Wednesdays With Watson

I should not be alive, I get that.  I understand the responsibility that comes with surviving.

I will always be grateful that I get the opportunity to share Jesus when I tell my story.  People often get overwhelmed by the gravity of the trauma and they lose the coolest part of the story, the redemption part. If you are walking life with me you are literally watching ALL things become NEW, one of the most precious promises of the Bible-and this is just the beginning of the redemption– not to be compared to eternity!  That is true in your life too, it’s easy to focus on the suffering and the pain, and we so often forget the gift of redemption and the opportunity to further the gospel through our response to suffering.

Every time I get the opportunity to tell even portions of my story, I always try to remember to declare my mission:  I just want to be a good steward of the pain. I would not choose most of the things that I have suffered, but I also would not ask for those things to be taken away, they have been a gift to me and I want to be a good steward of that gift.

I want Him to find me faithful in using the gift of pain.  It’s terrifying though, surviving trauma seems easy comparatively speaking.  But I know that He has called me and therefore has equipped me not only with lessons learned from trauma, but giftings that we all have. I am a teacher at heart with a passion that is second only to a love affair with learning.  I love digging in with other learners and there is nothing that dumps the dopamine more than watching “A HA” moments!  But my passion gets buried with owning a business, surviving multiple health issues and living in this neighborhood we call adulthood.  I am not a fan of this hood, for the record.

Speaking of gifts, I am reminded of the precious gift of friendship.  I have always been really fortunate in the friends department, I didn’t think it could get better or even different, but 2019 brought my friends out brighter than ever, and I needed them more than ever.  I finished the year with friends I didn’t start the year with and new friendships grew quickly and I became aware at how awesome our God is to give us the friends we have whether it be for a reason, season or lifetime.  Some of those new friendships were made in the most unconventional way –utilizing social media and a shared passion. As a result, I spent the year with amazing people in my life pouring wisdom and encouragement into me, and suddenly these people, some of whom I have never even met, became part of my almost daily life.  The realization of such pushed me to question, could the gift of pain, and the gift of friendship somehow coincide with my passion to teach?

If you have the right friends, you can only avoid them for so long, and if you have two of my friends, you downright feel bullied after they throw down their gauntlet.  Both of them are fairly familiar with my relatively non complaint nature, and so they use their gauntlets sparingly, and so when it’s thrown down, I listen.

“You need to be teaching” was the edict from both of them.  Really, they were only giving a voice to the desires of my heart.

Could Wednesdays With Watson have a whole new meaning?!

If you are interested in joining an online Bible study, I would love to have you!  We will use a universal video application for the study, it will be topical so there is no need to purchase a book of any kind (just need you and your Bible).  I would LOVE if any of you also have a passion for teaching that can pinch hit for me in the event that my work or health requires me to miss a class.  We will likely meet on Wednesdays, but much will be determined by the people that want to attend.  I would count it an honor to spend time with any of you who want to dig deep into Jesus and go where He takes us!  Details with be forthcoming, as so much depends on interest level.

There are two ways to let me know if you are interested.  Preferred method is email at amy@amywatsonauthor.com or you can DM/PM me.

 

 

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. I Peter 3:15

 

I am so eager to share with you the reason for the Hope that is within me and I would love to hear the reason for the Hope within you too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Alone

Not Alone

They were serial killers, both of them. They were also the people my mom chose to babysit my sister and me.  Regardless of where we were, I was happy if it wasn’t at home with an emotionally absent mom and an abusive step-father.  When we were at home we were padlocked in a room for hours every day.  Generally speaking, being away from home also guaranteed us a meal or two–we did not get that in the prison room.

Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole ultimately admitted to hundreds of murders, one of them being my step-sister, but most notably Adam Walsh.  Both men were friends with my step-father and so we saw them often. We were responsible for feeding ourselves, so my sister and I worked odd jobs.  One of my jobs was cleaning the serial killers’ house. I was seven years old and have vivid memories of washing dishes standing on a step stool. I often feel fortunate to be alive.  There really isn’t a logical explanation that either one of them did not add us to their murder roster.  Even though I didn’t know it at the time, this was a time God showed up. His will trumped the unspeakable evil in those men and as a result I am alive to tell you about the faithfulness of God.  He is, indeed, faithful and so good regardless of how it looks.

Otis Toole was arrested for the murder of Adam Walsh and Henry Lee Lucas disappeared after he killed my step-sister.  Eventually they both ended up on death row where they died of natural causes. But, their arrest did not protect me from other men abusing me. My mom continued to send us to unsafe places with unsafe people.  Ultimately, because of her neglect, there would be 7 different men who decided I was their property.  At about age 7, I decided to pick where I was going to hang out, but even I picked unsafe places.  And it was at that age abuser number one stole my innocence along with the innocence of several other kids in the same room.  For years, I could not remember who the man in the room was. There were so many nights I fell asleep talking to the air, hoping somebody was listening. 

About 3 years later, I was at my friend’s house when we opened the door to a man and a woman offering free candy if we wanted to go to church.  To be honest, I viewed going to church as another place I could be that wasn’t home.  I was all about jumping on that yellow bus and going to church.  What I found there changed the course of my life forever.  That “Air” I had been talking to had a name and it was Jesus, and He had a plan for my life. The people at church told me I was important and valuable.  I’d never felt so loved.  Every time the doors were open, I was at church.  As it would turn out many years later, God used that church and those people for a season of my life when I had nobody but them.  God continued to remain faithful and I know that knock on the door changed everything for me.  However, it was difficult to reconcile how a “good” God could allow all that happened to me up until that point.  I wanted to know this Jesus and as I sought to know Him, I clung to His promise to never leave me because everyone else had.

My mom continued to bring danger into our home. Ultimately, the state got involved and removed me from her care.  They told her if she would make her pedophile boyfriend leave that they would bring me back home. She agreed, and I was elated that she’d chosen me over the man that would have been the 8th person to abuse me.  The social workers drove me to our house and from the car I could see a yellow sticky note on the glass front door.  The note had 5 words on it: “Gone to get married, Mom.” Those five simple words made me an orphan, alone and abandoned by the one who gave me life and should have loved me.  The social workers walked me back to the car, their tears matching mine.

They drove straight to the courthouse where I watched the judge sign off on paperwork terminating my mom’s parental rights. I literally belonged to nobody, except the state of Florida.  I stayed with my pastor and his family for 18 months before being placed in a children’s home in Tampa, Florida.

I often tell people that the years I spent at the children’s home were some of the best years of my life.  However, when my foster parents dropped me off there, it felt like another abandonment.  My already fragile heart shattered into a million pieces as I watched them drive away from the children’s home. The first weeks were brutal, but my faithful God provided for me from the first day.  I was immediately loved and cherished by the people there, and that was a time when the Air I’d been praying to felt palatable to me; it felt like He just picked me up and carried me.  By the time I got to the children’s home it felt like I’d lived 3 lifetimes.  But the truth is I’d only traveled around the sun 14 times. I’d survived more trauma than most people would see in a lifetime.  But He was still there, He changed the narrative and got me out of situations where abusive people would be added to my roster.  Even at that young age, I understood that I would not survive all that happened without Him, and I was and am confused as to how people live their lives without Him.

While at the children’s home, I had many opportunities to tell my story, and I did.  We traveled to churches around the country and I would stand in front of hundreds of people and tell the story of the serial killers. I testified that neither one of them hurt me, because that is what my memory told me. 

But memory is a weird thing and once I was safe at the home, I began to remember other things that I’d buried in a memory bank that I wished was permanently closed.  Even so, I thrived there and after graduating from college, I moved back to Jacksonville where I met and married the next name to be added to my roster.

By the time Henry Lee Lucas died in 2001, I had all but forgotten about him, but remained fearful of the things that would withdraw itself from my memory bank.  By that time, I was in the throes of an abusive marriage. There were times I wished the serial killers would have chosen me for one of their victims. I’d survived 7 different abusers as a child and now was living with, being hit by, and controlled by a monster.

The prison room of my childhood was merely replaced by a prison house where I was isolated from friends and got very good at hiding bruises for when I was allowed to leave the house. He’d crowned himself both judge and jury and his game was isolation. He craved power and knew that controlling me was controlling the narrative of our crazy lives.  I no longer trusted the faithfulness of God. The pain was too much and I began to believe that I was alive for the sole purpose of being the prey of others.  I stopped going to church, stopped reading my Bible, and I definitely stopped talking to the Air. I survived by self-medicating which, in turn, became a full-blown addiction to pain pills. Remembering things I’d forgotten coupled with the war waging in my own home was too much for me.  I didn’t want to be alive. I took a handful of pain pills, washed it down with a bottle of wine, and was shocked when I woke up the next morning.  I knew something had to change and I needed help for the pervasive sexual and physical abuse that had firmly placed itself in the forefront of my memory. When I woke up that morning, grateful I didn’t die of an overdose, I started talking to the Air again.  I wanted to end my decade long standoff with God.  I found a Bible and begged God to change the story in my home, but also thanked Him for His faithfulness.   Jesus met me at the intersection of hope & despair. It turns out that Jesus was exactly where He was when I decided to ignore Him and I craved relationship with Him—even if He didn’t change the narrative at home. I was very close to leaving my husband, but could not see my way clear to that since he had effectively taken all access to money away from me.  The tipping point was the night I woke up to a massive headache as a result of being hit with a .45 caliber gun.  I knew then that one of two things were going to happen.  He was going to either pull that trigger and it would all be over, or I would find a way to leave him.  So, with less than $1,000 I left him, spending some time in Canada first because of how dangerous he continued to be.  Ultimately, I moved back to Clearwater where I went to college. Even though only a few of my friends lived there, it was important for me to get as far away from him as possible.  

If I doubted the faithfulness of God at all, what happened next could not be scripted by the best of storytellers.

Signatures on divorce papers didn’t make the danger go away and I was constantly looking over my shoulder as my abusive, now ex-husband continued to threaten my life. Even though I left him, it felt like abandonment, again. I spent much of my time trying to understand God and when He would decide that I’d had enough.  So, I stopped talking to the Air again; but Jesus was not going to let go. I remembered a big church on the corner not far from my apartment.  So, I decided that I would give it a try.  While that decision felt like my own, I can see now that this was another place where Jesus met me in that painful place. He picked me up and carried me.  Again.  I met friends at that church that stood in huge gaps for me and are still part of my healing today.  While I was trying to figure out God, they were talking to him on my behalf, a lot.

Attempting to figure out God is exhausting.  As it turned out, that big church on a corner had a school and I’d landed a teaching job.  Both the church and work became a refuge for me. As long as I was at either of those places I was ok, but the real war came at night.  And I was simply tired of fighting monsters that I could not see.  I didn’t see it then, but I do now. God had handpicked that church, that school and more importantly those friends for the sole purpose of holding me up, because I couldn’t do it alone, no matter how hard I tried.  And believe me, I tried.

I’d been in Clearwater about a year when all of the trauma caught up with me, and my body rebelled in grand fashion.  Everyday felt like adrenaline was running through my veins, sleep was rare and eating even more rare.  One night I laid in bed staring at the ceiling and every time the clock indicated another hour had passed without sleep, I took a Klonopin.  By the time morning came, I’d taken 9 pills.  I still went to work and about my day.  For reasons that I can’t explain I told one of my bosses what I had taken the night before.  As I spoke to him I felt like I was looking into the eyes of Jesus, because his compassion and kindness lead to a decision that probably saved my life.  An hour later, one of my friends was driving me to the hospital.  I signed myself into the psych ward, where I spent the next 5 days.  The doctors began throwing around words like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and nervous breakdown.  While I was there I felt free for the first time in my life to just breathe.  Nobody wanted anything from me there, my only job was to eat, rest and breathe.

After getting out of the hospital the real work began.  Memories were still stealing sleep and therefore my health was rapidly declining.  Most of the PTSD flashbacks didn’t make sense, but I continued to have one very strong flashback and that was the first abuser and that hot dark room when I became the world’s youngest adult.  I had several years of these flashbacks and I survived them because of my commitment to and participation in solid counseling.  I knew there were things I simply could not remember, except in parts.  As I got healthier both physically and emotionally, new layers of memories would present themselves.  Most of them were benign in nature and I was able to use some of the skills I learned in counseling to mitigate the terror.

However, I had a true crisis of faith when my worst fear came true, remembering something I’d forgotten. Henry Lee Lucas was one of those things I’d forgotten. It was him, he was the one in the room. The realization of this crashed down on me in many ways.  I ebb from grateful he did not kill me to guilty for the same reason. This has been a difficult realization because I understand that I easily could have been a victim of more than sexual abuse from Henry Lee Lucas.  Remembering things like this that my brain has “forgotten” has driven me to my knees more than once in recent years. I would be lying if I didn’t say I am still fearful of the things I don’t remember. But, again, Jesus won’t let go, and so I find myself begging Him for grace to trust Him more if I do remember more things I have forgotten.

I realize that I cannot breathe without my Air.  While my life is defined by abandonment, there is One who has never left, and who never will.  I understand that He knows my pain as He himself was abandoned on the cross.

Because He is, in fact, good–even when reality isn’t. 

Victory

The bright white building outlined in red hasn’t changed in 40 years.  I could see it from my beachfront hotel room.  Even though it was a couple of miles down the beach, I could easily recognize that red cross on the side of that building.  That cross is internationally known to symbolize help and by proxy, hope.  I knew that building well, I sought it often as a towheaded kid who clearly was born with an unadulterated love for the ocean.

We often hung around the lifeguard/Red Cross building as young kids. Having saved every penny from the week’s odd jobs, we jumped on a city bus with little more than our swim suits and maybe an extra t-shirt.  When we weren’t in the ocean or playing on the sand dunes (oops),  we were hanging around that bright white building with the cross painted on the side.  We played for hours on the boardwalk, enjoyed the food vendors and street performers.  Nobody really knew where we were, nor did they care, so we’d often stay until the last bus picked us up to take that long trip “home”.  The buses were always colder than they needed to be and often elicited chill bumps on our sun kissed skin.

I stood somewhat paralyzed on that same beach a few weeks ago and those memories flooded my mind and overtook my senses.  For a minute, I was that towheaded kid again.  The ocean was turbulent that day as a storm off the coast of Jacksonville decided to hang out for a bit. The waves crashed into the earth’s crust with an angry energy that I understood.  I decided to walk towards that white building, the one that signified help and hope. I scanned the ground for shells or rocks.  My phone was shuffling  some pretty amazing songs and it turned into a sweet JAM  (Jesus And Me) session that I will never forget.

I was in Jacksonville for reasons that were far from fun.  And I was telling Jesus about it. Come Thou Fount shuffled on my phone and just like every other time I hear that song, I was intrigued about a single lyric.  

“Here I raise my Ebenezer hither by thy help I come…”

Because this part of the song ALWAYS stops me in my tracks, I knew the story behind “Ebenezer” and on this day, I wanted to raise an Ebenezer.  The word, in the original text, means “stone of help”.  I turned the stone around between my fingers, I didn’t remember picking it up, Jesus and I were having a talk.

I continued towards the Red Cross building. I can’t be sure if the memories drew me there or the symbolism of that building drew me there. Either way I was on a mission to get there.  I replayed that song and listened intensely to that lyric.  I knelt down and wrote “Victory” in the sand with my rock, and then took a picture of my Ebenezer.

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I was determined to leave some things on the beach that day.  I needed to leave some things on the beach that day.  And so I raised my Ebenezer and thanked God for the victory that He has given me over armies of darkness,  groups of traumas and multiple health issues.  God, in His kindness and sovreignity, healed my brain enough for me to face, fight and win battles and wars.

Trauma is stubborn, it is greedy, and it will, left unchecked, absolutely destroy it’s tenant.  I fully understand what a miracle my life is.  I wanted to leave my mom on the beach that day.  I thought of her a lot on that JAM walk. I remembered seeing a picture of mom and my sister Libby sitting  somewhere where I was walking. I wanted to leave John on that beach that day. I had so many memories with him out there.  Those memories reminded me that he wasn’t all bad and neither was my marriage. And so I kept walking, and the building of help and hope got closer and so did real hope as I just begged Jesus to take all of those things from my heart and from my mind and truly give me victory.  I begged Him to help me.  I had been trying to wish my trauma away.  Trauma doesn’t go away because we want it to leave.  And the body keeps the score.

And that is why I was in Jacksonville in the first place.  My body has kept impeccable score over the years. 

By the time I made it to the Red Cross building, quiet tears dripped and I remembered that little kid escaping the pain of life, running on the boardwalk, and hanging around that bright white building with the cross on the side.  On this day that grown up little girl was walking on the beach in search of some help and hope.  That bright cross stared back at me and I wanted to kneel in front of it and lay it all down there, because it had ceased to be the symbol of the American Red Cross and reminded me of that wooden cross where they killed my Jesus. He gave His life for me, so that I could have victories like I was having at that moment.  On my way back, I realized I never picked up my Ebenezer after I took the picture.  I fully expected the ocean to have devoured it, and that would have been kind of perfect, actually.  A new song shuffled on my phone, this time another lyric forced more water from my eyes.

“Behold the Lamb,  the story of redemption written on His hands, Jesus You will reign forever more, the victory is Yours.  We sing Your praise endless hallelujahs to your holy name. Jesus you will reign forevermore,  the victory is yours.  We thank you for the cross.“
I’d heard that song at church the week before, “the story of redemption written on his hands” is my story, it is your story.  I turned around and took one last look at the building and then down at the ground.  And there it was, the rock I’d used to proclaim victory in the sand sat exactly where I left it. My heart burst with gratitude that Jesus has always been and will continue to be my “stone of help” and that nothing can separate me from the love of the cross.
 

The Land Of The Living

The white dust could be seen for miles, and some of it still remains in the crevices of the buildings and the streets of the city so nice they named it twice.

The earth’s crust was permanently altered that day, and the soil tells stories of massive loss of life.  And, if even for a short time,  September 11, 2001 sent an entire nation to it’s knees.

I have had a life long love affair with the Big Apple.  My introduction to the city was dramatic for a Florida girl from a small metropolitan area.  The sights and sounds of the city invaded my senses as our car FINALLY exited the Lincoln Tunnel.  Signs of life were everywhere,  in fact, I had never SEEN SO MUCH LIFE!  In the years following, I visited NYC many times and maintained that the only thing missing from that city was my favorite football team and year round sunshine-both of those things were deal breakers for a move, but I vowed to visit often and so I did.  If a city can be your friend, NYC is mine.

Then somebody delivered a body blow to my friend.  And suddenly the signs of life seemed to be gone, the embers of which were represented on a huge pile of steel, ruble and people.  Citizens from around the world became familiar with what would be named “Ground Zero”.   We watched endless news coverage that was often not produced well because the news outlets just wanted to get information to those who desired answers and hope.  The leader of the free world stood on that pile of devastation and promised to hear the cries of his citizens.  Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months that has now turned into almost two decades.

My resilient friend began to heal, and I got to visit her many times while she attempted to become the NYC of old, but try as she might, that never happened.  Now, the pile is gone and the sky not as empty as freedom is represented by a new building by that name.  There are memorial pools, museums, and over abundance of security. And yes, there are signs of life again.  It’s not the same, it never will be, but people are doing what humans tend to do,  breathing and putting one foot in front of the other.  At some point, we crossed back over to the land of the living,  and signs of life began to spring up like a stubborn weed growing out of a rock.

On a day like today (the 18th anniversary) it is human nature to reflect on that day,  and the devastation left in it’s wake.  And while we have not suffered a single event that claimed the number of lives of that September day, we have all, both collectively and individually, had plenty more from which to heal.

Most of us, if we are honest, will admit that life is hard and pain is real and sometimes we feel like we are drowning.  For some of us, it is easy to resign ourselves to an existence void of signs of life.  It is easy to lose our child like hope that every day is a new day with new opportunities and mercies that are JUST enough for that day and not meant for tomorrow.  Pain has robbed us of optimism, Hope and the desire to even try to see the goodness of God in the land of the living.  We doubt the goodness of God and are tempted to ask that question:

“How could a loving God…..”

The truth is that the Redeemer of the whole world is standing atop the piles of rubble that is shattered dreams, unanswered questions and bitter disappointments.  He is telling us that He is the God Who hears us.  He stood on a cross and did not need a megaphone to convey His message.  He not only wants us looking for signs of life, He wants us to BE the life to a dark world who continues to ask that age old question about His love and His intentions for us.  Do we believe that we WILL see the goodness of God in the land of the living or will we go stand on our piles of past rubble with our backs to God and an outstretched hand pushing away hope?

Life deals us body blows and we will heal, the degree to which is dependent on how much surgery we will let Him perform on our pain.  Very similar to that September day, the tragedies and pain of life leaves dust that sometimes stays to remind us of His faithfulness.  Pain leaves scars making the landscape of our lives look forever different.  Pain will drive us to our knees.

As I thought about writing this and some surgery going on in the OR on my pain,  I remembered this verse that is such a special promise and is a testament to getting through that day, every painful day after it and every one that is one it’s way:

“I would have lost heart if I had not believed in the goodness of God in the land of the living” Psalm 27:13

The question now,  as it was on September 12th, is “how then shall we live?”

Forever God, Pt 2

Water, in its natural state is still.  I’ve always loved the part of Psalm 23 “He leads me beside still waters”.  While I love a good wave at the beach, not much more calms me  than a still body of water accompanied by complete silence.  But the stillness and the silence can be interrupted by throwing a rock into the water.  It makes a splash disrupting the stillness of the water and creating a ripple.  But, eventually the water returns to a state of rest and peace.  It’s almost like the water absorbs the energy and straightaway returns to a restful state.

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Rocks.

The emotional ones are the ones that most of us deal with and attempt to navigate our lives around these boulders that get dropped on us in the middle of us just trying to do life, or trying to be STILL.

These rocks come in all shapes and sizes and when dropped into my stillness, serve as an emotional riptide.  This riptide can destroy my quest for stillness and especially my desire to draw near to God.

Rocks.

The real ones also come in all shapes and sizes and are actually quite fascinating to me.  I have had the privilege to travel quite a bit and I’ve been known to collect a rocks and they help me remember trips and the precious time I had with the people who chose to spend their time with me.  Oftentimes, weeks, months or years later I find them in the most random places, usually the dryer or the floorboard of my car.  I love the different textures and memories that go with them.  I oftentimes have one in my pocket and I expend nervous energy rubbing my hand over the smoothness of the rock.  Rocks are symbolic of strength to me, and I always want to remember to be strong.

In nature, rocks can serve as a natural boundary of protection.  They can help nourish the ground or filter the water providing minerals for us.  Rocks, in nature, are evidence of an intelligent designer.  That being said, rocks can also cause damage, an avalanche can take out entire towns or villages.  Gravity is sure to drop rocks in the most inopportune places, leaving the earth much different than it found it, and sometimes ending in tragedy.

Rocks.

The rock of disappointment and unmet expectations shakes the foundation of everything I believe.  But in my quest to be still and depend on my forever God, I am trying to stop avoiding the rock of disappointment, I am trying to embrace it.  I want to let it set boundaries, provide nourishment and maybe even protection from that which I don’t know, whatever avalanche that could occur had things gone my “way”.  When I allow this rock to disrupt my complacencies and remind me of my forever God, it leaves a mark on my heart, leaving the landscape different than it found it.  The mark from the rock of disappointment reminds me that I am not in control and that I never was in the first place.  It’s hard to watch this rock drop into my stillness over and over again.  I can only hope that it makes my heart more fertile for my relationship with my forever God.  The tender place, the place in my heart that hurts from the impact, is a place where only my forever God can mitigate the pain.

And so I let it interrupt my stillness, because it drives me right back to it.

A close cousin to the rock of disappointment is the rock of loss.  My heart should be used to that by now, but each loss still hurts, it unearths some previous cracks in my heart and drives me into performance mode.  Performance mode and its fruit seems like it will replace that which was loss or taken from me.  If I earn it, if I create it, if I work for it, then the rock of loss will not hurt, right?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.  Like its buddy, the rock of loss drives me back to stillness.  If I let the rock leave it’s mark, my forever God is there to bind up that wound, because He is not unfamiliar with pain and loss.  The rock of loss leads me to my forever God, because as people leave for whatever reason, and seasons change, my forever God does not.  And, so the rock of loss drives me to Him, and while joy may not come until the morning, my rock of loss can not take away the fact that joy will, in fact, come.  My weeping will only endure for the night.

Perhaps the rock that my enemy uses against me the most is the rock of unbelief.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, when this rock drops, everything I have ever known about God to be true comes into question, even more so than the foundations of my faith being shaken like that of disappointment.  It disrupts my stillness and that rip tide will absolutely overtake me, if I let it.

Jesus promised us that in this world we would have trouble.  So, it should not surprise me that disappointment, loss and unbelief are going to interrupt my stillness.  But He is THE ROCK that IS stillness and the firm foundation for boundaries, nourishment and protection for all the days of my life.  He is the Rock that absorbs the shock of my stillness being interrupted.  And if I let Him, my soul turns back to stillness straightaway.

And so on the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Still learning.

Stay tuned.

Forever God

I stood in the judge’s chambers flanked by social workers as I watched the man in the black robe terminate my mom’s parental rights with the simple stroke of a pen.  I stood shocked at the events of that day.  I still can see the note she’d left saying that she was gone forever. The only words I remember the judge saying are, “Forever Home”.  I was staring at the state seal behind him. I was focusing on the American flag.  But I refocused after he granted my request to repeat his words.  “It is our goal to find you a forever home and that this day won’t be as traumatic for you as it could be.”

Truthfully, that day, I gave up on anything being forever.

I stood in front of the children’s home the day that my foster parents dropped me off over 200 miles from the only place I’d ever known as a hometown.  As they left they said the same thing to me “maybe this will be your forever home”. No longer able to even cry, I stared blankly at them and their taillights as they left me there to somehow try to earn a forever home.

The children’s home was the place where I was first introduced to the concept of a forever God.  While my broken heart and shattered spirit craved human and physical attention, I was directed to God and encouraged to trust in Him; I was taught that He never changes and more importantly, He will never leave me as so many had. I heard their words and I read them in the Bible too, but my heart still craved a forever that had a heartbeat.

I stood in front of God and my family as I committed to forever to a man who said the words back to me but didn’t mean them.  I ran hard from the pain of that marriage and the violence that occurred inside our home.  In order to cope with the pain of my life, I performed in my job, I earned my MBA, I poured into my stepson, I self medicated and I forgave my husband, every time.  He was the one that my heart loved.  But,  it became clear after 12 years that he was not my heart’s forever home.  And so I crawled into a deep and dark place where I was convinced that nothing would be forever for me.  The resignation of the dream of my forever home was infinitely more painful than any hit or punch I ever received from the man I promised to love forever.

I walked on the beach with my friend, Marla, who helped me get out of that situation.   As we walked, she prayed, and I stopped walking and listened to the sounds of the beach.  But even the waves couldn’t drown out her prayer where she referenced “reason, season, lifetime” friends.  I opened my eyes when she prayed those words and watched the Atlantic Ocean slam into the earth.  I felt a little like those waves as she prayed those words.  I’d never heard those terms when describing friendships.  I was determined of one thing, my friends were one thing that I could make forever and I simply was not going to lay down on that.  In a world where nothing seemed to stick, my friends seemed to stick. And so I leaned on them to fill the void left by both my mom and my husband, my heart still sought any relationship that could be forever.  Marla lost her battle with cancer not long after that walk on the beach.  And while she was my friend for a short amount of time, a “season”, I guess, I would have been her forever friend.

I sat in a restaurant years later when I met Crissy’s parents at one of Clearwater’s best restaurants.  Not many years had passed since my divorce but my friendship with Crissy grew quickly and she’d established herself as a forever friend.  I’d still not bought into Marla’s assessment of the different kinds of friendships.  Almost immediately, Crissy told me that I needed to meet her parents. And when I did, I knew why.  Both of them firmly established themselves as my family and somewhere along the way, my heart began to believe in forever again.  The day I closed on my house was one of the most precious days of my life.  Papa Loughridge told me in the parking lot of the title company that he wanted me to always have a home.  The judge’s words came back to me: “forever home”.

I stood in the middle of Crissy’s bedroom and listened to the words coming from the speaker of that computer we call a phone.  Papa Loughridge gave us the news we’d all expected but none of us wanted to believe, his wife, Mama Bootsie got the official diagnosis of a rare form of Alzheimers.  And suddenly, forever seemed like it could never be long enough.

Just weeks later, I stood in my house stunned as I held my phone in my hand.  I simply could not believe what I read in that text message.  My friend of over 25 years, more than half my life, decided that she, in fact, fell into one of Marla’s categories, she was a “reason” friend or a “season” one, but that text made it very clear that she was not a forever friend.  I was devastated.  I am devastated.

I fell to my knees at the end of my bed.  I could no longer physically stand as I became resigned, for the last time, that nothing on this planet is forever.  The realization of this has weighed heavily on me since that phone call giving us the news that the voice of a giant in my life was not only not forever, but that I would have to lose it slowly.  I thought I had more time.  I was wrong.

The two events happening so closely together has served to shake my faith in my God, diminish everything I ever believed about Him and driven me to decide if I believed that He is forever, or even God for that matter.  That day in my room, when I was on my knees at the end of my bed I served as a relentless cross-examining attorney against the God of the universe.

And that is where I am.  I’d like to tell you as these days are getting harder, I am always driven to my forever God.  But loss like I have experienced in this life serves as a breeding ground for satan and seeds of doubt, darkness and disbelief.  But I stand humbly before His throne because He told me that I could boldly do that.  I stand with my head bowed begging Him to help me feel Him as my forever God.  I am reminded that I can I can indict Him all I want but that He, in fact, stood in front of people who were supposed to be His forever and they betrayed Him just as I have felt.  I am reminded that even though there were nails in His feet He stood dying on a cross that should have been mine.  I am reminded of the words that I was taught at the children’s home: “He will never leave you or forsake you”.  Those are the only words I can process right now because the loss is too much.  These circumstances have absolutely driven me to grab onto my forever God, because He is not here for a “reason” or a “season”, but He is here until He users me off this planet.

And somehow I stand up straight and cling on tightly to the only One Who is holding on to me.

My forever God.

I know hard days are ahead for us.  But even through my tears, anger and confusion I simply cannot walk away from my God Who has never walked away from me.

And so He is the one my heart loves.  He is my heart’s forever home.

And so, I stand, I sometimes crawl, but I hope that I always bow my knee and my head to my forever God.

Be Still My Heart

Six words. It was SIX words, and yet, months later, I can’t forget them.  Those six words have been tossing around in my head as I truly received them as a word from the Lord in the middle of a Christian fiction novel.

“God called her to be still”, Pepper Basham, “Charming The TroubleMaker”

First, I decided to spend a fair amount of time evaluating the word “still” and was disappointed to find that the word, in fact, means exactly what I learned in second grade.  There are no fancy tricks of a word translation to make that word mean anything but exactly what it means.  Being still requires me to stop.  When I stop I feel every muscle cramp and I become aware of the stinging in my lungs from the race I am running at a ridiculous pace.  When I stop running, everything hurts.  So, I am not a fan of being still.  I read these words in this fantastic book and I find myself in front of the dreaded blinking cursor, because I know that I am supposed to share this with you.

I was the kid that the teacher put in the hallway because it didn’t matter where they moved me, I would still talk to whomever would listen.  I am also not a fan of quiet.  When it is quiet, the voices of doubt and fear come close to overcoming me.  So, I am not a fan of quiet either.

And so I run through life at a back breaking pace and never hear anything more than the sound of my own footsteps running, and never feel anything other than the pain from the punishment of the constant pounding pace.  But that pain is better than what I will feel if I stop and stand still.

But God is calling me to be still.  While I was certainly reminded of that in this book, there are copious amounts of songs written about it, and o yeah there is that one Bible verse:

“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

That verse is underlined and highlighted in every Bible I have ever owned.  Turns out I have been avoiding being still since about 1971.  Some of us are just not wired to chill out, I am the president of that club.  Enneagram 8 checking in for duty!

I often joke that I am going to sell everything and go sell t-shirts on the beach.  I mentioned that to one of my employees one time who responded “you would find a way to make even that stressful”.  I laughed and didn’t fire him, because he was not wrong.  But his words served as a wake up call to me that my faith is so small in the midst of a giant redemption story where my God has performed a miracle in my life.  Every breath I am afforded is a gift and I know that, but somehow, I just can’t be still.  I must do, I must fix, I must run. I don’t deserve…

One year ago this month I was at Mayo Clinic as they tried to ascertain reasoning behind significant weight loss and loss of appetite.  They found and fixed a few things, but for the most part they could not find a medical explanation for my severe lack of desire to eat or drink.  As friends and family members continue to express concern, I am left to examine this issue and am painfully reminded that only I can take care of myself, no-one else can do it for me and no amount of performance will serve as a solution.  At this point two separate doctors have expressed to me that my body is in fight or flight and therefore can not rest or digest.  All of those words sound great in their alliterations and rhymes.  Sounds simple enough: stop worrying, stop running.  Chill out.  Be still.

But then there is that pesky type A personality wiring again.  And here we are, me, trying to figure out how to be still enough so that my body will actually want to perform a basic function, like processing food.

“God called her to be still…” 

Could it be that my God is calling, begging, screaming over the pounding of my feet on the pavement to STOP, JUST STOP?

The answer is yes.

And because I am a slow learner, God has chosen to use significant pain in my life to demonstrate His power and His sovereignty.  So much of what He has helped me overcome in this life came, I think, came from refusing to quit.  But circumstances of late will not respond to my will to fight or my inability to wave the white flag.  These circumstances are guaranteed to get worse, and I have tried to out run that fact.  My body is responding  reality.  Regardless of my Enneagram type, I am beginning to realize that we are also not wired to run all the time.

My weak body is telling me:  Be Still.

My fatigued heart is begging me: Be Still

My amazing God is calling me:  Be Still

And if He called me to be still then He will be faithful to complete that calling in my life.

And so I stopped.  I have just stopped.

And I know that He is God.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Sweet On You, Not To Be Missed

 

 

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I have met a lot of Britt Bradfords in my life.  Some of my best friends are made from the same mold as the youngest sister in the finale of Becky Wade’s (Bradford Sisters series), “Sweet On You”.  The Britt Bradford types have illusions of strength, fierceness and independence.  I am a Britt Bradford.

And sometimes I am those things, strong and some of its friends.  But, most of the time, not so much.

Last November, I sat stunned (and a little star-struck if I am being honest) as Charles Martin delivered the keynote speech at the 2018 Christy Awards.  He quoted a verse in that speech that spoke to me then, but of late reminds me of the gifted missioned voice of Becky Wade.

Martin told a writer’s block story and of his prayers to God to help him fill the dreaded blank page.  He raised his arms, closed his eyes and told the story as if he were the only person in the room.

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme, as I recite verses for my King, my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer”

Psalm 45:1

Just a few minutes later that same gifted writer and orator was presenting the 2018 Book Of The Year Christy Award to Becky Wade (“True To You”).  I rushed to grab the acceptance speech on video, and I am glad I did because I had no idea what Becky said nor could I see through my tears.  I was so proud, because I knew of some of the backstory of Becky’s ministry.

I’d started reading Becky’s books just about a year before, (“My Stubborn Heart”), her first in Christian Fiction and still my favorite.  While the Christy Awards are for Christian Fiction, it still was a monumental moment for the industry because as Becky said in her speech “I write romance novels for women”.  But o contraire, she does so much more! Most of the things I knew of her I knew from a divinely appointed wait in a food line at an event.  I’d been to dinner, maybe once with some other friends with her, but mostly she was a writer I admired.  I love her writing, but there is a single thing that makes her books powerful, and that is that she bathes every book in prayer and asks others to do the same.  And the result is astounding and “Sweet On You” launched April 30th and you should read it!

She recites voices for her King, she uses her tongue as the pen of a skillful writer.  She brought us truths like “But Jesus” (“Falling For You”), “Christ Alone” (“True To You”), “He gives and takes away”(“Christmas Heirloom” and the novella “Then Came You”).  “Sweet On You” is no exception, the words are anointed, and were words, for me, for such a time as “this”.

Fans long awaited the finale to the Bradford Sister series, most of us call this one “Britt and Zander’s” story, but it turned out to be so much more.  I read it in about 8 hours with very little sleep in between. This book is the kind of book that once one finishes it, there is no desire to read for a few days because the truths buried in the sweet romance, suspense and hilarious banter shredded me to my core.  It also sent me to my knees in repentance and gratitude.

Britt is the youngest sister of three—the other two having endured suffering in life.  According to Britt the little suffering she’d experience paled in comparison.  There is no doubt that Britt is gifted with independence, resourcefulness and humor.  She refuses to “bother” anybody else with her pain, because it is not to be compared to the pain of others, especially Zander, and that of her sister’s.  She is stubborn and if she hurts others it is because she won’t let them help her or refuses to put her heart out there for her best friend Zander, for fear that it will ruin things.  So, she continues on her journey of self-reliance and secret “bad” decisions until she comes to the end of herself and realizes she needs God, and that there is no other way to do life without Him regardless of how “gifted” or “put together” one is.  

Zander refuses to give up seeking Britt’s heart and pushing hers towards Jesus. She finally looks in the preverbal mirror and finds out how remarkably ill equipped she is to do life without Jesus and that her pain DOES matter and is not to be compared to the pain of others.  She counted on Zander to protect her and remind her of such truths.  For his part, Zander’s “biggest enemy of his faith was his own disappointment”—and Britt understood that she could help him on that journey, as she’d been doing her whole life, even if he didn’t know it.  She understood the responsibility of loving someone like Zander, and because of a miracle from God, Zander was able to receive her love.  He shouldn’t have been able to do that, and she should not have been able to handle the “responsibility of loving someone like Zander”.

The intersection of their understanding and acknowledgment of the necessity of reliance on God is where my tears started, and I am not sure they will stop when I think about this book, or more importantly how important God is in my life.  In so many ways, I saw myself in Britt, “Independent”, “Strong”, “Resilient” and those traits have taken me far in life.

But not far enough, not so far that I spend every waking moment at the foot of the cross.  

I was also struck by Britt’s very real feelings that her pain didn’t matter when compared to the pain of others.  This part made me sad because I know that others feel that way about my story, as though  my story carries more trauma or pain than theirs, and that simply isn’t true.  God has not gifted me to carry your pain or you mine, but we all have Him.

“The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:38).

I closed the book and wanted to shout from the mountain tops “OUR GOD IS ABLE”..  He is able to break me of my self reliance and He’s gifted me with an ability to tell you that YOUR PAIN MATTERS!

After a few short days, I thought of that verse again, and I thanked God that Becky’s hands, mind, words and gifts are solely dedicated to reciting verses for her King.  She truly embodies that verse I love so much. The powerful reminders in this book (and ALL of her others) are God breathed as they land on the page that you and I read.  The ministry of Christian Fiction has been compared by my sister to the rising of Christian music. Some people may pick up a Christian Fiction book that will never pick up a Bible.  How will they know if we do not tell them?  That is why Christian Fiction Matters.

I have been a Christian since I was a teenager and this book served to shove me towards Jesus and understand that He is my everything and I can do absolutely nothing without Him.

I simply can not breathe without Him.  And I don’t understand people who try.

 

The Orphan Jesus

“Hanging blameless on a cross, He would rather die, than leave us in the dark”

Avalon

It is the darkest day in history.  It is also one of, if not the greatest, stories ever told.  We start at Christmas celebrating the baby Jesus Who, as Bebo Norman so accurately describes, came to Earth as a baby born to die.

In a few days, most of us will pause to remember that dark Friday when Jesus took our sins on our cross.  We will all be looking forward to Sunday too.  Because Sunday reminds us that He is alive and because of His miraculous resurrection, we enjoy relationship with him; we enjoy community with Him; we enjoy freedom because of Him.

I grew up hearing the same version of the crucifixion story—often graphic descriptions of the time that Jesus spent hanging on a cross with crowds mocking Him and Mary grieving Him.  I watched “The Passion Of Christ”—ONCE and through mostly closed eyes.

It’s too much to comprehend, I am still in awe that He loved me enough to endure the physical suffering so that my sins are covered and it will always be finished.

But I have always loved the time that Jesus spent in the garden before being ushered to that hill where He would lose His life, so that I can have mine.  His time in the garden, unlike His time on the cross, is something that I can “sort of” relate to, I think we all can.

Jesus knew that the time had come, and he told his followers as much.  He took them all to the garden, but asked most of them to stay back so that He could spend some time in prayer.  I am not a Bible scholar but my guess is that Jesus, being fully God but also being fully man, needed to hear from His Father, not unlike encouragement and love many of us need in difficult situations.  Different people say different things about His time in the garden, and I am not here to argue whether Jesus was trying to get His Father to change His mind when He asked for the cup to be passed from Him.  However, I think everyone agrees that perhaps what may have grieved Jesus more than anything (including his followers falling asleep at such a time as that) was the separation (albeit temporary) that He would endure from His Father.

The orphan Jesus.

That separation was necessary because Jesus, Who knew no sin, took our sin and the Father could not enter into that with Him.  Some translations go so far as to say that when Jesus was on the cross, and the world got dark, that the Father literally turned His back on His son.  He left.

The orphan Jesus.

I do know a little bit about being abandoned in my greatest time of need and so do you.  It may look different, but make no mistake, almost everyone has at least FELT abandoned by God at some point and some of us have actually been abandoned by those who were supposed to stay.  The Bible has much to say about orphans and how they are the marginalized, how they are the forgotten and how they are lost without others to stand in gaps.  The Bible is so clear on this topic that there are over 100 verses commanding us about caring for orphans and widows.

Being an orphan is recognized by the God of the universe as one of the most difficult things one can encounter.

And the orphan Jesus CHOSE that–he chose it for you and for me.

But what about the orphan Jesus?   Who stood in that gap, when he cried out:

“Abba, Abba, why have You forsaken me?”

Who answered Him?

If it is true (and I believe it is) that our sin separated Jesus from His father at His greatest hour of need, then our Jesus, our sweet Jesus spent some time as an orphan—an orphan Who saved the world.

For some of us, having parents is foreign and certainly having the protection and unconditional love is. Our hearts ache for those things we didn’t have and never will and questions abound,  regardless how many trips we have made around the sun.  It is a scar on our hearts that tells the story of lonely and scary times.  I wonder if it looks like the scar of the heart of the orphan Jesus?  But I am still struck that He didn’t have anybody, nobody, the Father was not there.

It makes his sacrifice more precious to me by a factor of 10.

Some of you know that pain of being left or abandoned.  We all know the pain of the perception of same.  And most of us have both healthy and unhealthy ways to cope with that.  We are not wired to be left; Jesus was not wired to be left.

That is why is sacrifice is such a HUGE deal.  He loves you that much!

When I think of the crucifixion story in this context, tears abound because while the physical pain inflicted on my Jesus on that cross is not to be comprehended, I can’t  imagine how it felt to be alone on that cross as the clouds darkened the world.  I have spent my entire life leaning on the unconditional love and provision of God, and those things were given to me, an orphan, by One Who knows what it feels like to be alone in a scary world that is not kind.

The recognition of this truth, this year, has made this passage of scripture precious to me:

“He was wounded for our transgressions…and by His stripes we are healed”

Is 53:5

I love that verse, I always have.  But his orphan stripes and scars are healing me this Easter.  Because I do not love a God Who can not enter into my sufferings with me.  I always pictured the strips from the cat of nine tails, or the scars from the crown of thorns, or the scars from the nails.  But this Easter, I am realizing that I have a few scars that look a little like His, but more importantly I will continue to let His sacrifice heal me, NOT an orphan, but a precious daughter of the most high God Who endured being an orphan, even if for a short time.

For you.

And for me.

Thank you Jesus.

He is risen.

He is risen indeed.

When It Is Not Well With My Soul, I Am Not Enough, pt 2

It was a first for me, well maybe not a first, but kind of a first.  It didn’t matter how hard I tried, the words would not come.  My voice box would not work.  But my tears sure did.  I’d heard the words of the song many times; I’d read them; I memorized them and I’d sung those words more times than I can count.

The tears would not stop.

And I did not care, because it occurred to me that either I have been lying all of those times, I sang the song, or this season of life just has me silenced.  I was standing in a room with at least 150 other people all singing “It Is Well” and all I could do was cry.   I refused to stand there and lie and claim that my soul is well, when it is far from well.

It is broken.

It is dry.

It is sad.

It is tired.

It is NOT well.

I know the story of the songwriter, and so do you.  It is a song penned by a man who endured unimaginable loss, and is just as powerful today as it was when he watched the sea billows roll.

But I couldn’t lie, so the words didn’t come and that day, in that room, I was having a standoff with God.

The thing about epic standoffs with God, is that they are normally unexpected. None of us plan to actually argue with the God of the universe.  I’d looked forward to this retreat for a long time and was in a room full of women (and I think a dude or two) who love books and Jesus, what is not to like?  Well, that is how standoffs with God happen sometimes.  I couldn’t have been in a better spot, to be honest.  The music is always my favorite part of any gathering, so I didn’t expect the time of singing to throw me into an emotional meltdown.  But, it did and as they sang about peace like a river, my tears were making their own tracks.  I gave up after awhile even trying and allowed myself to listen to the beautiful melody and harmony of that song, and I silently prayed that it could be well with my soul.

If there is such a thing as a “winter of discontent”, then I have had the longest winter ever.  While I have plenty to be sad, worried or stressed about, I know that the condition of my soul is because of my inability or unwillingness to seek contentment.  My soul is tired and not well because it works too hard to meet self imposed standards that will never be met.  My soul is tired because life, once again, knocked me upside the head, blindsiding me so much that I am not sure that I will ever recover (spoiler alert: I will).

But I knew one thing as I stood there mute and sobbing:  “Godliness with contentment is great gain”.  That is one of those Bible verses that somebody made me memorize and it immediately came to my mind as I stood there accessing the condition of my soul.

And I realized I was doing it again.

Trying so hard.

To stop trying so hard.

I was trying to be “enough” again.

FAIL

And standing there, not singing, I owned it.  I owned all of it, because while I could not find my words to sing the song, I found plenty at first angry and then contrite and finally grateful words to say to God.  I surprised even myself as tapping into that dry condition of my soul scared me and I didn’t have anything to lose by articulating what He knows anyway.

So, what do I (we) do when it is not well with our souls?  I think that remains the million dollar question, yet has the most simple answer on the planet.  That answer is without cost because that price was paid a long time ago.  When our souls are in these conditions, it is almost always because of something we don’t have, failing health, financial concerns or our perception of lack of purpose.  I find myself clinging to all the promises of all the scripture that I have memorized over my lifetime because the lack of words from my mouth is met by the lack of desire to pick up my Bible.

But Jesus.

We were flying home and not unlike the last several months I was exhausted.  But my inability to sing a song with all the truth in my heart bothered me.  And I couldn’t help but wonder: “what do I do now?”  Because maybe for the first time ever, I was throwing around indictments at God and wasn’t holding anything back.  And then it hit me.

It would never be well with my soul unless I consulted the Creator of my soul.  And what happened next is hard to explain to you.  Whether on the plane coming home or every minute since, I have really sought a solution for my tired, weary soul, the one where the hope gage is on empty.  And I know that seeking Him first is the only way to be content.  And yet another verse becomes remarkably special to me, Matthew 6:33

“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”

What is meant by “all these things”?  Would I be less sad less stressed or less tired?  Would I find contentment?  How hard do I have to try?  Will my efforts be enough?

And I find myself right back where I started, falling remarkably short of any standard I would set for myself or by another person.  My pain and maybe my purpose has been so wrapped up in people and circumstances, I forgot about the Healer of souls.  I forgot about the One that is constantly making all things new.  I forgot about the One Who’s ways are higher than mine.

I forgot Jesus. 

I really do want my soul to be well.

So I will seek first.

And that will be enough.

 

Though satan should buffet though trials should come let this blest assurance control, my that Christ has regarded my helpless estate and has shed His own blood for my soul

It is well.

With my soul.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” Psalm 74:26