Sweet On You, Not To Be Missed

 

 

IMG_2482.jpeg

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.

 

Advertisements

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

 

I Am Not enough

“Trying so hard to stop trying so hard to stop trying so hard….”

Casting Crowns

I have been at this trying to be enough thing since I was 7 years old.  I am exhausted ya’ll.

“I AM ENOUGH”

This has become a popular phrase of late and on the surface, it sounds good.  It may also, at times, serve to give us temporary silence to all the voices that include our own and those of others.  Voices tend to bring expectations and expectations leads to the need to perform and the need to perform often gets measured by somebody else by comparison or by judgement.

And so I try harder.  I pray more. I try to read my Bible more.  I try to remember to return every text, every email, every phone call and respond to every social media interaction.  I try to be be constantly present in my relationships, I try to remember to pray for my friends and family, I try to emulate the kind of behavior I need from my employees and the list is endless of the things I “try” to do on any given day.  When will all of those things (and many more I didn’t mention) be sufficient? And if I am enough, why am I trying so hard?

Because I am not enough.

Because I am better than enough.

Because Enough, is enough for me.

Enough is at my disposal, Enough helps me either meet expectations or gives me the wisdom to know that some expectations are misguided expectations, and probably don’t belong to me.

Enough made me in His image.  

I am the precious daughter of Enough. I am loved by a God Who loved me so much that He sent His son to die on a tree that He created.  I am the recipient of the best gift ever, the one where the price was paid for all the times I fall short; and the sweetest part of it all?  

That price that was paid because I am not enough.  

Oftentimes, when it is abundantly clear to me that I am not “enough” to withstand life in general,  I am in a season (or an entire lifetime) of discontent. It is during these times that my body begins to rebel at my efforts to change the narrative because it doesn’t look like somebody else’s narrative and certainly doesn’t look like the one I scripted for myself.  It is these times that I find myself mentally drained oftentimes unable to form a congruent thought if I tried. It is these times that drive me to my knees and my SOS is heard by Enough. And His Grace is not only enough but is so sufficient for even me.

But,  discontent worry and regret creep in and they make me forget my Enough.  It affects every facet of my life. So, in my performance mode, when I think I am enough, I dig into that arsenal I have been building since I was 7 years old.  And on any given day, there is indeed a tool in my “enough” tool box that may be sufficient for that day,  it is adequate and gets the job done.

But not before making me abandon my Enough.  

Then there are days, and there have been a lot of them lately, when I reach into an empty tool box or grab a tool (performance for example) that actually serves to harm me. It is those times that I realize that there isn’t a single fiber in my being that is even in the same universe as “enough”.

Newsflash:  I am not enough.

When I am able to admit this, I am essentially stepping into my natural place, the place that is molded and fit just for me, just for who He created me to be–and suddenly I am enough because Enough is in me.  Enough created me in His image, Enough loves me more than any of my life’s expectations by a factor of 1000.  

Remembering that I was made in his image for His purpose meet at a beautiful intersection of peace and contentment.

“His strength is perfect when your strength is gone, He carries us when we can’t carry on, raised in His power the weak become strong, His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect.” Steven Curtis Chapman

Thank you Enough, for being enough.  

Thank you Jesus.

 

Be Sad, Apologize, But Don’t Forget Jesus

“The silence was worse than the rape “ Prince Of Tides

Look around you: We are everywhere.  We are your sister, your daughter, your aunt, cousin or friend.

We are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  It was only a matter time before the #MeToo movement impacted places of worship- places that should be a mecca for hurting hearts and at a minimum should protect children from people who live to harm them. Along with the rest of the world, I watched it play out in the Catholic Church and then various independent fundamental Baptist churches, and more recently the Southern Baptist Convention, of which I am a member.

I am a victim of abuse in both the independent fundamental arena as well as the Southern Baptist Convention. Two of my seven abusers were at church by people who were charged to protect me.

As an adult, I returned to the independent Baptist church where he was still in charge of protecting children, and my shameful admission to them was met on deaf ears. I never told anyone about the abuse at the hands of the Southern Baptist Convention staff member.  This is largely because that church, at one time, was one of the largest churches not only in the Southern Baptist Convention, but also in America. Its storied pastors and rich history is well known in the Southern Baptist Convention and really around the world.  Truthfully, I was just an unwanted kid who wandered into that church for some food, I knew that I would never be believed.

I’m not sure I was right.  I never gave them the chance to prove me wrong.  This is not uncommon and I join the ranks of probably thousands who didn’t speak up and were never given the opportunity to find out if we would have been protected.  In so many ways, the silence of it all was worse than the actual abuse.

And so that fact that the whole thing has been exposed allows survivors to function in the light.  I’ve followed the story of the SBC and my response may surprise you.

For the most part, the reality is that those in current Southern Baptist Convention leadership were young pastors in small and probably unaffected churches.  Yet, they write blogs, stand in pulpits and shed tears. Reading, hearing and watching their response has healed something inside of me that felt fundamentally broken. There is no more silence.  Many of them are carrying the weight of this on their shoulders and some of them had family members affected.

As a survivor, I appreciate the swift response from SBC leadership, but appreciate even more their desire to prevent this in today’s churches.  Leadership is charged with two different jobs, helping survivors and preventing abuse.  It is my prayer that the church would implement (or keep) leadership that will move the church forward in it’s pain by working closely with survivors to prevent abuse and to ascertain how survivors can both be helped and maybe help other survivors.  Many of us would die on the hill that would mean that not a single child was ever touched again.

Use us; we are sitting under your leadership.

In the book Philippians, chapter one and verse twelve, Paul writes to the church:

“I want you to know that the things that of happened to me have really served to further the gospel”

This is my life’s verse and the true desire of my heart.  You see, I am one of the fortunate ones.  I sought and received solid Biblical counseling and the Lord has done a remarkable, redemptive work in my story.  And incidentally, a Southern Baptist Church, and its leadership, was instrumental in saving my life when all of this along with other trauma put me in the hospital under suicide watch.

It’s easy for us to point fingers and rightly so.  Surviving Southern Baptist Convention leadership that were abusers; complicit in abuse or silent about abuse have no place- except for a place of healing and restoration-in the church.  Those that can be found and tried deserve to pay society’s price as well.  But at the end of the day, it is my prayer that leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention will not take their eye off the ball.

Here’s the reality: we can hear apologies from blogs, from pulpits and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention himself –and that is great.

But it’s not enough.

It will never be enough because you are not enough.

ONLY Jesus is enough.

Please keep pointing us to Jesus, Who is more grieved by this then even survivors are.  We need you to be patient with us as many of us blame God for the sins of these abusers or people who protected them. Many have walked away from Him; your job is to keep proclaiming Him anyway.

We are hurting people and in some ways you will find the angriest among us energized by recent revelation.  That will level off as survivors find that ire at you does little to ease their life long pain.  Remind us that Jesus understands our sorrows and that is why He went to the cross in the first place, so that we could have access to Him and His unconditional love.

Remember that day when you gave your life to Him; remember when you graduated from seminary; remember your first pastoral role.  Remember why you did that in the first place.

You did it to tell the world the good news of Jesus.

You have a group of screaming people who need that good news.  You are just going to have to out wait, out love and pray through the layers and walls it will take for you to get to us.

But we need the gospel, and you are called to give it to us.

Let the healing begin.

Praise In The Storms, pt 1

2005

We entered year 11 of violence in our home.  Both God and the state of Florida called this a marriage, but it was a nightmare.  The bottom was dropping and it was dropping fast. I’d tried everything but nothing stopped the hits, punches or his hurtful words.  Those words hurt more than any punch as they penetrated an already wounded soul.  I’d lived so much life in those 33 years; had endured so much pain, but also enjoyed tremendous redemption.  I thought my marriage would be a nice little bow on top of the redemption of the bad stuff. The children’s home had done a good job of helping me deal with all of the childhood abuse and ultimate abandonment. I finished Clearwater Christian College with a degree in Biology on a full ride scholarship.  So while there was plenty of bad to go around, I will always be grateful for the redemption, while temporary, of some of that pain.  I thought getting married, gaining a family and building a business was a flip of the switch from one emotional hit or loss after another.

But it wasn’t.  By 2005, I decided to go to the only place that never moved.  The only place that never changed.  I ran to the only place where unconditional – love resided.  I decided to go to my Jesus.

God and I had been on a decade long hiatus.  I didn’t go to church or even read my Bible.   Most days I couldn’t even find a Bible, not that I looked for one.  But I never lost my love for Christian music. I invented and often played a game of Jesus Music Roulette where I would put my 12- disc CD changer on shuffle and half whisper to God to give me a word through the randomness of the music.  My commute back and forth to work was 2 hours, so there was plenty of time for Jesus Music Roulette.

One day, this song came on, and I found the repeat button.

“I will praise You in this storm, and I will lift my hands, You are Who You are, no matter where I am, and every tear I cry, you hold in Your hands, You never left my side, and though my heart is torn, I will praise You in this storm” 

It had been awhile since I raised my hands to Him in either praise or surrender.  I started first in the shower, then in my closet and finally in my car, much to the dismay of the other drivers on the road.

“As the thunder rolls, I barely hear You whisper ‘I’m with you’, and as Your mercy falls, I raise my hands to the God Who gives, and takes away….”

I’d sit at stop- lights, park at the beach or hang out in parking lots singing this song at the top of my lungs.  It continued to minister to me as my God found a way to my shattered heart.

“I lift my eyes unto the hills where does my help come from, my help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

I tried, I really did, to lift my eyes to Him and when I finally could, the things on earth grew strangely dim.  I began to focus on getting back in church.  And when I got back into church, things got worse at home as he began to lose control and God took control of my desires of my heart.  My husband took second place in a heart with very little room. I understood that God was and is the only constant; everyone else left or hurt me. He was my Help, my only Help. I began to understand that getting married and/or gaining a family was not going to fix the trauma of my youth, only God could do that.  So, Mark Hall’s opening lyrics to this song resonated with me and was and is a true picture of my heart:

“I was sure by now, God you would have reached down and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day, but once again, I say ‘amen’ but it ‘s still raining.”

I was being mentored and loved at church, and we were praying for a change in my husband’s heart. But every night that ended with a hidden bruise or a bloody nose eroded my fragile faith.  I begged God to change my situation, I begged Him to change my husband.

I stood in church one day with my hands held high and screamed at God that I’d had enough.  I begged Him to come down and wipe my tears away, I begged Him to step in and save the day.  I was sure that I’d had my fair share of pain.  I was sure that he didn’t have enough containers to hold all my tears.  But I also understood on my deepest level that He is a God that gives and takes away. My heart was so torn, that the only stich that could mend the holes was praising Him, and so I did.  Two years later I left and filed for divorce.  God had not, seemingly, wiped the tears away or stepped in and saved the day.

It was still raining.

 

           

Yolo, The Final Chapter

YOLO, Pt 1

YOLO, Pt 2

YOLO, Pt 3

She didn’t come out to the car and I got worried so I got out of my car and walked to the door–she stood on the other side.  I saw her reach for the lock and that’s when I knew she didn’t know who I was. I knew that if she could hear my voice the pieces would connect for her, and when they did she grabbed me and hugged me tightly.  I was there to pick her up for weekly Bible study.  She was visibly shaken, she thought somebody was coming to get her and whoever that somebody was didn’t like her. I walked her to the car and held back my tears.  I was prepared for the normal “who are you and where we going?” questions but I was not prepared for the terror in her voice and the tears in her eyes as she legitimately thought someone could hate her.  This is Bootsie– this is everybody’s mamma.

I’d cued a song on my phone: “I know whom I have believed”.  I’d been told she loved the song. I asked her if she recognized it and she told me that she did not but that it did remind her of one of her favorite Bible verses. Terror was replaced by peace evident in her demeanor and tears were replaced by light in her eyes, evident by her gorgeous eyes shining as I’d grown accustomed to seeing.

She rattled off the Bible verse as if it were her name.

2 Timothy 1:12

“For I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep all that I have entrusted to him against that day.”

I was sitting at a stop- light, when the light changed I was too stunned to take my foot off the brake. Just minutes before, she was convinced that someone could hate her.  Fast forward and suddenly we were having revival in my car! She repeated the verse a few times and after the third or fourth time I was able to recite it with her.  She told me she was afraid that “day” was close for her. The tears returned and I added mine. She told me that she just wanted a little more time and how she wasn’t done here.  But she told me that she really believed that He is able to keep all that she’d committed unto Him.

She told me that she had Hope.

My sunglasses hid my tears.

And just like that she asked me where we were going.

One of the very first things I told Crissy when we met is that I thought she had a cool mamma.  It wasn’t long before her Mamma became my mamma too.  I can’t explain the bond that was created, not in this lifetime anyway.  I was 35 years old.

We began noticing her memory fading a few years ago.   Many of us noticed at the same time but never really acknowledged it to each other. I couldn’t imagine a God so cruel to take her for me.  It was a miracle I attached to her in the first place, as my counselor likes to say, “you shouldn’t be able to do that”.   She been more of a mom to me and 20 minutes than my own mother had ever been.

These things, these life events for me, aren’t supposed to happen. My mom wasn’t supposed to leave, but she did. I shouldn’t be able to form that bond with somebody else’s mamma when I was 35 years old, but I did.   Her memory wasn’t supposed to fade, but it is.  She wasn’t supposed to get Alzheimer’s and yet she did.

October brought with it the craziness that always brings.  Work kicks it up a notch and October 2018 was no exception.  October is a busy month for writing since it’s domestic violence awareness month and it just happens to always be a horrible month for me.

I’m still a little stunned, if that is even possible. Sometime in late September or early October we got the official Alzheimer’s diagnosis.  It was not the run of the mill diagnosis, but rather the most rare, and because of other health issues, it is untreatable.

This hit all of us pretty hard and she began to decline even more rapidly -it seemed- after the doctors gave her sketchy memory an official name.   It was as if somebody pulled a smoky screen over the entire world.  Nothing was or has been as bright as it was before that day.

We got through October– I still don’t know how- and November was ushered in by an impromptu trip to Nashville to see one of our favorite authors and friends who was nominated for Christy award.  That decision to drive 8+ hours to Nashville was the most insane and irresponsible decision ever.  The timing could not have been worse from every perspective. I was still fighting the demon on the scale, work was insane and I literally could list 50 more reasons why going to Nashville was a remarkably stupid idea. But Cris kept telling me how she felt strongly that we should go and after a decade of doing life with that girl I just go with her instincts.  They have never served me negatively, so to Nashville we went.

Every mile we drove away from home a brought a sense of calming for both of us. I don’t think either of us realized what a pressure cooker our lives had become.   Our friend won two Christy awards! I got to meet Jerry Jenkins and Charles Martin and I got to hear Jaimie Jo Wright’s acceptance speech for her debut novel, “House on Foster Hill”.  I was close to the stage and I realized she was immediately my people because she had Converse shoes underneath her formal dress!

Crissy, also known as, “The Book Bully” had been telling me that I needed to read Jaime’s novel described as a time slip novel (meh), historical fiction (meh) and creepy (that would be a hard pass).  I’d avoided it and was reading “my kind of books”.

But, when I heard Jaimie‘s acceptance speech, I simply could not get to that book fast enough. During her speech, she got lots of laughs off of her powerful one-liners. She talked about being in the foster care system and getting a family, her voice cracked as she thanked them.  She talked about a scary health situation with her young daughter and thanked a friend for walking her through that scary time in her life. She talked about the struggle with the perceived solitude in the writing community.  After thanking her support team, family and God she said something that stopped me in my tracks. 

“Thank you God for giving me a family when I wasn’t supposed to have one”

It was then I realized I had not hit the record button on my phone since Crissy asked me to record her acceptance speech.  I was that stunned.

And so I got home and read the book in about six hours.  The brilliance of the book forces me to choose my words carefully here because I do not want to give any spoilers.

Similar to “A Rumored Fortune” featured in YOLO Pt 3, this book is historical fiction and again not in my lane. However, I am a big fan of the message of this book and you should be too.

Two of the characters face extreme difficulties, unimaginable loss, immense sadness and gruesome discoveries. Both characters find themselves in the same place: they could choose to let their lives and their grief overwhelm them or they could use Hope.

When I came to this part of the book I realized I could let the fading memory of a giant in my life become the knockout punch and most people would completely understand that.  After all, I was like Jaimie, it would seem, not picked to have a family, yet find myself with one.  But, one of the lynch pins of that family that God chose to gave me doesn’t even know who I am sometimes.  But Jaime’s words of that Christy acceptance speech captured my heart and I spent some tears in my decision to choose Hope in my deep sadness.

Let me let you in on this foster kids secret: most of us have thought at one time or the other that something is fundamentally wrong with us.   Even people like Jaimie who got a family young in life will sometimes feel this way.  We simply are not wired for parental rejection.

My heart attached to Mamma Bootsie and those questions were put to rest for the most part.  She’d chosen me.  And that choice alleviated some of the emotional pain for being abandoned by my own mother.  But the place these characters found themselves mirrored that of my own on this day where I experienced the elation of revival in my car and the pain of repeated questions.  I could choose Hope or I could choose to worship the gift of her rather than the Giver. I realized that if I chose Hope and the Giver that His memories of me won’t fade, and He always knows my name, as He knew me before the foundation of the world.

Even though most days I choose Hope, I don’t know how many times either of us can handle those rides to morning Bible study. I’m trying to be brave, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest.  This is a horrible disease and our family covets your prayers, as there have been plenty of tears around here these days.  I just try to hang on to that Bible verse and the Hope highlighted by an author I’d never read and who belongs to the same club as I—the one that hit the jackpot and got a family when we weren’t supposed to have one.

When I finished Jaime’s book I knew that Hope was and is out in front of me.   Not unlike the characters in the book I have no reason to Hope. My body is still fighting itself, food seems like a bothersome option of my days and the rest of life pressures threaten to take me down.

I will not follow conventional wisdom.  I will choose ridiculous, unexplainable Hope because that choice is the only choice that lands me at the feet of my Jesus.

If Mamma could tell you some version of this passage in Jaime’s book, it would sound a little like the beautiful words of this beautiful author who no doubt got these words from her Father. Bootsie can’t tell you her legacy or what she wants it to be, so allow Jaime to do so:
“Someday I will see his face and all of this will wash away.  What do I leave behind? What will my legacy be? I choose Hope”

 

And since I am stealing Jaime’s words, I will continue to do so as these words are a true picture of my broken heart.

“Thank you Lord for giving me a family when I wasn’t supposed to have one.”

When my mom abandoned me all those years ago I never thought I know the unconditional love of a mamma.  But I do.  Even if she doesn’t remember I will never forget.

I will choose Hope.

Because Jaime, again, captures it beautifully:

“My eyes see beyond today, beyond my circumstances in a world jaded and so scared by sin.  I see into heaven and it is beautiful and it is good.  It is my future.  There is no despair in eternity, in God’s presence, in His perfection.  There is Hope.  He is my Hope.”

Dear Jesus, help me every day to choose Hope.

Because I won’t only live once.

YOLO, Pt 3

YOLO, Pt 1

YOLO, Pt 2

When I remember 2018 I will remember it as the year I spent on the ropes and backed into a corner.  I got a few punches in, but my bruised and swollen eyes often had me swinging at the wrong things.  It was the year that I proved the old adage “hurting people hurt people” true.

In some ways the hot summer days spent at Mayo Clinic were comforting.  Every time I walked through those doors I felt like I could stop fighting because I was there for them to take care of me, something at which I am an award-winning failure.  Under their care, they took care of hydration and sometimes food.  I had zero responsibility to seek life- giving nutrients on my own.  Under their care, the pressures of life- particularly work pressures -were absent.  So, when the doctors landed at “gain weight” “control stress” and “take this pill for that” I was thrown for a loop because the answer for my physical well being rested squarely on my shoulders.

It meant I was responsible for life giving nutrients.  It meant I had to “take care of Amy” and I was reminded of advice I so often give to others “put your own oxygen mask before trying to assist others”.  Relieved that I was going to be ok, I left Jacksonville and started driving west. That trip is always weird to me because I leave a place I’d known as home my whole life to go to a place where my house is and a lot of people I love.  I had a lot of time to think on that drive.  I made mental lists of nutrient laden foods.  I was determined.  My determination was only outmatched by my gratefulness that I was leaving the Mayo Clinic in MUCH better shape than the vast majority of people.

So August was ushered in with a lot of standoffs with food, nausea was my ever-present friend and peppermint became my favorite essential oil. Desperate for control, every morning I’d step on the scale just praying it didn’t go down. But I was l shocked at my reaction when the number on the scale began to increase.  I’d argued against an eating disorder for months, and I truly know it didn’t start that way, but I found myself in unchartered territory. I became obsessed with that number and I attempted to become a master at life giving nutrition. Still on the ropes, I needed strength to hit back, and to hit my real enemy not my perceived ones.  While I have always been fond of control, the need to control that number on the scale was new territory for me as I’ve never been obsessed with my weight and have always been a little heavy. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t love dropping clothes sizes and a number on the scale I don’t even remember weighing in my life. One thing was true: I understood that regardless of the story of the scale, my body was wrecked by malnourishment; my stomach attacked by inflammation and emotions hijacked by stress- relentless stress. I understood that I had to fix it but that meant genuinely taking care of myself– a concept that is foreign to me as living in Dubai

I found my phone more silent as I simply didn’t have the energy to keep and stay in touch with my friends. I needed every molecule of oxygen I could get. There wasn’t any extra to give away.  Several of my friends and family checked on their “strong friend” and when they did, I didn’t try to fake it. There is one particular text conversation with my friend Joy that reads like my personal manifesto to destroy myself as well as a crisis of faith. I regretted that conversation the next day because that conversation was about as real as it gets.

Crissy had been bugging me to read “A Rumored Fortune”  by Joanna Davidson Politano.  It’s historical fiction and a little out of my lane, but Crissy was insistent so I finally gave in and started the book.

And just like Becky Wade’s “Falling For You” I can describe this book to you as a work for fiction covered with the truth of the gospel.

“Force a vine to struggle and you give it a better chance at life. For any vine that has to reach its roots deep into the soil to find water and cling heartedly to the guide wire against the wind will have a firm anchor to withstand any climate” A Rumored Fortune

Struggle-a word I don’t like very much and I certainly am not a fan of the actual experience. While some of the struggles late in August were due to my desire for control of a number on a scale, the initial health struggles were merely a symptom of a much greater problem. I was not using any guide wires, much less the Ultimate Guide Wire.  Being forced into those struggles made me find that Guide Wire, it made me seek Water that would feed my dry soul, one that had been on the ropes and in a corner for far too long.

I thought I was a fine living off the nutrients of everything and everyone except the True Vine but my God loves me too much to let me wither up and die at the hands of the wrong attachments to people things and accomplishments.  So the pruning continued.  I was reminded of the beautiful scripture regarding vines and branches and the relationship between the two.

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more” John 15:1-2. 

Sometimes the only peace I got during those hot summer August days were the times I opened this book, and with every page, my God met me there. 

“The appearance of death of a vine does not mean the end has truly come, every vine has its winter but when you cut below the stiff surface you will find life” A Rumored Fortune

While it certainly felt like the rope was finally going to break and I was going to fall to my death, I managed to get out of the corner.

I went looking for signs of life in my broken body, heart, mind and spirit. Clearing out the winter struggle continues to feel extremely selfish to me. But, with every bite of food, drink of water or good nights sleep I’ll begin to feel alive again. I’ll begin to experience the sweet nectar of life that comes from the true Vine.  I hope to stop looking for empty nutrients that I can provide.  I have to remember that the appearance of death does not mean that the Vine died, it is an opportunity to dig a little deeper and remember my attachment to the True Vine. And find life, under the damage of winter.

I am beginning to focus on living life as a loved and cared for offshoot of the Vine that gives abundant life. Not the kind of sugar water from an IV bag but from soul feeding nutrients that woke up my senses and reminded me that I don’t have to live life alone. I don’t have to fix everything.  I don’t have to control everything.  Because everything I need is holding on to me. And while I don’t like the pruning, I would need the precious truths of my life- giving Vine, because 2018 had one more punch for me.  And the rope broke, as did my heart.  And the first place I went is to my Vine.

YOLO, Pt 2

The entire month of July was spent commuting 120 miles from my house to Mayo Clinic. My weight continued to drop, I was incredibly malnourished and the sheer number of IVs I had in a single month probably rivaled that of most IV drug users. I sat in a room full of chemo patients for three days straight while I received IV steroids in an attempt to calm down an angry G.I. system. Whispers of feeding tubes and conversations like “she’s not progressing” filled the silent air, that silence only interrupted by the beeps of the heart monitor. They thought I was sleeping. But I heard them and I understood them–I understood every single word. When they weren’t talking, the silence was deafening.

Tests continued and for most of them I went by myself. Having plenty of experience in hospitals, I preferred it that way.

Until I didn’t.

After receiving one test result that would result in removal of polyps in my small intestines, I caved and asked Crissy to go with me. By the time the day of the procedure came, I was at my lowest weight–and it was impossible to ignore the concern in the eyes of everybody involved in my care. I’d managed to avoid mirrors, scales and even pictures because I realized I looked like I felt and for once in my life I was terrified.

As these things seem to go, the procedure was on a Thursday so the official results would not be ready until Monday. The weekend that followed that procedure was the longest weekend of my life. Even though the doctors told us that the polyps were likely just a result of an auto immune inflammatory process, I was terrified. This terror was new to me it occurred to me that unlike most times in my life I legitimately wanted to stick around on this planet. This was unlike the time I spent five days in the hospital after what should’ve been an accidental overdose. This new feeling of wanting to be alive, while it surprised me, also brought night terrors. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to live with cancer or some other scary diagnoses. This was new to me as I often would say over the years that if a diagnosis like that came, I would be okay with that. Something changed inside of me. I wanted to be and stay alive.

That weekend God and I had lots of conversations about performance and how much better or more efficiently I needed to perform for Him to give me a break. I remembered all the times I considered myself a mistake to a woman who did not want me and who left me. One of those weekend nights I remembered a portion of a book (“Falling For You” by Becky Wade)I’d read. And in the wee hours of the night I found myself looking for a particular portion of this beautifully written story that is laced with struggles of guilt, remorse and questions of God–big questions like being abandoned by a parent.

There is a part I’ve since dubbed “Willow’s Surrender” and when I found that passage in the book that night, tears dropped on the page as I was experiencing exactly what was being described there. I found the words on those pages anointed. A single quote is highlighted, underlined and then smeared because of tear drops. The heroine wondered “Is my faith too small or my regrets too big?” I had plenty of regrets, and I wondered if those regrets landed me in the health crisis I was experiencing. I knew my faith was too small. On the outside, I proclaimed a God Who does all things well, but the reality is that the heroine and I shared the same questions and experienced the same confusion of God.

But then I read two simple words:

“But Jesus”

Those words stuck with me. I tried to go back to sleep, but the panic attacks and fear kept creeping up and stealing the air from my lungs. I was simply terrified that I was going to die. I stood in front of my bathroom mirror and frantically tried to calm down and the the Lord brought those words to my mind:

“But Jesus”

I repeated the words over and over and then finally screamed:

“But Jesus WHAT?”

Suddenly my mind was flooded with the truth of Who He is, Who I had learned Him to be and Who He had proven Himself to be.

This I know, Jesus loves you because the Bible tells you so.

Jesus is not unfamiliar with our sorrows, because He Himself felt sorrow, He felt abandonment, and He carried my sin to my cross.

Jesus will finish what He stared, because when He starts a work, He finishes it.

Jesus accomplished everything that needed to be accomplished to cover my regret when He died on a tree made of wood He created–my performance is inconsequential because, He meant what He said when He said “It is finished”. It is, indeed, finished.

The remembrance of these things, and more importantly the recognition of them flipped the switch on my faith and my regrets. I found my faith to be growing and my regret shrinking.

I crawled back into bed that night with the surrendered heart not unlike that of the heroine in that beautiful work of fiction that is dripping with Jesus.

I closed my eyes and fell asleep but not before remembering one more “But Jesus”:

“I will never leave you or forsake you”.

I woke up the next morning with a peace that cannot be explained–even by the best wordsmith. So, when the phone rang and I realized it was the doctor I remembered those two words as I touched the green button to accept the call.

But Jesus

I barely heard his words that everything was benign. I truly think that no matter what the result would have been, I was in sweet community with Jesus, and while that book is written by a Christian author, those words were not hers. Those two words are imprinted on my heart and soul and would serve me greatly as 2018 was not done with me yet.

YOLO, Part 1

Maybe it was the anti-climatic Times Square acts, maybe it was an overdose of Ryan Seacrest, maybe it was because the ball wasn’t as pretty, but on December 31st, 2017 I decided I was going to make some changes. I realized how unremarkable my life seemed and I was determined to change it.

It was as if turning 46 just a few weeks earlier sent me into this weird phase and my relationship with time was transformed. As if on some sort of cue, the mirror reflected my years on this planet. And I did not like it one bit, nor did I feel like I’d lived enough life to match that mirror reflection. At the beginning of 2018, I had a twilight zone moment. I suddenly became aware of how the preceding decade was just gone, and I felt like I had very little to show for it.

So, I decided to have a YOLO year. I will admit, since I don’t hang out with high school kids anymore, there may have been a time when I had to google what that even meant.

“You Only Live Once”. It’s a fact for sure, but also the recognition of such and my drastic changes in behavior to make the most of every moment presented challenges. I don’t know if the expectation bar was too high or it the year itself was just going to be one like so many before, filled with loss, pain, health problems and blindsiding news. Either way, it will be the year I remember that I found God faithful, maybe more than ever before.

The year started fine but I’d began having appetite and stomach issues. Looking back, these issues became prohibitively difficult when we were in Maine just a few weeks before that New Years Eve when I decided to make my unremarkable life remarkable. I was convinced that the stomach and food issues were linked to stress, and certainly it played a part. But, as ironic as it may seem, my desire to have a YOLO year, as difficult as it started and is ending should never be able to happen.

My desire to make the most of every moment is a miracle. It is a reflection of deeper healing. Healing that is so profound that it has changed the landscape of my faith and outlook on life.

We had our annual girls weekend in January and my friends began commenting on my weight loss and I would smile and nod and chalk it up to stress. The girls weekend was a lot of fun and certainly my YOLO desire brought with it behaviors like putting down my phone in the presence of other people and shutting my laptop even if I needed to work. My love language is quality time and not unlike most people, I have a deep longing for more of it—sans the personal computer in our hands stealing our time. I became aware of my desire to be present and stop with any illusion that I can ever be anything near perfect. That quote “Present Over Perfect” became popular in 2018, but it truly was and is the desire of my heart.

We entered into 2018 as our 9th year at Watermark, and while that is certainly something to celebrate, it was an incredibly stressful year. I knew it was going to be and the hard conversations and decisions that had to happen was NOT on my YOLO list! Oftentimes, I stared at that fancy MBA on my wall with about as much bitterness as I do when I write the check every month to (still) pay for it. That very expensive piece of paper did little to bridge that huge stress gap, or the toll it took on me as evidenced by how badly I felt all the time, or by watching my body waste away because apparently food wasn’t on the YOLO list either.

I am not a CEO, not a good one anyway. I don’t mean that as a knock on myseIf. I don’t think being in leadership and having a heart for people are mutually exclusive but I don’t have the cut throat personality that often goes with the title. I am not willing to harm a human being for any amount of money or success. But, nevertheless, we had to make some changes and that took it’s toll on me. I continued to drop weight and I would go days without eating. And I didn’t care either.

Before spring rolled around, there were more YOLO moments, a Billy Joel concert with amazing tickets that cost stupid money, weekends in Jacksonville reconnecting with family, a lazy day spent on the river kayaking with manatee (and probably a few alligators) with Michelle and her too grown kids, our annual gathering in Crystal River with POstable friends and many other pretty cool things.

A cross country flight took me to a bucket list item and I fought the food demons on an Alaskan cruise. If I were to leave this planet today, know this: that trip was very near the top of my bucket list. Late spring brought with it a trip to Philadelphia with Crissy and Joy where we were in pure bliss. We hung out with one of our favorite authors, got a ton of free books, and made more memories. Weight continued to drop, people got louder and I continued to nod and smile.

Before summer I felt the intense pain of yet another loss. Kevin (step son) and I were rebuilding a relationship. He was clean and having him back in my life began healing a part of my heart and it was amazing. Hearing him call me “Mom” and watching him slay the heroine demon was truly not only one of the highlights of the year, but maybe of the decade. It was Joy so unexplainable that it’s probably easier to describe the pain that a single Facebook message brought. After a year clean, this 32 year old beautiful soul stepped out into eternity with a needle in his arm.

I was devastated. Besides the obvious, I can’t explain the devastation or what his death did in its attempts to derail my emotional healing. I couldn’t accept it as just another loss, and I found myself on an island, wondering as John The Baptist did, was Jesus really the Expected One?

By June, even I was scared of what I saw when I finally got on a scale. As part of my YOLO year, I’d planned a 3 week trip away to visit one of my closest and best friends and her family. I thought the change of scenery would serve me well, and Amy is an amazing cook with a family to feed, so I had thinly veiled hopes that I could jump start my appetite to stop the now scary weight loss. While my time there was amazing, and good for my soul, I got on the plane to go home at least 10 pounds lighter than when I’d left.

So July (really the entire summer) was filled with doctors, needles, MRIs, CT scans, bloodwork and 3 separate surgical procedures. At the end of all of those test and procedures more diagnoses of more health issues poured in, and I was officially out of the capacity to deal with any of it. Concern from friends and family felt more like a pressure cooker and I simply had zero ability to deal with any of it.

But Jesus.