our elderly parents. It is not an easy time for us; we have to work very hard at integrating many different viewpoints, opinions, geographical availability, ideas, and personalities into choices and decisions. Although we are older, childhood attitudes and reactions resurface. My siblings are teaching me new ways to love and yield my own interests – this is good growth for me.

FUTURE

The real challenges faced in my marriage and in raising my (amazing!) children have helped to keep me humble and honest about my inadequacies, my insufficiency… and have engraved on my heart the incredibly powerful truth and grace that we received over the years. I am very grateful for the authentic and loving relationships that we have because of how we have worked through difficulties and pain together. I did not anticipate or enjoy the struggles – if I could have, I would have chosen to avoid them – but I am eternally thankful for the redeeming hope that we have experienced. I look forward to whatever the future might hold for us.

I’ve heard that sites like Facebook can cause depression when people compare their real lives with the unrealistic “perfect” lives that we assume from superficial statuses and photographs. I know, from experience, that everyone has a real story behind the smiles; the real story is full of tears and hurt… and forgiveness and reconciliation… and healing and hope. Real is rich.

What do you appreciate about your family?
How are you handling “real” life together?

abundance from imperfection

My sister’s plum tree bends to the ground heavy with plump, fresh, purple fruit. More than they can ever use… even more than they can give away!

The interesting thing for me is that this tree is not “pretty”. It grows crooked, scraggly, cut harshly on one side to get it off the roof of the house, mostly ignored, and often maligned for the mess that it makes.

… yet despite all those negatives, it yields A LOT of fruit.

I found much encouragement and hope in that tree this morning. I thought about my less-than-perfect, oft-neglected and criticized life, and realized that there is hope for fruit from my branches also.

That plum tree reminded me that it is not only the flawless, attractive, meticulously protected lives that produce fruit. Certainly attention and care are helpful in most situations, but I believe that there is much potential even in less-than-ideal circumstances also. It was as if that tree said to me this morning, “Take hope! You can produce a great harvest too!”

Have you ever felt that you were not good enough (…not smart enough, not old/young enough, not talented enough) to accomplish something with your life? How do you find hope?

a Father’s Day reflection

Celebrating Father’s Day is kind of a “mixed bag” for me.

I had a good dad growing up… can’t say a great dad… but a good dad. Unlike many others, he was physically present in our home – a powerful presence. He was an Air Force helicopter pilot: authoritative, argumentative, and alcoholic. We drilled the states’ capitals at dinner, stood at attention for room inspections, and felt guilty if he found us watching TV during the day instead of pulling weeds in the yard.

I have a strong work ethic, a tendency to criticize, and a strong character because of my Dad. I am thankful that he also gave me a desire for physical fitness, a love for travel and the outdoors, an appreciation for classical music, and the ability to believe in myself. He often said, “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.” When I asked his opinion regarding a few key life decisions, he said, “I wouldn’t ever do that, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.”

My Dad did not build many deep relationships – contributing to my parents’ divorce after 25 years. He has rarely shared dreams, concerns, or any deep emotions with others. I don’t believe he understands a personal faith with God, and I think that causes him fear about dying. His health is deteriorating, compounded by the effects of a life-long alcohol addiction.

When Father’s Day comes along, I choose to honor him for all the good he brought into my life… and I choose to forgive him for the non-existent affection and communication that I longed for in our relationship. I thank him for loving me and supporting me in his own way, and I release him from the unmet wishes that he be sober, neat, and without favoritism.

I am very grateful for the ability to build on my past – but not be enslaved to it. My husband and I leaned heavily on the hope that we would create a different kind of home and family than I grew up in… including the good, but adding new elements of our own choosing as well. I know some of you had much more difficult experiences with your fathers… or never really knew them. Others had great Dads. Our families are part of us… but they are no excuse for poor habits or choices… or lack of forgiveness – there is always hope because of a perfect heavenly Father who can help us move forward and create a better future.

So, Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you as you are. I am praying for you. 

What was your Dad like? How do you celebrate Father’s Day?