A Reflection on “The Shack”

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The Holding Pattern

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If you’re anything like me, when it comes to the problems and challenges that life hurls at you, you immediately find yourself going into “fix it” mode.  Let me get honest and say that there are those occasional moments of difficulty when I’d rather bury my face in a blanket, and just stay there until whatever it is passes; but for the most part I’m a problem solver.  I try my best not to be a human who sits on the sidelines of life, and laments about all of my miseries.  Those people just suck the energy out of life, and the older I get, the less patience I have with them.  Don’t get me wrong, there are days I’d like to complain and whine, and have people say, “Poor you”, but that’s just not really what I want to put out there into the universe.  I’d much rather be someone who can look a challenge square in the face, point my finger straight at it, and say, “I’m coming after you!”  While this sounds like a good idea on the surface, I’ve realized that this is a condition which can have both positive and negative results.  How?… you may be asking.  I’ll explain.

It may sound noble to want to dig in and start solving the problems of the world right away, but in doing so, it can be easy to make hasty decisions in our desire to tunnel through.  There have been situations in life that are set before me, in which I just know instinctively (God) what I’m supposed to do.  Other situations take a bit longer- more weighing out, more talking to God before the right decision reveals itself.  But what about those other times?  The times when you are in the middle of something confusing or complex, and you simply have no idea what you are supposed to do.  I feel it’s safe to say that most of us have found ourselves in this predicament more than a few times in our lives.  It’s like you wake up in the middle of a dense forest, and there are a number of paths you can take.  Which do you choose?  How do you know which is the right one?

As a Christian, our default in all things should be that we turn to God first.  There are over sixty Bible verses that speak specifically to us waiting on the Lord.  One of my favorites is:

Psalm 130:5-6

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”

I recall very clearly one of my biggest lessons in learning to handle complicated life decisions came in the midst of my divorce.  There are SO MANY decisions you are having to make, and needing to make them in a relatively short amount of time.  The pressure I felt was often overwhelming, as every decision that I made had a direct effect, not only on my own life, but also on the lives of these two little beings I love.  I remember that somewhere around life decision #458 at that time, I called my mom, broken, and just said, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.”  In that moment she gave me what I consider to be some of the best advice for living that I’d ever received.  She very gently, and matter-of-factly stated these words, “When you don’t know what you are supposed to do, you do nothing.  You wait.”

Okaaaay?…. I wait?  Has she met me?  Is she aware that my entire life is a ticking time bomb of deadlines these days, and I don’t really have time to sit around and just wait?  The idea of waiting goes against what my natural instincts tell me to do.  The bulldoze through part of me didn’t like the advice she was sharing, and immediately started with the all the “but what if…” that I could think of.  She knew me well enough to know that I’d need some further convincing, and so she told me that God has a perfect plan for my life.  He is guiding me everyday, even on the hard days when life gets so loud that it’s difficult to hear His voice.  She explained that when we make decisions which are in line with God’s will for our lives, we are given a peace about those decisions.  So, if our soul is at unrest over something, that means the decision hasn’t clearly been revealed yet, and to just sit back, relax, hold on, and pray.  Okay.  I get it now.  I’m going to maintain a holding pattern until God speaks to me so clearly that there’s no denying what He’s telling me.  A bit of a scary prospect, if I’m being honest, but one which I think will challenge me to grow myself in faith… in having faith in Him.

I know several people at this very moment who are facing an obstacle (or obstacles) which seem insurmountable.  I know how scary it can be, and how lost you can feel.  Your body and mind get weak from all of the thinking and worry.  I’m writing this today to offer encouragement.  You, my friend, are far from lost, and far from alone.  This mighty God we serve is your strong tower.  He is your resting place.  He has all of the answers that you need to all of the problems that you have.  Today, I’m giving you the permission that you need to give yourself- permission to set it all on autopilot, and maintain a holding pattern.  This is the time that you should dig deep into His word, and be having daily dialogue with Him about what the plan is going to be for you.  Quiet your world.  Listen to what He’s saying to you.  Don’t feel forced or pressured into making decisions which you may one day regret.  Our deadlines and time tables are not obstacles for God.  He works things through in His perfect time.  Your responsibility is to stay up, keep circling, and be patient until He gives you your landing instructions.

Happy flying! Be blessed!

 

 

 

Feels Like Home

Today, I have a sick child.  Ava isn’t feeling well, and we left church early, so my mom could take her to her house.  She put her in a bed, so I could run out in the car and get the things she needed.

When I returned to my mother’s, there is my child, snug as a bug in her grandmother’s bed.  She’s buried up to her eyeballs in a comfy blanket, and is lying still as can be on my mother’s heated mattress pad.  All in all, not a bad situation if you’re sick.  My mom is catering to her.  I am catering to her.  All is right with the world.  After all, isn’t all any of us really need in this world is to know that there’s someone out there who is going to take care of us?  This is a perfect segue for me to bring in the fact that our Heavenly Father, ultimately, is the One Who will always take care of us.  It is always He Who will meet our needs.  But for today, I’m talking about humans.  Those angels right here on Earth who are placed in our lives to cater to us when we have our own needs.

Once I knew that Ava was safe and secure in bed, had been given the fluids and meds that she needed, my entire body- mind and all- just wanted to shut down for a bit.  I made myself a place on a couch in my mother’s room (within eyeshot of Ava), found my own comfy blanket, and allowed myself to just turn everything off for a moment.  For this rare, fleeting instance I wasn’t going to be mom, or teacher, or friend, or sister, or any other hat that I wear.  I was simply going to be “Amanda”, and I was going to let myself get the rest I’ve needed.

It struck me, as I was attempting to tune my mind off of the everyday static, just how blessed I am to have a mother’s home to go to where I can let the stressors of the everyday world just wash off of me the moment I enter the threshold of her home.  Home.  That’s the key.  It is in this feeling (this sense) of “home” that I am most at peace.  An important aspect that I’ve learned over the years is that HOME doesn’t have anything to do with a location.  Home is not an address.  It doesn’t matter if my family is residing in Fort Smith, AR, or in Rogersville, TN, my home is truly where they are.

It is at this home that I would return from weekends at college- armloads of laundry to do, and parents who were eager to see us.  I could rest here like nothing I would ever experience at school.  Too many friends, dances, nights, and classes to really be able to let oneself completely relax.

It is at this home that I would bring newborn babies.  Tired, frazzled, and feeling exhaustion like I’ve never known, and I could hand over these little loves of my life to people who loved them (almost!) equally as much.  I could lie down, and close my eyes, and recharge my completely drained battery.

It is at this home that I would return during the darkest days of my divorce, and be able to just rest, cry, and know that someone in the other room had my best interest at heart.  Regardless of what was happening in my personal life, I never had to worry about being alone.  As long as my family is here, I’ll always have someone.  That’s a good thing to know.

It is at this home that I would spend the last few months/weeks/days/moments of my father’s life.  What should, on the surface, be a difficult space to enter into because of the insurmountable levels of loss experienced on that January day, is a complete place of peace for me.  Ironically, it is because of the insurmountable levels of loss experienced on that day, paired with the peace and love that burst into every corner of the home… filling the walls, and the air, and all spaces in between with the sweetest of memories any human could ever be fortunate enough to have.  Immeasurable love abides here.

It is at this home that even now, as I type this, my mother (without a word) sets down a cup of hot tea beside me and walks away.  I realize how blessed I am.  I am so thankful for this home which has been provided for me, my children, and all who enter into our world.

The Trouble with the Politically Correct Church

May I be honest with you? I’ve sat on this one for a few days because our nation is such a hotbed of violent political banter and demonstrations in this time leading up to the election, that I don’t want to appear as the online equivalent of lighter fluid. I do think, however, a comment made by an Arkansas friend sheds so much light on the issue that it deserves to be shared. 

Barbara Conrady is the mother of a school mate from our time in Arkansas. My sister, Jessica, and her son Elton were in the same grade. In an online discussion the other night, Mrs. Conrady said, “It is time for followers of Jesus to stand up and speak. The Church has been deceived by political correctness.” Wow. There was so much truth packed into those two sentences that I knew immediately I’d have to blog this. It was too good to keep to myself. Let me share with you what I appreciate about her insightful comment.

First, notice the capitalization of the word, “Church.” This was done intentionally, I’m most certain, as a reference to the “Church” as the body of Christ. It doesn’t mean a building with a steeple, filled with pews. The Church is the living, breathing body of Christian believers, who are called by God to be set apart from the rest of the world. 

Romans 12:2 ESV~ “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

John 17:15-18 ESV~ “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Let me repeat this… we are called by God to be set apart from the rest of the world. Why then are we so afraid to do this? Why are we so scared of hurting feeling or ruffling feathers that we would rather sit in silent acceptance of the world as it is? 

I think her comment explains it perfectly.  Not only society, but also our churches (brick and mortar buildings) encourage us to be politically correct. We can’t possibly say THAT to THIS group of people, because it just wouldn’t be right. It might upset someone. I’m thinking back to all of the lessons we are taught in the Bible. Times when Jesus, or even the disciples, spoke to people about turning from their sins. I don’t remember one time that they failed to deliver a message of truth to a group of people out of fear that someone might get their feelings hurt. These men were willing to risk their very lives to speak the truth about God’s commandments. Today, are we to be more concerned about people’s FEELINGS or about their ETERNITY? 

I know there are certain “hot topics” that many churches steer clear of mentioning. Mind you, I didn’t say all churches, but many. Race, religion, money, sexuality (homosexuality, adultery), abortion, divorce, politics… I’m sure there are more. These are the issues that will literally split a church. I’ve seen it happen. 

In my lifetime, I’ve attended several amazing churches, and I can attest that the ones in which my spirit has been fed the most are the churches where the pastor is strong in his faith, and speaks words of truth from the Scripture. I admire a pastor who is brave in his beliefs, and doesn’t water down the message he’s called to bring to the Church body. If your pastor has rooted his belief system in the Word of God, and can back it up with such, how can we as the Body of Christ disagree? If the Bible is our guidebook, and our church structures itself on Biblical principles, how can we object? Seems logical, but free will (our opportunity to chose right or wrong, righteousness or sin) comes into play, and this is where the disconnect begins.

You may have met those Believers who tell you they agree with “parts” of the Bible. I’ve never really understood how that works. Do they think that God put these commands and instructions in there as a multiple choice, and we are somehow granted the power to chose “none of the above” as an acceptable answer? I don’t believe that’s how my God works. I think His Word is His Word. I think if He didn’t mean it, He wouldn’t have said it. Surely, as imperfect as we are on a daily basis, we don’t somehow think we know better than God Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. 

I had a friend last week who decided we could no longer be friends because he didn’t agree with the way I was voting in this election. Aside from being incredibly shocked, I did have one moment of thinking that just maybe I was doing something right. I’m standing firm in my beliefs- beliefs that I can back up with Scripture- and I’m doing what I know in my heart is the right thing. It’s not my place to condemn you for disagreeing with me, but if I’m being called to be set apart, and the rest of the world seems fine with glossing over what is nothing more than pure sin, then it’s okay for me to speak what I know is truth. Not just in a political arena, either. Sin is sin is sin. Period. We all know when we do it. It’s not our job to placate the world, and tell them that their sin is fine, because HEAVEN FORBID we upset someone! What we are told is not to judge. I can disagree with you without judging and condemning you. The manner in which the message is delivered is 99.9% of the task. 

I’ll give you an example. I have a friend I simply adore. We truly have a Spirit bond with one from the moment we met. We’ve prayed together, cried together, and had some really tough discussions. One of the reasons I love her so dearly is that she is a straight shooter with me. There’s no sugar-coating of anything. Life is very black and white. In one sinful period of my life I was about to enter into something that my friend saw as dangerous to me. She came to me, not in judgement, hatred, or anger; but in sincerity, discernment, and love. The human side of me didn’t like the message she brought in that moment, because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. My Spirit, on the other hand, knew it was exactly what I needed to hear. She’s loved me through mistakes, and she’s loved me through my successes. I think that is the example Christ wants us to follow as the Church body. 

If we see a brother or sister falter in sin, sin as defined by Biblical principles, we are called to love them. This does not mean we are called to encourage them in their sin. There is a difference. The Bible doesn’t call us to political correctness. That’s an instruction from the world. Did you catch that? The world. The sinful, ego-driven, self-absorbed, destructive world that we live in is giving us this instruction, not Jesus. 

I pray for our country, and my prayer is primarily this- that each member of the Church body would demonstrate the love and kindness to all humans that we are called to by our Heavenly Father. He created us all. There are no perfect people on this planet. We are all imperfect sinners, and can only find redemption through His unfailing grace and mercy. He’s been so generous to us. It’s a shame we don’t do that for one another.

Our churches need to have the courage to preach the truth. Our pastors should pray to God for the perfect words to speak to His Body. I know many of them do. We, as a collective whole, should be praying and lifting up our pastors and churches now more than ever. Christians have to embrace what we are called to do. It isn’t always an easy thing, but for the brief time we are in this planet, don’t you want to experience the fulfillment that can only be achieved when we are living FULLY in the will of God? I know I do. If it causes me to lose a few friends in the process, I’m so sorry they would chose that route. I can only speak for myself. That’s who I’m accountable for, after all. I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here, and I’m loving everyone- every single person, regardless.

Our job is not to encourage the world to do whatever makes them happy. Many sinful things can make people “happy.” As Christians, we aren’t called to happiness, we are called to righteousness. 

We have to have the courage to make that stand. It’s time for His people to speak. Speak.

The Selfishness We Call “Divorce”

It’s both fortunate and unfortunate to me that in my circle of friends and acquaintances I’ve become the “go to” person for questions about divorce, because I’ve been there. People see me as proof that you CAN get through an unthinkably difficult time, and have a peaceful, productive life on the other side of this heart-wrenchingly painful mountain.

In the last week alone, I’ve had 3 different people come to me asking advice on the subject, or wanting to speak with me about mine. One was a sweet friend I’d not seen in a while. She and I used to go to church together, and I subbed for her a few times at Rogersville City School. This kind woman came to me in a sea of people during the Heritage Days festival, gently touched my arm, and quietly said, “I’ve always wanted to tell you how much I admire how you handled things after your divorce. You went to school, got your teaching degree, and just moved right on with life. Some people just shut down. You didn’t.” I felt I owed it to her and myself to be very honest in my response. I replied back, “I had children, and we had to eat. I had no choice, but to move on. There were days I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t. God was faithful to us.”

I want to always give a very truthful and realistic picture of what divorce looked like for me. It would be unfair of me to paint it prettier than it actually was. If a friend has gotten to the point that they have come to me for advice- whether it be the name of my attorney, or just encouraging words about moving ahead in life- I want to be sure that they understand this road is dark, and long, and Satan comes at you from all directions trying to break you down as much as he possibly can. That may look like many things to many different people; but in my case, I was entering a full out war that I had no idea was coming, and I want to help prepare my friend for the battle ahead.

My marriage lasted a total of 10 years. It’s not pertinent to list all of the why’s behind the dissolution of my marriage. It’s personal, and I have children to protect. Let’s just suffice it to say that my home became an unhealthy place for both my children and myself. He and I tried Christian counseling. We talked to pastors, cried at prayer rails, had deep into the night discussions, but one person alone can’t repair a broken marriage. The first thing I tell anyone who comes to me is that divorce was the absolute last resort for me. I tried for years, and behaviors weren’t getting better, if anything, they were getting worse. We had separated and reconciled. That was short lived. It all just became too much.

In January of 2011, my father died. Four months later, while standing at my front door, with a 6-year-old Elijah in my arms, I was served with divorce papers. In an instant I felt my entire world cave in around me. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, and my first thought became, “How are we going to live?”

If I could freeze that very moment in time, I wish I could have time-traveled back, given that Amanda a big hug, and told her that I’d seen the future, and everything would be fine. Fortunately for me, I had an amazing circle of family and friends who did that for me. They lifted me up when I could barely crawl. Having a personal relationship with the Lord, and having believers to talk to and pray with are TRULY the only things that got me through.

I had a talk with my exhusband just yesterday. It was one of those hour-long talks that we have on occasion. He and I have come miraculously far during this journey over the last 5 years.  What once was a world of restraining orders and unbridled hatred, has with time, evolved into a relationship where we can attend ball games together, and school functions. He will sometimes bring me medicine when I am sick. I’ve even been to dinner with my children, him, and his girlfriend. It was all very Bruce Willis/Demi Moore of us. 😊 He and I were having a very frank discussion about finances. Both of us feel the financial strains of this divorce.

I can tell you, first hand, what it feels like to live in fear of losing your home. I can tell you what it feels like to be in line at Wal-Mart with a cart full of groceries, and to have your card declined. I can tell you what it’s like to have to call your mother, and ask if you can borrow a few rolls of toilet paper because you are out, and have no money. I can tell you what it’s like to have to humble yourself to go to this same, generous mother and say to her that I’m 2 weeks out from a check, and I have nothing left for me and my children to live on.

I pray anyone reading this never has to go through this. Or, maybe you already have. It’s a very humbling experience. Not one that I’ve shared with many people, but it is the reality of divorce. I came from a marriage where sticking to a budget wasn’t really an issue. There was always plenty. He had a wonderful job. All of that changed in the blink of an eye.

So, I’m a 41-year-old, stay-at-home mom, and I’m going to have to formulate a plan “B” quickly. Who knew I’d ever even need a plan “B”? Certainly not me. My plan was this man, this marriage, these children, and this life. With the serving of one piece of paper that all came to a screeching halt. It was audible.

The next parts are the pieces to the story I want to be sure my friends understand. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t enjoyable. I certainly wasn’t the model of daily Christian strength that I’d like to proclaim I was. I wasn’t. I fell to pieces initially. I went a little crazy. I did things I wasn’t proud of. My dad was gone, my marriage was over, and my future seemed bleak. God has allowed me throughout my Christian walk with Him to sink down into these valleys of despair at times. There were MANY days that the thought of even getting out of bed was too much. My saving grace in all of this was my children. As much as my soul was beaten down, and I had lost so much of my internal fight, I knew I had to get up each day, and take care of these little ones. Their worlds were being flipped upside down, too. I couldn’t allow myself to forget that while I was busy drowning in self-pity.

The rest of the story is an exercise in faith and hope. God showed me, through continuous prayer, that He had a plan for me. I found a career path that would make me as available to my children as I could possibly be. Teaching. I researched, and found a 16-month program at Tusculum College which allowed me to take classes in the evenings and on weekends. I met some of the most wonderful people I’d ever known in this program, and I know God positioned them in the same program, at this exact time, so we could be in one another’s lives. My family helped me with childcare, so I could attend classes. My exhusband even helped out on weekends. I was able to graduate the Master’s program with honors. I now had my teaching certification. Fast-forward on a few month, and many interviews/applications later, and I was blessed to be given a job at Hawkins Elementary School teaching my own 5th grade class! The call came 9 days before the 2015-2016 school year began. I was crying so hard when I received the call from the principal of the school, that I wasn’t even sure he could hear me saying, “YES!” through all of the sobbing.

What I learned in my experience is that divorce is the ultimate act of selfishness. Whether it be one or both parties. At some point in the marriage, someone (or you both), decide that your own needs become greater and more important than the needs of your family. What this experience did to my own children was heartbreaking to watch. My job was to love and protect them during their time on this earth. Now, because their father and I couldn’t be responsible enough to work out our own issues, these innocent little ones are thrown into a life change that they never asked for. My children are products of a broken home. The guilt that comes with that is immeasurable, and impossible to adequately verbalized. It’s daily. The only comfort I take is that I know that while our HOME may have been broken, I know they saw a mother who ultimately was NOT, and who gives all the glory to God for her strength.

I encourage my friends to have a realistic view of what is about to happen if they choose this path. It’s not “divorce parties” and freedom like some women like to imagine. (Actually, that may not be 100% true. There are people who do have their big divorce parties, but I just think that’s further outward evidence of what selfish creatures we’ve allowed ourselves to become. The destruction of a family is NOTHING to be celebrated) It’s one of the biggest doses of reality you’ll ever have. It’s excruciating to watch your babies go through. It’s an admission of failure. Divorce, and the death of my father, are hands down the most difficult life moments I’ve had.

The moral to my story is that God was faithful. He was strong when I was weak. It’s not an easy road, and it’s certainly not something I eagerly encourage anyone to do. Divorce goes against my own spiritual beliefs. That’s another blog in itself. I’ll save it for a different day. While I don’t want to be an advocate for divorce, I do want to offer hope to those going through it. There is life on the other side. It takes work. It takes an admission that you can’t do it alone, and it takes a willingness to be quiet, and listen to that sometimes soft voice of God. He won’t fail you. When you’ve lost your faith in love, He is the one relationship you can count on to be everlasting.

 

 

Judge Not

Judge Not.

THAT girl

THAT girl.

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