Removing Fences

As I was driving home from the grocery store today, I passed through one of the more affluent areas on the way to my apartment – far on the other side of the tracks. =]

I do appreciate beautiful homes with landscaping perfected for magazine covers. Some of these communities had brilliant water features with small ponds and lakes. When I was younger, my mom and I would wander through model homes just to marvel at how lovely they were; the floor plans, the kitchens, the bathrooms, etc…

But today, I saw something a little different. I saw barriers and fences. I saw restrictions and cages. I saw separation and exclusiveness.

The communities I drove by today were all gated. Access code needed. In other words, I wasn’t welcome there. Of course, I didn’t try, but even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to – unless, of course, I was given an invite from a specific person inside the community.

There was suddenly a separation. A me and them. A low people and a high people. A division in classes. It’s always been there, I know… but today I just saw it differently. It was eye-opening. Heart-opening.

I was suddenly aware about how we do this. How Christians do this. How we create a me and a them. A low people and a high people. The houses and the people who live in them didn’t make me sad, I was sad about us as people. As Christ lovers and followers. How many fences and barriers have we put up to keep out the riff raff? How many people feel like they can only approach us with a personal invite? How many people feel incapable to come to us because they fear judgement, harshness, and condemnation?

We are called to foster love, peace, kindness, forgiveness, on and on. And on and on. I wanna be a woman who envelopes the lost, who helps others find freedom, and who is always inclusive. I wanna be a woman who is approachable, unrestricted, and without fences of separation.

That’s what we’re called to do and be. It isn’t always easy. We find comfort in our safe places and in our comfort zones. Gosh, I feel like I know this so much more now after being recently uprooted from my own safe, comfort zone. It’s important to be and stay in community with one another. Yes! We are critical to each other’s growth and we nurture one another. But it can’t stop there.

Can we examine our fences? Can we double check our invites and make sure they aren’t exclusive, but rather inclusive. Let’s gather with people on both sides of the fences. The mes and the thems. Let’s have communities with less separation and more invitation.

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You Will Go Before Me

When I officially touched Texan soil, to become her permanent resident, I had big dreams, expectations, and ideas. I just knew that because God moved me here the way He did that things were gonna be fantastic!

I left a safe life, perhaps even a bit of a bubbled life. I surrounded myself with safe people. People who didn’t gossip, weren’t mean-spirited, who loved me deeply. I worked with the best people and served in a church with the best people. We had a common mission and goal to restore hope to the broken, lost souls. Ahh… the dream!

I knew that if God was calling me to leave all of that, it must be because He had something way bigger in store for me. I was excited to see where the wandering road would lead me and I was obedient enough to actually cut the cords and go.

Except… nothing BIG was panning out. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t land a job with one of the many ministries here in the DFW area. I couldn’t find a church that really needed me to serve. Even the volunteer opportunities I’ve taken have been pretty superficial and non-descript. I once received a “Thank You” card for an event that I missed. I signed up for it and then wasn’t able to go. Yet, I still received a thank you card, addressed to me, for all my hard work. To say I got a bit cynical at that point is an understatement.

It’s been a difficult summer. It’s been difficult at home, at work, at my non-existent church. I didn’t realize that leaving a life so wrapped up in ministry to come into the world at full throttle would be such a challenge. A friend told me the other day, “Stephanie, you’re not on the milk anymore. You are here for a reason and a purpose.” Of course, she’s right. I’ve been frantically searching for hands, like mine, to hold and walk this journey with me. Since I became a believer, 10 years ago, I always had a hand to hold.

As I said before, I knew when I came here that finding a church would be my first order of business. There are so many churches here it can make a person’s head spin. Big, small, world famous churches. I think I’ve tried them all. All the big ones that is. I was done with small churches – God was calling me to BIG things and because of that I needed a BIG church. The problem was that BIG church just wasn’t working for me. I did enjoy some of the extra things that were offered. But I also missed the personal connection – the lacking depth of human to human relationship. And yes, I was part of small groups, home groups, mom groups, single groups, groups of groups. Yes, I volunteered in the well-oiled machine of big church. Yet, I still wasn’t connecting.

So, today, I did what I probably should have done months ago, but I had to get to the point I was at to really receive the gift God was handing me. I walked, boldly and with God’s covering, into the small, little, only one service on Sunday, Grace Community Church – the only Foursquare church nearby – and felt God’s love all over me. It was like He wrapped a quilt around me and welcomed me home. The pastor, who actually took the time to talk with me before service, delivered a message that was directly pointing at me. “The peace of the Lord is there even when the plan seems counterintuitive.” I haven’t been feeling peace. I did feel peace today. “Sometimes the blessing of the Lord is in the midst of captivity.” The pastor was talking about when Jesus went to pray at Gethsemane and was seeking the Lord’s will and would be obedient even if it was counterintuitive to what Jesus thought the plan should be.

And that was my problem… I wasn’t really seeking the Lord’s will. I thought I knew His will already. I didn’t bother to stop and ask Him along the way what He wanted. I assumed that I knew and I carried on with what I thought was the plan. It wasn’t that I set out to be blatantly disobedient, but I also wasn’t lining myself up for obedience.

I’m a hardheaded woman. Ask my mom or anyone who’s ever tried to mentor me. It takes me a season of “learn this lesson the hard way” before it sinks in and I finally understand. Maybe you’re hardheaded too. Maybe, though, you’ll read this and then pray. Maybe you’ll ask God for clarity about His will over your life, and even if it seems counterintuitive, you’ll be obedient and move forward toward the things He has waiting for you. That’s where I wanna be today. Moving forward on the way to the things He has for me. Not the things I think He has for me.

Blessing Reminders

Blessings are sometimes overlooked. I’m totally guilty.

A friend of mine said to me today, “blessings come very easily for you. It’s not a bad thing, you’ve been such a blessing to other people and now you’re reaping that reward.”

What? What blessings? Do you know that I’m praying for this, and this, and that? And this one thing I’ve been praying for 15 years! This other thing I’ve been praying for almost two years! I have this on my list and this and that one thing. I’m waiting for ALL of these things or at least one to pan out for me. I just need to catch a break.

Wablessed-aviciih Wah Wah Wahhhh! WAH!

I didn’t say all that. Inside my head, though, I did. Until…

I realized how right she was and how grateful I am that she called me on it.

In the recent months, I’ve been showered with blessings. Help with car repairs, birthday gifts I don’t deserve, meals at nice restaurants that I wouldn’t normally go to, even a couple trips because of the generosity of those who love me. I’ve had friends purge their closets and I’ve acquired the rewards. People have been generous and kind to my man-child.

There really are so many things! The problem is that my focus keeps being drawn to the things I’m not receiving. The things I think I *really* want/need, but aren’t coming to fruition.

Help me, God, I’m a blind, thankless woman who can’t even appreciate (beyond the immediate appreciation) the blessings that have come to me because I’m so determined to keep my eye on the blaringly obvious things that I feel are still missing.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has done this… right? Back me up here…

So, take a few minutes… do an internal audit of the things happening around you, to you, and for you. Those, my friend, are blessings.

It’s too easy to slip into that place of “not enough” or “why not me?” Flip that focus switch, friends. Allow God to show you the work He’s doing for you, how He’s providing, and how He’s lining up His people on your behalf.

He is a good, kind, gracious, loving God. Amen!

 

Singing A New Song

One year ago… today…  I drove away from home. It’s the second time in my life when all my possessions were tucked away into a truck to be hauled miles and miles away from the place I called home.

When I left Michigan, it was hard, but it was for work. I didn’t have a lot of options and that seemed like the best one. When I left the eastern panhandle of West Virginia/northern Virginia area, it was a totally different move.

A kicking and screaming move.

An exciting move.

A “I’m scared to death to do this” move.

A “I have peace, but no understanding” move.

A fully surrendered move.

Now, here I sit, one year later, and I’ve gained no more understanding than I had a year ago. I almost wrote this post with the intent to write about all the things I miss. The people I love. The job I left. The church that welcomed me into her arms every week and the hugs that embraced me – tightly and with a depth of love I long for today.

I can’t go there, though. It isn’t healthy for me and that isn’t where God is calling me to focus. He doesn’t want us looking back and living in the place He no longer has for us. When Christ calls us to Him, it’s important to keep our attention on the road ahead, no matter how frustrated we are with the process. No matter how foggy or dimly lit that road might be.

So, as you can imagine, I’ve been pouring over different scriptures to walk me along this path, looking for ways to intentionally seek after God’s direction, and turn into myself to see how He’s trying to transform me through this process.

Here are some things I’ve had to cling to during this process:

Connect. With God. With people.

Be useful. To God. To others.

Learn. More about God. More about others.

Love. Intentionally and completely.

No matter where we are in life, the road less travelled or often travelled, those things listed above will always be important. When things might not make sense to us or our world is confusing, those things above will always remain. They allow us the chance to step outside our own self and look at the bigger picture. The fullness of Him and His purpose.

It’s easy to sit in our puddle, pool, or pit of self-pity or doubt or funk. The truth is, though, that we need to be running harder and faster after Him. We need to have a circle of people surrounding us. I have a small group of ladies that I’m constantly throwing out prayer requests to because I trust them and love them. I know they feel the same about me. We all have the same goal when we’re living in community together – even if it’s 1,000+ miles apart. We’re called to walk life with others, be prayerful for others, and help those God puts in our life to know Jesus a little better every day.

Tonight, I will be hosting my first book study here in the great state of Texas, with a small group of women I’ve come to know. While I did not schedule it to begin on this day because of the whole “one year ago today” thing… this morning I’m sorta sitting here in awe at how God works out these little confirmations and reminders for us to hold onto.

He is good. All the tinewsongme. All the time. He is good.

***

You’ve brought me to the end of myself
This has been the longest road
Just when my hallelujah was tired
You gave me a new song

I’m letting go
I’m letting go
I’m letting go
Falling into You

I confess I still get scared sometimes
But perfect love comes rushing in
And all the lies screamed inside go silent
The moment You begin

I’m letting go
I’m letting go
I’m letting go

Falling into You

You remind me
Of things forgotten
You unwind me
Until I’m totally undone
And with Your arms around me
Fear was no match for Your love
Now You’ve won me

And if I lived a thousand lifetimes
And wrote a song for every day
Still there would be no way to say
How You have loved me

Oh, how You love me
And that’s how You’ve won me

 

Come out of Hiding You’re Safe Here with Me.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine wrote a blog post… the kind that stands in front of us, pointing its finger and sticking its tongue out. Like, na na na na na naaaaa! “This one is just for you, buddy.”

It was maxresdefaultfor me. Not all of it. I think some parts weren’t meant, directly, for me. Other parts, though, they were.

Long ago, I started a blog to share recipes and new things that I’d cooked. Somehow, it morphed into a blog about life. Ree Drummond was kinda my unknown mentor way back then. It was before she became a well-known star of Food Network and she was just a regular girl, writing a regular blog about food, faith, family. I wanted that.

The thing is… a lot of people wanted that. Especially once she gained a little more fame and people really began to follow her and do what she did. I suddenly felt like I couldn’t compete, so I backed myself out of the game.

By then, my focus sorta shifted anyway and it seemed like a good time to introduce a whole new blog. You know, one that NO ONE was doing… hmph. Except. Everyone was doing it. Okay, not everyone. But lots and lots of people. Smart, smart women. More experienced women. Women who have made speaking all of the country look like a day at the park.

I left a cooking blog to start writing a faith (is that even what to call it?) blog. For what purpose exactly?

See… I don’t so much fall into the comparison trap, like others might, but I do fall into the “what do I have to offer that isn’t already being offered” trap. I am clearly not the best cook. When I see other blogs that are better photographed, better written, and have way more interesting foods… I think… well, I made awesome baked spaghetti! Meh.

When I see women who blog about their faith, their story, their journey… they are really talking about something big and special and amazing. And usually they’ve been walking the journey a lot longer than me and have a lot more wisdom to share. I think… well, I went to small group tonight and led prayer! Meh.

What am I offering that’s different? Not one thing. Or, at least, that’s what the enemy wants me to believe.

Maybe I’m not offering anything different. Maybe I only have two faithful readers and one of them is my mom.

Maybe I’ll never post the greatest recipe or the greatest story about my journey with God.

Maybe only two people will ever read what I write. And it’s usually not very well written either… I write the way I talk. I lose grammar points often.

So, do I stop? Who am I doing all of this for anyway? Me? Them? Fame? Notoriety? God?

That was the question I’ve spent the last several weeks trying to answer. My friend, the one who wrote the blog post mentioned at the beginning, she helped. And encouraged. And reminded me how writing is more therapeutic for me and who cares if no one reads it. When those of us with huge hearts walk around this world, sometimes we just need an outlet. Sometimes, we just need to pour things out of ourselves so that we can move on to the next thing.

Consider this my pouring out.

Things have been difficult over the last few months and it meant me doing what I do; retreating. Pulling back. I’ve got to stop that. It means I process alone when I don’t necessarily have to. It means walking a scary, dark road by myself when I know I have at least two people who would walk it with me. Not to mention the satisfaction I would have by simply unloading my heart onto these pages.

I’m going to try and be better. I’m going to try to stop retreating into myself when things get ugly. I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of months and I’m excited to begin sharing them – even if it’s only to my mom. 😉

Underface

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Shel Silverstein has been one of my favorites since I was young. I still flip through pages of his poems and find my inner girl, my inner broken soul, and my underface.

While the last several months have been really super and I’ve been blessed over and over by people who love me and I still haven’t completely figured out why… I’ve been privately holding close my brokenness. My underface. My undoneness.

The good news is that I (we) have a loving God who sees the underface. A loving God who desires to completely restore the broken vessels that we are and walk alongside us down a road of redemption. He provides us with people who are willing to see the underface and not run away in disgust or judgement, but to embrace us with love, grace, and mercy.

We may be able to hide our underface from one another, but never from Him. Whatever you might be dealing with today, tomorrow, next week – He is with you; relentlessly pursuing you and desiring the intimacy of you asking Him into your underface places.

I needed to remind myself of that this morning, maybe you too?

Life Hurts – God Heals

How is someone supposed to feel when a Father dies?

An unknown father.

An absent father.

A father who walked away from his own child father?

I had a dad with whom I was raised and I also had a father that contributed to my creation who then abandoned my mom. My mom was married to my bio dad for a couple of years and all the things I know about him are bad. Not at all good.

Every few years, I would get a hankering to do a “search” for my bio dad online. I never found him, though. I had that hankering a couple weeks ago. I found him. He’s dead.

I knew it was him because I remember his mom’s name and his sister’s name, both of whom were mentioned in his obituary. Also mentioned were his wife and three children – now adults, of course. His love for art and how he was able to make so many people smile and bring happiness and joy through his art was also mentioned. My bio dad was an artist. He drew and painted for others. To make them happy.

On par with what all abandoned children feel, we fall into the questions that come with abandonment – why wasn’t I good enough for him? Why didn’t he love me? Did he ever think about me? Did anyone know about me? Was I just forgotten all these years? Did he create a whole new life and just forget his old one existed? Why didn’t he want to know me? Am I that awful? That unlovable?

I have two half-brothers and a half-sister that I know about now. Of course, I’ve spent the last two weeks teetering back and forth about whether to try and make contact. Maybe to my aunt first? She had a relationship with us for several years after my dad left. I was never a secret to her. But what if his kids never knew I existed? Would I ruin their world? Their image of their dad? Was he loving to them?

I’m not sure if he ever got his life together – on paper it sounds like he did. I know now, though, that I’ll never have a chance to know him, to know whether or not he turned his life around, to know whether or not he ever cared about me, to know if he cried for me through the night. I’ll never know that and I’m sorta bummed about it.LHGH-960x550

Things and emotions that I assumed were long gone all bubbled to the surface over the last couple of weeks. It’s been weird.

I honestly don’t know how someone who doesn’t know God would process something like this – it’s all I’ve been able to do is to remind myself that I DO have  an Almighty Father, who will never abandon me.

In Psalm 27:10 (NLT) we’re told, Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close. The enemy would like me to think that because the bio dad didn’t hold me close and didn’t want me that I’m not worthy to be held closely.

And the enemy is a liar.

In Psalm 142:4-5 (NIV) David was in a cave, crying out to the Lord and he said this, 4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. And we could leave it right there… but the next verse says, 5 I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

When we’re in a cave, whatever that looks like for us, and when we have a relationship with the living God, we know that we can cry out to Him because He is our refuge. The enemy would like us to think that God doesn’t hear us or doesn’t care.

And the enemy is a liar.

If you’re reading this post and you don’t know who Jesus is, I assure you that He is waiting for you to cry out to Him from your cave. He is waiting to bring you into His arms and give you comfort, to remind you that you are loved, and to let you know that He will never leave you.

Satan wants to keep people under his thumb, tangled in his web of lies and deceit. He wants to tell you that you’re not worth anything – not even worth a father who wants know you. Not even worth a man at all. Not even worth a thing. He’s lying to you, sweet one. He lies to me. It’s his way.

I listened to a message last night by Jimmy Evans. It was part of a series called “The Hurt Pocket” and, surprisingly, it touched some of the hurt places in my own heart that I thought were long ago healed. One of the takeaways was that in order to heal our hurt we have to be willing to bring it into the light and to be honest with God about it. I haven’t done that. I stuffed. Deep, deep down into my soul. Do you do that? I do. I assume it’s healed because I don’t think about it, but really it’s just stuffed. Hidden. Almost to the point of not being found. And then it is. It’s found and it’s hard.

My takeaways for you, if you’re reading this, are to first decide whether or not you’re in right relationship with Christ. If not, let me help you! Email me. Message me. Anything. Secondly, if you are in relationship with Him, be honest with Him. Take your hurts to Him – no matter how old and stuffed down they are – and allow Him the time to heal them for you. He wants to heal our brokenness, we just have to give Him the broken pieces.