Thursday, December 31, 2015

just one word

2015 is about to roll into 2016.



I must admit, I rail against New Years Resolutions. Maybe it would be more honest to say I FAIL at New Years Resolutions. So I quit making them awhile ago. I mean a-while-ago. Partly because of the fail, yes, but also because I am a rebel at heart. (I know, that's not really cool, but it's the truth - I rebel at stuff in the "but everyone else is doing it" category. Maybe it's a carry over from that jumping off the cliff thing from my teenage years.)

To all of you who make them and keep them, kudos!

To the ones like me who try and fail, or quit trying altogether, I get you.



This year, though, in spite of the rebel in me, I am going to take the bait and choose just one word. Just one word to remember and carry with me throughout 2016.

I had to really, really, REALLY think about this. First, to get past the hurdle of doing it at all. But then, what to choose? There are so many good ones to pick from. So I've been pondering as I'm reading through the Bible and a couple of books (one being The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer ... if you haven't read it, stop reading this post and get it. I mean it.) and this one theme keeps smacking me right in the places that make me sit up and take notice - my heart, my head, even my gut.

Everywhere I look, I keep finding passages and chapters and sentences and paragraphs about this one word:

OBEDIENCE.

I want this word, this action, this state of mind to be the cry of my heart and the motivation for my thoughts and behavior and, well, just life this year.

The question is, then, obedience to what? Or who? It could be obedience to the law, to my boss (if I had one that is), to my desires, to my hopes and dreams. To the restrictions imposed on me because of all the frustrating health issues I've been dealing with. To my doctors. To my husband. And so on.

And while some of these are totally legit things to obey, they are not the targets of the obedience I believe I am being called to by choosing this one word to live by, to hopefully define me, as I move into the new year.

This obedience is to a specific Someone, not a something or an anyone who lives on the same earth and breathes the same air that I do.

It is to the God of the universe. The one who is forging a path for me. The one who is the lifter of my head, the one who is strongest when I am weak, the only one who is righteous and good and holy. The only one that has saved me for eternity and continues to save me from myself every.single.day.

I want to trust fully, have faith that transcends circumstances. I want to learn to be grateful and thankful and to be willing to take that solitary fork in the road knowing that he is going before me and that even though my destination is unclear, unknown, and scary I want to remember that he lights that path just enough to keep taking the next step. In obedience.

Sure I could list all the rules and regulations that I should follow to accomplish this obeying, but I don't think it's about rules. I think it's about listening. And it's about my attitude. And it's about where I'm looking for the path of my life. I can forge ahead on my own and it might even take me quite a ways but in the end, if it's not the path he's created me to follow it will be a dead end. I want to remember those fruitless journeys, yet I also want to forget them because my memory distorts the reality.



It's this:

"Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.

Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it?

I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert."

(Isaiah 43;18-19)

To be aware, I must believe that this is true. I must obey to believe. I must listen to be aware. I must obey to be aware.



I want that word to be a verb. I want to watch for the something new, to recognize it when it comes, to hear his still small voice and choose to obey even when it doesn't make sense and the path seems dark and the destination could be scary.

So yes, my word for this year will be obedience. And no, I don't really know what that will look like. But I'm promised that obedience leads to thanksgiving, and how could I not want that? I want my days to be framed by a visibly thankful, grateful life, and I believe that focusing on obedience is my first step.

Are you willing to choose a word, just one word, to occupy your thoughts and lead you through the next year? I'd love to know what it is, and how it could impact your life. Will you share with me and the other faithful readers?

Happy New Year, my friends!
Angie

Thursday, December 10, 2015

because I still wear a mask

So I'm reading this book.



It's hitting home. Big time. I highly recommend it.

But be forewarned: it will probably make you uncomfortable.

In the chapter I just finished, she quotes Sarah Young: "One of the worst consequences of the Fall is the elaborate barriers people erect between themselves and others." (From Jesus Calling, one of my favorite devotionals.)

Barriers like being the strong one. The responsible one. The always-on-time one. The one everyone can count on.

Instead of showing weakness. Instead of thinking failure is the end of the world, as is being late. Instead of being the one that never shares about themselves and their struggles but is only willing to be on the receiving end of others' brokenness.

Am I the only one who has lived this try-hard life? Striving for perfection, holding it all together, keeping all the broken messy stuff inside and I will never ever let you see the real me.

I will say this. Seven plus years of serious health problems have destroyed many of these masks of mine, because the perfection I've always strived for has simply not been possible. The outside messy I just can't hide, although I would have preferred it and lived it for umpteen years. Those masks are shattered. Not because I wanted them to be, mind you, but because I had no choice.

I can be a bit dense at times, and God has certainly used the hard things to break down some of the barriers to those important things. I am thankful, although I would never have chosen it.

But letting people in is not so easy. To the inside messy of me. I've kept the "I'm holding it all together" mask pretty firmly in place, although it slips once in awhile. I've learned to take it off temporarily, for just a few people, and I find I can breathe so much more easily when I do. That mask is hot, uncomfortable, and, well, stinky. (Remember trying to only breathe through your mouth because your Halloween mask was hot and stinky?) And the longer I wear it the sweatier I get; thus, the stinky.

I'm pretty weary of being hot and uncomfortable. It's really hard work to keep the I-can-only-give-to-you mask on, but to receive from you? Then I must admit I need. I need you, I need your compassion, kindness and love.

So why? Why in the world do I keep putting it on?

Simple. Fear.

I am afraid if you know the real messy broken me, you might not like me. Or you might see me as a failure. Or look down on me somehow. And I can't stand the thought of that.

But this book is helping me to realize that living behind this mask is all about what I do instead of who I am, and my perception of myself is all tied up in what others think of me. I let my identity be determined by whether I feel like I please other people.

That's a pretty heavy mask. Made of iron or something else unbearably weighty. And even though it's shiny, I am completely hidden and see that chain? Yeah.



What if you knew I struggle with self-image? What if you knew I fight depression, all.the.time? What if you know that I feel like a failure more of the time than not? What if you knew how often I cry? That I'm crying just writing this? What if you knew how desperately hard I have to work to feel like I please you? What do you think of me now?

My guess is, although I admit the fear seeping in, my guess is that you already know I'm messy on the inside. Because we all are, somehow. It's just that my own particular brokenness feels too dangerous to share. My own ridiculous impression of myself thinks my inner messy needs to stay hidden, while I welcome yours.

Yes, ridiculous.

Because God. He knows my messy and broken, yet he loves me anyway, and he doesn't want me to hide. The saddest thing about hiding behind masks is that I sometimes believe the lie that I can hide from him too.

Which prevents me from seeking him out to make me whole, from making myself vulnerable, from feeling his approval even, maybe especially, when I mess up. When I get it more wrong than right. That kind of thinking puts up a barrier that prevents me from accepting his acceptance, from believing that he loves me just the way he made me.

When I believe this lie, that I'm hiding well from God, there's no possible way to take down the barriers between you and me. But when I take that mask off before God, I'm learning that I can leave it on the floor. (It needs to go in the trash, I know, I know! I'm getting there, but at least it spends most of its time on the floor now and I'm not nearly as sweaty or uncomfortable (or stinky) as I used to be. That chain has been broken, at least.)

I will believe that because he takes me as I am, a lot of people will do the same. And I can admit that I need you. And I can invite you into my mess. And soon, soon, I will take that mask to the big trash can in the garage and wheel it out to the curb on trash day.


Do you have a mask? What does it look like? What might it be hiding?

Trying not to try so hard,
Angie

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

framing the holidays: when "home" is gone

Today I am pleased to share a guest post from Sara Brunsvold, who writes over at Find the Lovely. Her writing is poignant and reaches me at a deep level. Journey with her into the land of a new normal this Thanksgiving.

-------

The day the new owners closed on his house, my father-in-law called me from his assisted living apartment.

His first words were: “Well, it’s no longer ours.”

Ours.

He somewhat meant the whole family.

He mostly meant him and his late wife, Susan. The house was the last remaining piece of their life together – the place that had centered the family for two years after she passed away.
The pain was present in his voice, though he tried to sound upbeat.

I wanted to hug him through the phone.

Home, as he knew it, no longer existed for him.

Home was no longer a physical place he could retreat to. It is only a memory he will keep wrapped in cozy blankets. It is pictures slipped in an album.

As Thanksgiving approaches, this reality settles in deeper.

The home we knew is no longer there, where we last saw it.

The last time I was in the house with the family was a few months ago, in the days leading up to the sale. We were there to clean. We enjoyed one last meal together in the house – a takeout meal none of us cooked because the pots and pans were gone. The refrigerator contained maybe butter and olives, but that was about it.

Even on that day, the house did not seem like “ours.”

When Susan was still alive, regardless of being frail from cancer, she always, always had a kitchen full of food in some stage of preparation – baking, simmering, resting, sliced, stored, chilled.
One of my primary roles when I was there was to help her cook. She was an amazing cook, and many of the memories I have of her and me together happened around her beautiful blue-tiled kitchen island.
Holidays always seemed extra special at her house. Something about her warm kitchen made them so.


The author and her mother-in-law, Susan, 
at their last holiday meal together in the house. 



Susan with two of her grandchildren during
a baking session

Her kitchen always seemed to be as full as her heart.

This Thanksgiving, the family will be at my house, where the table is smaller, the chairs are fewer and the oven is not nearly as powerful.

We know we will be sad to no longer be in “our” house. We will sit at my smaller table and remember mealtimes of the past. We will eat the food and wish we could taste what we had just once more.

But in our hearts, somehow we will know that all will be okay.

We will know that home is not a place that stays put.

Home follows us.

Home is the memories we carry and the love we have gathered to share.

It is the baseline on which we build all future memories.

Though houses may sell, home never dies.

Home lives, wherever we are.

More than her house, Susan loved her family. More than food, she loved her people. 
This thanksgiving, I will remember what she taught me about making pie and how to make stuffing taste like a million dollars, but I will also remember one of her best lessons of all:


It is the people we gather with, not the place we come, that brings us home.

-----

Sara Brunsvold writes about finding the presence of God in everyday life at Find the Lovely

Sunday, November 8, 2015

7 things I learned in October ...

Here are a few things I learned last month:

1) That re-reading a book I just finished gives me different insights than it did just a couple weeks ago.

As soon as I was done with the book "Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World," by Emily Freeman, I turned back to the beginning and started it again. It spoke to my very soul as I skipped through it the first time, excited and marveling that she captured me right where I am. Right then. Right now, even.

But as I'm reading it the second time, more slowly, I find myself marinating instead of skipping. Thinking deeply about living small, right now, and truly seeing it as a positive, good thing instead of the humiliating bad thing we normally associate with "small."

Fantastic book, one and two times through. I highly recommend it.


(You can order it here: Simply Tuesday - Amazon.com)


2) Coloring is good for me and I love it.

So coloring is all the rage right now, I know. But seriously, you guys. It is calming, fun, and even if you're not an artist beautiful things emerge on the finished page. Like this. Hard to capture in a picture but I think this one turned out pretty cool.





And this is my favorite coloring book so far:



(You can order it here: Adult Coloring Book - Amazon.com)

So, get some markers/colored pencils/crayons and have some fun!


3) Cuteness overload is when my youngest grandbaby says my grandma-name (Nini).

I mean, this should be obvious too. But for days and weeks and maybe a month or more, I knew for a FACT that he was capable of saying it, evidenced by this video sent by his mama, but he's a teaser and a bit of a punk (in the darling-est sort of way) and refused to say it to ME until just recently.  

(For real you have to watch the cuteness. It's only 16 seconds long.)




4) Figuring out how to Skype was a big deal.

So I have this friend who is a missionary in India, and I really want to see her face, and I'm really technologically challenged sometimes. More than sometimes, ok? But I was determined, and I persevered, and I downloaded and found the right settings, and got the camera up and running, and when she called, I ACTUALLY COULD SEE HER! And it was an amazing conversation and I am super glad I figured it out.



(You can stop laughing any time now.)

5) I miss my daughter a real lot.


A year and a half we had, both home full-time, spending part or all of most weekdays together. Like, finishing each other's sentences and reading each other's minds together. And in mid-September she went back to work, in a job she loves, and I'm happy for her that the job fits her, and I'm sad. We carve out time together still whenever we can, but the beautiful season is over and I can't get it back.

For a good long time I cried and felt like I was missing an arm and wished for what we had. And even now when I still miss our time together so much, I have mostly turned the corner to thankfulness, that we had it at all, and joy, because I have the privilege of spending more one-on-one time with her small tribe than I did before. I've learned that missing what was can co-exist with the joy of what is.

6) Garage sales are seriously fun.

My hubby and I have been haunting garage sales for the past couple of months, looking for stuff to put into a booth we have at a vintage/retro/repurposed super cool place called Green Expressions (in Olathe, KS for my local readers). Big time thrill-of-the-chase sort of thing for us. And priceless laughing time together every Saturday morning. And then new creations are birthed, and there is beauty in the shared effort. Here's a peek from a couple weeks ago:


7) Sometimes dread turns to wonderful.

I'm on a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan (don't think I'm bragging - this is not my first attempt and I'm only halfway done but so far getting to the finish line looks promising).

To be honest, the prospect of wading through those Old Testament books - maybe most of them - filled me with discomfort and a little bit of guilt because I felt a little bit of dread, never mind that I literally have.not.read some of them, like, ever.

But God is meeting me in the pages, and I'm finding nuggets all over the pages of those old books, and I know that I have seriously missed out, and I am grateful that I've been nudged to give it another try.

I use this app called "YouVersion" and it tracks my progress and encourages me with a "well done!" message every day.




So there you have it. A handful of the things I learned last month. Think back, will you? I'd love to hear what you've learned recently!

To November lessons,
Angie



Thursday, October 8, 2015

a standing ovation. here's a sure-fire way to get one.

Today I have this thing. There will be lots of people there, and I will have to talk and answer questions, and the outcome matters, and there will be an audience.

I want to do well.

Monday, October 5, 2015

the art of humility: going beyond humble

What does it look like to be humble? Have you felt the lovingkindness of being humbled? Or the shame of being humiliated? Journey with me ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

for the love ...

Almost twenty seven years ago I married this man. We promised for better or for worse, til death do us part, not having a clue what that really meant.


Like every married couple, we’ve had our ups and downs, but during the last seven years he’s mostly gotten the "worse." Surgery after surgery, migraine after migraine, seizure after seizure, trips to the emergency room, unexpected hospital stays.

Obviously this has not been a fun season for me, but I get a lot of compassion and sympathy for my “stuff.” People reach out to me, pray for me, care for me, look out for me.

He gets worry and fear and anxiety.

He’s my caretaker, and he is magnificent at it. But I know it’s also excruciating for him.

He leaves for work some days in agony, wondering if I’ll be ok. He cancels appointments sometimes, because he knows I need him. I am his priority.

When I tell him I’m sorry for all I put him through, he always says, “Hey! It’s my job.” And he doesn’t mean job in the drudgingly unwanted, wish-I-was-anywhere-but-here kind of way. He means that he is my protector, my warrior king, and he doesn’t take that lightly and never will.

But not many people reach out to him. Sometimes we forget the caretakers need us just as much as the ones being cared for.

You know where it says in Ephesians that husbands are to love their wives like Christ loves the church? That’s a mighty tall order indeed. But just as Jesus never walks away, or gets fed up and turns his back on his bride, neither has my husband. He is a brilliant example of the living and walking out of this verse. Along with the loving comes hardship and grief, but he never leaves me nor forsakes me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing him to Jesus. I’m just saying that he is really and truly following the instructions Jesus has given husbands. To love their bride. Forever, for better or for worse.

He GETS IT in a way that lots of guys never do. There is something so beautiful about being under the leadership and the protective arms of a man that loves me like this. It is comforting, reassuring and makes me feel safe. He is Jesus with skin on to me.

Maybe there’s someone you know who is a caretaker. Maybe they need to be cared for themselves. Let’s notice and reach out to them as they look after the precious ones depending on their care.

For the love of this man, I am humbled and grateful and so thankful, and I honestly don’t know where I would be without him. Honestly I can’t imagine.

I am still and forever his bride, in the truest sense of that word, and I pray that I never take that for granted. 

Til death do us part,
Angie

Sunday, September 13, 2015

but does he LIKE me?

Does this even matter?

I mean: God so loved the world ... His love is everlasting ... His love never fails ... nothing can separate us from His love.

Warning: Brutal honesty from here on out.

I've always always always struggled to "get" this. I believe it, absolutely. For you.

But for me? I have not had much success in getting this beyond my head and into my heart.

I sometimes still see God as a "gotcha God" ... one who is waiting for me to mess up so he can drop the hammer on me.




What kind of foolishness is this?!

And so I started to wonder, even if I do believe that God loves me ... I wonder if He likes me?

He sees me. That is meant for comfort, I know. But I fear disappointing him over and over so I waffle between being grateful he can see me and wanting to turn away and hide in fear. This is my default and it makes me so sad.

I wrote this in my journal recently:

"I know you love me, but do you like me? This is entirely different. I can love without liking. Have I assumed the same of You? I've never thought about it in these terms, but this is the crux of it. I've felt human love way more than liking - the approval part of liking, the unconditional part of friendship, that is. And I continue to seek it and am so disappointed when it doesn't materialize."

Do you like me? Even when I blow it? I know You love me still, but are You continually disappointed in me? This is important to know!

Romans 8:1 says this: "Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." He's given me that gift of no condemnation. But it's more than just love, it's acceptance. He made me for his purposes, but when I wander in the dark, when I miss him entirely, does he still like me? How could he? Yet he must.

Continuing from my journal:

"Do your love and liking go together? Can one be separated from the other? If not, I should be living in the light of that truth. Not shrinking away from you.

Am I so focused on the desert that it feels like disapproval when it may just be preparation for your as-yet unknown plan? Can I stop striving and rest in that truth? Believe it with my whole heart?

I must, or I will stay stuck, constantly asking this question: What's the point of me?

I am weary of trying to please, trying to figure that out so I can win the approval of man, when all that matters is that I already have YOURS.

It seems that your love for me is not what's been tripping me up all these years, but instead your "like" for me." 

Jesus intercedes for me. God protects me and provides for me, he doesn't abandon me. He doesn't put me down or treat me harshly. He beckons me. He has dealt kindly with me. THESE are the marks of not just a lover but also a friend.

In fact, Jesus calls me "friend." My soul is filled with light - the light of your approval, as your friend.

This changes everything.

I have been pondering it for a couple of weeks now, and I have searched the Bible high and low. I have have been astounded at the number of times Jesus has called me friend. (Go! Check it out!)

Friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). (That's me).
No greater love is this ... that one would lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). (He did.)
Friend, your sins are forgiven you (Luke 5:20). (They are.)
Friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:29) (I am.)

Make no mistake, I am not implying that my friendship with Jesus makes me his equal. NO WAY. Never ever ever. Sarah Young says in "Jesus Calling":

"The intimacy I [God] offer is not an invitation to act as if you were My equal - worship Me as King of kings while walking with Me hand in hand down the path of life."

Absolutely true ... I am not his equal. But he offers me his hand and his presence and his willingness to lead me through this journey called my life. And his friendship, pure and holy friendship as it was intended from the beginning of time.

So now, when I start to believe the lie of the "gotcha God," I am turning away. Back to the truth. To remember that even as he loves me, he also approves of me and he.likes.me.

How about you? Does this resonate? Have you ever wondered? Let's settle it now:

Yes. He loves us. He approves of us. And YES! He likes us!

Leaning in,
Angie

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

3 reasons to stay weak

Did you feel that?

That resistance in the depths of your soul to feel weak, to be seen as weak, to be KNOWN as weak?

I have to admit, today was a day of resistance for me. I got grounded. From driving. For six months. SIX MONTHS, you guys.

Because of seizures. Unpredictable, out-of-my-control, seizures. Can't wish them away, push them away, "strong arm" them away, even pray them away. They come at random intervals, and with each occurrence I am again grounded.

Now listen up: I'm not looking for sympathy. I've been feeling sorry for myself all day, and that's quite enough. (Not that I won't go there again, but I don't want to take up residence there.)

But tonight, I got thinking about weakness. Physical weakness. I've read some good stuff about that recently, even this morning, and wouldn't you know that I need it right now!

For example, this was part of today's (today's!!) devotion from Jesus Calling (by Sarah Young):

Accept each day exactly as it comes to you. By that I mean not only the circumstances of your day but the condition of your body.

On some days, your circumstances and your physical condition feel out of balance: The demands on you seem far greater than your strength.

Yes, my friends, today is one of those days.

Weakness comes in lots of forms, right?

Physical, yes. Emotional, definitely, Circumstantial, without a doubt.

But today I found three good reasons to sit in  my weakness.

I don't have what it takes to keep going like I've been going, doing what I've been doing. I only have what it takes to keep being me, frail and broken. Yet in my frailty, my brokenness, even my grounded-ness, I am keenly aware that TRYING HARDER is not going to help me. It will send me straight into discouragement and disillusionment. But faith? Faith that God knows, cares, loves, has a plan? Well, that brings encouragement to me and illuminates this day.

God always gives me more than I can handle. Always. What, you say? I thought it was the other way around! God NEVER gives me more than I can handle, right?

NO. (First this is nowhere to be found in the Bible - check it out!) This is so important - don't miss this - if He only gave me what I could handle, why in the world would I ever need him for anything? Dependence on Him for all that "more" is required. Trying to handle it on my own? Well, see above. I don't have what it takes.

When I am weak, He is strong. He is at His best when I am at my worst, because only then do I cry out for Him, surrender completely to Him, trust Him altogether. If I'm being honest, I might throw myself at Him only when I get to the end of myself, but He is there waiting every.single.time and proves Himself not just faithful but STRONG. For me. He fights for me. He loves me. He waits for me to run out of myself.

So today, right now, as I sit here in weakness, I am resolved to stay at the end of myself, to accept by faith that I simply can't handle this (whatever the "this" of the day is) on my own, and to remember and trust that when I'm weak, then He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

Grounded,
Angie


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

broken open ... why courage leads to connection

Fear is the antithesis of connection, of vulnerability, of openness. When I fear pain, rejection, disapproval, back-stabbing, being seen as weak, or being seen as unspiritual, usually it’s based on past experiences. Past relationships that I thought were safe backfired and steamrolled me. So what do I do with that fear? I hold it up as a shield, stay shallow, and never get close enough to be hurt again. I keep my distance from not only the one who hurt me, but from everyone around me because I EXPECT to hurt again.

Fear is a barrier. Even when I haven’t been hurt by you, those prior experiences have taught me to not trust anyone with the real me, that I am too much or too little or too vulnerable or too damaged to engage openly with one more dangerous person.

These fears are real, and usually well-founded. But they leave me lonely, and sad, and desperate for someone to really KNOW me. I hide my brokenness behind a mask of “Oh I’m fine!” when I’m really craving a safe place to take off that mask and get real.

Sometimes we don’t even know. Our masks may be made of paper, iron, or diamonds.

Paper masks are fragile, and look dangerous to others. 



Iron masks look like strength.



Diamond masks look glittery and beautiful, and can even draw people to me. 



But they all have this in common: they protect me from deep relationship in favor of safety.

What does it take to overcome fear, to lay down the mask, to be the real me? Can I possibly show my frailty, my warts, my pain to you?

It starts with me. I must come out of hiding before I can take the risk.

It takes discernment. And it takes courage.

Courage comes first. Am I willing to put myself out there for the possibility of deep connection? And if I do, can I have some kind of guarantee that the past won’t repeat itself?

Sorry, no guarantees. But there is a chance. A chance worth taking that if I come near to you, you will accept me and love me and I can do the same for you.

Discernment means learning whether the chance is big or small. We must learn to recognize the ones who will accept us. Who will speak truth lovingly, without judgment or criticism. Who will share the burden of my pain without later using it against me.

So I gather my courage, use my discernment, and I take a chance on you.

Does this guarantee that you will be safe for me? No. Does it mean that I should go all in, plunge into the depths of my pain and share it with you? Maybe. Should I put my big toe in the water and see if it’s warm or freezing?

Yes. For only by taking the chance can I find out whether my heart is safe in your hands.

Discernment comes into play when we decide whether to jump in or back away. We learn to recognize the traits of unsafe people, to examine our existing and potential relationships carefully. But the courage to take a chance is the only way to find out.

But be careful, friend. Take a long look in the mirror, without your own mask. What do you see? Do you see a discourager, a rejecter, a judger, a monopolizer? Are YOU safe? Listen, this is important. Are you a bridge burner? It’s possible for us to crave deep relationship with another, without being safe ourselves. If we are to have a shred of hope that this friendship will go the distance, it must be mutual. Reciprocal. We must BE a safe person before we even look for other safe people. Or in other words, know thyself.

Once again, courage and discernment are necessary. I must face the fact that I might be the very thing I fear. I must have the courage to address my own barriers to your safety before I decide to take a chance on you, because you must take a chance on me. Practice being kind, patient, peaceful, joyful. Practice being an encourager, an accepter, a listener. I promise that although practice does not make perfect, it will fundamentally change you. For it is only when you become a safe person that you can hope to see another’s toe in the water, and that eventually the potential is there to clasp hands and jump in the deep end together.

Gather up your courage and take that hard, close look in the mirror. Practice kindness. Practice all the things you’re looking for in a relationship. Be safe for her. Be worth taking a chance on. Only then can you know what you’re looking for, what safety really looks like.

Discernment. Courage. Take a look at your reflection. Your journey to deep connection begins with you.


Bravely,
Angie

Thursday, July 16, 2015

love on its knees

A blank page before me. Swirling thoughts but little clarity. That's where I'm living right now, staying quiet while God works on me.

But today I'm thinking mostly about the idea of “Love on its Knees.” What that means, what it looks like, what it feels like tastes like smells like.

Sometimes love brings you to your knees.

Sometimes you have to get on your knees to show love. Words rarely get me on my knees, not in the way people need to receive it. “Sometimes even a simple act of humble service can help confirm the truth of what we say.” (Phil Ryken, Loving the Way Jesus Loves)

Jesus, washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Completely humbling himself to do the work of a slave.  If we are followers of this foot-washing Savior, then nothing should be beneath us.

Mary, overcome with emotion, washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. Spending what was probably the most valuable thing she owned, on her knees before her Savior.



Humility is required. In fact a HUMBLING is required. I’m learning that being humble and being humbled are not the same thing. BEING humble, well that I can manufacture all on my own and to be honest sometimes my motivations are all messed up even when I think my intentions are good.

But being humbleD? This is God’s mercy and grace, reminding me who I am to Him, and who he is, and where I should be looking for true humility. It doesn’t send a message of shame or guilt – if that’s what I’m hearing chances are it’s my inner critic talking to me. When I am humbled by God, I go to my knees not just in confession but in gratitude. And a willingness to start over, try it again, put myself out there without expecting any.thing. in return. No recognition. No affirmation. No pats on the back. Being in a humbled state does not require these things in exchange for service.

Working behind the scenes. Walking beside someone quietly, without judging or trying to fix them. Mowing the neighbor’s lawn. Spending the night at the hospital when no one else wants to. Doing laundry so your husband always has clean work pants. Watching grandchildren so a tired mama can take a nap or run errands alone.



Do you see? None of these actions require our words. Or admiration or praise. They happen in the silence of a grateful humbling, in the knowledge that we are doing our best to follow in footsteps too big for human feet.

“At the source of all Christian service,” writes Donald English, “is the crucified and risen Lord who died to liberate us into such service.”

Digest that for a minute. We are liberated into service? Wait. A synonym for service, as used often in Scripture, is slavery. What about how He died to set me free? We are freed to be slaves??

YES.

Because let’s face it. We’re all slaves to something. In my life BC (before Christ) I was a slave to all manner of sinfulness, even though I didn’t see it that way. Only in the looking back can I see that I was really just a broken down sinner living as a slave to my choices.

Romans 8:16 says this:

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone [or something] as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one [or the thing] you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience, resulting in righteousness?”

And then the whammy, in v. 18:

“… having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

But do you see that this is really NOT a whammy? Not God playing whack-a-mole with us, waiting for our next sin. We are freed from that sort of judgment. But not just freed FROM something, we are freed TO something. Something better. Righteousness.

That deserves some gratitude, right there. And not just a “lip-service” kind of gratitude, but an active response kind.

Love on its knees. We are liberated to serve. What say we watch for ways to get down in the mud, on our knees, and love our neighbors so completely that they recognize Jesus.

On my knees,
Angie


Thursday, July 2, 2015

an adoption completed

This story has a happy ending. Figured I'd balance out the post from the other day.

Adoption is a fact of my life. I was adopted almost from birth, and I don't remember ever not knowing. But that story is for another day - today I want to talk about my kids.

I left an abusive marriage of five years with a three-year-old daughter and a 14-month-old son. Knowing I had to get far enough away to make a fresh start without the eyes and voices of disapproval surrounding me (after all, abusers are often very good at appearing to be charming), I moved my little family from a small town in western Kansas to Lawrence, Kansas, in 1987.

The kiddos, right before we moved to Lawrence.

The abuse part is not happy, and I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I suffered every form possible. It is truly true that abused women (and men) find it difficult to leave, even in the face of danger, because we can't see life beyond our circumstances but mostly because we feel guilty. We feel shame, because we are made to feel as if it is all our fault.

The last straw was not a physical one but a financial one, and looking back I think I finally got angry enough to leave. Surprisingly he let me go without much of a fight, and we were divorced shortly after I moved. Child support was another matter - he paid very little, and not very often.

His involvement with the kids was spotty at best, simply painful at its worst. He promised them the moon, and delivered them mud. He was absent even when living relatively close, and when he moved to Arizona not long after our divorce, they only saw him once. His calls were sporadic and left the kids hopeful, and then devastated when what he said never came true.

I met Greg not too long after I moved to Lawrence, and we married in October of 1988.

Our wedding day. The kids walked me down the aisle.

I won't mislead you into thinking it was all sunshine and roses at first. Both of us were badly wounded from our previous marriages, and our attitude was, "I don't need you. In fact, I'm never gonna need you because look what happened when I trusted before." Not a super healthy or hopeful way to start a marriage, but start we did.

Even as we struggled, it was strikingly obvious that he loved the kids. They loved him fully and completely, and even as they continued to experience pain from the failed promises of their dad, they began to trust in his provision for and protection of them.

Remember how I said they visited their dad only once after he moved? He took them to Disneyland ... there's a cliche if you ever heard one, right? Disneyland dad. My daughter came home from that trip with a bruised and recently-bloody face, and while he was full of excuses I vowed, NEVER AGAIN.

In the end my vow didn't matter much, because he never attempted to see them after that trip.

The meager child support stopped coming. Abruptly. I went to court, and they slapped his hand, but still, no child support. He was at this point nearly a year and a half behind on payments.

As I debated another court battle, Greg made the offer of a lifetime. His suggestion? Let's call him and offer to trade. Trade? Yes. Trade "forgiveness" of his child support debt in exchange for letting Greg adopt the kids.

So we called. My ex said he needed some time to think about it. Of course he did! This was not some small decision to make right? Wrong. He called back 20 minutes later, after having talked to his father, who said, "Cut your losses." And he did. It took him 20 minutes to give up his children.

I was filled with conflicting emotions. Extreme anger, naturally, and at the same time relief and absolute joy. We began the process of having his parental rights severed, and he signed the papers and sent them back without a peep. Again with the anger, and relief, and joy.

And so it was that only a few months after we got married, Greg and I stood before a judge with those beautiful children. Without hesitation, Greg not only accepted them as his own, but he fully entered into a lifetime of parenting them beside me. Without.hesitation.

Fast forward 27 years. I can look back and say what a blessing it was to not have a "house divided" by continued contact with that man. I can look back and say that Greg never looked back. I can say today that he has never considered them "less-than" ... I believe it never occurs to him to think otherwise. I can say that the kids never thought of him as anything other than their dad. He is the only one for them. The fact of their adoption is so woven into the fabric of our lives that it doesn't even enter our consciousness, except for the occasions when we get to talk about it. And then we do, with awe and joy, telling the beautiful story of how God knitted us all together, for ever and ever. Amen.

Those precious children have been cared for, protected, and loved like crazy for more than 27 years now. I can't imagine our lives any other way, and yet as I write this I am reminded to be forever thankful.


Loving my husband and the father of my children,
Angie

Monday, June 29, 2015

an adoption disrupted


This is one of the hardest things I have ever written. Yet it has been pinging around, unsettled, in my soul for years and years, and it is time to bring it into the light.

(It was first shared on Find the Lovely as part of the Adoption Stories Series, which features the stories and insight of parents, advocates and others who want to give more perspective to the often-misunderstood world of adoption and foster care.)
Disrupted. Such an unlovely word. Yet this one word embodies the essence of our experience with adoption.

Ten years ago and several kids into foster parenting, God gave my husband Greg and me a deep desire to give a child a forever home.  Even though we were already empty nesters, we moved into the murky waters of the state foster care/adoption process and prepared to begin parenting anew.

They found us more than we found them. We were captivated.

Terran and Kiki. Beautiful. Ages two and three. Separated after removal from their home due to horrific living conditions. Kiki was taken straight to the hospital with extra-pulmonary tuberculosis from eating feces from the bathtub. She was neglected, wounded and so very sick, but she was fostered straight from the hospital by a wonderful woman, Cindy, who nurtured and loved her well.

Terran, on the other hand, went into another nightmare. He was separated from Kiki by a misunderstanding, and the results were devastating. At his foster home, he was locked in a closet in the dark for the better part of nine months. He didn’t walk until he was nearly two years old, was simultaneously terrified of and detached from every conceivable person and circumstance. He had almost no language, and at 2 ½ years old weighed 26 pounds.

By the time we met them, parental rights had been severed and they were both placed with Cindy. But that last paragraph, up there? We didn’t know ANY OF IT. We were completely misled by the agency, and as a result, wholly uninformed.

We visited back and forth for a few months, and then they moved in with us. To their forever home. We were over-the-top crazy in love with them, and we saw our whole future in the light of this beautiful adventure.

For a few weeks, all was well. We were aware of Terran’s delayed development, and took steps to catch him up. The kids were funny, sweet and affectionate.

But then. The honeymoon period ended, and chaos took over our home. We learned the painful reality of reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and discovered the depths of Terran’s woundedness. He became alternately withdrawn and viciously aggressive toward us and toward Kiki. Once we woke to Kiki screaming and found him sitting on her chest choking her. He kicked, hit, bit, and screamed for up to an hour at a time, and I had to forcibly restrain him to keep him (and me) safe. I was covered in bruises. Often we would find him curled up asleep in his closet, on top of all the blankets and pillows from his bed.

When we were in public, though, he was darling. Friendly, affectionate … too much so. This is a hallmark of RAD, and while we were beginning to understand it, few others did. We felt isolated and frustrated and that we were failing miserably. We were angry to discover the circumstances of his first foster placement. In short, we were at our wits’ end and no one else had a clue. Guilt and pain ruled us, even as we desperately sought answers and solutions.

We took him to a psychologist specializing in very young children like Terran, and he was diagnosed with RAD (no surprise) and bipolar disorder (HUGE surprise). Medication was not an option because of his age, and we learned that young children suffering from this illness can cycle rapidly between mania and depression, up to 30 times a day.

Finally we had an explanation for the extreme opposites in his behavior. Sadly, though, we found no lasting solutions. We read everything we could get our hands on, prayed without ceasing, got him into counseling and behavior modification programs, and just tried so hard. SO hard.

In the end, we couldn’t do it. After six months, we were exhausted and broken, and ultimately realized that we simply were not equipped to parent him. We were neglecting Kiki, who had RAD and developmental delay issues of her own, and Terran just wasn’t getting any better. He continued to escalate despite our best efforts.

So we made the most difficult phone call of our lives. Sadly, “giving up” on one meant losing both, as the State of Kansas would not separate siblings until two adoption attempts have failed. Disrupted.

And giving up is exactly what it felt like. Logically, it was the only thing that made sense. Emotionally, we were devastated. The social worker showed up the next morning and swept them away from us. They were so young that we couldn’t even explain what was happening to them. But their forever family? We were not. We were two more people in a long line who had failed them and not followed through on a promise that really, really mattered.

In the days and weeks to come, we grieved. A stray sock in the laundry, too many spoons in the silverware drawer. The aching loss, the empty house, the guilt and the wondering and the simple fear for their future. The frustration over the way the system had so abjectly failed them and frankly, us. The disappointment and isolation of judgment by those who simply didn’t understand why we had “sent them back” because all they saw was the sweet, adorable, funny little boy.

For so long I couldn’t understand why God had seemed to grant us the desire of our heart, only to have it snatched away. The future we had imagined disintegrated. Our lives were completely disrupted. Today I realize that we were simply a stop on their journey to an unknown-to-us destination. We poured into them and gave it all we had, and that was what God required of us.

It was the end of our foster care career. Our hearts were shattered, and the system is broken, and the children are not the only ones who suffer.

I know that this isn’t a happy story. I know there are readers who will not be able to understand our decision. But I also believe it is a story that needs to be told, because we are not the only ones to have lived in the darkness of this dream-come-true turned nightmare. 

We are not the only ones who were judged harshly at the greatest point of pain in our lives. I write to give a voice to all of us who feel like we failed, who are told that we just didn’t try hard enough, trust God enough, pray fervently enough, who still wade through layers of misunderstanding and pain. I write to bring it into the light.

When faced with something this painful, we have choices in how we move forward. We can let bitterness and despair rule us. We can live in the shadows of guilt and shame. Or we can trust that God will care for those precious kiddos, and trust that He is good even when things don’t make sense. We can trust His leading, even if it runs contrary to popular opinion. And it is only in the trusting that I have found peace.

Ten years later, I weep as I write this. I prayed that they were happy and whole, and that they landed somewhere full of love and healing for them. With someone who was equipped to handle their brokenness in a way that we were not. I still pray for them, and I will love them forever.

God was merciful to give us one last glimpse into their lives. The second adoption placement also disrupted. That couple was brought up on charges of child abuse against Terran. But in the end, Kiki went home to Cindy, where she was desperately loved and wanted, and Terran was adopted by his special needs teacher who is surely well equipped to parent him. The two families know each other and go to church together. And there I find the lovely.
We were not their final destination, but we were painfully privileged to be part of their journey. 

Remembering,
Angie

Saturday, June 13, 2015

broken open ... on sexual abuse and the Duggars

I think I have to write this. I generally stay away from "hot topics" and media-inflamed types of things but this time I just can't. I tried, believe me. I've let it sit and simmer and have tried, so hard, to put it away or at least out of my reach. But I just can't.

I'm not going to get into the "he-said, she-said" or the interviews or what I think about the way the whole thing was handled by that family. In the end that's their business, even though they have chosen to go public.

It's the very public-ness of it all that I can't get past. I can't stop thinking about how the abuse has been underplayed and the forgiveness has seemed easy and right and that erases it all away. Like it never happened.

But I believe that survivors of sexual abuse have been demeaned and shamed and made to feel like they should just be "over it" or worse, should never have been affected by it in the first place.

What's never spoken of is the stolen innocence and trust. Of a lifetime of wondering, was it my fault? Or will I become an abuser? What if I had ... resisted, told someone? What if I hadn't ... frozen up, kept quiet, just "let it happen"?

Because maybe it was a family member. Or close friend. Or a bully. Someone you were scared of. Because you might question whether it really even happened.

Because you know how far-reaching the damage was. Because you live with flashbacks, triggers and bad dreams still today.

Maybe because as a parent, you didn't know. How could you not know this was happening to my beloved child?

And, most likely, because you are living in shame, feel guilty, and that goes on and on.

Because even with healing and forgiving, you still live with the aftermath and it affects your most important relationships. And then you feel guilty and shameful and like SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU.

There is. You were violated, Your innocence was stolen. You weren't protected. Even if you think you put yourself in a dangerous or self-destructive placed that "caused" the abuse to happen. (You didn't, by the way.)

You question your judgment. You question trust and love and wonder what if, what if it had never happened. Who would I be? Would I be whole? What if I had protected myself? Should I have known better?

Put simply, the aftermath is devastating. All manner of pain, self-destruction, bad behavior may follow.

And what of intimacy? Can you ever truly trust yourself to another? Your deepest pain, your self-loathing, your fear, your shame, your guilt?

Can you keep it at bay and move ahead in denial even as every relationship is affected and you.don't.even.know?

Have you seen the meme?



Well guess what. They are your monkeys, and therefore it is your circus. And you were powerless under the Big Top.

So what to do?

Perhaps you become powerful and self-reliant and protect your inner broken self at all costs. You build an impenetrable hard shell. You develop coping skills so strong they define who you are, instead of being defined by who God created you to be.

Perhaps you become so painfully shy that you are paralyzed. Maybe you shut down, or lash out, or become bitter and angry, or engage in self-destructive behavior.

Maybe you refuse to to give yourself fully to anyone out of fear and shame even though you think it's really strength.

You probably freak out at unexpected touch and you've pushed it so far down you don't even know why.

You feel like you need to protect others from the truth because it might hurt THEM, even though you weren't protected and it changed your life forevermore.

And your view of God is warped. After all, if my protectors didn't protect, how can he and furthermore why should he even?

And time goes on. And with each passing month or year or decade, you are more unwilling and unable to take it out and examine the pain and loss and shame and guilt because after all you've moved on and it wasn't really that big of a deal anyway.

This, all of this, is what minimizing the effects of sexual abuse does. Highlighting the remarkable resilience of the Duggar girls sends us the message that we should just forgive and forget.

But you carry it with you always, and even your detached, logical self, cannot, in the end, change the truth.

I wonder, for real, how much it has impacted them and what the theft has taken from them and what might happen when they find out, perhaps, that they're not quite as "over it" as they think they are.

God help us not to be further shamed and confused. God help us not to retreat further into denial. God help us to face the truth. And God help them if their denial is shattered.

There is hope and healing to be found, for sure. There is help and there is hard work and there is bringing the darkness into the light and that brings freedom and finally, forgiveness.

But please, while the survivors live where they live, while they are where they are in the process, please have mercy.

Surviving,
Angie

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

broken open ... are we smarter than 5th graders?

Last week this lovely got "promoted" to middle school. Let me just tell ya, if you don't know or don't remember, everything about this age is BIG. 


Big dreams. Big plans. (This one intends to be the first woman president. Bravo, I say!)

Big emotions. Happy, sad, scared, angry ... it's all sort of hormonally hanging out there for the whole world to see.

I watched a gaggle of girls sob openly throughout the ceremony. It signified the end of the biggest chapter of their lives so far.

I watched them comfort each other tenderly, with sweet words they consoled and with gentle hands they hugged and rubbed backs and wiped their neighbor's tears away.

Even though I know that by this age they have surely formed into cliques, none of that was visible as these girls - young women, really - comforted each other. 

They gave each other their full attention, and even as they shed their own tears they wiped one another's away.

And I watched when, as one, they turned to the audience with smiles stretched wide and fists held high in triumph.

Their common emotion was bigger than any differences they might have had.

So what happens to us? Aren't we wounded by each other as we grow up, and still wounding each other as grown ups? Don't we separate ourselves into "us and them"? Or maybe just "me and everyone else in the world besides me"? And is it just me or do some of those dividing lines seem arbitrary and maybe even a little silly. Frankly, even a whole lot sad.

We could take a lesson from these sweet silly sad girls, I think.

We could choose to cross the divides, not hold ourselves apart from each other because of real or imagined differences. We could share tears and hugs and yes, even fists of triumph.

Shall we, then?

It will require each of us to be willing to "go first." We can't wait around for someone else to cross the divide. We must start across the bridge, or start building one if there's none there yet, and be willing to go all the way across. We can invite help in the building, and we can watch for our fellow bridge-crossers and link arms with them. And we can encourage those standing on the other side, the ones too scared to build or cross, that we are coming for them. To hold them close, wipe their tears, and share in their victories and defeats. To help them up, if they need it. To join them right where they are if they're too shaky to move. 

To mourn with them when they mourn, and rejoice when they rejoice.

Let's be like that gaggle of girls, for each other. And just see what happens.

Crossing the bridge,
Angie

Friday, May 22, 2015

on grief ... down the road

Nearly four months have passed since my friend's daughter, Emilie, and my husband's friend, Mike, died. We've lost more dear ones, and I have been reminded of and become acquainted with the raw grief of other great losses suffered by others near and far.

C.S. Lewis said, after the death of his wife, "I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief."

There's no getting over it. There's no return to normal. Never, ever will those who loved them and those who love their loved ones be the same. We are forever changed.

The mourning goes on each morning. Those early days of shock and sharp jagged raw grief may fade, but the process of exploring the shredded heart and figuring out how to move on without "getting over it" continues even as life continues. Even as the sun dares to shine, the flowers to bloom, the children to grow.

It's like learning to live with an amputation. Not like suffering from a fracture. While a fracture produces acute discomfort and a temporary disconnect from daily life, once it heals we "return to normal." An amputation, on the other hand, alters a life forever. The limb is GONE. And there is the need, in fact the requirement, for the amputee to compensate for the absence of what was once a vital part of their body, what once they took for granted, what once they couldn't imagine surviving without. But survive they have, even though part of them is missing and will be missing for as long as they live this side of eternity.

How, then, to do life with a missing limb? Somehow, it must be artificially replaced to restore even the most basic function. But the replacement, although serving the amputee well enough to re-enter daily life, is really no replacement for the real thing and it never ever will be. It is made of wood, or metal, or plastic, not flesh and bone and blood and marrow.

And after an amputation, is there not sharp and raw pain even in the absence?

And they, as survivors, need help just as much now as they did when they were first wounded.

They need help moving on. They need us to stand by their side, wipe the sweat from their brow, help them out of bed, support them as they learn to walk again, pick them up when they fall. They need us not to abandon them even though the surgery is over, and the stump has scarred over. They need us to understand and acknowledge the pain they still feel in that missing limb, even as we help them learn to walk again. They need us to walk beside them, but not drag them when they can't move that fast quite yet.

They need us not to pretend nothing life-altering happened. They need us to acknowledge their altered life.

They need our presence. Even if their eyes are closed and they might seem oblivious to us sometimes, when they come awake the pain is there to greet them and they need us to be sitting there, still.

I've posted some recently on being broken open in our relationships. Many of us struggle with finding people who are safe enough to be broken with.

If there's anything I've learned in these past months, it's that I am safest to be broken when I am with the broken. When I acknowledge my own pain and don't pretend to have all the answers, when I simply cry and wail and grieve with them, when I pray with them and for them, when I feel their pain. I have been surprised by the capacity of the broken to respond to brokenness in me.

No, I can't pour my own pain on top of the unimaginable pain of my loved ones. That's not what I mean, and that's not helpful to them. But we can share pain, and that is different, and it is healing even though we never get over it, whatever the 'it' is, and there is safety in the common emotion.

We move on, move forward, our heads bowed together, our hands reaching up with an offering of perhaps the only thing we have to give right now, our pain. We remind each other that even when it seems that heaven is silent, God is weeping. And that we are not only acceptable, but accepted. And that God is merciful, even if it is a severe mercy today.

And that tomorrow is a new day, whatever it may bring.

Moving onward,
Angie


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

broken open ... when nothing fits the same anymore

I have this pair of fuzzy pants. They're my favorite. My go-to, first thing I put on when the laundry's done, favorite.




Cute, huh? Colorful, a little loud, maybe, quite noticeable.

There's just one problem.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

broken open ... the critic

In our quest to find the people we can be vulnerable with, who will listen without judging, who will not criticize, who will not shame us, who are genuinely interested in our brokenness, it may be helpful

Sunday, May 3, 2015

unfailing love

Unfailing. To me, that means the opposite of failing. Or even to reverse a failure, to make it into a success. Until one day, when I came across this verse:



And I started to wonder, what does it mean when GOD says it?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

outside the box

Until recently, I lived in this box.



It is a logical, analytical, orderly place to live. It is organized and makes sense.