Finding Freedom

**make sure to watch both videos in sequence.

We struggle under the weight.
The failed relationships.
The strained marriages.
The wayward children.
The painful life not quite left behind.
The job we hate.
The words we can’t take back.
The words we can’t forget.
The sorrow of letting go either through death or circumstances.
The forever tight finances.
The hounding health issues.
Sometimes, we shove all of it, all the burdens, into our briefcases or purses or backpacks and lug them around.
We become accustomed to their mass and bulk.
Even comfortable under the load.
We don’t see that after a while, they don’t just burden us, but everyone around us.
Failure.
Disappointment.
Unmet expectations.
Unfulfilled dreams.
Past mistakes haunt.
Past abuses cling.
Careless, painful words echo.
Fear hangs.
We weave our tortuous way along life’s path with burdens strapped to us like extra appendages.
Or tumors.
We hide.
We fight.
We run.
We labor.
Eventually, we will buckle under the weight.

Is there hope?
As Easter approaches, I’m reminded that yes, Hope exists and my belief is renewed.

Writing about Jesus, the prophet Isaiah brings Hope:
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Then a few chapters later, he wrote more about Jesus:

He has sent me to tell those who mourn    
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,  
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning,    
festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks    
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins,    
repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them,    
though they have been deserted for many generations.

We do not have to live, breathe and move with our burdens defining us and disfiguring us. 
There is Hope.

Advertisements

When the washing machine breaks…

The washer broke yesterday. Daryl, the repairman, asked if it sounded like a jet engine when it was spinning. Yes, Brad answered. It’s the bearings, he replied.

I demanded much from that washer and it delivered. Over its lifetime, I estimate it washed almost 9,000 loads. If the old washer could talk, it would tell tales of late-night loads of barf-filled sheets and early morning spins of the basketball uniform worn the night before and needed immediately. Four kids and two adults (and lots of college kids) used it for jersey’s, Pizza Ranch uniforms, sweaty running gear, dusty work clothes, frosting-filled aprons, towels, and the occasional delicate.

It had a good run; then it died.*

And the washer dying? Almost sent me over the edge–into a full melt-down mode. In the middle of telling myself to get a grip and stop freaking out over the washer dying, I stepped back and thought of our lives the last few weeks.

In the past 16 days…
We welcomed one child back home and said goodbye to another.
We celebrated an engagement, two new jobs and a birthday.
We ate meals, worked our jobs, cleaned our house, hosted guests and made two unplanned trips.
We bought a wedding dress.
We mourned with a broken-hearted sweetie.
And the washer broke.

It was the dead washer that broke this camel’s back.

My friend sent me an Andrew Peterson song earlier this week called Be Kind to Yourself. He wrote it for his daughter, but it speaks to me in the middle of my mess. Many of us are good at being kind to others, but being kind to ourselves can be difficult. Every fault, every frustration, every past mistake, every instance of shame & regret, every dumb word spoken comes rushing back in moments of frailty and we mercilessly beat ourselves up. I’m so frail, people. I suspect, no matter the tough mask you wear or the high walls you build, you’re frail too. And instead of being kind to ourselves in our frailty and humanity, we scold ourselves and try to muscle our way through it. If you’re like me, something stupid like the washer breaking may make you doubt God’s love. It’s ridiculous, and yet I believe we all do it. We doubt that the Creator of the Universe could actually love us. I regularly doubt it. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true. Doubt is why I write so many “It’s the Little Things” posts; the posts are my exercise in practicing belief. I believe learning to be kind to ourselves is also an exercise in practicing belief.

Yes, I need to get over myself and look at the big picture. Yes, I need to rejoice and give thanks for the countless blessings given to us. Yes, I need to remember and believe and practice faith. And yes, in all of that, I can be kind to myself and not beat myself up for feeling stretched thin.

I don’t know what your broken washer is today. I don’t know what *thing* will feel like too much. I don’t know what may cause a meltdown in your heart today. I guess I just ask you to join me in trying to remember God’s love and be kind to yourself in the middle of the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

*(side note–perhaps that should be on my tombstone: “She had a good run; then she died.”)

 

It’s the little things.

it’s warmth and shelter in the middle of the storm
it’s card games and Mario Cart and wii
it’s lingering over books
it’s baking cookies and bread to enjoy together
it’s a selfless man who constantly and consistently works hard with no need for a spotlight
it’s food for sustenance and enjoyment
it’s soothing, soul-feeding music
it’s more than enough of everything even when my warped view tries to tell me otherwise
it’s reading Truth freely and without constraint
it’s sharing memories over old photos
it’s prayers prayed with the same, loving man for nearly 3 decades
it’s the love and affection and friendship of mothers and daughters and sisters
it’s laughter, unforced and free
it’s a future Hope of more than enough Grace
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

It’s the little things.

it’s waking up on a Friday after a challenging week
it’s knowing that in just a few hours the house will be full again
it’s the smell of coffee–it’s always the smell of coffee
it’s the 3 am snap-chats from the kids on the road
it’s experiencing shared joys and little triumphs with students
it’s meaningful conversations
it’s possessing the ability to express gratitude
it’s the crazy squirrel perched on the deck providing entertainment
it’s beauty in seeing prayers answered
it’s the gentle forgiveness offered and received
it’s listening to Christmas music
it’s the privilege of bearing one another’s burdens
it’s the reassurance that the dark days will eventually end
it’s the hope and reality of Dawn
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

It’s the little things

it’s climbing into a toasty bed on a cold, damp night
it’s the smell of fresh-baked brownies mingled with the sound of my daughter’s laugh
it’s early morning texts from a far-away friend
it’s long, slow conversations about everything and nothing
it’s purpose-filled work
it’s finding scraps of paper etched with handwriting and wisdom from a beloved
it’s the privilege and strength to pray for hurting souls
it’s soul-feeding words found in unlikely places
it’s the hope and anticipation of seeing loved ones
it’s laughter in the midst of pain
it’s creamed, blueberry honey on a big bowl of oatmeal
it’s gradual peace in letting go of past hurts
it’s knowing your dear ones sleep in safety
it’s the unexpected gift of grieving
it’s typed messages on What’s App from Costa Rica
it’s being enshrouded and enfolded by a Love I cannot fully comprehend
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

 

Walls

Thick cinderblock 521walls lined each narrow, meandering street. Topped with barbed wire and broken glass they shouted a clear message of stay out. Iron bars covered every window and door. Heavy gates, either of solid wood or black metal, completed each mini fortress. Walking out of our simple guest house into the courtyard each morning, hearing the noises of a city waking up, yet only seeing cement walls and metal gates saddened me. A long history of government corruption, instability, and violence led to the walled, barred and gated atmosphere in Nicaragua.

It felt disconcerting to be on either side of the wall. When we were safe inside the fortresses, there was peace accompanied by a sense of loss. Lush trees, vibrant flowers, beautiful birds, and even more beautiful people lived in abundance on the other side, yet couldn’t be seen from within. When on the outside, we saw the immense beauty, but we also lived with a heightened sense of our surroundings, cognizant of the real dangers we faced on the street. Constant tension existed between experiencing relative safety and beholding abundant beauty.

90 down the mt

But if we never ventured outside the walls of Quinta Emily or Hotel Rosario, we would have missed meeting Moeses and Ricardo and we would never have seen the beauty of Mombachito or Somoto or Laguna de Apoyo. We may have experienced comfort and safety but at what cost? We went to Nicaragua to experience Nicaragua. We went to see the natural beauty, to experience a different culture, to practice another language, and to observe what God is doing through His people in other places. We didn’t go to stay safe behind walls in a sanitzed  environment.

One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies is “There’s a wall there.” (Kronk speaking of Eyzma’s reluctance to share emotionally in Emperor’s New Groove) It’s a funny part of the movie because it’s true. We’ve all built walls in our lives.

In an attempt at self-preservation and protection, we build our own emotional fortresses. Some walls we erect to keep our inner life hidden, our emotions in check and our faults and secrets safely vaulted. Others we construct clearly to keep danger at bay. Block by block, we wall ourselves in, trying to insulate our lives from pain, hurt, disappointment and failure. We hide behind our walls of bitterness, envy, anger, shame, and judgment both confused and fearful of the reality on the other side. Regardless of why we build our walls or what they’re comprised of, the result is the same: we hold others at bay and hide. We don’t fully engage in the beauty on the other side of our walls and we don’t allow anyone to see our true beauty. Living inside our fortress makes it difficult to accept or give love, encouragement, and grace. We each have a unique beauty to offer this world and when we hunker down, drawing our knees up to our chest and keeping our head down, no one sees or benefits from what we could offer.

For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago. ~Paul to the Ephesians

When we stay hidden behind our walls, either paralyzed by fear or too comfortable with apathy, it’s impossible to give the unique gifts we possess. Living in solitary worlds behind walls deprives everyone of the beauty that is you and prohibits you from fully experiencing what others can offer.

Personally, I know I don’t always realize when I’ve built walls until they’re so high I can’t see over. Brick by brick, I build them…shame, doubt, anger, jealousy, discontententment and pride mortered together with fear. Tearing down the fortress is hard. It wasn’t built in a day, it won’t come down in a day. And sometimes, I don’t want to pull them down. I’m used to these walls and there’s a perverted comfort living within them. But it’s a false sense of security that doesn’t bring actual peace; it only adds to loneliness and isolation. It’s a risk to tear down the wall. It’s a risk to venture beyond the gates. It’s a risk to love, to share, to give and recieve grace. But in the risk, also comes a freedom and a deep sense of living the way we were created to live: in mutually beneficial community.

A friend introduced me to this song not long ago and I love it. Even though the metaphor is light and darkness, the message is the same: we weren’t created to hide.

With years of keeping secrets safe
Wondering if I could change
‘Cause when you’re hiding all alone
Your heart can turn into a stone
And that’s not the way I want to go

So I walk out of the darkness and into the light
From fear of shame into the hope of life
Mercy called my name and made a way to fly
Out of the darkness and into the light

Read more: Ellie Holcomb – Marvelous Light Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Always seek peace

Walk away from the evil things in the worldjust leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. 1 Peter 3:11

Quoting Psalm 34, Peter wrote this advice to the early scattered Church. It strikes me as both humorous and ironic that the hot head Peter–who cut a guy’s ear off— preaches to “do what’s right and always seek peace…”. I guess Peter learned throughout his life to practice what he preached. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get tired of always striving to do what’s right and always seeking and pursuing peace. Sometimes, in my heart, I want war. Like Jo in Little Women, “I crave violence” (not really–but you get it). Sometimes, I’m so hurt or angry or disillusioned that I just want to tell somebody off or be a hot head like Peter and draw my proverbial sword.  But just as I get ready to take my best shot, verses like the one above shoot through my mind and heart and I’m stopped in my tracks.

We’re wired to defend ourselves aren’t we? It’s our instinct to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We don’t want to wait for God’s salvation or His vindication. As moms, wives, sisters and friends we want to protect and shield the ones we love. And we certainly want to defend ourselves or at the very least, be understood. But I learned years ago during an especially difficult bout with depression, that we have to be willing to be misunderstood. We can’t possibly explain to everyone our reasons or rationale behind every decision and even if we could, would it matter? Would simply explaining ourselves mean that people then understood us? No, we could expend copious amounts of precious energy explaining our lives and decisions to anyone and everyone who would listen and we would still feel misunderstood on some level. But I digress…back to the anger issue…

In the book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculeé Ilibagiza, she shares her personal faith journey during the genocide of 1994. Her story is gripping both for the real drama played out in her life, but also for the way she dealt with the people who murdered her family and ripped her homeland apart. One passage in particular struck me:

I knew that my heart and mind would always be tempted to feel anger–to find blame and hate. But I resolved that when the negative feelings came upon me, I wouldn’t wait for them to grow or fester. I would always turn immediately to the Source of all true power: I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.

“I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.” She lived Peter’s words. She sought peace and pursued it even when it the world would have given her permission to vindicate. I found her life and example inspiring; I want to live Peter’s words as well as these from Paul:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.  Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.  Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. ~Romans 12

 I don’t know what pains you today. I don’t know what anger or bitterness or sadness you carry. I don’t know who hurt you or your loved one. I know my own hurts. I know my own seeds of pain, buried deep in my heart. I know the people who’ve caused pain–the ones I don’t want to love or seek peace with. But I know the only way to live a full life of mercy, grace and love is to forgive and forgive and forgive. And I know the only way for a peaceful heart is to love others as I love myself and trust God for vindication–if He deems it necessary. I pray for a forgiving and peaceful heart for you as well, friend. Whatever struggles you’re in the midst of, I pray God’s peace to rule your heart.