Knock, Knock

Death is one of those things that we generally don’t like to talk about. When it comes to visit, besides being awfully sad and emotional, it also has the power to stop time and give everyone a proper shake in their boots for a bit. Depending on the closeness of the loss, it can be debilitating. Sadly, I think for many of us, the daily grind of life and striving for happiness seeps back in rather quickly and we no longer have death at the forefront of our minds. Not that I think we should be morbidly thinking of the Grim Reaper every morning, but the preciousness of life is something we too easily forget. I was skimming back through Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, and found a quote from Frederick Buechner where he writes, 

“Intellectually we all know that we will die, but we do not really know it in the sense that the knowledge becomes a part of us. We do not really know it in the sense of living as though it were true. On the contrary, we tend to live as though our lives would go on forever.”

I just attended a funeral of one of my high school classmates this past weekend; a death of someone far too young. She was delightful and shining in so many ways. I saw the effects of this loss in her family and friends as they were mourning and it was heartbreaking. A couple weeks back, we celebrated the life of my grandmother-in-law and although I knew her fairly well for over the last 15+ years, it was so beautiful to hear the words of her grandchildren as they recalled how impactful she was for the duration of their lives.

As most would agree, I hate death. I hate the uncertainty of when it will come knocking. It’s one of my earliest fears as a child; wanting to have all the people I love in one room with me so I could keep them safe. As I heard the pastor say several times during his message at this most recent funeral, “We just don’t know”. We don’t know the time or place of our deaths and those we love. I’m re-reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and there’s a time when as a young girl, Corrie is exposed to the reality of death.

She cries out to her father, “You can’t die! You can’t!” In reference to their weekly train rides to Amsterdam, he asked her “when do I give you your ticket?” Corrie says, “Why just before we get on the train” and her father replies, “Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need-just in time.”

We have a vet appointment for tomorrow afternoon to put down my dog, Millie. Although I’ve been thinking of it for a while now and I know it’s time, the reality of it makes me sad. I don’t like the finality of it. I’ve been wanting to do all I can to make these last couple of days really comfortable and trying to make sure she knows I love her. Death is hard. Life is hard, too, and we can work at a furious pace trying to keep all of our ducks in a row and strive to be “social media happy”, but I sure hope for a deeper and more grateful style of living. At least for today while it is louder than normal, I will try and recognize who is here and hug them a little tighter. After all, we just don’t know. 

“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Psalm 139:16

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It’s Dark in Here.

The mountains and valleys of life are very curious and unpredictable. Just when I think I may be turning the corner or slowing down the ride for a nice view, the roller coaster does a big dip and makes my stomach flop. If you know me at all, you know I greatly dislike roller coasters. I don’t like the unknown, the icky feeling, AKA “thrill” feeling it gives some people.

Though I recently went through a really rough batch and felt forgotten and lonely, I ultimately know that I am not. It’s so easy to forget when it’s dark though. I imagine you can relate. I heard this message in a few different ways as I was working through the dark spot: look for the little ways that God is providing, nudging me, or reminding me that He’s there. In one of the sermons at church I heard, “the way God often works is through committed kindness, little by little”. That can come in many ways and I found it a timely and helpful reminder to keep me from wallowing too much in my self-pity.  A kind encourager told me that God reveals Himself way more than I likely realize. As I have come to recognize and gratefully so: just because God doesn’t fix me or my circumstances doesn’t mean He’s not present. I have spent a lot of time getting caught up in that frustrating web, which really ends up just entangling me more tightly. Tim Keller says, “If we are in a storm and we pray to him, he may still the storm (Mark 4:39), or he may instead help us, as he did Peter, to walk through the storm without sinking (Matthew 14:27-31).”

I hope you, dear reader, can begin to look up and out more often at the ways your Creator may be providing for and encouraging you. Ask Him to direct ways that you could be used by Him to encourage someone else. He is good. No matter what it looks like outside or feels like inside, He is good. 

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Who The Heck Do You Think You Are?

First of all, this blog entry is my husband’s nightmare and makes him shudder. He is not a fan of reflecting or rehashing his feelings. He’s not an insensitive rock, but let’s just say we are a good balance! Now to my dramatic point: Anyone else ever sit back sometimes and wonder who you really are? You are likely not as introspective or slightly obsessive in your thinking as I am and you can thank God for that! However, I’ve heard the phrase “mid-life crisis” in many a movie scene and it may be more common than we recognize; maybe just not as dramatic.

As a teenager, I was as confident as they come. Don’t get me wrong, I made plenty of poor choices based on the desire to be liked or funny, but overall, I felt like the world was my oyster. Then, as I hit the end of college my anxiety crawled into my life and left me crippled internally by the age of 25. If there’s anything that can shake up your confidence, it’s an anxiety disorder. I’ve made my way through life since then and now at almost 38 years old, I can see my Little Blue Confidence Engine saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” I was down in the valley for some time, but hope to keep chugging up hill.

All the time in the valley has recently made me evaluate who Emily really is. The real one. The one that’s been stripped of prideful confidence and wants to be humbly confident in my skin, cellulite and all! ha! Have you spent any time on this? If you’re not an over-thinker, you may just be living and not worried about it (like my man)! I envy you! I have some older women in my life who have described what happened when they hit 40 or 50 and they began to care a lot less about what other people think and are overall more confident in their skin. That sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well, either way I hope you will stop and consider what makes you, YOU. What makes you genuinely smile? What do you love to wear that makes you feel confident? What would you most want your children or family and friends to say about you once you’re long gone? What colors, scents, or art make you feel vibrant? What music makes you feel good all the way down to your toes? How do you want to be treated? Is there anything you want to do that would improve your well-being, sleep, or stress level? How does God see you? What makes your shoulders release and fall and gives you a sense of peace? Do you love your work or do you feel purposeful in your work? What is your purpose?

I’ll go first: I love the word cozy and everything it entails. Rain makes me less anxious and gives me a feeling of calm. I want to wear comfortable clothing (with the exception of a fancy dress every now and then) that is stylish and modest, but not frumpy and certainly does not involve tight jeans that reveal my butt crack or muffin top! I want to clear out my closet to only make way for things that make me feel good. I don’t want to care what the scale says, but still want to balance good self-care with good chocolate desserts. Being a mother is something I am deeply honored to be and I love it. I wish that I were born in the early 1900s and could live at Green Gables on Prince Edward Island and walk magically under the poplar trees. I love the beauty of mountains, rambling creeks, and stretches of green. I love reading books that help me grow and grin and giggle. I absolutely love teaching and encouraging kids to know they are special and valued. I wish that I had a deeper relationship with my parents and hope that my children and grandchildren will feel safe to share life with me as long as I’m alive. I crave balance; solid sleep, quiet time with God, a tidy home, and check marks on my to-do list. I am still working diligently on healing and freedom from my anxiety and depression and believe that someday soon I will be free of unnecessary guilt and yuck. Although I don’t often believe it enough, the Creator of the Universe knows me and adores me and I want to love Him back. I want to glorify Him with everything I do; not out of guilt, but because He is so wonderful and powerful and yet so intimately aware of us. I want to be respected. I want to be someone that people feel comfortable sharing their struggles and to encourage them with honest hope. I want to be Emily.

 

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Wherefore Art Thou, Holy Spirit?

I think if I looked back at my journals over the last year or so, I’d see a lot of frustration being pointed to my inability to hear or sense God when I wanted Him to tell me what to do or provide relief. I was reminded numerous times of Mother Teresa, when after she passed away, they found her own writings that showed her often experiencing a stale faith and a quiet God. She still obeyed and practiced such self-discipline and trust in the way that she kept on serving and loving others, but I can imagine that would be very challenging. So many well-respected Christians from our history have experienced their own bouts of depression or lethargy when it came to their faith. God is quiet sometimes. However, other times He speaks so clearly through miracles, circumstances one could never be convinced are “coincidences”, dreams, hearts and lives changed, etc. I know it is wise to learn to expect an ebb and flow in faith patterns and that it is very normal. He is always with us, regardless of feelings, but it is also wise to know His promises so we can lean on them in the dry seasons.
I have wanted the touchy-feely faith that some people seem to have and I’ve wanted it to comply with my idol of comfort. I like happy thoughts and smooth days. I like feeling organized and in control. I don’t think that’s crazy or abnormal, but it can make emotions that are different than that bring me down and feel frustrated with God. With my prayers, as I addressed in a previous post, I’ve spent a lot of effort trying so hard to hear from Him; maybe hoping for an encouraging phrase or clear direction of some sort. I have had an experience like that a couple of times in my life, but it is not a regular occurrence. So often I forget that God can “speak” through other people, things we experience or learn, but most importantly (but often times the most challenging) through His Word.
Within just the last month or so, I have come across repetition on this issue. My brain needs repetition. Just last week I heard myself saying something like, “I read this last week, and then the sermon on Sunday had the same message, and then wait! this was in my stinking notes from bible study!” I like it when He does that. He gets me. God knows my skeptical, stubborn nature.
Some of the rich information I have learned recently addressed how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. The Trinity is by far one of the more challenging concepts to attempt to understand, but the mystery of it is becoming almost beautiful to me. I love to see Jesus as the physical human example of God; God with skin on. Jesus is a way for us to hear His words and see the way he treated others, so we will also know how to attempt to love. He is the “only mediator between God and mankind” (1 Timothy 2:5). The Holy Spirit, or sometimes called Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, or Helper (my favorite) is the connection to Christ for us humans. One of the most significant ways I learned the Holy Spirit works is to bring to mind what Jesus has already said. This was a huge revelation for me! This may sound silly to a mature believer, but I have spent so much time trying to “get” God to talk to me, when that is exactly what the Word of God is meant to do. I’ve always known I’m supposed to read the Bible, but it ain’t easy. It can be intimidating. I read the Word when I do bible studies or devotionals pretty regularly, but I am yet to be really IN the Word; where I am genuinely feeding on it, reading it as true daily instruction or the ultimate way to hear from the God of the whole universe! As a friend shared with me today, to be “in Christ” is to be in the Word. John 15:15 has Jesus saying, “all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you”. How cool is that?
I feel as though a page has turned and I’m able to see a bit more on how I am able to know more of God. I guess it seems obvious that the way to know God better is to read the Bible, but I think I have just avoided the self-discipline needed to really do so and preferred He just give me the Cliffs Notes version or a one-liner; bada-bing! A struggle I’ve come to recently realize in the last couple of years is that I know about Jesus, but don’t know Jesus. I began to pray that I would learn to know Him and I imagine this process that’s unfolding is just a sliver of the answer to that prayer. How do you hear from the Holy Spirit? Has the Word of God come alive to you and reminded you of His promises?

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Welcome, 2017!

Where are you right now? Are you emotionally spent from the holidays? Tired and weary? Or maybe you’ve taken down your Christmas decorations and are feeling organized, energetic and optimistic about the coming year? Or, like me, you may be a bit of both depending on the time of day.

I have been struggling over the last couple of weeks, off and on, with my basket of uneasiness and depression. I am very thankful that it didn’t suck all of the joy from my Christmas celebration with family. It has been an unwanted guest for many beautiful gatherings in the past, so I appreciate the break.  I had a hard time sleeping the night before last and as I’ve written before, that encourages my anxiety monkey to hold on tighter than average.  It nags at me and makes me feel heavy. I’m short-tempered with my children when I want to be patient and attentive. Yesterday I took my kids on a long walk and purposely tried looking up and out. I’ve spent thousands of hours looking inward at the way I was feeling and being consumed by my thoughts and worries over those thoughts. I’m tired of doing that. I want to kick it’s ass. But, I’m a vulnerable prey to it’s grip and it’s a tough battle sometimes.

I believe my most recent “batch”, as I call them, was instigated by stress. That’s fairly common, but it’s so easy for me to dismiss that stress and not connect the dots as to why I may have gotten stuck on an icky thought or feel defeated. I want to make that point clear, so that you, dear reader, are not also falling victim to the “shoulds” of life. Last week when I was cringing against the potential avalanche of scary feelings that I dread and wondering why I’d gotten stuck, I briefly spoke with my Mom about it. She pointed out the added stress I’d had of preparing for Christmas and my daughter’s family birthday party, on top of the everyday Mom duties. I knew it had been a bit stressful, but as I referenced above, I had dismissed it and thought, ” I should be able to handle it and anyways, it’s fun stress!” As I spent some time reflecting on the previous few weeks, I could recall a sense of intensified pressure I’d been putting on myself. I wanted things to be just so, holiday fun and festive, trying to maintain an almost neurotic clutter-free zone in the house, planning out when we’d do Christmas movie nights, cookies, light cruising, etc., etc. Will everyone jive at the birthday party? (divorced parents make for added stress). The house should be just so. It’s my job. I should be able to handle all of the extras.

This certainly carries over into my mental health struggles, too, because I often feel and hear myself thinking, “I should be over this by now” or “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”. That’s not fair inner dialogue and only consistently heaps pressure on our heads as mothers/husbands, spouses, Christians, friends, siblings, sons/daughters, so on and so forth. What are you “shoulding” about? Several years ago I did a self-help program for anxiety and depression and a lesson theme was, “Stop Shoulding On Yourself!” Often times we don’t even hear it or like me, we keep at a distracted, busy pace and don’t notice that the “shoulds” are wearing us thin. You may not have a kick-in-the-pants anxiety monkey like I do, but beware that the stress and “shoulds” may peek out in other ways.

If I were giving myself advice, which is really what a great deal of my blogging is, I would say that it’s important to be open to warning signs of the stressors. Stress is normal and at certain times, depending on circumstances, it can be at an all-time high. That’s ok, but it’s an even more important time to try your best to take care of yourself. All of the basics that we hear a million times and often push to the back of the line, like exercise and a somewhat balanced diet. Being mindful of the amount of time we spend in front of a screen, distracting us from quiet. We need quiet, if only in little batches. Prayer. Remembering that things could always be worse and we have many things to name as blessings. Above all, I’d remind myself that we are good enough. I struggle with that daily, but it still remains true. We can do our very best and that may vary from day to day. Life is not a lick like I thought it would be and much harder than I ever anticipated. I am humanly unable to get it all right and be as I think I “should”. I will do my best and keep working on taking care of myself, so that I can be my best, and that may not look like what we think it should. Let’s try and remember that for the incoming year. Another worthy reminder is that we will get caught up in the “shoulds” again and again, but being gentle on ourselves and recognizing it earlier each time will help ease it over time.

We welcome you, 2017! New Year, you remind me of a “bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils”, as Kathleen Kelly says in my all-time favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail , and I look forward to a new slate. A new quarter in school. A fresh start. I tend to be a frightened little girl about the future, but I welcome you, nonetheless. Cheers!

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If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…

Well, I wondered if I’d ever step foot into blog world again after my last one stirring the political pot on Facebook. There is irony found in the connection between my last two posts: one being about my people-pleasing tendencies and then the next one about Trump that allowed me to get a bit of a verbal whoopin’ and lose some respect from people that I care about. It is the complete opposite of what I strive for (to a fault) in wanting to make sure everyone likes me. I have thought many times that I wish I’d kept my thoughts to myself on such a fiery topic, especially when I question my decision as the future president continues to tweet nonsense…However, as I reflect on it, I think it was good for me in a lot of ways. My pastor has reminded me that because of Christ, I am free. I’m free to share my opinion on things and that is true regardless of the push back I may receive. However, I still feel sad about what feels like damage that has occurred with some relationships or even acquaintances; just for giving my opinion on how we should be treating others with a different perspective or choice of vote. I feel like any walls I may have worked at tearing down from certain people that are different than me (i.e. politics, religion, sexual preferences, etc.) were built right back up and maybe even a little higher. That may not be the case, but it feels like it and feels discouraging.

One area that in which I have prided myself and sometimes maybe a little too desperately, is the fact that I tend to consistently play devil’s advocate on issues and try to remain open-minded and seeing both sides. I never, ever want to be considered close-minded to issues in our country, world, or what’s to come in eternity. I am extremely sensitive by nature and that helps me to feel deep compassion for others struggling with life. My wonderful husband is a conservative-minded guy who reads up and listens to the news consistently and I value his opinion on things because he’s done his research, but like Paula Abdul successfully coined, “opposites attract” and we don’t always agree on the issues. With other family and friends on a more liberal field, I try my best to hear their side, too and often find myself right in the middle on big issues because I can understand both sides. I think it’s great to be willing to hear different sides and I will keep doing that, but not in an effort just to win approval.

So, the lesson from all of this? It could be that one should never publicly share their opinion on politics or other hot topics and only blog about fluffy things. But, that’s lame and not brave. Here’s what I know and will type out for all of us to see as a reminder:

Be mindful of the way you react to someone else. Stop. Pray. Breathe. Then you can respond, if you still feel led. (another great tip from my pastor)

Be willing to slow down and listen to the other side. They feel just as passionate about it as you do.

So long as you are being respectful, you are FREE to share your thoughts and opinions.

Not everyone is going to like you. And they may even say ugly words. That’s OK.

When you respond inappropriately out of strong emotion or act ugly to someone, tough up and seek their forgiveness! What a beautiful example that can be.

Overall, if you know and trust in the Bigger Picture, you are FREE in Christ.

 

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Trump, There It Is!

I’m processing and stewing over the presidential election results from earlier this week. Facebook has been flooded, as expected, but many of the posts have been slaps in my face and I have been fluctuating between frustration, sadness, fear, and confusion. Yesterday I read something along the lines of, “If you voted for Trump, be ready to explain to your Muslim, gay, and/or black friends why you don’t love or support them”. Today I was extremely disheartened to hear of school-aged children that are frightened for deportation or judgment. It should not be this way and something is clearly wrong.

Trump is sexist and crude. That I don’t deny. Where I stray from some of the people I love on this issue is that I don’t see where he is a racist and hateful. I don’t understand why someone believes that he wants a “white America”. I feel that the media has done a “quality” job in bashing and twisting his words and not acknowledging any clarifications he may have made to mend misunderstandings. What I see is that he clearly does not think before he speaks, nor is he “politically correct” in the things he tends to say. That became misconstrued to mean he’s a racist and hates people unlike him.  I think he doesn’t want illegal criminals crossing over into our country and he wants to do something drastic to stop the flow of criminals bringing both danger and drugs into our country. I think he doesn’t want extreme Islamists coming into our country and plotting dangerous ISIS-related terrorist attacks on our soil, not a Muslim family wanting new opportunities in America. The video showing him allegedly mocking a disabled man…the videos of him doing the same hand motions when describing other non-disabled people, even in the same speech,were honestly very convincing to me that he did not do what he’s accused of doing. This is not me trying to find excuses for the man. Why would I? I am honestly confused and honestly frustrated. It is so interesting to me that I can see this so differently than other people in my life and that’s not meaning that they should be seeing it the way I do. To me, it seems the media hates him so much and they took his tacky way or maybe even inaccurate way of saying certain things and have blown them up in an outrageous way, to the extend that we have children scared and frightened because they’ve been told that Donald Trump hates them. It should not be this way! They (the media) were trying to make certain Clinton won and as a result, have helped to spread this fear. On top of that, the real crazy citizens that do hate like that, feel like they have the right to spew it out on others and think Trump represents their beliefs, too, and I just don’t think it’s the case.

I’m not an idiot for thinking that either, but of course I’ve been indirectly accused of it. Frankly, it pisses me off that I, someone that circled the bubble next to Donald J. Trump, am being lumped into a group being labeled as racist, heartless, hateful, etc. Are there “white sexist men” out there who hate gays, blacks, Muslims? Sadly, yes. Are they the majority of voters that elected him? That’s doubtful. I have been made to feel that I am not allowed to feel ANYTHING except what YOU say is right. I do not hate ANYONE. I do not spew hatred in any direction! I simply see things differently than you and have looked at the issues: concerns on terrorists and illegal criminal activity, abortion, freedom of speech and religion…and made a decision. I know it’s the people-pleasing tendency I have that makes me care so much what others feel about me and that I shouldn’t care, but I do; mainly because I want them to know that I honestly see it differently than they do, and although it’s so strange that we can be so different, that should be ok.

On a slightly different note, if this hate hadn’t been misconstrued, I wonder if Trump would be an somewhat ideal candidate for all political parties. He seems balanced on some of the important issues. Unlike a stereotypical Republican, he doesn’t hate Planned Parenthood and sees the good they do (besides abortions). I also don’t believe he’s against gay rights for marriage equality.

What is to be done at this point? I’m frightened for now. I’m hoping that with time and continued clarification over Trump’s intended plans, that everyone will feel safer and calmer. As my Dad would say, “it is what it is” at this point, and we as Americans need to do the best we can. The hate-spewing and riots ain’t doing the trick though.

 

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